Have you ever wondered who it is that tells you what the names of bosses and items are?
Normally, we assume it to be some omniscient narrator, who straddles the frame between the fiction and our reality, and speaks to us of that which occurs in the other world so inaccessible to us. In video games, the narrator is especially important, because all the detail of the world is provided only with the guidance of the narrator. We spend much of our time in the world seeing events through the protagonist's eyes, with the same perceptual restrictions as them, but even this is ultimately facilitated by the narrator, without whom we cannot connect with the protagonist.
While you're mulling that over, let's move onto the real problem: What does "orphan" mean?
In English, "orphan" may refer to children who (a) have lost their parents to death, or (b) are simply without parents, even if their parents are alive somewhere. Things are slightly different in Japanese, though. While the common word for orphan (孤児, koji) may likewise carry either of these meanings, this is not the word used to describe the Orphan of Kos. Instead, the word used (遺子, ishi) is an archaism which refers exclusively to meaning (a). This is especially notable since the Orphanage Key is titled, as expected, 孤児院の鍵 (kojiin no kagi). Yet given the circumstances, this usage is somewhat... incorrect. Kos isn't really dead, just dead on this plane of existence, or something like that. So the Orphan is not one who has lost his parents to death in the truest sense... right?
Blame the Narrator
Given that the narrator must convey information about the fictional world to us, the readers, it stands to reason that this communication may fail at some points. We may identify three critical points of failure:
The speaker may not understand the information. We'll leave this aside since we don't want to assume much about the narrator currently.
The communication protocol may be incapable of representing the information. Language-based communication is necessarily incomplete, and mathematical results like Godel incompleteness may provide a basis to assert even more fundamental inabilities to make certain statements.
The listener may not understand the information. Within the world of Bloodborne, we see this repeatedly with the problem of "not having enough Insight".
With regards to the 遺子 of Kos, we seem to have the second problem. The Eldritch conception of death was arcane enough to obliterate the minds of Mensis-- how is the narrator to put this into English or a few colored pixels? Kos is dead, but not dead; not there, but yet there. We know that Great Ones cannot simply be killed off, and we observe her curse yet linger, but it nonetheless remains true that she is definitely no longer here. Our representational systems can't hold that kind of information without absurdity and self-contradiction. So the narrator must settle for some degree of inaccuracy in telling us the story, thus choosing to use the word 遺子 instead of... well, there is no proper alternative in our languages. (Of course, if the narrator had a better representational system, then we would have the third problem.)
This is, incidentally, not the first place where the game draws attention to the inherent unrepresentability of certain ideas. The Rune system is based off the idea that the language of the Great Ones simply cannot be represented in human language, and thus must be represented by some arcane pictorial form which is no more comprehensible to us. The name Orphan (遺子) of Kos takes this idea to the level of even our comprehension of the work, declaring it impossible for us to truly understand the family dynamics of the Orphan, even as readers consuming media.
While it may seem that I’m making a fuss over nothing, the difference in word choice is quite significant. The replacement of a catch-all word for an archaism is not to be taken lightly, and I hold enough respect towards Bloodborne to treat its word choice as more significant than a third-grader using a thesaurus.
I think it worthwhile to keep an eye on Bloodborne's choice of words. In fact, you'll be hearing again from me soon about the difference between Holy Blade Ludwig, Father Gascoigne, Cleric Beast, and Vicar Amelia/Laurence, and how these terms place people on the divine ladder.
I came across this quirk while looking up some information to make an argument about the Orphan’s father. That’s right, the Orphan has a father, and I’m going to unmask him. Probably tomorrow. Look forward to it!
(Also, here’s something that’ll make good headcanon for someone. 遺子 is pronounced the same as 意志, which means “will” (the philosophical question of intent and volition). It is also pronounced the same as 遺志, which means “dying wish”. Both of these words are quite common for their meanings.)
Before we start, I'd like to say that my use of Freudian analysis is exclusively literary, and I have no intention of making any claims about its psychological veracity.
