The Messenger Mercury Or Two Dances for Shillings

So there I was in my second year at the Liberal Arts College at Concordia University, in the lovely city of Montreal. It was the fall of 2004. Having just read Neal Stephenson’s genre-defying and dizzyingly labyrinthine Quicksilver, I was inspired to put that stone and voice to use in an essay.

My professor, the delightful Geoffrey Fidler, thankfully found my somewhat experimental essay delightful and to his liking. And good grief, he even knew by heart some of the passages that I cited in this text.

Truly a remarkable man.

I hope you enjoy.

(Image courtesy of Videogamesartwork.)

12 February, 1698, Wherein John Locke arrives at London; the Sipping of the March Ale; Delightful Chit-Chat Parleys; Property Discussed; Mercury; the Coins are Spun

Act I, Scene the First

            The mists part like doors pried open by the methodical hands of an ancient pagan deity as the Isabella gracefully cuts through the white intangible surface cloud, declaring herself to London’s teeming port, her geodetic curves strutting her stuff to merchants and carousers along the Woolwich docks.

            John Locke, trussed in navy blue, and featuring the kind of face that one imagines having been squeezed in a vice until it began resembling a pencil, stands along the foremast, striking the withering pose of one who’s been at sea too long. As the ship slides into the dock, the sound of London slowly increases, like God turning up the volume of the world.

            ‘Tis done, this travelling,’ thinks Locke, as he scrambles to touch-down upon solid rock and earth of Home Sweet Home, England. Letter tucked away in his pocket, Locke disembarks the Isabella. He stops just before the last step, breathes inwards, and plonks his right foot onto the ground. He isn’t arrested. He exhales.

            London manages to look alien to him; a city he hadn’t seen in nearly the entire turn of a decade seems overgrown; a plant long untrimmed. The south-bank of the River Thames, he scribbles in his mind, was covered in a growth of new buildings that made the street appear more crowded and cramped than he had remembered it having been.

            ‘Enough for now though,’ the little voice in his mind utters. ‘First, a pint before the travelling doth get underway.’ He tries to recall that old Irish adage. What was it? he thinks to himself. Something about a pub and a pint. But the phrase doesn’t come to him, so he abandons the thought. He makes his way to an inn with large open windows that, despite sitting smack on the River Thames, seemingly have not been introduced to soap. Major tourist no-no. To Locke’s eyes, the windows appear so filth-ridden that it would take acid to burn through the dirt that the window has accumulated since whenever it was last cleaned. He has a while to rest while the ship is strip-teased apart of all her goods by merchant men, servants, &c.

            Locke takes a seat alongside an open window that looks out away from the river, onto the street. He wants to observe it, monitor the movements like Sir Descartes might have, given the opportunity.

            A bar-tender approacheth.

            “What can ah bring ye, ser?”

            “A March Beer is hotly desired by myne person.”

            The bar-tender doesn’t even blink. The communiqué ‘twixt Locke and said Master of the Alcohols was not oblique. One beer, straight up. He shuffles away towards the bar, and invokes the Great God of the Tap. A minute later he returns, carrying the tray with all the grace involved in life or death scenarios. To the uninitiated, this would appear strange and confusing. The travelled connoisseur knows of the nigh-divine relation between bar masters, patrons, and fine alcohol, and any two well versed men of this art need not parley on the matter – the non-monetary exchange of glances is enough.

            Locke rips into the glass, glad to be once again savouring the treats that one could only receive in London, and thinks once again how good it is to be home.

            His right hand clutches a letter of matters most pertinent. He sips his beer, and patiently waits. During this time, his mind wanders to the text he’d been editing during his last days in Holland, over in Rotterdam. His thoughts wandered equally to the letter received from one Dr.Goodall, whose name had epitomized in one blow the news that had delivered him such fortune.

‘I know you can be no stranger to the wonderful success which God Almighty hath given to the Prince of Orange in his late undertaking to deliver our miserable and distressed kingdom from Popery and slavery, which mercy we in England esteem no less than the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt by the hand of Moses…I presume you have heard that the King went privately from Whitehall some few days before the Prince came to St. James’s with a design for France, but was stopped by some fishermen, and then returned again to Whitehall on the Sunday in the evening, but on the Tuesday (being the day the Prince came to London) he retired to Rochester, and is said to have left the kingdom last Sunday.’[1]

            And now, in parlance le Françoise, the Fit had hit the Shan. James II was on his way out the door, and William of Orange had marched in, turning an already volatile political struggle between the Whigs and the Tories into an absolutely chaotic situation, driving both parties into a nigh-feverous polemic. Already, John could see things becoming operose for Louis XIV. Let’s assume for a minute that the world, in its limited physical consistence subsists of only Europe, which for the moment we shall lovingly call the World’s Sandbox. It’s 1698, the bottle cap end of a period of religious wars. Now, assuming God exists, and isn’t exactly the plucky and sweet next door neighbour of the New Testament, letting William into the sandbox with Louis XIV is not going to lead to an Age of Ennui, and Locke knows this.

            The thought reaches the period in his mind, the door opens, and yet another Silver Spoon client enters. Locke looks up – the two pairs of eyes connect, and Yes! – Contact Established. Richard Henslowe approaches, and sits down at the diametrically opposite location of Locke: Across the table.

Begin Scene Part Deux:

[The Scene, London, a Pub]

[Locke]. My ale and I assumed the worst for thee.

Henslowe.       Traffik struck down the passage of time. One must needs chart out London-towne anew if business is expected to be conducted apace.

Locke.                          Faith trust thy received lettered Treatises?

Henslowe.                               So I did, sirrah. Mercurially ‘twixt thy fingers did wordes flow, a current of thoughts.

Locke. But thy thoughts! Pray you, thy thoughts on said matter!

Henslowe.       Put thyself at ease. Struck I was by the wash of words that spun across myne temples like a pulsating hurricane of letters and thoughts. Such earnesty struck me, like a thundering muse roaring across the tides of politik.

Locke.                          Decrypt thy thoughts. Elucidate upon the thunder of the words.

Henslowe.                               You would tackle Adam and Eve’s world with a sword of property, a new dialectic based on the spinning of the coyn! Let us examine part seven and twenty, for these are fiery words even Hephaestus dare not pronounce:

Every man has a property in his own person.’ What council would you offer to those who question such words?

Locke. ‘Tis the state of nature, an inviolability not even our monarch, May God bless him, could indeed dispel. For as the treatise does declare: the labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.

Henslowe.       And should The King say otherwise?

Locke.                          Doubting the King’s mundanity?

Henslowe:                               A sufferable cur of a vice

Locke.                                                  Parliament: a loaded alchymecal infernality.

Henslowe. A Motley Dare; but less us continue apace.

‘The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left in it, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.’

Most heady.

Locke.              Not for the weak of head.

Henslowe.                   A titanic grasp will be required.  Miniscule intellects of ash will be swept away.

Locke.                                      A new ethos to challenge the firmament comes slowly. But I dare not print in myne name. Not for the moment; too many packs of braying doggerel populace the isle.

Henslowe.                                           And the Essai of Understanding?

Locke. I would have it passed by Fraser in the first.

Henslowe.       And the Treatise?

Locke.                          Pertaining to that, there is no need to rush. Filmer may wait. But let us sweep aside this beguiling distraction.

Henslowe.                               Most agreeable. Let us to the text! Paragraphe the eighth and twenty!

‘That labour put a distinction between them and common: that added something to them more than nature, the common mother of all, had done; and so they became his private right.’

Locke.                                                  And will anyone say, he had no right to those acorns or apples, he thus appropriated, because he had not the consent of all mankind to make them his?

Henslowe. You finish the thoughts as the coruscating river flows to the mouth of the delta. Holland has been most kind to the grace of your wits. But praytell reveal to me – how will the counties of men abide with such rules? What strength can word offer us ‘gainst a-nother Ket of Norwich?[2]

Locke.              But here is inscribed the Clincher. There must needs be an agreed upon contract. Less than that cannot be suffered.

Henslowe.                   And if ‘twas less than the agreed upon sum, and said monarch were to give the Universal Finger and Wattle off: Twch Luck, Begch?

Locke.                                      For such recusant woes to be caused by a monarch Wou’d be but another edictal-stroke of tyranny.

                                                            [Enter Bar-Tender]

Bar-Tender. Seconds in refreshment, ser?

Locke.              A cup, a cup most kind, a cup most strong, I would have my companion Henslowe trough!

Bar-Tender.                ‘E alright?

Henslowe.                               He is of the philosophe. Are they ever quite alright?

Bar-Tender.                                        A wee quacky lot, I tend ta think.

Locke. Bar-Tender, percase uncover the whirls and gears within thyself! S’pose I say to thee: I will let you thee own as thy would earn, and no monarch could say “Thy handicraft is avail to mine breast!” to only turn, stealing away all that hand and soul have built.

Bar-Tender:    Thou meyns tellin’ tha King ta piss off?

Henslowe:                   Most assuredly.

Bar-Tender.                            An what’s ta make ‘im care?

Locke.                                                  Tis not a question most urgent? And the resolution found in the bondage of ink and paper; Parliament and Monarch; an inviolable agreement!

Henslowe. But what of the agreement of exchange? For surely, as spelt in writ here, fourty and seven: ‘And thus came in the use of money, some lasting thing that men might keep without spoiling, and that by mutual consent men would take in exchange for the truly useful, but perishable supports of life.’

Locke.              And thus my hopes for the throne of William of Orange. Pray tell fair Bar-Tender, what coynage is carried upon thee?

Bar-Tender.                Wot else but shillings.

Locke.                                      Mayhap I might glance upon them?

Bar-Tender.                                        To wot end?

Locke.                                                              To reveal the glories Metis unveiled upon myne mind in silver and fire.

Bar-Tender. Naught but old shillings.

Locke.              Glance thee but closely upon the coyns! What canst thy not observe?

Henslowe.                   A faded hue, as though antediluvian soot.

Bar-Tender.                            They’re but shillings.

Locke.                                                  See thee both not more to the open eye?

Henslowe.                                                       ‘Tis a coyne, Ser Locke.

Bar-Tender. Aye. Tha gent ‘as it right.

Locke.              See not how chipped it is? And observe! What is the make?

Henslowe.                   Most like James the Fyrst.

Locke.                                      Observe the coyns minted at the Munttoren, in Muntplein. Prostrate thine eyes before this Gulzen, of Prussian domain.

Bar-Tender. I see naught but finely crafted coyns.

Locke.              Thus the key unveils! Coynage, myne good sers!

Henslowe.                   English coynage?

Bar-Tender.                            But on what shall ye buy yer beer?

Locke.                                                  On coyns most new, should William, God Bless, take such initiative!

Bar-Tender. Seconds on March beer, then.

Locke.              Quite. And of course, my companion, the Gentle Henslowe, shall partake in your splendid delicacy.

                                    [Exit Bar-Tender]

Henslowe.                               You suggest a connexion of sorts?

Locke.                                                  Inescapably.

Henslowe. Thus thy passage for paragraphe ten and five?

Locke.              What says the litany of the treatise?

Henslowe:                   ‘But since gold and silver, being little useful to the life of man in proportion to food, raiment, and carriage, has its value only from the consent of men, whereof labour yet makes, in great part, the measure, it is plain, that men have agreed to a disproportionate and unequal possession of the earth, they having, by a tacit and voluntary consent, found out a way how a man may fairly possess more land than he himself can use the product of, by receiving in exchange for the overplus gold and silver, which may be hoarded up without injury to any one; these metals not spoiling or decaying in the private hands of the possessor.’ Does thee belay the notion of money as a contractual device?

Locke. In fact, I do just such. A means to bind, to preserve, and as the eminent Hobbes would have sought – a prevention of chaos.

            [Enter Bar-Tender]

Bar-Tender.    An ‘ere are yer drinks. Tha’ll be 3d. per stein.

Henslowe.                   Allow myne purse to sing jovially for us both! To company long unseen!

Locke.                                      I will respectfully acquiesce to said decision. To company dearly re-united!

The stein are clunk.

                                                            [Exit Bar-Tender]

Henslowe. Tell further, of the money’d contract.

Locke.              A guarantee that costs might be stabilized. Much rests here on Sir Isaac and his Mint.

Henslowe.                   So thus, should men agree to a standard money system –

Locke.                                      A re-coyn’d system – abandon to recesses James, Elizabeth, and their coyns. Consider England under one monetary whole; man paying man in standardized units of coyn.

Henslowe.                                           Tempered spirits abound.

Locke.                                                              Contracts thusly re-inforced!

Henslowe. And where is contained the ethos of Christendom?

Locke.              Praytell which ethos thee does speak.

Henslowe.                   What conclusion left when said ideas convey the Rumble in the Jungle twixt Iesu Christus and Mercantilism?

Locke. For such cause was a proviso enscribed within paragraphe one and thirty:

‘The same law of nature, that does by this means gives us property, does also bound that property too. God has given us all things richly, 1 Tim. Vi. 12. is the voice of reason confirmed by inspiration. But how far has he given it to us? To enjoy. As much as anyone can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his labour fix a property in: whatever is beyond is beyond this, is more than this share, and belongs to others.’

Henslowe.       What to make of this?

Locke.                          Here is myne beer. Master Descartes’s scientific method hath given myne person the ability to conclude what is and is not excess. Thus I order not beyond what might be drunk. Thusly I take not from the well more than is necessitated.

Henslowe.                               And what if resources are to run dry?

Locke.                                                  England is tapped into resources a-plenty that such a scene shall not dally before our eyes. Easy thy mind on such a subject. And if myne own word is a matter of doubt, trust in Master Descartes, whose own pen offers the same conclusion.

Henslowe. Let us recursively examine aforementioned propositions of the Treatise:

A contract ‘twixt men must be bound, and items will thusly exchange hands properly and with surer swiftness should the Mint reforge a sterling standard.

Locke.              It is almost operatic in nature. A Canto fermo, perhaps? Mayhap a chaconne or libretto from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas?

Shake the cloud from off your brow,
Fate your wishes does allow;
Empire growing,
Pleasures flowing,
Fortune smiles and so should you!

Henslowe.                   This alchymecal system will thusly re-inforce social stability; provided Parliament buffers said self ‘gainst King. This politikal buttress shall build the sought-after system of economic stability that myne proposal doth seek.

Locke.                                      Dear Henslowe, thy reach doth extend beyond the tail of the beast!

Henslowe.                                           But to what aim, dear Locke? What aim?

Locke. That man might know a safety and assured security of private property! For that the blade doth point! Here doth I present to Dido and Aeneas the wedding of Hephaestus and Athena!

Henslowe.       The day grows dim, dear Locke. Feel thee not the beckoning of Morpheus?

Locke.                          I would not deny such faintness of spirit. Let then this dialogue tarry till morn.


Act I. Scene III

            Locke and Henslowe depart from the tavern and cavort down the street, away from the docks, through a bustling crowd that Locke remarks, “looks not unlike an army in disarray.” This is followed by a period of silence between the two men as they struggle against endless waves of passer-by’s, merchants, farmers and nobles on horses too big for their egos. They arrive, finally, at their destination, a ramshackle house that features a society of Philosopher Naturale. Henslowe and Locke part ways, promising each other that within a fortnight their conversation shall reconvene.

            “Most agreeable” says Locke.

            “Most excellent” says Henslowe. And with that whammy of a closing comment, he turns about face and heads off – presumably, Locke thinks (and hopes) – for home.

As Henslowe’s bobbing head fades into the lapping waves of street-travellers, Locke turns and walks inside, thinking only of how excellent it will be to cannonball onto a feather’d mattress. He enters the kitchen, praying to whatever God might exist, that it will spare him from having to suffer the sight of a dead dog with a concave lense in its stomach.

