Secret Skyrim Lore You Still Haven’t Heard After 11 Years


Anybody who has taken a cursory glance at the lore behind The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim knows that Bethesda’s blockbuster RPG series is packed to the brim with detailed, high fantasy history. Over the past decade or so since Skyrim’s release, fans have been digging into every nook and cranny of Skyrim to solve some big (and disappointing) mysteries, but there is one aspect of Skyrim’s lore that many fans seem to have passed over – and it could have big implications for the future of the ongoing Dwemer mystery.


Skyrim is the most recent mainline entry in the Elder Scrolls franchise, and the most recent point in the series’ in-universe chronology. It charts the legend of the Dragonborn, the main playable character, who is fated to challenge and defeat the game’s main antagonist – a dragon named Alduin the World Eater.

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Alongside the sweeping Nordic epic of the main storyline, Skyrim also includes ruins that tease the fate of Skyrim‘s Dwemer – an ancient race of technologically advanced elves, who mysteriously disappeared in events covered by The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The Dwemer mystery pored over by TES fans for decades now, but by linking a few understated details that Bethesda either created or brought back from the series’ past for Skyrim, it is possible to see a motif in series lore that most Skyrim players won’t even have considered.

The Dragonborn’s Shout is a Form of Sonic Magic

The first detail to note is that Skyrim’s main character, the prophesied Dragonborn, stands apart from the rest of the population of Tamriel in their ability to Shout, or understand and recite the language of the Dragons. The Thu’um, as it is known, seems to be a foundational myth for the Nords, who have some innate capacity for using Shouts along with Skyrim‘s Dragonborn. What Skyrim doesn’t make clear, however, is that there are other instances in the series’ lore where magic has been achieved not through the manipulation of magicka, but through the manipulation of sounds.

The first and perhaps most famous is the Redguard tradition of sword-singing. The in-game lore book Redguards, Their History and Their Heroes (seen in Daggerfall) relates the story of these Redguard warriors:

The way of the sword—the “song of the blade”—had become their life. The people of the blade kept their poetry and artistry in building beautiful swords woven with magic and powers from the unknown gods.

The book’s mention of “unknown gods” suggests that the ancient Redguard sword-singer adventurers in The Elder Scrolls did not gain their powers through known Aedric or Daedric entities. What’s more interesting is the fact that their swords, “woven with magic,” were expressions of their “poetry and artistry.” If the sword-singers did not derive their powers from the demi-gods or from magicka, they could have been manipulating the power of their voices to achieve superhuman results. The fact that they were called sword-singers points very heavily toward this idea, and to the idea that the Dragonborn and the sword-singers use a similar power.

Curiously, the art of sword-singing is naught but myth during the events of the mainline Elder Scrolls games. The cultural traditions of Tamriel’s fictional races seem to echo each other in that some Redguards hold sword-singing as deeply important to their customs, just as the legend of the Thu’um lives on in the folklore of the Nords. The idea of a magical culture disappearing but leaving behind traces of its existence is a very familiar theme in The Elder Scrolls, as Dwemer ruins are scattered throughout Morrowind, Skyrim, and The Elder Scrolls Online.

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ESO, set around a thousand years before Skyrim, heavily intonates that the Dwemer relied on a form of magic called “tonal architecture,” as described in A Guide to Dwemer Mega-Structures:

The Dwemer exhibited near total mastery of tonal forces. Even now, countless centuries later, they remain peerless in this respect. Sound, not magic, facilitated their rise to power […] the Dwemer used sound in mining, medicine, architecture—even psychology…

In fact, The Elder Scrolls games’ Dwemer were able to build their structures in such a way to control the flow and intensity of sound and thus create intense magical effects without using magicka, just like the Dragonborn and the Thu’um. Some have even suggested that the Dwemer disappeared partly due to tonal magic, potentially whisked away to another plane of Oblivion because of a particularly intense note.

The Dwemer City of Sound

Such Elder Scrolls history connects to the mystery of one of Skyrim’s many Dwemer ruins, one which seems to tie directly back into the Dwemer use of tonal architecture. Near Riften, tucked away into a mountainside, is a Dwemer ruin called Kagrenzel – which directly translates to “Music City” in the Dwemer language. When the Dragonborn first enters the already destroyed city, they find two deceased bandits, who seemingly tried to gain access to the ruin but were killed by a strange glowing orb of light, which scans the Dragonborn before allowing them access by dropping the floor from beneath them, starting the longest free fall in all of Skyrim.

The ball of light is unique to Kagrenzel and clearly of Dwemer design, but why did it kill the bandits, yet allow the Dragonborn to venture into the ruin? The most likely answer is the Thu’um – the fact that the Dragonborn can manipulate tones and sounds too. The orb is likely a security system, scanning to check if the entrant can use tonal magic as only the Dwemer were able to, preventing their enemies from entering.

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Things get stranger when the Dragonborn lands in a deep cavern infested with Falmer, or snow elves, who Elder Scrolls‘ Dwemer once enslaved. Although there is not much to loot down in Kagrenzel proper, there are two environmental details which stand out: an unearthly rumbling that occasionally shakes the foundations of the ruin, and the presence of large bones embedded into the face of the cave.

The name Music City implies that Kagrenzel was a place dedicated to tonal architecture. Some dubious, unofficial lore may even explain the bones; they are likely the remains of snow whales, who lived “at the top of the highest mountains, singing in magic tones, spreading their joy-snow in horn-like triumph,” according to The Elder Scrolls writer Michael Kirkbride, via The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages. Although the Dwemer aren’t in Skyrim, the fate of the Falmer shows that the Dwemer were capable of ruthless, cruel behaviour, and could have exploited the magical abilities of the snow whales to continue their experiments with tonal magic. The roaring earthquakes within Kagrenzel, then, could be the remnants of the explosive tones that the Dwemer used to advance their civilization, returning from the past to cast echoes into the Dragonborn’s present.

Given the plethora of magic that has disappeared from the world of Skyrim and The Elder Scrolls like sword-singing, and the fact that ancient being and practices – dragons and the Thu’um – are clearly capable of emerging from the annals of history, it’s possible future games could see the tonal magic of the ancient Redguards, Nords, and Dwemer become even more fleshed out.

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Source: Michael Kirkbride/The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages


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