My goal in this piece is to show how we might use an intertextual analysis to analyze Gehrman and the Orphan. The Oedipal framework is something that has cropped up quite often in literature, and there is no need to assume anything about the actual parentage or actual mental state of the characters, since we are more accurately trying to fit their actions into an intertextual framework-- a framework existing between all works of literature-- and using that intertextual framework to guide us towards conclusions in this work.
I would first like to propose that we frame Gehrman as a child within the Oedipal complex, with the Moon Presence serving the role of father and Maria serving the role of mother. Gehrman the hunter was metaphorically born in response to the Scourge, and Maria's suicide, which made her "unattainable", was directly precipitated by the guilt she felt over the steps she took in response to the appearance of a Great One in the Hamlet. We'll also justify it further.
The first step of the childhood Oedipal complex is sexual desire for the mother (Maria), which arises from the id, the unconscious fountain of human desire. However, the existence of the father (Moon Presence/Great Ones) prevents the realization of this desire, and the ego, the mechanism of perception, acknowledges that it is impossible to defeat the father in contest for the mother. The ego now has two ways to resolve the conflict between id and reality:
Identify with the father, and thus assume the moral code of the father. This is the normal pathway with regards to the Oedipal complex specifically, as it leads to the development of the superego, an interalized system of moral rules.
Identify with the mother, and create in the ego a substitute for the unattainable mother. This pathway is more common for non-Oedipal desires, but may also occur in the Oedipal complex, even in tandem with the first option.
Freud described the simultaneous development of both these pathways as the "complete" form of the Oedipal complex, which corresponds very strongly with Gehrman's actual actions. In order to cope with Maria's suicide, he on one hand created a substitute in the ego by crafting the doll, and possibly seeking animacy. (Refer to Redgrave's work for discussion of her suicide and Gehrman's coping.) On the other hand, he contracted with the Moon Presence, and yielded himself to its dictates.
Gehrman and the Orphan
Obviously, this is a fairly liberal application of the Oedipal complex. But here's the kicker: we might expect exactly this kind of response in an actual Great One. For example, a Great One who has lost its mother figure may cope by yielding to a fatherlike Great One, or it may seek a substitute and set up an idol. We even know that Great Ones seek substitutes through humans-- most notably women like Yharnam and Arianna, both of whom are linked to Cainhurst as is Maria-- so creating a doll and giving it life is an apt way to execute this pattern. If the Orphan had survived, would it have done something similar?
In fact, we may observe that the denouement of Gehrman's Oedipal situation is roughly half human and half Great One. He yields to the father that created him as a hunter, but that father is the Moon Presence; he creates a doll to substitute for his lost mother, and it is given life through a superhuman process. It is almost as if we've superposed a normal human's response with the unrealized response of the Orphan. This is especially interesting given the two (to my knowledge) major explicit links between Gehrman and the Orphan: the usage of the same sound files and Gehrman's tranquility upon the death of the Orphan, and I believe it fully justifies the Oedipal framework for Gehrman.
You may occasionally find Gehrman suffering severely while asleep, but upon killing the Orphan in the Hunter's Nightmare, he attains some degree of tranquility. Where does this suffering come from? It is certainly not internal, since Gehrman cannot know of your actions in the Nightmare. It is very likely not an external curse, since there is negative evidence that Great Ones can influence dreams controlled by different Great Ones, and the dream is controlled by the MP. (For example, the MP does not interfere with the Nightmare of Mensis, even though it supposedly desires something within that nightmare.) However, one of the functions of the superego is to force feelings of guilt and pain upon the ego for knowingly or unknowingly breaking moral rules-- and at the same time, it would seem difficult for any Great One besides MP to be behind Gehrman's grief. On the basis of this Freudian analysis, it seems reasonable to suppose that MP, in the position of father and acting superego, is the one crippling Gehrman for his sins.