            The kitchen is blissfully empty of any such phantasmagorical sights. Instead, Robert Hooke, his head a giant stratus cloud of hair, is sitting quietly at the table, reading. It looks like something Latin. He looks up as Locke enters.

            “Ah, you’ve arrived” he says. No inflexion. It’s a matter of facts at play.

            Locke looks about the room. His eyes wander over the cabinets. He declares: “Do you carry any tea?”

            “What sort do you seek?”

            “The Indian sort, that letters spoke England had begun carrying.”

            “Let us ascertain the status of the teas.”

            Hooke and Locke begin an all-out assault upon the kitchen, canvassing the cabinets and bureaus. As they burrow through all the dark corners of the kitchen, they engage in a conversation regarding Locke’s return from exile, whether his manuscript was completed, and what new thoughts could be expected in the Second Treatise. Locke lowers his voice – most likely, Hooke thinks, for dramatic effect.

            “Well you see, I rather think that much was changing whilst abroad. I have had much time to consider the matter concretely whilst sitting in the United Provinces, whittling away to paper the Essai Concerning Humane Understanding, on the matter of money and property, and the troubles of James II. All these men, these nobles, lords, applying their titles to them, each from his own county, arriving in London-towne, thinking “The king shall rue the day he laid eyes upon myne person.” These men were too busy thinking of themselves than of how to actually live with others. And what does the Englishman want? A plot of land to call his own without a by-your-leave, and the ability to provide for himself and his family.”

            Hooke is desperately intrigued. The arrival of Locke is a panegyry of the Intellectual Spheres that he hasn’t seen since the last time Isaac came around, and even then it was too difficult to know what sort of Rubik’s Cube phenomenon was evolving in his head (since life, the universe, existence, and the meaning of felines percolated like a giant swelling newly created cosmos, shaped by a maker no one could find in Isaac’s trapezoid-like mind).  

Locke is still talking. Hooke thinks that exile abroad has made him hungry for philosophik candour.

            “ – Consider the feasibility of a country whose monarch is held at sword-pointe by a parliament, and God help him should he be of the Papist disposition.” His voice drones on in a way that might seem partly comprehensible were Locke not teetering on the precipice of inebriation and extreme exhaustion.

            “The only way I can see this occurring, I think, would be to instil a system of the said following: a standardized monetary system, a stable bank, and instil agreements based on writs, contracts, and mayhap a relation between a proposed bank and the monarchy. It should be a grand way to end the incessant fighting twixt the nobility, the king, with the parliament acting as a buffer for both.”

            As Locke sputters away like a broken sieve, words fluttering out beyond control, his mind in a kind of unexplainable overdrive, Hooke and Locke zero in on the tea, stashed away behind some kind of enamel –hued jar that looks like elephant tusk that’s been degraded to the position of glorified tea-dispenser. The water is put on the stove. The sky outside has faded to a canvas of twilight, and is splashed with a net of yellow and white stars. Locke plops into a chair, taking a moment to (perhaps in vain) organize his thoughts.

            Hooke removes cups from the bureau and says: “Let us propose that such events were to take form and expand from seeds of an idea to fruits of realization. What reasons would you give for all oeconomic divisions to behave amongst themselves?”

            Locke looks taken aback by this. But since he’s sitting against a wall, there’s not much to lean back against. He takes on a bewildered look, like someone who’s just been thrown from the top-floor of the Intellectual Ivory Tower, and has begun a windy descent towards pavement that seems much longer than the few seconds during which the body sings with the sky. It’s a nonplussing moment for him.

            The kettle whistles – although upon closer observation, two refined natural philosophers such as Hooke and Locke would be more likely to observe that water – taken a different elemental form, is actually being released from the tea-kettle. Crushed tea leaves are deposited into a separate piece of china. The leaves are then hydrated by boiled water, and chymicals of assorted varieties are released from the leaves, and taint the water a hue that looks like burnished sunlight. Cups are placed upon the counter, strainers armed atop the circumference of each, and the tea is poured. The conversation resumes.

            This is how it goes down:

            Hooke: “The thought was: How to get classes of society to behave twixt one-another.”

            Locke: “Make it in their best interests.”

            Hooke: “How?”

            Locke: “Contracts. Not of any social, moral kind. If you give members of society that which they seek, they will be more likely to behave in a more malleable fashion.

            Hooke: “And you think that this can be arranged through a unified structure involving banks, restrained monarchy & nobles alike, and property?”

            Locke: “Giving citizens of England the ability to hold land is necessary. Values and payments can be sustained, monitored and controlled through a national bank, one which could also cooperate with the nobles and monarchy. Those groups, agreeing with the bank, to utilize a standardized monetary system, could economically unify England, thus reducing tensions betwixt classes on matters concerning payments, trading, and financial security. The pound could be set to a fixed price, and trade relations between our kingdom, the United Provinces, France, Portugal, Spain, and Russia could continue apace, but with less risk of confusion among merchants of means of pay.”

            Hooke: “Your words belay a dare to the monarch.”

            Locke: “There is a most transparent urgency which is required as the key to this system: a systematic re-coinage of all English coins. While such a system might survive should the bank adopt perhaps some kind of system of notes; where security is concerned, such a format would surely be armour ‘gainst counterfeiters.”

            Hooke: “Yet we lack the hindsight to deduce such results with any certainty. What gives you hope of seeing an accord amongst society for such a thing as this?”

            Locke: “Implementing such a system of security with bank-notes would make the nobles feel secure in whatever wealth they own or pretend to lay claim towards. Rather than transferring pounds manually by cart from one location to another, a system of banks spread throughout the kingdom could accept a signed note that only the person signed on the bank note could withdraw from any official bank location. Meanwhile, the layman, less concerned with bank-notes, could rely on coins that were no longer clipped, and were not remnants of Charles, or Elizabeth, but a standard, permanent system of silver. A new social system might be realized with the aid of a systematised oeconomic system that serves all classes of society and is moderated and maintained and supported by each.”

            The Dramatis Personae in the room grows quiet. In the silence of the kitchen, two brains – if listened to carefully – can be heard percolating like water bubbling in a slowly boiling pot. The wind gently pushes against the closed windows, pushing inwards, seeking to escape the ivory night that has taken form outside the residency of the Royal Society.  

            “In layman’s parlance,” says Hooke, “shall we call it a night? Should your mind unleash itself for a second round, I cannot guarantee that my grey-matter will not, in fact, break from its confines and begin pamphleteering loud accusations of intellectual harassment.”

            Locke smiles, and acquiesces. He raises himself up from the seat like an ancient leviathan, and slowly tumbles across the room. His body has seemingly severed political ties with the mind (which, Locke determines, explains his ability to process thoughts like a spreading wildfire while disavowing any real considerations towards physical animation). They hobble down a poorly lit hallway, Hooke leading the way with several candles, until they arrive at two doors in the hallway – one across from the other. Both men nod and share that unexplainable synchroneity of thought which says: “Good night, see you in the morning. We’ll continue this then” without actually going through any of the motions required in an actual verbal exchange.

            Within moments, both men have crashed down upon their mattresses, and have entered an ebony oblivion of sleep.

[1] Dr. Goodall of the College of Physicians, who invites Locke to stay with him upon his return to England. No relation to apes, gorillas, or primates involved. Only Whigs. Cranston, 306.

[2] When Robert Ket and his army of rebels set of camp outside of Norwich, [in 1549] the citizens of the city reacted in a way most disheartening to the civic authorities: many of them joined Ket, and would later welcome his occupation of the city.  That this could happen in England’s second most populous city was a shock to local leaders and to the Crown. Bouchard, Greg. The Willingly Occupied: Ket’s Rebellion and the City of Norwich. 2004

The Amazing Yeats and His Educated Magical Byzantines!

During my third year at the Liberal Arts College at Concordia University, I whipped up a magnificently massive 6,800 word essay on William Butler Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium, and the genre of fantasy fiction.

It was a massive undertaking and I was and still am tremendously proud of the effort, scope, and detail that I poured into this essay.

Ilya Popov
490 Essay

The Amazing Yeats and His Educated Magical Byzantines!

It was so long ago and far away

I have forgot the very name men called me.

The axe and flint-tipped spear are like a dream,

And hunts and wars are shadows. I recall

Only the stillness of that sombre land;

The clouds that piled forever on the hills,

The dimness of the everlasting woods.

Cimmeria, land of Darkness and the Night.

 – Robert E. Howard, Cimmeria

The goal of this essay is an interesting and difficult one: proposed here is an analysis of the poem Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats, but one which would attempt to situate it within perhaps a rather different tradition than earlier readers – not that of romanticism – but of the rather wide and diverse genre of literature called “fantasy.” This essay hopes to perform three basic functions: Give a brief overview of the aesthetic history of fantastical writings, focusing on some of the themes, images, and ideas that inform this rather loose and difficult-to-define genre.

Secondly, an analysis of the poem will be performed, one which will also take note of the assorted imagery used. Finally, the third section of this essay will elaborate on the influence and importance the imagery of the poem had upon other writers in the period in which it was written as well as later writers. A contextualisation of the poem within a history of fantastical writing will also be noted, to establish a historical tie between past influences and present results.

To what end this essay? Why situate Sailing to Byzantium within a fantastical framework of writing? In part it is to alleviate the mendacious and unfounded stigmas placed upon this rather wide and disparate style and form of writing called “fantasy.” Secondly, this essay hopes to point readers towards a tradition of writing which did not emerge ex nihilo. As such, we hope that readers will be able to understand that it is just as simple minded to disparage Jane Austen for being “chick lit” as it is to deride fantasy as “magic and elves.”

Entering the Siege Perilous: Literary Fantasy – A History in Brief

GO and catch a falling star,

Get with child a mandrake root,

Tell me where all past years are,

Or who cleft the devil’s foot,

Teach me to hear mermaids singing,

Or to keep off envy’s stinging,

            And find

            What wind

Serves to advance an honest mind.

 – John Donne, Song

Karen Patricia Smith, in her text The Fabulous Realm: A Literary-Historical Approach to British Fantasy, 1780-1990, suggests that “the development of fantasy is strongly related to concepts of the art and to strong opinions about the children for whom the works were intended.” [1] Despite the suggestion that the development of an identifiable aesthetic form was aimed predominantly at children, Smith suggests that she “could not and will not agree with the premise that magic is reserved for childhood and that the coming of adulthood must necessarily make us bid farewell to the delights of magic.”[2]

While Smith argues in her text that the definition of fantasy is not clear – a claim this essay supports – a definition of some kind ought to be applied which can be used within which to frame the argument. Smith offers some guidelines by which one might identify works which are potentially of the fantastic – it may “posses fairy-tale elements…unforeseen, unusual, or purely magical arrangements of reality” which may involve “the presence of absence of human beings, anthropomorphic figures, natural objects endowed with supernatural gifts and the use of tokens, relics and/or charms” and tends towards evoking “a sustained sense of wonder.”[3] Furthermore, the theme and/or use of transformation may sometimes appear in certain texts, be it fairy or fantasy. Sometimes this concept may be analogous – if not interchangeable – with alchemy.

There are a great many sources from which tradition of the fantasy and/or fairy tale developed in Britain and Ireland. The influences vary; Snorri Sturluson’s The Poetic Edda, Charles Perrault’s Histoires ou Contes du temps passé. Avec des Moralitez (1697), Madame d’Aulnoy’s Contes des fee (1698), The Book of the Dun Cow, The Red Book of Hergist (1400), Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur (1485), among many others narrative-cum-poetic histories from pre-modern societies. These texts all contributed to a richer cultural imagination, and that it may have contained exaggerations was not the point. Rather, that a felt cultural history existed gave writers access to a sense of some kind of landscape beyond their immediate present. Smith explains the importance of these texts in part by stating that myths – northern or otherwise – served as an inspiration for many fantasists in part because they allowed for an exploration of the “various aspects of their [British writers, ed. – and by colonial extension: Irish] country’s heritage.”[4]

Between the 1840’s and the fin-de-siecle, fantasy begins emerging as a means by which some concept of morality might be conveyed to the reader; what might be called enlightenment fantasy – and was seen as such in the works of Charles Dickens (Holiday Romance in Four Parts), Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) and George MacDonald (The Princess and Curdie). Other writers who wrote fantasy tales – such as Gregg and Kirby’s The Talking Bird, emphasised the theme of people not knowing “more than is meant for them to know as a given time”[5] while writers such Paget (The Hope of the Katzekopfs) wrote fantasy that exhibited a strong sense of symbols which resulted in two levels of reading – the (obviously) symbolic, and the literal. The symbolic was sometimes used to represent the ideals of either a) the author or b) the historical period in which the writer lived.

By the 20th century, a more concerted effort was made towards creating a fully developed secondary world which Smith says “involved not only short visitations from one world to another, as in some of the Molesworth’s works, but extended development of those worlds.”[6] Other concepts that came more to the fore during the 20th century was the introduction of more self-assured heroes and heroines, example of which include Masefield’s The Midnight Folk, involving the adventures of Kay Harker, who cannot rely on adults for assistance, Dan and Una, the principle characters in Kipling’s Rewards and Fairies, among many others.

With the steady march of the Industrial Revolution, it is interestingly noted by Smith that this – along with scientific developments, led to a rise in romanticism, in which a reader could encounter anthropomorphic creatures, whose function, Smith notes, was “not designed to replace that of human beings but may rather be seen as an enriching factor, a way of returning something to the world that was perceived lost.”[7] E. Nesbit, for example, with whom Yeats corresponded, wrote a story – Five Children and It – which features the “crotchety Psammead.”[8]

Another story – The Phoenix and the Carpet – features (what else?) a talking phoenix. Interestingly, Canadian fantasist Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic (Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors) – a duology which he describes as “a fantasy upon themes of Byzantium,”[9] features a talking bird which was inspired by the allusion to the singing bird in Yeats’s Sailing to Byzantium (‘But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make/of hammered gold and gold enamelling/to keep a drowsy Emperor awake’)[10].

Returning to mythology for a moment – by the 20th century, it reappears in fantasy tales in a somewhat reconstituted form – as identifiable characters (Cu Chulainn, Odin, etc). Their appearance in fantasy fiction, Smith suggests, is tied to a resurgence in the interest of the historical past of Great Britain (and this essay would suggest, likewise with Ireland), and the result is one in which characters from a historical past that is both real and equally mythological are brought forward into the present and interact with contemporary society (Mark Twain has a devilish amount of fun reversing this concept in his famous story A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court).

Fantasy during the first half of the century – as a general whole – sought to present a world where there was a sense of unification, an ordered cosmos. It also – eventually – embraced episodic elements as a part of the unfolding of the [overall] tale, as was seen in Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, in which the writers would sometimes use as a means of social criticism (as in Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood), or means by which to go on journeys which would sometimes be amusing (as in Grahame’s Wind In the Willows), or even to question the philosophic value of fantasy (“In Lewis’s The Ship That Flew, the god Odin says to his son Frey, regarding the use of the flying ship by the four children, “There is no magic when no one no longer believes.”[11]).

The 20th century also saw the use of poetry in fantasy, and a fair portion of it seemingly original, written by the author of each respective book, as seen in Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, or Masefield’s The Box of Delights. Smith notes that “Often, journeys are made by protagonists into the past. Once in the past, author, characters and audience could temporarily be removed from the rigors of the present.”[12] The presence of a quasi-escapist narrative is suggested to be a reflection of the inability of early 20th century Britons to affect the present, and thus they were left to be passive witnesses, and such states welcomes a literature which conveys a sense of removal to another place, and one in which change might in fact be gained by the individual.

