“Essay Twenty: EarthBound and Museums, Revisited”

Serialized specially for The Well-Red Mage, based on the podcast by Wesley Schantz



bookwarm “The following is a contributor post by the Bookwarm Mage.”

Welcome back. A libation, I propose, to Mnemosyne–Memory–mother of the Muses who give their name to our main places today, the museums of Summers and Fourside. Her name is also the root of mnemonic devices, those memory-helps like rhymes and numerical or imaginary associations, which unlock for some people such incredible feats of recall. The greatest mnemonic devices for me, though, aside from the Sound Stone, are museums themselves, or libraries, or any of these new media which reproduce them and all they contain digitally–these treasure-houses which do not hoard up but freely pass on invaluable memories, the stories of events and artifacts we tell one another, transmitting them and their mass of meanings and interrelations from one generation to the next just as we hand down the books and heirlooms themselves. Perhaps that’s what the Dalaamster is pondering on: immortality, is it everlasting life? Mmm…

Image result for art of memory yates

Poo, having come clear across the world with it, now gives up his ancestral ruby, as we were saying at the end of last time, and through the door beyond the bribed guard, there’s a single item on display in the little room whose exhibit is under construction. But before you have a chance for a closer look, the Shattered Man attacks. This mummy, like the zombies before in the thrall of master Belch, is the distorted, literal simulacrum of life after death, animated somehow by Giygas to clobber you. Fortunately, he’s susceptible to the Freeze PSI of Paula and Poo, a bash from Ness’ bat, and the shots of Jeff’s blaster, to return him to dust. (So long as you fight him before defeating Giygas, you shouldn’t have any trouble, but fighting him afterwards can lead to paradoxes.)

Then Poo read the hieroglyphs!

To fight against the invaders, we built this pyramid fortress.

However, our efforts were futile, and we lost.

Nonetheless, our pyramid was protected by the gods of Scaraba.

The invaders will be reborn every millennium and will attack again.

Even now, the invaders hide beyond space and time and build their evil stronghold.

A place out of time is beyond the Dark, and is even farther beyond the Lost Underworld.

The Deep Darkness is shrouded, it is without light.

Only one with the Hawk Eye can pierce the dark.

The Sphinx now watches over everything, waiting for the coming of a truly brave hero.

. 4 3 2 5

Dance in front of the Sphinx!

Having deciphered so much, Poo has a lightbulb switch on above his ponytail. Let’s go to Scaraba, he exclaims, the Pyramid is the key!

It seems that your new friend is familiar with the unusual style of the characters gracing the stone believed to be have been made around 4000 BC. Combining this fact with his isolated home, his master’s message from “Eternity” about the final struggle which is about to begin and his role in it, all leads us to ask, Could the “holy writings” the master alludes to have been written in a form of the same hieroglyphic script? At any rate, we have here a beautiful picture of what it is like to read difficult texts: the sacrifice to pass the threshold, the initial battling to understand, the articulation of dead letters with living breath, the sudden clarity of what to do next–expressing all this in company with friends. Before leaving, you’ll get a copy of the hieroglyphs, just in case you forget how to dance before the Sphinx and want to read it again.

The riddle of the Sphinx, of course, bears closely on the questions of human life and generations we were looking at last time. What goes on four legs at morning, two at noon, and three in the evening? The traditional formula is something like the “legs” poem in “Riddles in the Dark,” such a stumper for so many readers of The Hobbit:

No-legs lay on one-leg, two-legs sat near on three-legs, four-legs got some.

[…] “Fish on a little table, man at table sitting on a stool, the cat has the bones” that of course is the answer, and Gollum soon gave it.

Apparently this sort of riddle has legs in more than one ancient/imaginary culture. So perhaps dancing is a fitting answer to the Sphinx. We’ll see better when we get there.