The question of why the MP would take issue with the Hamlet massacre is difficult, but recalling that the Orphan is involved in Gehrman's Oedipal response, we arrive at an incredibly interesting theory: The Moon Presence is the Orphan's father*. This explains much. First, it provides an explanation for both Gehrman's Orphan-like cries and his peaceful rest upon the death of the Orphan, through his "brotherly" relationship to the Orphan. It then also provides an explanation for the reason Gehrman's Oedipal complex seems to be superposed with that of a Great One, as we know the Orphan never had the chance to develop. Furthermore, it explains the origin of the hunter's dream. If we hold that Gehrman signed the contract to establish the dream after Maria's death-- that is, after they attacked the Hamlet where the Orphan either lay dead or was killed (again, see Redgrave's work for more background on this), then this act of yielding to the father matches up perfectly with the MP's search for a surrogate for the child he just lost.
*To be fully clear here: the non-Iosefka cords states "Every Great One loses its child, and then yearns for a surrogate". I am asserting that the Orphan is accordingly the child of the Moon Presence, whatever the cosmic equivalent of parentage be. However, in an Oedipal analysis, we must treat MP as a father.
(Workshop) THIRD UMBILICAL CORD
Every Great One loses its child, and then yearns for a surrogate. The Third Umbilical Cord precipitated the encounter with the pale moon, which beckoned the hunters and conceived the hunter's dream.
We do have a little problem here: it's commonly held that the Iosefka Cord, not the Workshop Cord, is the one linked to the Orphan. However, this problem mainly arises because there are four cords but only three known sources (Mergo, Arianna's child, and Orphan). I think it worth supposing that the Workshop Cord corresponds to the Orphan, and the Iosefka Cord to the yet-unknown source, which I speculate may be Rom or environs. I'll be writing about this at greater length later. However, if we hold that the Workshop cord originates from the Orphan, the Gehrman-Orphan and Gehrman-MP links can be condensed into a single triangle.
This is not yet a complete theory. We'll expound on it further in later pieces, but this is some of the power that a literary analysis framework can provide to lorehunting.
I will clarify some of the ways I used familial terms above. MP is the father of Gehrman in that Gehrman the hunter was created in direct response to the MP, and Gehrman also serves as the MP's surrogate child. Maria is his mother because of the Oedipal framework of necessary but unattainable desire-- the hunter system-- that was likewise created due to the MP. MP is the father of the Orphan in the sense that the non-Iosefka cords declare "Every Great One loses its child, and then yearns for a surrogate", and Kos is his mother in the same sense.
I've conceived of a few more routes of analysis that utilize the Freudian framework. We may use the formation of the superego to argue about how necessary the eldritch liason is to humanity, or we may use the three-layer structure of the mind to argue about the origin of certain attitudes in the minds of key characters. For example, what does the doll's approval of your ascension say about Gehrman's mind before his contract, and about the world that created him?
I'll next be working on providing evidence for the "owners" of the Iosefka and Workshop cords. Once that is done, you can expect an at-length justification of the MP-Orphan theory, which finds its strongest foot in this Freudian analysis.
If you look out from Lumenwood Garden on the way to the Fishing Hamlet, on the right you'll see floating islands with "cities" on them. On the left, you'll see a few cities on islands within what seems to be an ocean, overlooked by a shining sun. You can still see the light of the sun as you prepare to exit into the Fishing Hamlet, and as you cross the threshold, it momentarily blinds you, but then... you see only water. The radiant sun is replaced by rainy skies. The cities to your right and left are still there-- only now underwater.
Looking out from Lumenwood Garden
The change of perspective between Lumenwood Garden and the Fishing Hamlet raises the question: how can a city be in open air and underwater at the same time? The snail that mysteriously falls from the sky near the Whirligig Saw in the Hunter's Nightmare suggests that the place is under the Fishing Hamlet, ie, that it's underwater. But that snail was falling, not sinking, and you certainly don't seem to need scuba gear. Perhaps our understanding of water needs some refining...