Interestingly, Irish literary critic Marguerite Quintelli-Neary refers to an observation made by Charles W. Sullivan III, who explains that “after Synge, Eliot and Joyce, intoxication with features of Irish traditional writing may be found in the works of fantasy writers who are creators of impossible, Secondary Worlds….”[13]

Furthermore, Roger C. Schlobin – commenting on late Victorian and early Edwardian outlooks towards fantasy, suggests that the notion of an epistemology based on empirical findings as the only real and legitimate form of cognition as “clearly dangerous, and despite the apparent current interest in fantasy, the attitude that nothing exists beyond the phenomenal world is currently as threatening as it has ever been. It strikes at the very essence of creative thought and affirms a tyranny of rationality, which recognises everything, except itself, as unreal and ephemeral. This antagonistic attitude will endure as long as intellectual, rational and social conventions are considered the only sources of truth – sources that deny all existences other than their own and that relegate contrary modes to escapism and rebellion.”[14]

This essay agrees with Schlobin: “Fantasy is inherent in what we call humanity and creativity.”

Smoke and Mirrors: An Analysis of Sailing to Byzantium

People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.”

 – Neil Gaiman, Preludes & Nocturnes

Thus we arrive at the development of the tales most fantastical as they were right up through to the conclusion of the Second World War. And though Yeats’s Sailing to Byzantium was written in 1926, the historical context in which it was written cannot be ignored, as any tradition will to varying degrees affect those who are writing within it. Where does that put us with Yeats and Sailing to Byzantium? A few preliminary statements can be made about it: It was written in 1926, and was the second of two poems about the Byzantine world; the first was simply called Byzantium, which was quite a different poem than StB.

Before even getting to the first line of the poem, we ought to consider the implications of the title: Sailing to Byzantium. The implication is that the narrator – or someone – is on a journey, from one destination to another. The location from which the character in the poem sails is not made known, but it may be suggested that it is not a place quite like Byzantium (the theme of antithesis is a prevalent element within the poem). The original title, it may be worth noting, was Towards Byzantium. The suggestion of movement – and change is something a careful analysis will also reveal as being present here.

THAT is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

– Those dying generations – at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

Here is the natural world, where things are set into a certain nature which is beyond man’s control: Whatever is begotten, born and dies, no matter if it is a generation of humans, a salmon, birds – as in the words of wisdom revealed to King Solomon: This too will pass. Yet the closing line suggests that there is a tension between nature and something else – intellect. The artist is upset by this, these limitations set by nature. Whoever this narrator is, he sees a denial and ‘neglect’ of the intellectual and aesthetic.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

The second stanza begins by addressing the un-ignorable fact that everything ages, and how could one deal with this mutability of life? The suggestion here (but studying/monuments of its own magnificence) is somehow connected to art, that the aesthetic offers some kind of nigh-immortal remembrance, if not conservation.

Nonetheless, the character in the poem seeks to overcome this somehow, and this is by venturing to someplace beyond the normal realms of man, to a place that exists only in the imagination of Yeats: Byzantium. And make no mistake – though Byzantium (Istanbul) existed, the so-called real-world city was not that which was conjured in the mind of Yeats when he wrote the poem.

Some critics, such as Giorgi Melchiori, suggest that “Sailing to Byzantium seems to have been written in the first place as an attempt to pacify this inner disturbance, to escape from the ‘sensual music’ of his [Yeats’s] recent poems by creating a poetic image of the place where all strife is at an end.”[15] Yeats seemingly never maintained one consistent position on his reasons for writing the poem, and there are several different recorded reasons given for its existence, including the one offered here from A Vision:

“I think that in early Byzantium, maybe never before or since in recorded history, religious, aesthetic, and practical life were one, that architect and artificers – though not, it may be, poets, for language had been the instrument of controversy and must have grown abstract – spoke to the multitude and the few alike. The painter, the mosaic worker, the worker in /280/ gold and silver, the illuminator of sacred books, were almost impersonal, almost perhaps without the consciousness of individual design, absorbed in their subject-matter and that the vision of a whole people. They could copy out of old Gospel books those pictures that seemed as sacred as the text, and yet weave all into a vast design, the work of many that seemed the work of one, that made building, picture, pattern, metal-work of rail and lamp, seem but a single image; and this vision, this proclamation of their invisible master, had the Greek nobility, Satan always the still half-divine Serpent, never the horned scarecrow of the didactic Middle Ages.”[16]

O sages standing in God’s holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.

It is interesting to point out that the mention of “soul” in both this and the previous stanza: when the character of the story makes a prayer, it is not to God, but to “sages” who have – it ought to be noted – already been preserved and stand in God’s holy fire (which makes them more golden – being with God, or being preserved? Can gold be symbolic here of more than one meaning?) As he is asking a prayer of these sages, it is clear that the nameless character has arrived in the city, and is looking at images upon a wall – images which inspired Yeats during his stay in Ravenna. Yet the image which Yeats conjures of Byzantium is one which a) no longer exists in his then contemporary period, b) may have never existed, and c) is a fantastical place in relation to the quotidian world. Melchiori says that it was in “Stockholm that Yeats had first the intuition of what Byzantium could stand for: an ideal state, a condition of miraculous harmony manifested through art.”[17]

The stanza has its nameless character say: Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre/ And be the singing-masters of my soul. There is an intimation of some kind of reverse-alchemic transformation in this passage – “Come from the holy fire, turn (or change) in a circle (to come about; come back) – asking the sages to speak to him, the person in the world still bound by natures’ rules. Through these sages, the narrator hopes to be transformed as they were, into an ‘artifice of eternity.’ Yet what ought to be telling to the discriminating reader is that this sort of transformation could only occur in a fantastical city, where all are bound up in a timeless unity, where “religious, aesthetic, and practical life were one” – a world which is never in flux or decay, a “dream-world of immorality and changelessness.”[18]

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

In this final stanza the theme of transformation once again rears its head, and this time, rather than to that of an illustration upon a wall, it is to a mechanical bird. Though it is not said outright and directly, Yeats makes an allusion to a mechanical bird, which was mentioned in one of his notes in the ‘From the Tower’ collexion: “I have read somewhere that in the Emperor’s palace at Byzantium was a tree made of gold and silver, and artificial birds that sang.”[19] Thus the poem ends with an interesting completion of a cycle – “Nature causes Art which expresses Nature.”[20]

Thus, as we finish reading the poem, we reach the question which we must ask as readers: Is this poem a piece imaginative and simply containing writing that is construed as being ‘fancy,’ or is it fantastical? Is it a description of style or of content? The story, if we look at it as separate from the poetry, tells us that a journey was taken to a magical and imagined variation of the city of Byzantium, where sages on a wall were spoken to, and the narrator seeks to have them go through a nigh-reverse alchemical process that would enable him to somehow better understand how to become as they are, and thus he (or she) thinks of becoming like an automaton of a singing bird. Though we – the audience – do not know if the wish of the narrator is fulfilled, the sentiment is still expressed nonetheless.

The Tower of the Elephant: The Art of Fantasy

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,

And I dropped down, and down –

and hit a World, at every plunge,

And Finished knowing – then –

– Emily Dickinson, I Felt a Funeral In My Brain

Just as it may be argued that fantastic literature relies upon evocative prose or plots whose narratives venture outside any perceived quotidian reality, so too can it rely on imagery to attain its goals of eliciting a particular sense-reaction in the reader, or establishing a kind of mood or feel. As A.M. Hammacher explains: “The tried and tested scheme of Classicism, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, and Symbolism never does justice to the world of the fantastic; it remains a fringe phenomenon which does not appear to full advantage under the categories of Romanticism and Symbolism. In the realms of the fantastic, the bizarre and the extravagant are thrown together with visions, hallucinations, automatism, magic, unreality, fairy tales, ghost stories, fables, the improbable, the supernatural, and the absurd.”[21]

He furthermore suggests that it is possible to “attribute equal significance to the social self of the artist – his life in the world – and his unconscious or semiconscious interior world from which his creativity arises.”[22] It is often the case that interpreters of fantastic art will try to write it off through the application of Freudian or Jungian techniques, or suggesting that the art is in fact expressing Surrealistic tendencies, or an expression of the unconsciousness. Far too often a means will be sought by which to enforce a return to the quotidian, and deny the imaginative its legitimacy and importance.

An example of just this sort of artist is Paul Delvaux, who “recognised only memory and imagination as specific sources for the formation of images”[23] yet made references in his art to the Renaissance, and to assorted elements of what we term the Western Tradition, though he was known for having been strongly influenced by a form of Hellenism “which was an aftereffect of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and by Neoclassicism” and yet used “mythology to create an atmosphere…unconcerned with historical accuracy and unconcerned with the travesty of Greco-Roman art in David’s aesthetics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”[24]

The example presented through Delvaux, though of a style of aesthetic presentation different to that of the Irish, serves to present the point that artists need not have their presentations tied to particular notions of style or genre, such as “classicism” or “neo-romanticism” and rather, are working on a broader scope, expressing themselves as they see fit, independent of any particular system of aesthetic identification. Of course then question must be raised: How are we to talk about the fantastic if we cannot root it in any one style? This does not mean that 20th century fantasy is attempting to cut ties with neo-romanticism, surrealism, etc.

Rather, this essay would like to suggest that Neo-Romanticism (as an example) is a sub-set of ‘the fantastic.’ The imagery present in the aesthetic piece is representative of a certain genre, but included also in the umbrella of fantastic, which this essay argues – is related to, and develops out of (in part) a variety of different schools, and is rather prone to a kind of syncretistic melding of styles. Though Delvaux was not of Irish or British origins, he serves to represent a point this paper would like to make: far too many critics sought to somehow explain away his artwork, refusing to accept it on the terms which he presented, refusing to bow to what may perhaps be called the tyranny of reason and expressing an aesthetic of the fantastic.

With regards to Yeats: the Irish repeatedly used ‘the fantastic’ in their literature – but in a way that almost no other culture has. Critic Donald E. Morse in More Real Than Reality, suggests that “[T]he Irish discovered one of the great secrets of the human mind, that ‘ultimately, meaning is not a rational matter,’”[25] and then further says than for many fantasy is often synonymous with ‘Irish.’ Augustine Martin argues that “this concern with the unseen world gave rise to a great body of writing – poetry, drama and fiction – which employed the methods of fable and fantasy to express its peculiar idea of life and reality.”[26]

But refocusing upon Ireland and the artwork produced there during the late 19th and early 20th century, there is much that can be said to be of influence upon the development of Irish society – and by extension – the artwork produced within that society. The revival tended to call upon perceptions of traditions, images and histories associated with Ancient Ireland, drawing [sometimes; depending on the artist and the period] heavily on mythological figures, such as Cu Chulainn – the primary protagonist of the Ulster Cycle, one of the four major cycles of Irish mythology. To ignore this context would be to ignore the way in which Yeats’s work could be read.

But this skirts our central point: the artwork that influenced Yeats during a proportionally large amount of his life was a cultural movement that sought to reawaken interest in ancient myths, this we know. The reasons for doing so are myriad, and the ways in which those pre-modern stories were interpreted and understood by society as a whole is beyond the ken and focus of this essay. However, this essay would like to suggest that mythology is inescapable from fantasy, that the argument which states that fantasy has to be intentionally fantastic to be fantasy is irrelevant, as it does not take into consideration the notion that reading is an interpretive process, and that what may have been true to one reader is simply a fantastical tale to another.

Contemporary fantasist Matthew Woodring Stover argues that: “Think about it this way: What we now consider “fantasy” is the original whole from which all literature is distilled, starting with the Epic of Gilgamesh, running through the Iliad, and Odyssey, the Bible, Beowulf, the Bhagavad-Gita—the list is infinite. Examples are found in every culture. Every other genre (I should say: every SUBgenre) is defined by eliminating fantastic elements: by carving away the gods, fate, magic, whatever. “Fantasy” is what we call a novel that partakes of the whole of the human literary heritage. So, yeah. I’m a fantasy writer. It was good enough for Homer, and it’s good enough for me.”[27]

That said, literary critics have been discussing the assorted mythological influences present in Yeats’s work, and how it works, and it has been suggested that there were at least two reasons as to the question of “why.” Firstly – Yeats seems to have thought that “myth could provide an analogy for the joys and sorrows of the individual person”[28] whilst also arguing that “because of its [myth] infinite capacity for metamorphosis, can be manipulated to meet the specific personal needs of an individual writer.”[29] Effectively, myths also function as a set of flexible symbols and signs, providing writers with a freedom which allows them to use them in a story in such a particular way as to suggest a variety of meanings [to the story] without relying on extraneous exposition; all the work is done for them. It does not need to necessarily come down to an instance of Neo-Romanticism or Classicism, etc.

What are we to make of this with regards to Sailing to Byzantium? The best approach seems to be to systematically examine each stanza, and then seek those images or passages which indicate something may be a little beyond ye olde day to day level of normalcy.

Earlier, it was stated that the first stanza indicated an examination of a natural world, where things are set into a certain nature which is beyond man’s control. And yet interestingly, Yeats chose to mention – of all things – fish. This paper would like to suggest that there may be more to read here than traditional analysis has suggested. If we are to read this in the context of a Celtic revival in a Christian country, then it could be that the fish in fact may represent a) Jesus Christ b) knowledge. If we bear in mind Morse’s statement that rationality is not the first priority in Irish writing during the Irish Revival-cum-Twilight, then we ought not to think in purely structural terms, but rather in evocative terms – in sensation and the free use of the imagination for its own purpose, rather than with any whole-hearted unified goal in mind.

Returning to the second point, fish – knowledge – is associated not only with Jesus of Nazareth but also with Taliesin (who is commonly associated with Myrddin (Merlin), though they were in fact two different figures), who some stories suggest was found in a fish wattle, and thus became inseparably tied to the symbol/image of fish. The narrator of Sailing to Byzantium may have thus been looking at the world and seeing a kind of knowledge which has mystic ties, but which is ultimately tied to a fugacious world. Yet the suggestion of a mystical world is there from the get-go if we allow ourselves to think in unconventional terms.

With the second paragraph, there are two central images: the pauper (A tattered coat upon a stick), and the holy city (Byzantium). The first image may in fact have some correlation to the Fisher King, who was said to have been a keeper of the Holy Grail (keeping in mind, the Holy Grail was still an important relic even prior to Christianisation – some of the variations of the legend refer to the Grail as the San Greal.)[30]. Interestingly, there is a tie even here to the symbol of the fish:

“It occurs without explanation in Chretien de Troyes but Robert de Boron has the title originate with Bron, brother-in-law of Joseph of Arimathea. Bron catches and places a symbolic fish upon the Grail table and becomes known as the Rich Fisher. Bron is made Fisher King when he assumes lordship over the Grail Castle in Britain. His son Alain is also called a Fisher King as is Pelles in another version. Sometimes the Fisher King and Grail King are one and the same, other times they are separate characters. The Fisher/Grail King is often wounded or sick and can only be healed by the asking of the proper question.”[31]

Then there is of course the Holy City of Byzantium, a place which as described in letters and recollections by Yeats, was not meant to be an actual real place, but rather a conception of a place that is almost but not quite a utopian ideal; a dream-city. Interestingly enough, the legendary founder of Byzantium was – in Greek mythology – Byzas, the son of Poseidon.

