Of all the characters in Rich Burlew’s epic fantasy stick-figure comic Order of the Stick, the least useful character has, up ‘til now, been the bard Elan. While he has had occasional moments of awesomeness (such as his training in a prestige class and rescuing Haley from his evil twin brother Nale), for the most part Elan has been the fifth wheel of the Order of the Stick and hasn’t showed any real effectiveness, especially when Roy has been around.
Part of this might be because Roy thinks of Elan as useless; seeing that he’s the nominal leader of the group, his constant dismissal of Elan as an effective member of the group may have ended up subconsciously sabotaging Elan’s own self-esteem and usefulness. But even when Roy’s not around to dismiss Elan’s often-inane suggestions, Elan often plays the idiot who bumbles through life relying on his good looks and luck to prevail against whatever he faces. In short, Elan’s his own worst enemy, and often makes things worse than they should be.
Thus I must admit I was absolutely shocked by the latest OotS when it was Elan of all people who saw through the illusionary trap they were trapped in. Ironically enough, it was his own immaturity and idiocy that broke the illusion for him… and allowed him to drag the others out of the trap and back into reality. As Elan himself admitted to Roy, his own desires and dreams were foolish and childish whims. The big buildup leading to this was not his marriage to Haley (which says something about his and Haley’s relationship) but rather his parents getting back together. Just because.
In short, the village idiot looked in the mirror and realized the King of Fools was wearing no clothes. In a way it makes sense for Elan to see through the illusion, seeing he’s grown increasingly adept at using illusions with his bardic magic. Sadly, I suspect it would be too much to ask for Elan to show sustained growth from this; much like Belkar, Elan is trapped by reader expectations to truly see any lasting character growth. Oh, there’ll be hints here and there, but both characters at their heart are two-dimensional caricatures who rarely show true growth.
Then again, Belkar’s shown some signs of growth, if only with the cat Mr. Scruffy (and I must admit some vague curiosity as to if Belkar’s illusionary world is one of hedonism, or if it’ll show a glimpse of character growth and the lesson that Durkon’s death may have taught him). Perhaps now that Roy has no choice but to rely on him, Elan may start to emerge from the tangle of idiocy and comic relief that have long prevented him from being what he’s long wanted to be: a hero.