What is Water?
Great volumes of water serve as a bulwark guarding sleep, and an augur of the eldritch Truth. -Lake/Sea runes
It seems to me that the traditional interpretation of this phrase has been that it refers to oceans or lakes. But this interpretation is insufficient, because it explains too little. For the most-repeated phrase in all item descriptions, are we really to interact with it only once and weakly at that, when fighting a braindead spider? I think we can do better. Let's attack the problem from another angle.
"The Sky and the Cosmos are One"
For the majority of us who grew up in the Western cultural and literary tradition, the above line seems somewhat redundant. We've generally considered that the gods live on some really big mountain, in the clouds, or just somewhere up there, so it means very little to affirm that the sky and the heavens (or cosmos) are the same.
But there's one thing somewhat unique about the sky in Bloodborne: it's always cloudy (except in Forbidden Woods, where it's foggy instead), and the clouds are generally quite dense. Even if you take the naive ending and wake to the morning sun, there are still clouds. This unnatural universality allows us to better understand the role of clouds: physically, clouds in Bloodborne are always there to separate us from the sky-- or, to the Choir, they are always there to push us away from the cosmos and all the secrets held within. This corresponds to the role that the Lake runes assign to bodies of water. And scientifically speaking, clouds are quite literally "great volumes of water".
Remember the floating islands to the right of Lumenwood Garden, and the waterbound islands to the left? It's a weird asymmetry. But as soon as you consider that clouds are just water, right and left are basically the same, and the otherwise inexplicable asymmetry is resolved. Moonside Lake's "sky" also seems to contain cloudlike structures, notably towards the horizon. If we consider that clouds are the "same thing" as oceans, the contradiction of an underwater sky no longer exists.
Now the Lake runes become much more applicable, and the paucity of relevant oceans in the game is no longer an issue to the supposed importance of water, since we have plenty of bulwarky clouds. (Otherwise, Moonside Lake is the only example of an ocean that blocks access to something eldritch.) In the most pertinent example, The Hunter's Nightmare, Fishing Hamlet, Nightmare Frontier, and Nightmare of Mensis are stacked on top of each other, the eldritch truths of the next layer up bulwarked away only by clouds.
If you look out at the moon from the Wet Nurse's Lunarium, you'll notice that it's below the clouds, but also above a different layer of clouds. This is absurd on a scientific level. But with our metaphorical reading, it makes sense to consider that this place is some kind of cosmic eldritch truth beyond which other truths exist, blocked off by great volumes of water in the form of clouds. Thus, the scientific absurdity can be read to reinforce the thematic nature of the level.
You can see clouds moving... above the moon
We look down from Hamlet and see a city underwater, whereas we look up from the Nightmare and see billowing clouds. This initially confounded us, but now we've established that the game's distinction between clouds and oceans is only a facade, that they're the same thing from different perspectives. It's not clear what rules govern this difference in perspective, but it may be related to one of the core themes of the game: the incomprehensibility of the truth.
A special weapon used by the Choir, high-ranking members of the Healing Church. Sprays a cloud of sacred mist, created by using blood-imbued Quicksilver Bullets as a special medium.
Arias are heard whenever sacred mist is seen, proving that the mist is a heavenly blessing. "Oh, fair maiden, why is it that you weep?"
Why would mist, of all things, be "sacred" or "a heavenly blessing"? The only other things described as sacred in item descriptions are the Yharnam Stone (for obvious reasons) and Healing Church rituals (in the Loch Shield description, again for obvious reasons), and the only other blessing described is "making contact with eldritch wisdom" (Madman's Knowledge). Why are Quicksilver Bullets and Blood Vials mundane, but heavenly when turned into mist?
Now we know: it's because mist, with its construction so similar to clouds, is too a marker of the divide between us and the eldtrich.