With the third stanza, we are come now to the Holy City, and the narrator is looking upon a wall filled with gold images, asking these erudite sages to go through a reverse-alchemic transformation, but one whose purpose would be to somehow assist the narrator into being shepherded into the artifice of eternity – an existence like that of the sages. It is a suggestion of a desire to ascend – to be brought to a plateau higher than that at which the corporeal world exists. The implication here is (in part) a denial of a positivistic concept of history – for the narrator, seemingly a modern man, would like to be as one of the ancients, for they knew the secrets that contemporary society does not. Arkins, in Builders of My Soul, suggests that Yeats “opts for the refusal of history, and acceptance of the continual and continuous regeneration of time…Yeats instead chooses to believe in historical cycles – his term is gyres – and a series of revelations, which tend to be cataclysmic.”[32]

Though Yeats’s poem is about Byzantium, the inspiration – in part – came from his visit to the Church of San Apollinaire Nuovo in Ravenna in 1907. Some critics suggest that the mosaic expressed what Yeats saw as being something “transcendent and supernatural.”[33] By extension of that reasoning, the city as it is imagined in the poem evokes a kind of religious (ergo: irrational) sensation from the visitor. It is fantastical.[34]

In the fourth (and final) stanza, the narrator chooses a new life as a work of art – as a singing mechanical bird. He does not wish to be free of the soul, seemingly (there is nothing in the poem to suggest a ridding of the soul – not as something separate from the consciousness or otherwise), but of the body, to be cured of his physical ailment, whatever it may be. By being repaired of his body, he could sing to the Emperor and bring beauty upon the land by virtue of being an immortal and matchless work of art. Interestingly, the tree and bird of which Yeats refers to were constructed during the rule of Emperor Theophilus, under whom there was a cultural renaissance during his rule from 829 A.D. to 859 A.D. The association between the historical tie and the imagery presented suggests a desire to establish a connexion to a period of historical greatness – an idyllic period. As Atkins explains: [T]he golden tree and the artificial birds (together with the other automata) were designed to impress, to overwhelm with Byzantine magnificence, foreign envoys granted an audience with the Emperor in the great hall of the Palace in Constantinople.”[35]

Interestingly, in Greek mythology, the bird – specifically the wryneck – was seen as being magical. Pollard explains that the Ancients regarded it as a “solar emblem, like the snakes found solar discs in Oriental art.”[36] This is of some relevance, as Yeats belief system included a conception of the universe as one which contained [historical] cycles, irrational revelations, and the “procession of the equinoxes”[37] as they were involved in the coming, passing and return of the Great Year (a concept in which the cosmos – despite being eternal – is cyclically “destroyed and reconstituted”[38]). Some ancient Greek myths involving the wryneck included ones in which they worked as charms, to bring a love back to a beloved, or as a love-potion. Historically, they were (apparently) misrepresented as singing “above the pediment of the temple of Apollo at Delphi,” yet wrynecks do not sing (especially like sirens – as they were thought to echo their spell). Other birds, such as the woodpecker and hoopoe were thought to have been able to perform impossible feats, and also exhibit healing powers. As to what sort of bird the narrator in the poem wished to be transformed into exactly is unknown, but it is not unreasonable to guess that the image of the singing bird would resonate with readers.

So in the last stanza, if we allow ourselves the freedom to see the narrator as a symbol and/or metaphor for the Fisher King, then the music he might sing would have a kind of soulful regenerative and/or restorative effect to it, and thus, would fall somewhat in line with the myth of the Fisher King, as only when he is healed is the land in which he lives made properly whole and is finally at peace. This is but one potential reading of the text, which does not by any means intend to eschew the many others which have been performed upon Sailing to Byzantium. However, it must be remembered that the reader, being wont to read any given text as they see fit regardless of the writer’s intent, will most certainly take different things away from any given poem, song or book. This is to be expected. In Yeats’s time, the images presented in Sailing to Byzantium could have had as many different reactions as it does today (giving hope to the idea that no text is ever closed). Likely, anyone well versed in Celtic-cum-Irish mythology would have seen the assortment of references to which the images in Yeats’s text alluded, as they are there, and can be seen by the observant eye.

The Light Fantastic: Influences and External Forces

Or winding up a palace stair,

    Beyond the hills of Let’s Pretend,

Come suddenly and unaware

Upon a monarch seated there,

Whose eyes were angry and whose hair

    Was frizzled there at World’s End

By the sun’s triumphant glare.

 – Lord Dunsany, How Would It Be?

While the images in Sailing to Byzantium reflected several different influences – Greek, Classical, Irish, part of the question we have to take into consideration when analysing the poem and its images is the context of tradition in which Yeats found himself during his career, and that includes taking note of the people who he influenced and – conversely – who influenced him.

During the early twentieth century, Yeats was surrounded by a variety of creative artists and noted fantasists, including Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron Dunsany, more commonly known as “Lord Dunsany” – known for such works as The King of Elfland’s Daughter (1924), The Gods of Pegāna (1905), and Time and the Gods (1906) – for whom Yeats wrote the introduction to (and edited) a collexion of his fantasy tales called Selections from the Writings of Lord Dunsany. [39]

Dunsany critic Joshi notes that first four novels[40] “underscore the Nature theme that is at the heart of Dunsany’s work, but the latter two do so more intensely and poignantly. All, in various ways, also present striking contrasts between the present and the past, the Christian and the pagan, the city and the country; and Dunsany’s preferences invariably tend toward the latter of these dichotomies.”[41] Just like Yeats, Dunsany’s work contains a fascination with Pre-Christian concepts, images and ideas, just as Sailing to Byzantium is rooted (in part) in “Greek precedent like Phidias’ statue of Zeus”[42], this shared interest in what may loosely be called the mythological, the mystical and quite possibly a kind of syncretistic (and anachronistic) when mixed to create the landscapes of the respective authors – appear transparently fantastic.

Just as with Sailing to Byzantium, Dunsany’s King of Elfland’s Daughter contains a “complex interplay between Nature, art and religion” and thus “rightly takes its place as a masterwork of fantastic literature.”[43] Kenneth Zahorski and Robert H. Boyer elaborate further on the type of world used by Dunsany as one in which the secondary world is set in “some sort of more direct relationship to the primary world, enabling them [writers] to further define their secondary worlds by comparison with this one.”[44] One of the characteristics of these kinds of secondary worlds (by contrast to the quotidian world) is the changelessness of this imagined location; the conception of time and change do not function there as they do in the so-called real world.

(Donald E. Morse, in his introduction to More Real Than Reality, quotes Rosemary Jackson’s Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion, defends this theory by stating: “Literary fantasies from The Castle of Otranto to Jekyll and Hyde are determined by these transitions: from conventional diabolism in Beckford’s Vathek, through equivocations of Frankenstein, Melmoth and The Confessions of a Justified Sinner, to the internalising figures of Dorian Grey…”[45])

By virtue of being an imaginative, syncretistic work, Sailing to Byzantium also recalls another writer with whom Yeats corresponded – William Morris, who is famous for having been part of a developing trend within fantasy writing[46] which contained secondary worlds – as seen in his novels The Story of the Glittering Plain (1891), The Wood Beyond the World (1894), The Well at the World’s End (1896), and The Water of the Wondrous Isles (1897). The displacement from everyday reality into a “far different one” which “exemplifies a central device of the literary fantasy”[47] is present in the works of Morris – a fantastical tale that exhibits conceits of the contemporary fantasy sagas (quests, magical items, secondary worlds), yet is in the spirit of its day in exhibiting this kind of narrative trait. Other such works which displayed such a technique include William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land (1912), Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (1865, 1871) and George MacDonald’s Lilith (1895). Historical records show that Yeats was reading the works of – and corresponding with – Morris. Parkin elaborates: “Yeats’s histrionic imagination was alive with images of great speakers – Maud Gonne, Bernhardt, Frank Fay, William Morris reading poetry as if it were poetry, not prose, J.B. Yeats himself, and the Dublin orator, Taylor, who, speaking some political verse, gave Yeats ‘a conviction of how great might be the effect of verse, spoken by a man almost rhythm-drunk, at the moment of intensity, the apex of long-mounting thought.’”[48]

Arkins dedicates some space to writing on the relationship between Morris and Yeats, and states that “the main source among Yeats’s friends for his view of Byzantium was William Morris, the person he calls ‘my chief of men.’ Morris had a very high opinion of Byzantine civilisation and what he saw as its unified culture, created by a whole people, praising especially the Church of the Holy Wisdom and the pattern motifs of the Tree of Life and the Holy Fire.”[49]

Given the evidence thus presented, this essay would like to suggest that it would be unreasonable of us as reader to eschew the notion that Yeats was not influenced by other writers – particularly writers of the fantastic. Yeats’s context was one in which Ireland was undergoing a revival of interest in ancient Celtic traditions, ones which happened to include a rich tapestry of imaginative and fantastical imagery. Furthermore, the English tradition of the fantastical itself is inextricably bound up with that of the Irish. From amalgamation came writers such as Dunsany, Morris, Nesbit, Barrie, Blyton, Kipling, Chesterton, Grahame, and many others.

[1] Smith, pg.4

[2] Ibid, 7

[3] Ibid, 12

[4] Ibid, 24

[5] Ibid, 160

[6] Ibid, 210

[7] Ibid, 221

[8] Ibid, 222

[9] Guy Gavriel Kay. (1998). Sailing to Sarantium. Toronto, ON: Penguin. i.

[10] Course Pack, 105

[11] Smith, 252

[12] Ibid, 261

[13] Quintelli-Neary, 4

[14] Schlobin, xiv

[15] Giorgi Melchiori, Dome of Many-Coloured Glass. From The Byzantium Poems, edited by Richard Finneran. Pg.70

[16] Yeats, from A Vision (1938). From The Byzantium Poems, edited by Richard Finneran. Pg. 16

[17] Melchiori, 81

[18] Ernst Schanzer, “Sailing to Byzantium,” Keats, and Andersen. From The Byzantium Poems, edited by Richard Finneran. Pg. 65

[19] W.B. Yeats, From the Tower. From The Byzantium Poems, edited by Richard Finneran. Pg. 15

[20] Richard J. Finnernan, Introduction. From The Byzantium Poems, edited by Richard Finneran. Pg.7

[21] Hammacher: Phantoms of the Imagination, pg. 9

[22] Ibid, 10

[23] Ibid, 173

[24] Ibid, 182

[25] Morse: More Than Reality, pg.1

[26] Ibid, 3


[28] Arkins: Builders of My Soul, pg.78

[29] Ibid

[30] Even prior to the arrival of Christianity in Erin (Ireland), Celtic mythology contained tales of heroes seeking magical cauldrons – such as Cu Chulainn and Cu Roi hunting Muirias and the Cauldron of Daghdha. Another character, Midir the Proud had a cauldron that he had supposedly brought with him from his quest to the Otherworld. It is suggested by some mythological scholars that Christianity simply incorporated aspects of these tales into their religion when it arrived in Ireland, and as such, Cu Chulainn’s quest for the magical cauldron was transformed (over time) into the Arthurian quest for the Holy Grail, which included stopping at the castle of the Fisher King. For more information on the subject, see Bob Curran’s lovingly details Encyclopaedia of Celtic Mythology.


[32] Arkins, Builders of the My Soul, 91

[33] Ibid, 185

[34] Neil Gaiman, in American Gods, suggests at one point: “Religions are, by definition, metaphors…. Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.” It is an interesting question to consider, in the context of the fantastical: “what is the difference between a world view based on worship, sacrifice, and belief in the divine and a world view based on the accumulation of material wealth and comfort?” (

[35] Arkins, 186

[36] Pollard, Birds In Greek Life and Myth, pg. 130

[37] Arkins, 92

[38] Ibid

[39] ; For more information, see attached appendix

[40] The Chronicles of Rodriguez (1922), The King of Elfland’s Dauther (1924), The Charwoman’s Shadow (1926), and The Blessings of Pan (1927)

[41] Joshi, 90

[42] Arkins, 181

[43] Arkins, 99

[44] Schlobin, 63

[45] Morse, 9.

[46] Kenneth Zahorski and Robert H. Boyer contend that there are four distinct types of secondary worlds, but this level of distinction is not of primary importance to this essay.

[47] Schlobin, 125

[48] Parkin, 30

[49] Arkins, 21

3DGN Feature: Daikatana

Well this takes me back. This is some of my first professional material produced as a videogame journalist for, written back in early 2000. I’m still especially proud of this piece. A lot of time went into researching everything, structuring the piece, working out a captivating presentation, getting the artwork ready with our brilliant in-house artist, and trying to be the best journalist that I knew how to be as someone who was about to begin a degree in the subject at university.

You can still read the original piece via the Wayback Machine, if you’re so inclined.

Many moons ago, the angel Romero was expelled from the heaven of id and fell to Ion. Then many rejoiced, for angel Romero had repented for his evil ways, and thus came Daikatana. Slowly the whispers began of the sword and its mighty powers, then slowly less and less, and then came the wind and floods, and many a curses fell upon the Ion’s repented walls. With time, Ion rebuilt and grew again, and all was good.

Unless you’ve been living on an island all your life, you know who John Romero is and the history of what is one of the most anticipated games ever, Daikatana. And if you know of Daikatana, you know of the Dallas Observer Article. For now, pretend it doesn’t exist, because this is about the game Daikatana, not about the troubles of Ion Storm.

I. Genesis: The Dream

In the beginning Romero created the Doom and the Quake.
And the Quake was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the Doom.
And Romero said, let there be story; and there was story.
And Romero saw the story, that it was good.
And Romero called the story Daikatana, and the story was the first day.

When work began on Daikatana over two years ago, it was Romero’s dream to create the ultimate single player game. At that time, the gaming world was filled with Doom and Quake clones, but most of them lacked substance. The dream was to change this, to make the most spectacular single player experience ever seen, and with Daikatana, this dream is about to become a reality. Since then, with the emergence of Half-Life and Thief, the single player aspect of first person shooters has reached an all time high, and with Cavedog’s Amen due this summer, Daikatana will have even more competition for crown of best single player fps.

Despite that, Romero’s work continues unabated, and in recent months, the work that has been accomplished has been phenomenal. With new programmers working on Daikatana, things are up and running better than ever. In a recent interview with Romero, when asked about the new team working on the game, he mentioned that “The old guys were becoming unmotivated. They were not happy, I guess… and some people, when they’re not happy, are not gonna work real well. So things just kind of slowed down. But with everybody now, with a brand new team, work is moving fast.” The evidence behind this? Bobby Pavlock, who has become Daikatana’s most ardent supporter. If his and others’ beliefs are any indication, then Daikatana should more than live up to its promises.

II. Exodus: Graphics

And Romero took the engine Quake, and divided the graphics from the time, and it was so.
And the graphics and the time stream were the second day.

Imagine a story spanning four time periods, advanced AI, more monsters than any other game, a wide variety of weaponry, AI sidekicks, stunning level design, Doom style deathmatch, interactive environments, an rpg based experience system, environmental effects, 16-bit color, an improved Quake II engine, and in-game and cinematic cutscenes. The stuff that makes every gamer’s jaw drop in awe. If the latest screenshots released of Daiakatana prove anything, it’s that this is going to be one damn pretty game.

Big gun!

In an email I received from Ion Storm, the recommended system requirements at this time for good performance are now no slower than a 300 mhz cpu, 96mb, and a TNT. Romero has alluded to glide not being supported, only OpenGL and Direct3D at this point, which makes the TNT the ideal video card for Daikatana. For those of you who don’t want to upgrade, you’ll need to in order to run Quake III decently, as well as Unreal Tournament, and many other future games. A 233 is no longer acceptable for decent performance. For all you Voodoo 2 owners out there, a 12 MB card is recommended. Daikatana will run acceptably, but expect to have to turn off some of the eye candy. This ain’t your daddy’s Quake II engine anymore.