Image result for sphinx earthbound

But before proceeding across the sea, there are a few more secrets hidden in the museum back in Fourside, relevant to what I interpret the gods of Scaraba to be referring to: Your Sanctuary Spots, where the Earth lends its power to your own. As old as the hieroglyphs may be, and the legacy of wisdom passed down the generations to reach Poo, the dinosaur bones there in Fourside represent something far older, though they’re only a replica. Or maybe some space invaders took down the dinosaur they were modeled on all those generations and millennia before. Supposedly live dinosaurs have even been seen in Southern Scaraba. The motifs of ancient knowledge and contemporary recapitulation, of something that was believed to have died out found to be living yet, brought forward by the museums, contribute still more to that sense of cosmic significance surrounding your adventure.

By placing the next destination in line with the Sphinx and the Pyramid, a geographic analogy to Egypt is strongly suggested. That civilization’s mythological and artistic impact can be traced as a substrate to the more immediate founts of Western culture around the Mediterranean. There’s a major work of scholarship that Dr McColl, aka Art Boy, used to mention, Black Athena. Controversial among academics, but well-grounded in the myths of the Greeks themselves, Bernal’s thesis is that Greek culture came out of Africa. As his Very Brief Outline has it:

In my three volumes with the title Black Athena, I argue that the Ancient Egyptian civilization can usefully be seen as African. I also maintain Ancient Egypt and Semitic speaking South West Asia played fundamental roles in the formation of Ancient Greece. I do not claim the Ancient Greeks were Black or that the Ancient Egyptians all looked like stereotypical West Africans.

Greeks of the Classical and Hellenistic periods 500-50 BCE believed that their religion had come from Egypt that there had also been profound Egyptian influences on the formation of their philosophy and mathematics. Similarly they maintained that Phoenicians from what is now Lebanon and Northern Israel/Palestine had introduced cultural artifacts notably the alphabet.

I have called such beliefs, the “Ancient Model” of Greek origins. This Ancient Model was generally accepted until the beginning of the 19th century CE (AD). It then began to fall into disrepute and by the 1840s, it was replaced by what I have called the “Aryan Model.” According to this, the Greek stories of their origins were mistaken and Greek culture was “in fact” a mixture of the soft but civilized natives of the Aegean basin and the dynamic Northerners who had conquered them. This mixture was seen as having created the perfect balance of Greek civilisation.

In Plato’s Phaedrus, for instance, which has much to say about memory and writing, as well as love and friendship, we get Socrates telling this story:

At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Phaedr. Yes, Socrates, you can easily invent tales of Egypt, or of any other country.

Soc. There was a tradition in the temple of Dodona that oaks first gave prophetic utterances. The men of old, unlike in their simplicity to young philosophy, deemed that if they heard the truth even from “oak or rock,” it was enough for them; whereas you seem to consider not whether a thing is or is not true, but who the speaker is and from what country the tale comes.

(cf. Montaigne, “On the love of fathers for their children”

Another major scholar whose reputation is somewhat dubious in mainstream academia, but whose work speaks for itself, I think, is Erich Neumann, who condenses and consolidates the work of his teacher Jung in a marvelous way in The Origins and History of Consciousness. There he remarks on these points:

Aegean culture forms a link between Egypt and Libya on one side, and Greece and Asia Minor on the other. For us it is of no consequence how the currents of culture flow historically, because the purity of the archetypal figure [ie, of the Great Mother] is of far greater importance to our theme than the question of priority. (75)

He mentions that the Creto-Mycanaean links are obscure because the texts have not been deciphered–we’ve got to get Prince Poo over there–and a few pages later:

Equally significant is the history of Cadmus […] To him Herodotus attributes the transmission of the Osiris-Dionysus mysteries from Egypt to Pythagoras. In other words, Herodotus traces the origin of the late Greek mysteries […] back to Egypt […] Earlier these connections were denied by science, but today they are obvious, since the cultural continuity that extended from Libya and Egypt […] to Greece is supported by a wealth of factual evidence. (80)

So there, detractors of Black Athena!

Back in EarthBound, in Fourside, the substrate of the city itself awaits exploration. Still, riddles abound. If Mnemosyne is the mother of muses and museums, who are the fathers?–An important question, closely related to the riddle of the Sphinx in the Oedipus story, after all. Here’s Heraclitus’ way of answering: War is the father of all. Simple enough. The war of words between Fork and Spoon, jockeying for discoveries and scoops, gives way to a brutal series of battles taking place in the sewers of Fourside. It turns out that that light shining far below in the sewers, guarded by and perhaps emanating from a giant rat, is that something “extraordinary,” always in air quotes, which Spoon has found.