The impact of this perspective is, as just demonstrated, that we can now meaningfully analyze the usage of the other forms of water in Bloodborne. The game has many different skies and many different types of clouds, and I hope that I've been able to lay some groundwork for further investigation of their implications on lore and literary meaning. If I knew anything about cloud types, I would try, but I think I'll leave the nephology to those who are capable :P
Normally, when one embarks on a hero’s journey, it is done to some societal end. Little surprise, since our perceptions of what is heroic are entirely dependent on our societies and cultures. Become a king. Succeed in the job market. Defeat the Empire. So what happens when there is no society to set the ideals to which budding heroes can aspire, no society to recognize who the heroes are?
This is the situation proposed in Journey, a small game I had the pleasure of playing this week. Your “destiny”, to climb a mountain, is dictated to you by possibly imaginary messengers of a lost civilization, who have left behind nothing but ruins, cryptic glyphs, and industrial machinery.
In another game, you might have the option of walking away from this destiny. You, after all, bear no responsibility to the dead. But Journey forces you to accept this destiny of voyaging to an obsolete holy ground, and then celebrates it.
So why do we accept and celebrate a quest from a lost civilization?
Nature and Industry
To have discussion on how Journey justifies the imperativity of the player’s destiny, we must first begin with an analysis of how it conceives of man and society. Normally, in the hero’s journey, the duality of man is one of good and evil (see my post on the last Star Wars movie for more on this). However, in Journey, we focus more on the duality of nature and industry.
The world of Journey is filled with red cloth, which stands clearly as a metaphor for life (and is coincidentally colored like coursing blood). All the living things you meet in Journey (except the Ancestor) are made of red cloth, and vaguely resemble real-life animals in their sounds and mannerisms.
On one hand, the game shows us that man is, at some level, in touch with this natural state. In the calm temple area, unlocking the glyphs– records of man’s history– raises the water level and revives cloth creatures. As the player, you free and befriend cloth creatures during your quest, while simultaneously serving the wishes of the civilization. To top it off, the mountaintop– the height of your destiny as dictated by the civilization– is the most pure concentration of natural glory in the game.
But man’s societies, as recorded on the great murals and in the ruins of their civilization, ultimately rely on trapping this red cloth and driving powerful machinery, as we first see at the end of the desert level. The robot whales are, as shown towards the end of the game, cloth whales encased in steel– lifeless industry– for the purpose of man’s civilization. The endless search for technological advancement leads to the destruction of nature and the eventual downfall of civilization.
Every Industry is Industrial in its Own Way
Now, here’s the claim we’re going to make: All people commune with nature in the same way, but they deviate from it in different ways. Alternatively, while our societies and cultures will inevitably depend randomly on our artificial technology, they must arise from the same natural origin.
The largest tipoff to this idea is the final mural scene, where two people holding a cloth rip it between them, before the camera scrolls to a depiction of the robot whales and the ruin of civilization. With nature, they are one, but with industry, they are at war.
The “oneness” of natural man is further backed in the game by the depiction of the travellers. You, and whatever collaborators you may find along the way, all don red cloth, in the fashion of the cloth creatures. You all rely on the cloth to recharge your scarf. With the questions of political allegiance and wealth removed, the travellers are really all the same.
So let’s return to the original question: why do we carry out the wishes of a dead civilization? The answer is…
While the voyage is framed by the ancient civilization, it does not actually concern human society. The quest you carry out is one of communing with nature. When you burst through the clouds to the mountaintop, the two robot whales following you shed their industrial skin and emerge as natural cloth. There is no industry here– only nature. In man’s greatest holy ground we find something primordial, something natural; we find a synthesis of sun and moon, water and ice, life and death, but nothing human.
It does not matter what civilization “designated” this holy ground or this quest. The hero’s journey here exists beyond any conceptions of society or culture; it exists in nature. We do not need the civilization to tell us of the greatness of the mountaintop– it is self-apparent in its natural glory.