III. Leviticus: The Story

And Romero made three great lights; the greatest light Hiro to win the day, the second light Mikiko to light the way, and the third light Superfly to inflict the beat down.
And Romero set them in the story of the Daikatana to give light upon the Quake.
And to rule over the Daikatana and over the story, and to divide the Daikatana from the Quake; and Romero saw that it was good.
And the Daiktana and the story were the third day.

For those who’ve seen “Back to the Future 2,” the theme of time travel is a similar one. But I don’t think there’s ever been a game that’s used it quite to this extent. If Daikatana fulfills its promises, this could be the gaming equivalent of Terminator 2. The story is as follows:

Several hundred years ago, a weapons forger for the Shogunate Mishima by the name of Usagi Miyamoto crafted the Daikatana. After discovering that the clan Mishima wanted to use the Daikatana in dishonorable ways (read: kill lotsa people) Usagi realized what he had to do. Making his way to the tip of Mount Fujiya, he performed the ancient Japanese ceremonial act of Hara Kiri (belly slashing) as such is required of a dishonored samurai warrior and impaled himself on the Daikatana, and he and the sword fell into the volcano. The sword was then lost for an age. Time passed.

The year was 2455 AD. Through the determination and guidance of Dr. Toshiro Ibihara, the Daikatana was recovered from the bowels of Mount Fujiya. To test the power of the Daikatana, Ibihara’s daughter Mikiko and his proudest student, Hiro Miyamoto, volunteered to be sent into the future for a short period of time. During the time the two were temporally displaced, Ibihara’s assistant, Michi Yoshida, murdered his mentor and stole the Daikatana. With it, he traveled 425 years into the past, to amend the name of his clan: Clan Mishima. He stole the cure for the AIDS virus from its rightful inventor, Dr. Ibihara’s ancestor and presented it to the world as his own. Yoshida then used the wealth gained through the cure for AIDS to build a fortress, where the Daikatana would remain safe from those who know of its existence and powers.

The player controls Hiro Miyamoto, and with the aid of the AI-controlled Mikiko, the daughter of slain scientist Dr. Ebihara, and Superfly Johnson, the three set out to show Yoshida the Webster’s Dictionary definition of pain, obtain the Daikatana, go back into the past, set history straight, and prevent Dr. Ibhara’s murder from ever happening. Together, the three of you have to travel through time and stop Michi Yoshida and kick some serious ass along the way. Got all that? Good, cause there’s gonna be a test.

Thankfully, Romero had better taste than Core Design when concerned with Mikiko. The early depictions of Mikiko displayed her as nothing more than an Asian Lara Croft. Since that time she’s grown into a three dimensional character. Perhaps it was what Romero originally planned. Perhaps it had something to do with articles such as GDR’s “Sex Sells but I’m Not Buying.” Perhaps not. But despite that, Mikiko looks to be the videogame equivalent of Sarah Connor. Any woman who can make a man piss in his pants is ok by me.

What’s even more intriguing is the lack of any ‘wasp’ characters. Hiro and Mikiko are either Asian (or Japanese, at this point Romero has yet to say), and Superfly Johnson is black. I’m left wondering, political correctness in action? Most likely it has something to do with Romero’s own heritage. Toss in a dash of 1970’s blaxploitation for good measure and some pop culture reference to spice it up, and you have potential lightning in a bottle.

Now onto the four episodes.

Kyoto, Japan, 2455 AD

Straight outta Kyoto.

What should we expect? From the screenshots released so far, it looks as if BladeRunner inspired a good bit of the design for this time period. Sometimes the design is the message essentially. The first level of Kyoto, Japan, named The Swamp, has many glaring neon lights, trash cluttered streets, run down buildings, and robotic defenders of all sorts, such as the Robocrox, Roboskeets, Froginators, and more.

The second level is entitled The Sewer, where Hiro and Mikiko run into the sluge minion, which are big and nasty, kinda like that mean old grandmother on your mother’s side that always terrified you as a kid. But at least the Sludge Minion makes your death a quick one; my grandmother always banged on my hands with a ruler.

In the third level, entitled The Slammer, you run into Superfly Johnson (I won’t even touch on the sheer oddness of his name). Following this are four more levels: The Fortress, The Defense Zone, The Lab, and The Vault. Be on the lookout for access to a hidden level somewhere in The Vault.

The second episode begins in Athens, Greece, 2030 BC.

Fire down below!

The first level begins on Lemnos Isle and then from there to The Catacombs of Athens, and then Athens itself. From there the trio heads to The Parthenon, Minos’s Castle, and The Labyrinth of the Minotaur. Expect to run into (duh) a Minotaur, as well as some griffins, sirens, Medusa (my next door neighbor), Satyrs (the guys with the goat legs who play the flute. No, not those kind of goat legs. Get your head out the gutter.) This age contains a secret level as well that has old one eye himself, Cyclops of ancient lore, wandering about his own island.

As you travel through the different levels, remember to continue charging up the Daikatana by using it to take out enemies. Be on the lookout for the Sepukku power (actually, it’s Hara Kiri, but apparently Romero didn’t study the Bushido code of honor when writing Daikatana).

The third time period is my favorite one. The Dark Ages of Norway (where in Norway, John?), 560 AD.


The first level is Plague Village, and from there the trio continues to The Choice, Mountain Pass, The Dungeon, and finally Castle Keep. The secret level here? The Dragon’s Lair. I’ll let you figure it out. And I only wish I knew what kind of dragon. I’m hoping for red, but beggars can’t be choosers. Expect this age to feel not un-similar in style to that of Hexen II, as in this age you’ll have to deal with 4 evil mages.

The fourth and final age is San Francisco, 2030 AD.

“Gentlemen…welcome to the rock!”

This isn’t your daddy’s San Francisco anymore. The Big One (no, not a drugged up Levelord), an earthquake, which has now split a part of San Francisco into the Pacific Ocean. Don’t ya hate it when that happens? This age begins on The Rock (Alcatraz) and continues with Escape from Alcatraz. From there the age continues with the Tower of Crime, Research Complex, and finally Mishima’s Hideout.

IV. Numbers: Monsters

And Romero said, let the monsters under the darkness be gathered together not unto one place, and let the lands appear; and it was so.
And Romero called the first land Kyoto, Japan 2450 AD. He named the second land Athens, Greece, 2030 BC. The third land was named Norway, 560 AD. The final land unto Romero was named San Francisco 2030 AD. And the gathering together of the lands was called time traveling; and Romero saw that it was good.
And Romero said, let the Earth bring forth evils in each age, the age yielded the evil, and it was so.
And the evil spewed forth, and Romero saw that it was good.
And the ages and the evils were the fourth day.

I’m sure many people are wondering what relevance the four different time periods have to anything in the game. Well, outside of giving level designers an amazing challenge, it’s a step in the opposite direction when compared to most 3D shooters of late. Most fps games tend to stick to the ‘corridor shooter’ style that began with Wolfenstein 3D. Since then, few games have tried to focus on a different design, most notably Unreal. The trend continued with Tribes. And now it’s Daikatana’s turn. Throughout the game, Hiro, Mikiko, and Superfly will travel to four different time periods, and each time period will boast different weapons and monsters. Unlike Half-Life, this game is not trying to be realistic in any sense of the word, so please suspend your belief and hang on, cause the ride only gets bumpier from here on in.

Critters galore

What sort of enemies can we expect to see in each time period? In a recent editorial written by the girls down at OGR, Romero revealed that originally there were going to be a total of approximately 60 enemies, which then went up to 80, and then down to 55. Although which enemies have been removed is not yet known, there are at this time, 66 known monsters.

Kyoto, Japan 2450, AD

Roboco Crox (robotic crocodile)
Roboco Slaughterskeet III (robotic mosquito)
Roboco Slaughterskeet Protopod (slaughterskeet eggs)
Roboco Lethallick Froginator II (robotic frog)
Roboco Thunderskeet IV (large version of the slaughterskeet III, miniboss in the game)
Roboco Venomvermin XP5 (unknown at this time, probably a big ass rat based on the name)
Roboco Tentaclor (a gigantic robotic octopoid, miniboss in the game)
Roboco Sludge Minion (a man-size robot that tends to the sewers of the fortress)
Roboco Inmater (a box-like robot that patrols in front of the prison cells)
Prisoner (duh)
Roboco Ragemaster 5000 (robot with two huge hammer fists)
Roboco Battle Boar (four-wheeled robotic boar with long tusks)
Roboco Paindrone (floating, robotic laser sphere)
Roboco Track Attack (track robot with Gatling guns)
Roboco Track Daddy (a large version of the Track Attack)
Roboco Laser Gat (are suspended from the ceiling and shoot at the player)
Roboco Cambot (floating camera)
Lab Worker With Gun (the name says it all)
Roboco Deathsphere (a massive floating defense droid)
Psyclaw (a huge brain with four lion-like legs with claws and a long tail)

Athens, Greece, 2030 BC

Skeleton (duh)
Centurion (spear-throwing soldier)
Spider (duh)
Squid (duh)
Siren (kinda like an evil mermaid)
Ferryman (used to get across the Aegean Sea to the catacombs of Athens)
Harpy (beautiful winged woman with eagle feet and a large bow)
Griffon (half-lion, half-eagle, all evil)
Satyr (half-human, half-goat)
Thieves (I’ll let you figure this one out)
Caryatid Columns (huge statue of a woman with a sword, miniboss)
Cerebus (jumping, biting, three-headed hell dog, miniboss)
Medusa (humanoid with hair of swarming snakes)
King Minos (NPC)
Cyclops (big one eyed monster, hurls large rocks at you, miniboss)
Minotaur (large upright-walking bull-man, final boss)

The Dark Ages of Norway, 560 AD

Buboid (a Black Plague victim who wanders the streets)
Plague Rat (disease carrying rodent)
Rotworms (huge, slimy maggots)
Doom Bat (uglier and nastier version of a bat)
Lycanthir (bipedal werewolf)
Fletcher (archers)
Fly (non attacking fly)
Priest (an old priest who gives you information about your quest)
Dardic Dwarf (short, stocky dwarf with an ax and helmet)
Dragon Eggs (similar to Alien eggs)
Baby Dragon (a small, red dragon)
Dragon (what do you think?)
Celestril The Conjuror (the weakest of the four mages that must be faced, miniboss)
Wyndrax The Wizard (the second of four mages that must be faced, miniboss)
Sabikiis The Sorcerer (second most powerful mage, miniboss)
Nharre The Necromancer (Nharre is the most powerful mage of the four, miniboss)
King Gharroth (evil ruler that needs to be shown the boot, main boss)

San Francisco, 2030 AD

Black Prisoner (big prisoner)
White Prisoner (a white prisoner)
Gang Member 1 (Uzi-toting male)
Gang Member 2 (same as Gang Member 1, but with different clothing)
Female Gang Member (just a female Gang Member)
Rocket Launcher Dude (heavy-duty gang member with a rocket launcher)
Flying Chaingunner (similar to Gang Member 1, but wields a chaingun)
Monkey (I don’t even want to know)
Hummer GI (Hummer with a driver and gunner)
Apache Helicopter (Apache attack chopper that strafes the grounds)
Military Policeman 1 (a navy guy with a Navy-issued handgun)
Military Policeman 2 (a navy MP with dual heat-seeking rocket launchers)
Navy Seal (Navy SEAL in full combat gear)
Neal Seal Captain (big Navy SEAL in full condom gear)
Shark (very large great white shark)
Octopus (large, dark green octopus)

For the single player campaign, the monster AI will work through a node system to premap all the levels for the AI code. What does this mean? The enemies know the entire level. They know where the trio can go, where special areas are, and thus can chase you all over.

V. Deuteronomy: Weapons

And Romero said, let the waters bring forth an abundance of artillery. The moving laser that hath life, and rail that may fly above the earth in the arena of deathmatch.
And Romero crafted weapons of mass destruction and power, and every living creature that moveth stopped a moveth. They came forth abundantly, and every weapon after his kind of madness; and Romero saw that it was good.
And Romero sanctified them, saying, be fruitful, and deathmatch. And the seas became as blood, and the Daikatana was sanctified.
And the weapons and the sanctification were the fifth day.

Each age has its own separate weapons that will not port over to the next age. If you’re wondering why, I have no idea, I’m going by what Romero decreed. Imagine walking up to a main boss with over 10 weapons to choose from. Sounds a tad bit over the top now doesn’t it? Exactly my point. So how are the weapons? Bloody frickin powerful if you ask me. Unlike Turok 2 or Blood 2, Daikatana isn’t trying to go for sheer power but sheer fun and creativity. Any gun can be made to be powerful, but that concept has become rehashed, and now gamers want interesting weapons that aren’t just bigger versions of one another.

If the weapons listed below do as I hope they do, I know I’ll be very pleased when I go to deathmatch with my editor. With Quake II and Half-Life weapons under fire for being slow, John Carmack saw the light and decided to speed them up in Quake III. The same can be said of Daikatana. The weapons in Daikatana are meant to be the perfect deathmatch weapons, with a good amount of variety for rocket arena style gaming (sidewinder), melee combat (silverclaw, disruptor glove), and free-for-alls (Eye of Zeus, Slugger, Kinteticore).

Kyoto, Japan 2450, AD

Ion Blaster

Ion Storm’s ion blaster

Hmm, I’m wondering if this fires an ion? Makes you think what inspired this one. It looks similar in style to Quake II’s firecracker gun. After staring at pictures until my eyes cried for Gillian Anderson, I came upon the decision that this gun must have to spin up to charge up, similar to my editor’s hamster.

C4 Vizatergo

This is going to be the nasty mutha of the bunch. This weapon allows you to fire C4 plastic explosives that adhere to walls. The C4 may then be remotely detonated, and several can be used at a time. But if you blow one, they all blow. Kaboom. Big toy.


6 round semi automatic shotgun. If you’ve ever seen a tommy gun (just watch some cheesy gangsters flick like Dick Tracey) this’ll remind you of it. A friggin’ gangster inspired gun in a fantasy game? Script doctor! Rewrite!


I’m not quite sure what this gun does, but so far, based upon what I’ve seen, it looks like it fires two missiles at once. Ooohh, this is going to make for a fun little deathmatch weapon. Rocket launcher? Hah! Why settle for one when you can double that? Add to that 6 mini missiles on the handgrip (look at the picture if you don’t believe me), and this all adds up to one lethal weapon. Yes, I definitely think the Daikatana deathmatch is going to be fun.


The shockwave looks really big (Ever notice that big spelled backwards is gib?) and really mean in a firefight. I’d imagine it chews up ammo like Billy “Wicked” Wilson does carrots.

Disruptor Glove If I had an image to go on, I’d talk about how cool it is, but I think the name speaks for itself. I can only imagine how cool it would be to demolecularize your opponent. The more I think about this glove the more I can imagine someone out there making a karate chop animation mod for this glove and running around on a server killing people with one swift blow.

Athens, Greece, 2030 BC

Poseidon’s Trident

Since this weapon has three prongs on the tip of it, it’d be safe to say that it doesn’t shoot water, which would be pretty damn lame. As a guess, it probably shoots those prongs and reloads, and fires again. It’d have to reload quicker than Quake II’s super shotgun to be lethal enough to show an enemy what dirt tastes like.

Discus of Daedalus

This could be a potentially nasty weapon. It consists mainly of a bronze disc with a sharpened edge. When thrown, if it doesn’t find a target it will come back after a while. (kinda like Captain America’s shield) It can bounce off walls and make sushi of an enemy. It can paint your walls, do your dishes, and can even vacuum your floor. Oh, that was a bad pun….


