The Seven Sisters had first glimmered into life in the late spring or early summer of 1966, in a remembered-dream-vision (or vivid daydream scene) I wrote down, of a silver-haired woman harping alone at a fireside by night, in snow-shrouded forest wilds somewhere, with wolves watching from the darkness of the trees—and her harping draws another silver-haired woman out of the forest, also alone, walking armed and fearless, to join the first. But that scene was just that: when I wrote it down, I had no real idea who these women were, other than that they were related, they were powerful as well as beautiful, that there were more of them, and that the harpist was called Storm (and fans searching for “where Ed swiped this or that from” take note: this was long before Marvel’s X-Men comic book team ever featured a character called Storm).
Yet that mention of Marvel Comics brings up a “power problem” that was to become the reason for the existence and lives of the Seven. If you have a god as a member of a superhero team (for example, Thor was an Avenger, and Hercules one of the Defenders), what exactly do you need any of the others in the team for? And who, beyond another god or god-power-scale being, provides any satisfying opposition to a god, if big onstage battles are an integral part of the storytelling?
I saw the Realms, which had gods (lots of gods) as having the same problem. I envisaged it as a magic-abundant world, with plenty of Gandalf-power-scale wizards tramping around, so it had a deity of magic—a goddess, Mystra, who was served by a lesser god, Azuth, a mortal wizard risen to godhood by means of his utter mastery of the sort of magic wizards created and hurled. And when magic is everywhere and is the most powerful portable raw force that mortals can harness (as opposed to winds, waterfalls, tides, volcanism, and other “spot location” or “capricious and mutable and ungovernable” energies), what do you need any other gods—above the level of “place spirits,” that is, the god of this gigantic old tree or that spring—for? Why a pantheon, when the Goddess of Magic can do and be and govern everything? Yet in the Realms I was imagining, long before there was a D&D® game, let alone the Realms as a published D&D® setting, I wanted lots of cults and small gods (of the level of Chu-Bu and Sheemish in the classic Lord Dunsany tale of the same name), and a vast and varied pantheon.
Once I started playing D&D® regularly, such matters could no longer be hand-waved or glossed over, as a fiction writer can do by controlling the narrative. Gamers ask questions, and have their characters do things that compel full and logical answers. I had to tackle this power problem.
Oh, yes, about that “started playing D&D® regularly.” My D&D® beginnings: back in 1975 I’d bought the original trio of books and then the Greyhawk booklet, and tried them out. I thought the concept of “playing a game in the worlds of fantasy books” wonderful but the execution far too likely to break down into “but my character was doing this, so yours couldn’t have done that, and that DM guy is just trying to kill all of us off with these nasty traps and monsters” bickering at the gaming table. It wasn’t until the hardcover Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual and then the Players Handbook fell reached me in 1978 that I thought: “Wow! Monsters and now Jack-Vance-Dying Earth-style spells detailed in a codified manner so one knows exactly what they do, and can compare! And see the limitations, and stories can hinge on those limits! I must recast the Realms to follow these rules, as it guarantees internal logic for my stories!” and we started playing adventures in the Realms.
And so was born my idea for controlling the goddess of magic. There was no “Ao” the Overgod then (that was a TSR addition); my way was to think of the universe as having its own rules of existence that shaped and contained/limited the gods in the same way it did mortals (these were, after all, fallible gods, not all-seeing, all-knowing, supreme deities, because the moment you have more than one divine being, and deities in opposition to one another, no one can be supreme, or the conflict and the lesser deities will have been destroyed), and one of these was to limit the goddess of magic—who could otherwise be a tyrant, magically utterly controlling all mortals and other deities, both overtly through magic and by limiting the supply of magic to those other beings.
That is, Mystra (yes, the name comes from the word “mystery,” because I wanted magic to be mysterious, its details never all known or knowable, but a matter of secrets and personal experimentation; one of Mystra’s sobriquets from the outset was Our Lady of Mysteries) could only hold and contain so much power, or she would collapse or explode into a wild release of raw magical force, which I envisaged as a silver fire (so that’s why another of Mystra’s nicknames is “Our Lady of Silver,” and the Seven Sisters, of Mystra’s bloodline, all have silver hair, tresses that they can move and use like tentacles). She had to vest little pockets of her divine energy, this silver fire, in various mortals. And dare not try to seize it from them, or compel them magically, because doing so would cause the very leakage of silver fire, destroying the mortal, Mystra herself, and most of the world (the Realms) she was goddess of. Hence, the Chosen—free-willed mortals who Mystra tried to raise and train to serve her, but who could defy her (as Sammaster, founder of the Cult of the Dragon, did) or more often go insane under the stress of life and service as a Chosen (many Chosen have suffered this fate, and arguably, Elminster and the Seven aren’t sane; gamers who decry their “randy” natures should realize that they are among the most lonely and grief-ridden individuals in existence, having been attacked and betrayed so often for what they are, and having outlived all their loved ones many times over, so they hunger for human intimacy).
So I had all of those ideas written down, as “My Little Secrets Of The Realms,” before Dungeons & Dragons® entered my life, or the Realms became a D&D® setting. Yes, the Chosen had all too ripe a potential to become superheroes, brawling their way across a world and snatching the spotlight away from player characters—particularly when other writers and designers tossed aside the unique nature of the Chosen of Mystra and decided “Chosen” meant “mortal champion of a deity, that the deity infuses with superpowers and sends on missions,” and that every deity should have multiple Chosens, and the arms race was on.
But back then, that wasn’t my problem. I was the sole scribe of the Realms, there wasn’t a roleplaying game involved, and I could keep the spotlight where I preferred it to be. Which, if you look over all the Realms fiction I’ve written, is—whenever I can prevail; editors often have very different ideas—looking over the shoulders of “just plain folks” struggling to survive and flourish in the midst of whatever wildness is going on.
Back then, I just read and re-read that scene of harping by the fireside by night and wanted to know more about the two women in it. Perhaps more would come to me, as I sat and wrote more about Mirt . . .
Image borrowed from “The Best Of The Realms, Book II: The Stories of Ed Greenwood” ©Wizards of the Coast