Journey here claims that our civilization, our culture, our technology are irrelevant to the glory of the hero’s journey. They may guide or empower us as the white-hoods do in-game, but the mountaintop’s splendor is in no way dependent on them. It only requires the unperturbed beauty of nature, and our willingness to participate in and honor it.
Our celebration at the top of the mountain is utterly devoid of anything human: it is a pure celebration of the world that gave birth to us. This is what makes Journey unique, and what makes it great.
For something to be regarded as heroic, there must naturally be a culture that reveres it. But this doesn’t really exist in Journey, since civilization is dead. That’s where the title of this piece comes from: a glorious journey to the peak of what it means to live in this world, but with only a small and unacknowledged traveler.
It took me two playthroughs and a long time to put the beauty of Journey into words, and I hope that I’ve done so well enough. Much like when I played Ori, I felt a work that struck at the very heart of its archetypal story.
I’m still planning a piece on Bloodborne, but it’s difficult to think of a topic that hasn’t been covered. I’ll also be doing a piece on Ori, which I plan to replay this week; it’ll likely look much like this writeup (except not about the hero’s journey!).
Once I’d finished Dark Souls 3, I wandered around on a few Discords, talking about some of the lore and, in particular, the endings. One common disagreement I had with others was the designation of “good” or “bad” endings, as I often found myself alone in claiming that the Usurpation of Fire ending was the “good” ending. I’ll try here to explain here some of the philosophy that justifies this notion, and also why it rejects the standard ending and the End of Fire ending as “bad”. (I’ll stay away from the secret ending… for now.)
Something is Rotten in the Chaos of Lothric
What is it that makes us human? You may say that it’s the capability for language, and you would be mostly correct. But it’s a bit bigger than that– it’s the use of language to create culture. Without our mythology, our holidays, our history, and all the arbitrary customs and practices founded on them, humans even now are little more than animalistic husks in a world of steel. Now, here is the critical bit that we will borrow from Hobbes’ Leviathan: this culture, these stories, this meaning only exists in the framework of society– that is, where “natural” order has been overthrown.
NATURE hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind as that… the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest…
Where an invader hath no more to fear than another man’s single power… others may probably be expected to come prepared with forces united to dispossess and deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labour, but also of his life or liberty. And the invader again is in the like danger of another.
In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain… no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
Whether or not you believe that this “natural” order ever existed historically, it’s clear that it exists in DS3: it’s the present. As you wander around Lothric, you come across many humans who are now but mindless husks ready to kill you. Even of those who do retain their senses, several of them will eventually kill you if you do not kill them, including Anri and Horace. Outside of the last remnants of Gwyn’s society, there are no humans with whom you can create culture and knowledge, as you do with the pyromancy teachers once bringing them to Firelink (*DLC discussion in another post).
Fundamentally, the problem is that a lack of security– or alternatively a lack of certainty– prevents both lasting peace between and around people, as well as the cultural products that necessitate peace. We speak often of the Lost Generation– those who, growing up during the ravages of World War 1, lost sight of what it meant to live in society. Thus, whatever our solution may be, it must be one where we offer security, peace, and a serious basis upon which we may create arts, letters, culture.
The King is Dead…
It’s debatable whether or not Gwyn’s government was a “good” one for humans during its prime, but regardless, it definitely is no longer. The Age of Fire, insofar as it represented a society protected and ruled by Gwyn, once could offer security to man against whatever terror lay beyond the gates. But in DS3, the gods are long gone and long forgotten, and the Age of Fire is a society in name only, not effect. By extending the Age of Fire, you are effectively doing nothing with regards to the Hobbesian question: man’s life is uncertain both before and after your useless deed, and man will continue to suffer, without culture and without meaning.
No Man's Land
It’s easy to see what the political parallels are that make the End of Fire ending “good”: a yoke of historical repression, then a gentle overthrow and a possibility for a new future. But is this really what’s happening?