This is probably going to be the puniest of all weapons available. Just thinking about using this in a multiplayer game makes me want to puke. The Venomous is a staff that has two snakes entwined around it with the heads at the top and wings on the sides. When fired, the heads will alternately blow out clouds of translucent poison that float and hover in the air, until an idiot creature runs into them. This is just as bad as Quake II’s sorry excuse for a flare gun.

Sunflare I don’t even have a picture to go on, although I’m guessing this is going to be heat related with fire balls of heat giving those ever so pale enemies the tan they’ve always wanted. If this weapon does what I think it will, then pyromaniacs around the world will be very happy.

Eye of Zeus

Have you ever seen Raiders of the Lost Ark? Of course you have. Remember The Ark of the Covenant? Remember how much ass it kicked at the end of the film? Well, folks, this is the hand held version of it. The Eye of Zeus is a magical staff with an eye at the tip. In an enclosed space, a bolt of lightning fires from the eye and nails the closest enemy. The lightning bolt will in turn chain from the hit enemy to any enemy that it can see. Every single enemy will want to pooch screw you even more for using this weapon, if they aren’t flashfried.

The Dark Ages of Norway, 560 AD


A close range weapon, this glove will allow you to show your enemies what they would look like if they were sushi. This is a weapon of lesser power, but a necessary weapon nonetheless, as this is the only weapon that can hurt the werewolves in the game.


Your normal everyday crossbow. Thank you, drive through, next?

Stavros’ Stave

A jewel-tipped scepter that summons meteors. Didn’t Heretic II have the same damn thing as a spell?


Rumor has it though that this is a supped up version of the bolter. Does it have sheep on it like Hexen II?

Wyndrax’s Wisp

I have absolutely no idea what this does, although somehow I imagine that is the sort of thing that Gandalf would carry. It looks like a walking stick with a claw at the end. Above the claw is a hovering sphere. All I can say is, it looks pretty friggin powerful.

Nharre’s Nightmare

This weapon looks damn cool, but Romero and his hair refuse to tell me what it does. The skull with the emerald on it makes this the choice weapon for all you Sauron wannabe’s out there, simply because it looks damn cool.

San Francisco, 2030 AD


Bigger than Quake II’s BFG, this weapon shoots laser pulses. I’m betting that these laser pulses are pretty friggin big. Secondary fire fires a Cordite Cluster. What the hell is a cordite?


Looks like Quake II’s chaingun. Hopefully the load up time has been increased. And this thing looks like it can hold a lot of ammo. I wonder if there’s a bullet to blood volume ratio that could be set up….


Who wants to bet this is just a regular glock pistol? A picture is worth a thousand words, except when it’s invisible.


It’s got a lot of hydraulic pipes connected to it, and has one single slot to fire from. Who wants to take bets that this is the bfg of the game? I would imagine the nova beam is just that, a beam. But from the looks of it, with the large base and small slot to fire from, this thing probably needs to be charged up a good bit.


Take the hyperblaster from Quake II. Make it shoot at railgun speed, and have it fire 5 balls at once that will bounce off walls 10 times and then evaporate unless they find a target. Sounds nasty don’t it? It gets better. When a ball hits a target, it causes a small concussion sphere. Now imagine getting nailed with 5 of these nasty suckers. This is going to be such a fun little weapon for deathmatching.


Remember the snarks from Half-Life? Imagine a mechanical version of one of those. It’ll hook to a wall after scampering around for a few moment. Once it adheres to the wall it’ll release a trip wire. Once someone runs over the trip wire the metamaser will lock a tracking beam onto the target and start charging up its laser blast.

Once it charges up, it fires a laser beam at the opponent. This is going to be an amazing weapon for deathmatch. Oh yes, just you wait and see, oh yes, it shall be so. Just imagine setting 50 of these loose in a level and hiding in a safe spot. Everyone would be dead so quickly! This is going to be such an amazing deathmatch weapon!

Although not counted as weapons, power-ups referred to here as artifacts are found in each age and can prove to be helpful:
Wraith orb
Golden soul
Temporary stat boosters

Found in Kyoto, Japan are: Jet Boots and an Oxylung
Found in Ancient Greece are: Earwax, a Spear, and a Shield
Found in Dark Ages Norway are: Ice Boots, a Ring of Fire Resistance, and a Ring of Undead Protection
Found in San Francisco is an Envirosuit

VI. Joshua: Multiplayer

And Romero said, let the ages bring forth the living creature after his kind, deathmatchers, and creeping things called campers and beasts of the Earth after his kind: KillCreek. And it was so.
And Romero made the beast of the earth after his kind, and deathmatchers after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after camper kind; and Romero saw that it was good.
And Romero said, behold, I have given you every ion bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the Earth, and every weapon, in the which is the ammo of a weapon yielding blood; to you it shall be for gib.
And Romero saw everything that he had made, and it was very good.
And the deathmatcher and the camper were the sixth day.

Daikatana is expected to ship with 4 different multiplayer options:
Co-op DM

Since the single player is the most integral part of the game, deathmatch is secondary to everything else. As Romero himself puts it, “You don’t really have to focus a whole lot on deathmatch to make it cool. It kind of works itself out, as long as you have good rules for how the world works and you have decent weapon balancing”. Fair enough. I’m certain many people will disagree with this, but in the case of Quake II, the multiplayer just worked itself out as well. Originally there were no deathmatch maps, and in the end it has become the most played multiplayer game other than Ultima Online.

How’s the movement speed? Somewhere between Doom 2 and Quake. I don’t think I can say it any better than Stevie “KillCreek” Case has: “Holy S*#T!!!! There are no words for how fun the deathmatch is right now…and we are still in the tweaking stages. Do not fear action fans, Daikatana is superfast, hardcore carnage at its best. Cool effects, useful features, awesome art, and some kickass levels are really coming together to make this game ROCK HARD!….the pure carnage is amazing!!”

I can’t help but get excited to hear such good things about Daikatana, especially since this is all coming from Stevie Case, who not only beat Romero’s ass in Quake deathmatches on several occasions, but also helped design several Quake II levels that can be found online. If she’s excited about a game, then I know there’s hope. And with newcomer Bobby Pavlock going out of his way to defend the game he’s come to love after only a few short months of being a part of, this has reassured me that Daikatana does infact still have a chance to be the game I’m hoping it’ll be.

In order for the multiplayer to work, the weapon balance must be right, and if the weapons above are as good in the game as they sound on paper, then the wholesale slaughter seen in Daikatana will be unlike anything before. Everyone should be pleased; campers and ‘run and gun’ players alike. I’m still waiting for a railgun type weapon myself. As for the network code, it’s Quake II, and it’s John Romero. Now put those two together, and what do you get? No, not the love child of John Romero and KillCreek, but the fastest network code around.

Why do I say this? Remember, John had a hand in creating Doom and Quake, which have some of the fastest network code around, and this is the Quake II engine, so the multiplayer should be blazing as it is. And even without Carmack to hold his hand, Romero probably picked up a thing or two about networking from id, and with the addition of four different multiplayer options, Daikatana should have a long lifespan online.

Who knows, it may even blow Quake II out of the water. Although whether or not it can match Quake III is something else entirely, although in a recent chat with William Haskins & Justin Randall on MPlayer, it was revealed that Daikatana uses about 25%-75% less bandwidth than Quake II, which is good news, since now even hpbs will be pleased. Who knows, Quake III might actually have some competition.

VII. Judges: Sound

Thus the deathmatcher and the camper were finished, and all the host of them.
And on the seventh day Romero looked at his work which he had made; and he restored the music of the world.
And Romero blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had revived 3D audio from an untimely end.

Lately, sound has come to play as important a role in games as graphics, and if what the head DK sound guy Mike Monatague promises is as good as he says, then we’re all in for a lush audiofest. In a recent email received from him, he revealed to me the plans Ion has concerning Daikatana.

As soon as Mike came onboard the DK team, he began rewriting the Quake II sound engine using Miles 5.0. Since then he and the audio staff have worked towards making Daikatana support DirectSound, A3D 2.0, EAX 2.0, and Dolby Pro-Logic. What soundcard is recommended? Either a MX300 or a SB Live. Don’t start drooling yet.

He also mentioned that as long as of all these are out before Daikatana, it’ll be in the game. So A3D 2.0 is in. Direct Sound (an extension of DirectX) is in. Dolby Pro-Logic is in. Only EAX 2.0 has become questionable, but Creative Labs has a few months left to get their act in gear. What of the speakers? 4 channel speakers (4 speakers) or a 5.1 channel (6 speakers: center, front left and right, rear left and right, and subwoofer) speaker systems are reccomended.

The game will have at least thirty CD audio tracks. Written by Will Loconto, the music in the game will vary depending on what age you are in. And there will be a Daikatana soundtrack. Expect a mesh of ambient music, rock, and heavy metal. The music isn’t present here for the hell of it. Instead, just like Jedi Knight, it’s here to enhance the single player campaign and add more atmosphere to the game.

You can now also listen to the soundtrack for free online.

VIII. Romero Takes a Nap: Conclusion

On the eight day Romero took a nap.
And deathmatchers rejoiced at news of a demo.
The screenshots doth came and many bright days ahead on the horizon awaited.

What is there left to say about Daikatana that has not yet been said? After all the hype and after all the controversy, after all the delays, if you strip all of it away, what’s left? A potential blockbuster game that may turn out to be a surprise to a lot of people if done right. I’ve been waiting three years for Daikatana, and I don’t mind waiting a bit longer if the game will be that much better.

How will it stack up against the oncoming onslaught of Quake III, Unreal Tournament, and Team Fortess 2? I would imagine quite well, for the simple fact that similar to Jedi Knight and Half-Life, this is a game where single player mode comes first and multiplayer second. And in a year filled primarily with multiplayer games, Daikatana should stand out in the crowd.

I can’t imagine Daikatana not being a success. Each and every game coming out this year sticks to one type of theme: Quake III has the techno/goth look, Unreal Tournament has the spacey science fiction theme similar to Unreal, and Team Fortress 2 has a World War II inspired theme. Daikatana never sticks to one theme; it offers 4 distinct themes.

To me, Daikatana is more akin to a perfected sauce; it has many different ingredients that need to be properly mixed to work. And if you mix them just right, people will come back for more. And with four different ages, rpg elements, fantastic visuals, unique weapons, an actual story, and fast paced deathmatch all mixed together, the result could give Daikatana an advantage over all other games making it stand out above the crowd. May the hamsters sing the praises of Daikatana through the night.

IX. Gallery: Daikatana

Facing Lara Croft

Core Ideas

Tomb Raider was released in 1996 and spanned six games, all produced by Core Design Pty Ltd., in Derby, England. The six series in this game are: Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider II, Tomb Raider III, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, Tomb Raider Chronicles, and Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. For the purposes of maintaining a firm grip on sanity, it is referred to here as the Core Series – a reference to the founding studio.

A Legend Reborn

Following the critical and arguably financial failure of Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, Tomb Raider publisher Eidos Interactive handed the license for Tomb Raider over to American game studio Crystal Dynamics, who rebooted in the series with the 2006 release, Tomb Raider: Legend (referred to here as the Legend Series). From 2006 to 2008, three new Tomb Raider games were released in the Legend series: Tomb Raider Legend, Tomb Raider Anniversary, and Tomb Raider Underworld. This trilogy of games utilised a game engine commonly referred to as the Horizon Engine.

Survivor’s Story

In 2013, the Tomb Raider series was rebooted a second time. The title of the first game out the door was, to the confusion of more than a few people, simply Tomb Raider. Two sequels followed on its heels – Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. This trilogy is referred to here by the nickname provided by the Tomb Raider community – the Survivor Series. The engine used for this trilogy of games evolved from the Horizon Engine into a new engine of its very own, called the Foundation Engine.

Bear in mind, also, that each iteration of the series has changed Lara’s background and given her a new backstory, so don’t go looking for “canonicity” here. You’re not going to find any, aside from a cute stinger at the end of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which ends with players seeing a letter on her desk from Jacqueline Natla (the antagonist from the very first Tomb Raider).

Core Design

Tomb Raider was built and produced in 18 months by Core Design Ltd., a team of six based out of Derby, England. Their publisher? Eidos Interactive. Derby is located in Derbyshire, in the East Midlands of England (smack in the middle of the country). It’s kind of important. To give you a sense of just how much of an impact the series had on Derby – there’s an actual road named after her. A local election voted in favour of naming a street after a videogame character designed by a local team of developers. Six developers, in fact. Gavin Rummery, Jason Gosling, Toby Gard, Heather Gibson, Neal Boyd, and Paul Douglas. However, Toby Gard is cited as the person responsible for creating Lara herself.

(The Core team, in Darby. Photo courtesy of Eurogamer.)

Creating Lara

Lara started out as an unnamed male character. Early iterations of the character featured a fedora and whip – an obvious homage to Indiana Jones, who has been cited as an inspiration for the series. Fearing a potential lawsuit, the sex of the character was quickly changed, and Laura Cruz was born. She would eventually be renamed Lara Croft to sound a bit more familiar to British ears. As Croft’s creator Toby Gard explained in a documentary, the team at Core went through a local phonebook looking for names that might sound better, and several were identified as potentials until finally the team agreed on “Croft”.

Indiana Jones was not, interestingly, the only influence upon the game. The original platformer that arguably created the cinematic platforming genre – Prince of Persia – was cited by Croft creator Toby Gard as an influence during the creative process of making the first Tomb Raider, as well as two other games one might not expect to see mentioned: Virtua Fighter and Ultima Underworld. As Gard explained in an interview, he wanted to combine these two games. Outside of gaming, the films Tank Girl, Indiana Jones, and Hard Boiled (the John Woo film) all helped give Gard “the idea for Lara”.

But success was not assured. 3D gaming was still a new frontier in the mid-1990s. Which is why, as explained in a comprehensive and highly recommended Eurogamer piece, “Eidos had budgeted for launch sales of 100,000 units. After those sold out, shops called for hundreds of thousands more copies. Tomb Raider went on to sell 7.5m”.

(It all started here, back in 1996. Image courtesy of

Core Design would go on to produce five more games after the release of the first Tomb Raider game. So taken was Eidos by the staggering success of the series, that they demanded Core have a new game ready each year in time for the Christmas holiday season.

Each subsequent game would tweak the formula and add new features, but all utilised the same engine (dubbed the “TRosettaStone Engine”). A punishing yearly release schedule hindered innovation, and though the sequels performed well, over time it became clear that the engine was getting long in the tooth, the franchise formula was becoming stale, and that change was needed. Gard, famously, left after the release of the first game, citing disappointment with the way in which Lara was marketed as the driving reason.

Thus, after the critical drubbing of the sixth entry in the series, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, Eidos Interactive took the license away from Core and handed it to it to US-based studio Crystal Dynamics, who are based out of the San Francisco bay area. Crystal Dynamics have produced every single game in the series since barring the latest release, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which was produced by a third studio: Eidos Montreal (Crystal Dynamics provided additional development for the game, but the primary development studio was Eidos Montreal).

Core Design’s story did not quite end there, however. An attempt was made internally to design their own “anniversary” edition of Tomb Raider – and video footage of this game did eventually leak to the Internet and can be found easily. However, that game would ultimately be scrapped, and Crystal Dynamics would later release (in 2007) Tomb Raider Anniversary, the second game in the Legends trilogy.

And yet.

In the beginning, it all started with a small team of six people.

In a regional English city.

(Wave “hello” to Derby!)