Image result for crime and punishment volokhonsky

Whether he is extraordinary or not, and what that means, is Raskolnikov’s obsession in the essential novel Crime and Punishment, at least according to the investigator, Porfiry Petrovich. Here he is, beginning to torment the sick young man, who is taken aback:

“But how did you find out that the article was mine? I signed it with an initial.”

“By chance, and only the other day […]”

“As I recall, I was considering the psychological state of the criminal throughout the course of the crime.”

“Yes, sir, and you maintain that the act of carrying out a crime is always accompanied by illness. Very, very original, but . . . as a matter of fact, what interested me was not that part of your article, but a certain thought tossed in at the end, which unfortunately you present only vaguely, by way of a hint . . . In short, if you recall, a certain hint is presented that there supposedly exist in the world certain persons who can . . . that is, who not only can but are fully entitled to commit all sorts of crimes and excesses and to whom the law supposedly does not apply.”

Raskolnikov smiled at this forced and deliberate distortion of his ideas.

[…] “The whole point is that in his article all people are somehow divided into the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘extraordinary.’ The ordinary must live in obedience and have no right to transgress the law, because they are, after all, ordinary. While the extraordinary have the right to commit all sorts of crimes and in various ways to transgress the law, because in point of fact they are extraordinary. That is how you had it, unless I am mistaken?”

[…] Raskolnikov smiled again. He realized all at once what the point was and where he was being led; he remembered his article. He decided to accept the challenge.  (258-259)

Before he’ll let you fight your way through the sewers, though, Spoon first demands the signature of his celebrity crush, the singer Venus at the theater next door. He requests it on an eraser, but he’ll accept the signed banana peel she happens to give you. Her name, of course, refers to the mother of Aeneas, Roman Venus or Greek Aphrodite, known to have been caught in flagrante with Mars/Ares, god of war, by her husband Hephaestus, aka Vulcan, the limping maker. EarthBound’s Venus sings and sparkles in the big city, but she’s from Twoson originally. Her mother there struggles to remember her stage name. I wonder if anything happens if you show her the signed banana peel. Too late–Mr Spoon snatches it for his own purposes, perhaps to fuel some further rivalry with Fork.

Down in the sewers, as you go wading through the sludge to bypass immovable barrels, ghosts possess you, deadly mice bite, roaches encroach and attack continuously. You combat the underside of the city, not riffraff like Raskolnikov, the impoverished intellectual, or Alyona Ivanovna, the sacrificial pawnbroker, or Marmeladov, the drunk functionary, but battling with the pollution and excrement nourishing more literally monstrous denizens of the depths. Mercifully, there’s a room with a magic butterfly halfway along for you to recover. Thoughtful of the dungeon maker. Also, be careful not to miss the broken bazooka Jeff may be clever enough to get working again, dealing damage to all foes when you’re tired of stealing their HP hungrily. And it’s worth noting again how bosses are effectively optional at this point, since as long as you bring a few bottle rockets you can knock them out in a handful of rounds. So much for the Plague Rat of Doom.

Emerging in the backyard of the department store with a brick wall around it, Ness has a vision of a baby bottle. Your wounds are healed, and any li’l ghosts are exorcised. There’s actually a gilded treasure box like they have in Dalaam, with the Carrot Key, off to the side of Magnet Hill. Don’t miss it! The aesthetics of the box as much as what’s inside let you know to go back East next. But first you may want to gain some experience points–as the theater owner remarks, they’re one thing money can’t buy–and in earning them, you’ll also be gaining plenty of money, to boot.

Magnet Hill is the only sanctuary in the middle of a town, and the only one you can see long before reaching it. Not much of a hill really, more of a little tiny pyramid, it is also unique in that it links, via the Carrot Key, directly onto the next sanctuary location. No further exploration or grubbing for autographs will be necessary in Dalaam, nor is there anyone else obvious to try the carrot key on. Though there is that Shark in the Arcade who likes fresh vegetables, he isn’t blocking any doorways.