In DS3, unlike in most literature, there is only one minor “city” (as in, a society of nonhostile people), both in gameplay and in story, and the rest of the world is out to kill you. What this ending does, then, is destroy the very last city, Firelink Shrine, which only exists as a fragment of Gwyn’s society. There is no promise for a rebuilt society, no promise of security, no promise of certainty. The life of any human is still in severe danger from war against other humans and the lingering terrors of the Dark Souls world. Nobody in the DS3 world has created a bastion of lasting security for humans (DS2 takes a very different perspective on this).
Framed against the final ending, you can read this ending a bit more poignantly: You had the chance to use the remnants of the old orders to establish a new one. But instead, you chose to remove the last crutch of human safety in the world.
The Lord of Hollows
Nobody has created a bastion of lasting security except, of course, the Sable Church of Londor. It may not be the most savory or democratic organization, but it nonetheless offers “salvation for Hollows” (Black Dress). And while it is small and limited, it has already begun to spin its own culture: “tales that portray the suffering and conflict of Hollows” (Dark Blade). The Sable Church is the only group of humans in this world which can be said to have created a meaningful society (*DLC discussion in another post).
Why, then, must you wrest the flame from its mantle? Why can you not just let it die, as Kaathe wished in DS1? What is the Sable Church looking for in the flame and in you?
In order to create a great society, you need power. Regardless of whether your enemies are other societies,the Dark Souls world, or civil unrest, you need authority to establish society and guarantee peace. For the Sable Church to become the society of all Hollows and truly free them from Gwyn’s legacy, it follows that they should expropriate the flame which is simultaneously the power necessary to do so and the last remnant of the gods.
Is this not what the anonymous Hollow is referencing when he pleads for you to “make Londor whole” (or in the Japanese, “guide Londor”)? You have taken responsibility for the full establishment of a new order. You are the sovereign. Through your authority and guidance, rule of law can and will be established across the world, and the nascent culture of the Sable Church may expand and flourish. You are Prometheus. By bringing to man the flame of the gods, you have enabled human civilization and human progress. By unifying man with the power of the gods, you have made man divine, even in a post-religious world.
Furthermore, this ending is the only one which solves the existential problem of the end of society. Trivially, if we are to feel secure in a society, we must be confident that it will not end any time soon. But if we think on cultural terms, we must nevertheless fear the ultimate end of society– not a transition from Fourth Republic to Fifth Republic, but a reversion to that primordial state of nature where our cultural products will be little more than firewood. This problem is stamped all over Endings 1 and 2: the flame will soon fade regardless of whether you kindle it, as will the legacies of the gods, and whatever is made in the Age of Dark will be destroyed by the return of fire. But when light and dark are unified under the empire on which the sun never sets, we have only to fear the end of the world itself.
Long live the King.
You may notice that I switch freely between the designation “hollow” and “human” in this writeup. Lorewise, Hollows are derived from humans, and Yuria refers to them as the true form of man. With regards to real-world comparisons, the game makes it clear that language and will, which are all that is fundamentally required to create a real-world human society and culture, are characteristics that Hollows share. Being hollowed doesn’t necessitate mindlessly wandering around and attacking people (just look at Yuria!), so we must recognize that a Hollow society is fully valid as a literary expression of real-world human society.
I think we must generally be careful not to project our own politics onto the politics of fictional worlds. I feel that people generally read the second ending with a parallel to something like a province declaring independence from a decrepit empire, but fail to recognize that the societal structures that validate the province do not exist in the Souls world. Society is so fundamental to how we think that we may find it hard to imagine its absence– but once you do, the world of Souls becomes that much more terrifying.
I’ve had these thoughts scribbled around for a while, and I enjoyed compiling them and structuring them like this. I wanted to discuss the way the two DLCs also play into this dynamic, but that would make this piece too long, so I’ll save it for another one.
I plan to write a piece about Bloodborne soon, since I recently finished that game. I’m a bit late to do lore analysis, but I’d like to look at real-world moral implications, just like in this post. It’ll be interesting, given how exquisitely they mutilate the hero’s journey.