Together, a small team of six developers created one of the most iconic videogame characters to ever grace PCs and consoles. An impressive legacy.

The Technology Context

Gaming and technology in 2020 is a far, far different world from that of 1996. Where now players have digital purchasing platforms, gamers in the mid-90s had to buy games from brick and mortar stores, and the content had to fit onto the spaces available on discs at the time. It’s not like today, where games can be as big as they need to be and purchased through platforms such as Good Old Games, Steam, Origin, or the Epic Store, where games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance can clock in at 75 gigabytes, or – *screams internally* – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which takes up a terrifying 209 gigabytes. At the time, it was common to fit a game onto a single, 650Mb CD. No director’s cut here. Core Design had to make peace with the technological limitations and craft a story that works within those confines.

Absent any ability for the game to provide more information than is physically possible, we’re left with a game that is forced to tell us a story through its environments, and what the state of those environments suggest to players.

Of course, some games required more space. Baldur’s Gate was an impressive five-CD install. Blade Runner spanned four CDs. The Curse of Monkey Island? Two CDs. Ditto for Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight. Tomb Raider, however, shipped on one CD across all the platforms for which it was released (Playstation and Saturn).

Not unlike contemporary games, Tomb Raider featured a multi-platform release – both of which had the kind of game controller support that was (and still is) lacking from for the PC edition of the game. Want to give your pinkie a workout it’s not likely to forget anytime soon? Have a go at the original Tomb Raider.

The PC edition is widely regarded as the best of the three options, primarily on account of it having a Save Anywhere system. The console editions of the game, being mindful of available hard drive space, had save crystals, which allowed players to only save once per level.

That’s 15 saves total.

(Be grateful, PC gamers, for not having to suffer this annoyance. Thanks to tombraider.fandom for preserving this moment in gaming history.)

As each level can take upwards of an hour to complete, this was for many a point of considerable annoyance. And understandably so.

There is a lesson, a point, to this. The technology available at the time placed restrictions on the developers at Core Design. Would they have liked to have the ability to expand the story a bit further? By all accounts, the answer seems to learn towards “yes”, as at least one full motion video (FMV) was known to have been cut from the game, and Gard himself has alluded to wanting to have made plot points in the game clearer.



British treasure hunter Lara Croft is hired by American businesswoman Jacqueline Natla to locate one of the three pieces of the Scion of Atlantis (a pendant broken up into three pieces). After locating the first piece, one of Natla’s mercenaries attempts to betray Lara. This results in Lara seeking out the remaining pieces, interrupting Natla’s plans and becoming enmeshed in an ages-old conflict.


What plot there is includes a rather small cast of characters – 11 in total, including one character who only appears as a voice-over during a cut scene.

Lara Croft: the protagonist of the game, an English aristocrat and treasure hunter.

Jacqueline Natla: a wealthy businesswoman who hires Lara to find one of the three pieces of the Scion. For reasons that have never made much sense or been very clear, she betrays Lara by sending one of her henchmen, the mercenary Larson, to kill her and take her the piece Lara locates in Peru.

Qualopec: one of the three rulers of Atlantis, whose grave is located in Peru.

Tihocan: one of three rulers of Atlantis, whose grave is located in Greece.

Larson: an American mercenary who works for Natla.

Pierre Dupont: a French mercenary and treasure hunter.

Carlos: Lara’s Peruvian guide.

Brother Herbert: a monk who wrote about the potential burial site of Tihocan.

Bald Man: one of Natla’s henchmen.

Skater Boy: one of Natla’s henchmen.

Cowboy: one of Natla’s henchmen.


The game: Tomb Raider is broken up into four distinct areas, with a total of 15 levels spread across those four regions: Peru, Greece, Egypt, and finally Atlantis.

Peru: Caves, City of Vilcabamba, The Lost Valley, Tomb of Qualopec

Greece: St. Francis’ Folly, Colosseum, Palace Midas, Cister, Tomb of Tihocan

Egypt: City of Khamoon, Obelisk of Khamoon, Sanctuary of the Scion

Atlantis: Natla’s Mines, Atlantis, The Great Pyramid

Who is Lara Croft?

“Entertainment evolves generationally.”

– Filmjoy, Mikey Neumann

Manual Gaming

One of the fascinating things about the way games from the 90s operated is that they had limitations. Aside from obvious graphical and design limitations, games were also constrained by the technology on which they were deployed. At the time, that meant CD-ROMs. So somewhere between 650-700MB of data.

These restrictions meant that players would have to turn to game manuals to obtain background information on the games they were playing, be it information about the world or the characters they were playing.

In the case of Lara Croft, the first Tomb Raider game doesn’t provide players with much in the way of character history. Nor does the game challenge or reward players for engaging in different playing styles. Whether or not you choose to kill every wolf, bear, bat, crocodile, and velociraptor that comes your way makes no difference in the eyes of the game. An RPG it is not.

Instead, players are left do something absolutely shocking – read the instruction manual. Doing so will reveal an interesting bit of background context as to who Lara is and why she gets up to her tomb raiding hijinks. This is worth noting given the focus placed on developing Lara’s background and characterisation in the Legend and Survival timelines.

Raiding Manual, 1996

So who is Lara Croft?

Well, she is in fact “the daughter of Henshingly Croft, [Lara] was raised to be an aristocrat from birth. After attending finishing school at the age of 21, Lara’s marriage into wealth had seemed assured, but on her way home from a skiing trip her chartered plane had crashed deep in the heart of the Himalayas. The only survivor, Lara learned how to depend on her wits to stay alive in hostile conditions a world away from her sheltered upbringing.

Two weeks later when she walked into the village of Tokakeriby her experiences had had a profound effect on her. Unable to stand the claustrophobic suffocating atmosphere of upper-class British society, she realised that she was only truly alive when she was travelling alone. Over the 8 following years she acquired an intimate knowledge of ancient civilisations across the globe.

Her family soon disowned their prodigal daughter, and she turned to writing to fund her trips. Famed for discovering several ancient sites of profound archaeological interest she made a name for herself by publishing travel books and detailed journals of her exploits.”

(I’m not even kidding. That’s from the actual manual.)

(Photo from the actual manual. Yes, I actually own a copy.)

This is how we did things in the 90s. We didn’t bother trying to explain the plot to you within the game! There wasn’t enough space on the disc for such conveniences! Remember Diablo? Starting the game results in players picking a few basic details about their characters, arriving in Tristram, and then learning about everything else as they went along.

It was by reading the manual that more could be learned about Khanduras, King Leoric, the Sisters of the Sightless Eye, the Brotherhood of the Vizjerei, The Great Conflict, the Sin War, etc. Reflecting the narrative constrictions placed upon games in the 90s, user manuals operated as a must-have to properly understand a game’s lore and character information.

Survivor’s Manual

Whereas the manual for the original Tomb Raider gave us an idea of the character, the manual for the first game in the Survivor series, by comparison, gave us something closer or akin to a synopsis of the game:

“Tomb Raider is the first chapter in the story of Lara Croft. As the game begins, Lara is a young college graduate, eager to find adventure and make her mark on the archaeological world. With her best friend Sam, Lara joins an expedition aboard the research vessel Endurance in search of the lost kingdom of Yamatai.

Thought to have existed on an island somewhere off the coast of Japan, Yamatai’s true location has remained a mystery for centuries. Trusting in Lara’s research, Conrad Roth, captain of the Endurance, takes the expedition into a dangerous area of the sea known as the Dragon’s Triangle. It is here that everything goes horribly wrong and Lara discovers the true price of adventure.”

The Survivor series, being a modern series with more disc space for brick and mortar editions (to say nothing of digital download editions, which in theory do not have space constraints[1]), can focus on a more robust amount of character progression and growth in-game. Whether or not the game succeeds is, of course, a more subjective point.

Other games at the time found different ways to bring players up to speed on their story and characters. For example, Star Wars: Dark Forces, a Doom clone, used the famous Star Wars opening crawl to bring players up to speed on the plot. The sequel, Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, utilised FMVs across two discs to tell a more grandiose – and comprehensive – story.

Between the Core Series and the Survivor Series, there also existed a trilogy of games known as the Legend Series. We’ll get back to that shortly.


As Mikey Neumann pointed out in a piece on Blade Runner 2049, “entertainment evolves generationally”, so the expectations of audiences in the mid-1990s are not the same as those of audiences in 2020. So let’s talk about the gameplay, shall we?

In 1996, it was necessary for a game with limited disc capacity to use the game world to tell the story. After two FMVs that set up the story, the game officially begins in Peru. As the FMV comes to a close, a pair of doors swing shut behind Lara as she looks out onto a snowy tunnel extending before her.

Throughout most of the first part of the game there’s little to no real music, no real narrative propulsion. There’s no journal or quest menu, no specialised button that highlights important objects or characters. Instead, players are left to explore the astonishingly massive set of levels that comprise the Peru section of the game. Tomb Raider invited players to observe the surroundings and figure things out on their own. The emphasis in the first game is decidedly on “exploration”. As designer Gard himself said once in an interview: “Tomb Raider is essentially about solving mysteries and exploration and these will always be interesting.”

The first two regions of the game, Peru[2] and Greece, place a heavy focus/emphasis on exploration. It’s also quite low on combat. This reflects designer Toby Gard’s feelings on killing in games. “Well the explanation’s dead simple really,” Gard explained in an interview with Gamasutra. “I wanted the game to start off with enemies that were reasonably realistic so that the player could begin to believe in the Tomb Raider world and hopefully be more surprised when it all went weird at the end. The problem was that we knew it would be really hard to put in lots of believable human characters because they’d be so immobile in comparison to Lara. I’m also not keen on just mindlessly killing humans in games anyway. So it had to be dangerous animals”.

It is fascinating to note that Gard’s iteration of Tomb Raider features far fewer humans than any other game in the series. It manages to easily avoid the ludo-narrative dissonance that plagued later sequels and iterations of the game by making Lara’s foes primarily ones found in nature – bats, wolves, bears, jackals, hyenas, and – *checks notes* – skinless Atlantean Centaurs and gargoyles.

By modern standards

By 2020 standards Tomb Raider would most likely frustrate players, with its random placement of switches in seemingly random locations that open doors and barricades in unlikely and sometimes distant locations, forcing players to return (sometimes frequently) to previously visited locations. For example, early in the game whilst exploring a beautiful underwater location, the player is required to pull on a lever that throws open a hatch that leads into a small home. A later level, based in a mine, features a hidden room above a mine cart tunnel with a switch that needs to be pulled to open a wooden door that’s hidden behind a waterfall.

Why the disparate placement of levers? Why have a trapdoor inside a house that leads into an underwater tunnel? Who knows? The puzzles in Tomb Raider rarely make much sense. They exist to prompt exploration, not to reflect the culture being, uh, tomb-raided.

Curiously, for a game called Tomb Raider, there are surprisingly few tombs actually being raided. Each segment of the game is in fact focussed on, well, Scion Hunting, rather than the raiding of tombs. Perhaps the closest we get to actual tombs being raided is the discovery of Tihocan’s crypt (where we find the second piece of the scion). Upon discovering his tomb, the game cuts to an in-game video of Lara deciphering the images and texts located along one wall in his tomb.

For a moment Lara, rather than the player, is in the narrative driver’s seat, where she reads: “Here lies Tihocan. One of the two….just rulers of Atlantis, who…even after the curse of the continent, had…tried to keep rule here in these barren other lands. He died without child, and his…knowledge has no heritage. Look over us kindly. Tihocan.”

(“Here lies Tihocan.”)

Of course, there is more to the game than exploration and the raiding of tombs. The game does provide player with combat. Notably, from approximately Egypt onwards, the game provides players with more opportunities for combat – with both unsettling Atlantean monsters and human foes alike. The final location in the game, Atlantis, is the most action-heavy portion of the game. And the most relentless. The final portion of the game is like a final exam, asking players to put to use all the skills they’ve honed in previous areas, to ensure Lara’s survival. There are more spiked pits, hidden boulders, booby traps, fake floors, sheer drops. The game simply throws everything at Lara in a last-ditch attempt to kill her in the most unpleasant ways possible. It’s as metal as it gets…in a Tomb Raider game, anyway.

But what’s the game like?

Well, if you haven’t found a way to mod controller support into the game, it’s going to be a 100% pure keyboard experience. For approximately 15 hours your mouse will feel alone, abandoned, and unloved. And your pinkie will get an Olympic-level workout. Remember, this is a game from 1996! The TRosettaStone Engine was built with grids in mind, so most – if not all – of the puzzles are informed by the design features of TRosettaStone – a marked difference from the Horizon Engine, which placed a greater focus on physics-based puzzles. The way in which Lara moves throughout the duration of the game and its sequels (until Angel of Darkness, which finally introduced mouse control) are therefore effectively designed to operate within a grid-based framework.

Central Themes of the Game

What does the game say? What does it make you feel?

Most, if not all art, is a conversation with the medium in which the art is created. If the first half of Tomb Raider is a reaction against action-driven popcorn cinema fare, then perhaps the second half of the game is a reaction against romanticised imaginings of Atlantis. Upon reaching the ruins of Atlantis, players are greeted with sights and sounds that are quite at odds with what might be expected. The soundtrack? The rhythm of what appears to be a beating heart, with the EQ set to ‘max subwoofer’ levels.

The sights? They perhaps tip the hat to Fantastic Voyage. Pulsating crimson walls. Stretched veins for ceilings. A visually and sonically unnerving experience, and a dramatic about-face into the realm of science-fantasy horror, full of corridors patrolled by skinless winged mutants, firebomb-hurtling centaurs, and even a skinless doppelgänger. Every new chamber and corridor reveals new ways to die a horrible death.

(Welcome to Atlantis. Come for the tourism, stay for the butt-ugly monsters!
Screenshot courtesy of Tomb Raider Hub.)

Long gone and abandoned is the sense of wonder at exploring a lost and forgotten civilisation. Instead, we’re invited into the halls of madness. To witness first-hand the second breath of a civilisation that should be allowed to wither away and simply refuses to do so. It’s the legacy of madness writ large.

Story through art design and negative space

There is a literary/narrative theory called negative space – in short, sometimes a story reveals a theme or tells a story not through what is explained or presented, but rather, through what isn’t shown. In the art world, a common definition for negative space is “the space between objects”. When applied to gaming, it has a slightly different meaning. As described by video game journalist Patricia Hernandez, “negative space, when applied to the rule-sets of games, refers to those necessary limits that provide context for and give significance to the decisions that the player makes”. Negative space defines the scope of what we can – and conversely cannot do – in a game.

Now, games are a kind of bricolage of systems, art, music, and gameplay mechanics. It’s a powerfully interactive medium that allows us to utilise multiple sensory organs at once. And in the 90s games were still in their infancy, and game studios were still figuring out what games could and could not do as they navigated changing hardware architectures, software systems and APIs. So while genres did exist, the late 90s was a period where gameplay styles had not yet fully solidified.

As video game historian Chris Franklin pointed out in his fourth Children of Doom episode, which focused on the game Marathon, it was commonplace for games from the late 90s through to the early 2010s to feature storytelling and character building through level design scenarios and enemy placement. “A linear structure where each level contributes some plot-forwarding elements and some gameplay variations for pacing and emotional effect to reflect what’s happening in the story.”

Tomb Raider certainly fits that design. The first half of the game eases players into the gameplay mechanics, lets them explore, eases players into the different weapons, enemies, level and platforming challenges – before forcing them to put everything they’ve learned to use in the final area of the game, where absolutely everything is relentlessly thrown at players like some kind of challenge gauntlet.

But in the first half of the game puts the idea of negative space to excellent use – not only in terms of gameplay mechanics, but also narratively. Peru and Greece are presented as places that have crumbled into disuse and been abandoned. The first “stage” of the game, Peru, presents the remains of Qualopec’s kingdom[3] as full of greys, blues, and one very green and leafy valley full of – of course – dinosaurs (because what’s an adventure game without a nice tip of the hat to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, right?).

(The city of Vilcabamba.)

But it’s also full of the remains of a civilisation. The detritus of the past lies strewn throughout the Peru section of the game. Lara will come across jars, bits of pottery, corpses, corridors overrun by ivy, and abandoned buildings. As the first stage of the game is set in Peru, the architectural design throughout this section of the game is meant to depict the remains of the Inca Empire. But within the game’s narrative, there’s a bit more it than that.[4]

Among the remains we also wander through, under, and over waterways and craggy, rocky ceilings that nature is slowly reclaiming. We discover mats of hay sprawled throughout old, abandoned rooms, before finally leading to a slightly more colourful palette of maroon and marigold. And eventually, a pedestal holding the first of the three pieces of the pendant that constitute the Scion of Atlantis.

(Scion shmion!)

But the environment? The atmosphere? Wind whistles from unseen places. A rickety bridge overlooks a room full of hungry wolves. Vines of emerald slowly overrun the remains of a ruined and/or abandoned civilisation. Bears roam freely among the remains of Qualopec’s mountain kingdom. What little music we get takes the form of obligatory action music (pulsating violins recreated on a synthesiser).

Otherwise, aside from a bit of gothic chant to lend a sense of wonder, there’s scant little noise or music aside from the crunch of Lara’s boots against rock and snow, or the sound of Lara diving into a pool of water. The open, uninhabited space in some ways feels reminiscent of a design feature used in the first Myst game: information is at a minimum, ambience is through the roof, and the imaginations of players are ignited as they are left to draw their own conclusions, and wonder about what happened.

(Tomb Raider sound effects. Courtesy of RasperryLovers1994 on Youtube.)

The gameplay enables this sensory experience by not pushing players forward. It doesn’t distract or seek to alleviate boredom. It lets the player look. And feel. It lets us feel a sense of abandonment, loneliness, isolation, sadness. One of the three rulers of Atlantis attempted to preserve (it would seem) their civilisations in the Peruvian Andes, and failed. We’re invited to ruminate on a society that failed to save itself and that was ultimately forgotten.[5]

Who will remember us? What will be our legacy?

– Mikey Neumann

It’s not until we get to the tomb of Tihocan that this question really hammers the point home. Tihocan’s crypt is located underneath a monastery in Greece, and requires Lara to navigate through an assortment of puzzles, as well as rooms and corridors full of broken columns, a coliseum fallen into disuse, a cistern overtaken by nature, and finally a lone building housing what remains of Tihocan.

At the end of the Greece segment of the game, the game switches to an in-engine cutscene. The music swells. Lara looks upon a mosaic with [blurry] text. She then read what’s written, informing the viewers. It’s a passive activity. We’ve led Lara to the crypt, now she does her part in the game of telling us what we’re looking at. We’re the agent of action, and she’s the agent of information.

And this is what she tells us:

“Here lies Tihocan. One of the two just rulers of Atlantis, who even after the curse of the continent had tried to keep rule here in these barren other lands. He died without child, and his knowledge has no heritage. Look over us kindly. Tihocan.”

(Tihocan’s legacy. Video courtesy of Stella’s Tomb Raider Site on Youtube.)

Intimations of concerns around a legacy, remembrance, memory. Who will remember us? What will be our legacy?

However accidental it might have been, it’s impossible to ignore that a cohesive set of themes does begin to emerge when one starts putting aspects of Tomb Raider’s gameplay and design under a microscope. A palpable sense of sadness arises from the level design and object placement and is even expressed, however briefly, by the game’s central antagonist. Late in the game, Lara and Natla finally meet face to face on an island that’s suggested to be part of a larger network of what we might call the ruins of Atlantis and Natla expresses, amid frothy, dim-witted rants about the survival of the fittest and the waning of the species, a rather sudden and sad sentiment: “The cataclysm of Atlantis struck a race of languoring [sic] wimps; plummeted them to the very basics of survival again. It shouldn’t happen like that.”

(Lara and Natla chat. Video courtesy of Shrensh on Youtube.)

Yes, Natla’s a bug-fuck insane Atlantean that was put on ice for possibly thousands of years by Qualopec and Tihocan. Yet for a moment, she manages to express a profoundly human sadness. For a scant, brief moment, she elicits pathos. Her singular moment of decency is a summation of the themes that have been presented to players through the art design and exploration gameplay mechanic. It’s the sadness of collapsed civilisations, of what was lost – of what we lost.

By the time she utters these sentiments, the player has played through roughly 90% of a game that is approximately 16-17 hours in length, and as a result has had a chance to witness firsthand the decline alluded to in the line “plummeted them to the very basics of survival” (recall that the narrative implied Atlantis as having been a technologically advanced society).

That Which Remains

Sadness is arguably the theme at the very centre of this game. After having spent 15 or more hours exploring civilisations that have collapsed, players are presented with an antagonist who says that “it shouldn’t happen like that” – an expression of sadness at the collapse of civilisations. They could have been saved – maybe. But their passing is still expressed as being profoundly sad.

This sadness is reflected in the design of the first half of the game. Don’t believe me? Look at it again. Peru: abandoned buildings, rooms, huts and reliquaries. Collapsed bridges, structures that have been taken over by nature, as ivy clings to the sides of walls and grass shoots out of doorways. In Greece, columns have fallen over, doorways appear rusted and decayed. Gorillas, crocodiles, rats, lions, panthers, and bats all make appearances, reiterating the idea that nature has started to reclaim that which remains.

There’s less sign of human habitation here. No shelters, tents, fires, or tools remain to convey a sense of former human habitation. Instead, we get a world that’s been emptied of human inhabitants. Perhaps the closest we get to anything suggesting human settlement is a level named ‘The Cistern’– a beautiful area whose colour palette is interestingly reminiscent (perhaps intentionally) of the Peru levels. I’ve come to wonder if it was meant to be a visual clue, suggesting a shared history between the two remaining rulers of Atlantis.

(I got your cistern right ‘ere, pal!)

Again, bearing in mind the design and technology limitations of 1996, this might be reaching. But it’s fun to think about, given the storytelling restrictions of the time.

The Nightmare at the End of the Tunnel

It’s only after we leave Greece and arrive in Egypt that things take a sharp right turn into a Giger nightmare with the lights turned on. The third piece of the scion is located in a region that, to the best of our knowledge, wasn’t ruled over by any Atlantean. An in-game FMV poetically shows the third piece being tossed to the wind, not unlike Maglor throwing his Silmaril into the sea.[6]

And for reasons that are never quite made clear, players are given their first encounter with Atlantean creatures in Egypt. Did Natla create them following her escape from stasis in Nevada back in the mid-20th Century? Did they somehow manage to survive being captured after Natla’s downfall in Atlantis, presumably thousands of years ago? It’s really not clear.

Egypt is where the game shifts its tone. It’s not that Egypt doesn’t feel like a place whose inhabitants have abandoned it. In fact, it doesn’t even feel abandoned. A pristine sheen remains over most if not all of the walls. Frescoes abound. It feels more like the idea of Egypt than a formerly inhabited location.

(Welcome to Egypt! Thanks to for the excellently-angled shot!)

It’s also at this point in the game where the puzzles start to become worryingly tedious and frustrating, and involve an increased amount of back-tracking. I increasingly found myself wondering about the purpose of any of the rooms, and asking myself “who lived here? Where did they sleep?” It’s at this half-way point that the game slowly pivots to a more action-oriented style of gameplay, where player responsiveness takes on an increased level of importance as the game begins to escalate and moves away from the slower, ambient tone that dominated in the first half of the game.

It’s interesting to wonder if the developers were engaged in a thought experiment about the rise and fall of civilisations. If all civilisations wax and wane, if they all have their time in the sun before exiting stage left, are the Atlantean mutants that linger about Egypt and throughout the island ruins of Atlantis metaphors for the mental decay of Natla? The game gives us plenty of negative space to fill in, but also leaves us feeling a certain way about the world we’re exploring.

The Potemkin Effect: The Legend-era Remake

Legends and Anniversaries

It’s difficult to talk about the original Tomb Raider without addressing the 2006-7 anniversary edition produced by Crystal Dynamics and Toby Gard, the creator of Tomb Raider – who famously left Core Design after the release of the first game. It would not be until Tomb Raider Legends that he would return to the franchise he created – initially as a creative consultant. However, “his work became ‘hands on’ during the production and eventually included Lara’s visual redesign, overseeing character design and creation, co-writing the story, designing and implementing parts of the character movement system, and directing the cinematics”[7].

(It certainly is more cinematic.)

Once Crystal Dynamics completed work on Tomb Raider Legends, work began on a 10th anniversary edition of Tomb Raider that would tie directly into the storyline begun in Legends. To their benefit, Crystal Dynamics managed to convince Lara Croft creator Toby Gard to expand upon the narrative established in the 1996 game.

How It Differs

Let’s make this clear right away: Tomb Raider Anniversary is not a one-for-one remake. Entire sections of the game have been shortened, tweaked, modified, and otherwise made to change the focus of the game from exploration to adventuring.

Some of the more die-hard fans of the franchise have done commendable work in going through both games and writing up the differences between the original and the anniversary edition. A comprehensive post on Reddit (preserved by laracroftonline) providing a list of the changes made it clear to users interested in playing through the anniversary edition that: “this is not a 1:1 remake of the original Tomb Raider (TR1). Crystal Dynamics has not only rebuilt the game from the ground up–improving on TR1’s visuals–but they also added a good amount of new content; yet in the process, they removed a great deal of old locales from the original. Overall, the game is shorter and some of the puzzles have been simplified from the original 1996 version (although some have been improved)”.

Sound Design

An interview with the composer and sound designers at Crystal Dynamics provides a clear understanding of the sonic shift that could be expected in this new iteration of Lara Croft. Composer Troels Brun Folmann stated a desire to convey a sense of adventure with his music, while Mike Peaslee, the game’s sound designer, said “without audio things seem dead and repetitive”.

(As shown off in the above clip at NeoGamer, Tomb Raider Anniversary almost always has some kind of ambient music playing in the background.)

This statement is quite at odds with the original Tomb Raider, which was notoriously quiet and filled primarily with natural ambient sounds. There was, of course, the sound of Lara’s footsteps or that of wild animals attempting to turn Lara Croft into their afternoon snack. And aside from the occasional moment during which Nathan McCree’s oboe-led theme appeared, much of the game was silent. Anniversary shifts gears considerably, with sound that’s much more involved in every aspect of the gameplay. Quiet moments are few and far between in this adventure.

Level Design

A new engine – the Horizon Engine – means new points of focus and design interest. With Legends, Crystal Dynamics introduced a grappling hook and skilfully integrated it into the reimagined designs featured in Anniversary. Though Anniversary it is arguably prettier as a result of having access to more contemporary graphical features (circa 2007) there was, as always, a price to be paid for beauty. In this particular instance – the scale and size of levels suffered. A not uncommon observation among some players was that levels felt reduced in scale, more claustrophobic, and narrower. Although some areas were increased in scale (e.g. a waterfall in Peru), others felt smaller or more streamlined, as was the case with the Lost Valley. What was once an open and expansive location with multiple tunnels, waterfall, and rope bridge was now little more than a circular area with a bit of platforming on the side.

(Tomb Raider Anniversay: The Lost Valley)

The village of Vilcabamba in Peru was also observed as having been reduced in scale. Also changed was the swimming mechanic, with the length of time that Lara could hold her breath being shortened. The knock-on effect from that decision? The underwater portions of the game were notably shrunken down. And in keeping with a gaming trend at the time that had been kicked off with Shenmue, Anniversary featured Quick Time Events.

(Vilcabamba, but not as you know it.)

Admittedly, the goal with Anniversary seems to have been to convey a sense or feel of location rather than a location itself. Combined with the need to push the player forwards, reduced size and scale of locations, and more action-oriented gameplay, the locations in Anniversary feel – if anything – more like a theme park than an actual place. It’s a digital Potemkin Effect[8], as the mechanics inform level design rather than the inverse. Sadly, despite the reduction in the scale of the levels, the number of enemy encounters does not seem to have changed much, resulting in the game feeling more action-oriented than the original.

This, combined with the integration of “checkpoints” – a feature that would appear in all subsequent Crystal Dynamics iterations of Lara – would result in a somewhat changed beast. Though players could save absolutely anywhere, each and every save game would load at the nearest checkpoint in the game world, resulting in players having to redo entire sections multiple times. Some of these cases might only add a few seconds of extra gameplay, but some might take longer – especially during scripted sequences (sometimes called “on the rails sequences”).

(You couldn’t just implement a save anywhere feature instead?)

While the Core Series was by no means a systemised game series in the spirit of immersive sim “0451” games, they did at the very least avoid the use of Quick Time Events and heavily scripted sequences – features that would appear in both the Legend and Survivor iterations, much to the frustration of some gamers who found the addition of this gameplay mechanic unnecessary and frustrating.


Art can be a happy accident. Regardless of the medium an artistic piece is created, and the artist hopes it will mean something to someone. Hopes their efforts were not in vain. In the world of gaming, we’re still figuring out how to talk about the medium in a meaningful way. And despite assorted scandals, accusations of gatekeeping, pushback towards academic analyses, and other issues, continued analyses are not likely to diminish. Either we acknowledge that game creation is an art and thus merits critical analysis, or we accept that it is not an art and therefore doesn’t merit being researched and discussed.

The first Tomb Raider is a game that asks players to engage in a specific set of gameplay mechanics, observe artistically rendered environments, listen to a specially-crafted musical score, and study and learn about a forgotten – and imagined – history. The journey across Peru, Greece, Egypt, and finally the remains of Atlantis is an auditory, kinaesthetic, visual, and emotional experience. And though, like many other artistic works in other media, it was inspired by works that came before it,[9] Tomb Raider was ultimately a unique and masterful experience that took the best of what came before and built upon it to create a wholly new and unique experience. A unique experience that arguably has not been replicated by any of the subsequent sequels.

[1] There’s an argument to be made that public perceptions of how big a game should be allowed to get now dictate storage usage.

[2] Interestingly, 2018’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the final instalment in the Survivor trilogy, features Lara travelling to the Peruvian city of Paititi – a legendary lost Inca city. Whether or not this was an intentional nod to the original Tomb Raider is unclear.

[3] Let’s call it that, for the purposes of thematic exploration.

[4] Interestingly, the Tomb Raider wiki at suggests “After the destruction of Atlantis, he [Qualopec] escaped to Peru, where he presumably tried to re-establish his civilization. The result was the birth of the Incas.”

[5] Croft creator Toby Gard pointed out in an interview that “one of the main reasons the original game was set underground was because we couldn’t really do a convincing outside”.

[6] You’re welcome, Tolkien fans.


[8] Referring to the famous Potemkin village – where a construct’s sole purpose is to provide a façade.

[9] Creator Toby Gard has cited Prince of Persia, Ultima Underworld, Virtua Fighter, the Indiana Jones films, Tank Girl, and Hard Boiled as works that had a direct influence upon the creation of Tomb Raider.

(A great many thanks to Andrew “Edpool” Hindle for his editing efforts on this project. I couldn’t ask for a better – and funnier! – editor. Andrew “Edpool” Hindle can be found on Twitter @St_EdPool. His blog is and his books are available here.)