So teleport on up to Dalaam, the game’s sole location that can only be reached by PSI. Brainfood lunches and jars of delisauce can be purchased now that you have $ dollars. The preet-pooter is still at it; the folk weep parenthetically about monsters appearing. The scribe up by the palace seems to have figured out immortality to his satisfaction, because now he’s musing on existing and exiting–the thing no one in Dalaam can do without teleportation. Talah Rama, you may recall, from whose monkey friends Ness learned to teleport, knows about and names Poo way before you meet him in Ness’ dream. Perhaps Talah Rama has found his way to the Dusty Dunes desert from Dalaam, but if so, it’s by breaking the rule about having to go to a place before being able to teleport there, just as Poo did, come to think of it, in getting to Summers. Perhaps the psychic link of the dream or the vision gets around that. The Photo man seems to side-step the game’s normal physics, too. He appears inside and outside the palace now that you’re there with the whole party, as he did on your coming out of the museum. His spinning starts to look a little like a teleportation PSI move–maybe it’s him the Star Master has gone off to train with, after all. 

Using the Carrot Key, you gain access to the cave guarded by lagomorphic statues, only to find it infested by swift ball-lightning fiends: the thunder cloud, flute player, kiss of death, and x-ray man, all dangerous, especially in combination, if you don’t take them out quickly. Any disappointment you were feeling about Poo’s relative weakness upon his joining the party has by now, hopefully, transitioned to glee at his rapid growth coming through the sewers and caves. Lay on the PSI and munch brain food lunches and magic tarts at will. This dungeon is novel, too, in that you proceed not through a series of doors between rooms, but along a branching tree of choices of holes to plummet through, dropping you into the chambers beneath. Until finding the Bracer of Kings, Poo has no equipment at all, so going slightly astray to reach it first is worth it.

At the door out the other side of the cave at last, Thunder and Storm await, intertwined like the caduceus of Mercury/Hermes or like yin and yang in their circle. Threatening as they look, Thunder and Storm count as one foe, and are easily enough frozen and blown apart. And now you’re able to explore the caves care free, gaining all sorts of levels. Find your first Rock Candy, which randomly boosts one stat for one of the friends, and use condiments to duplicate it, if you wish.

On Pink Cloud, hugging the side of the mountain underneath Dalaam, the vision this time is of Ness’ mom as a young woman. As we’re three quarters of the way around the Sound Stone, and have had two Sanctuary locations in such quick succession, it seems the game is inviting us to compare some of what we’ve seen in these visions so far. Many of the connections between locations should begin leaping into focus, if you can remember what they all are. (And if you can’t, there’s a wiki on fandom.) To sum up:

At the Giant Step, Ness catches a glimpse of a small, cute puppy.

At the Lilliput Steps, Ness briefly has a vision of a baby in a red cap.

At the Milky Well, Ness thinks he hears his mother from far away… She says, “Be a thoughtful, Strong boy…”

At the Rainy Circle, Ness catches a whiff of Steak, but just for a second.

At Magnet Hill, Ness sees a baby’s bottle, but just for an instant.

At the Pink Cloud, Ness has a short vision of seeing his mother when she was young.

In general, the pattern moves from the ground to the sky, through the liminal states of liquid pools and metal hills, and the visions all relate to early childhood. In the fourth and fifth, food figures prominently. The vision of the mother, too, implies the source of nourishment, but like the sound of her words from Milky Well, it goes beyond that to call up further reserves of character and resolve. I also like to think about the contrast between the Pink Cloud hovering low down the mountainside and the place of Mu up on its lonesome spire, with its violent vision of Poo’s ancestors, so different from Ness’.  Maybe you can guess what your next vision will be, but I think the last one will be a surprise. Only the concluding phrase of the eight melodies’ song awaits.

Next week, I’ll transcribe another conversation, or you can listen along to liven things up, and then at last we’ll be ready to proceed to Scaraba, braving the Kraken in the midst of our journey by sea. Until then, take care.


(Hidden tracks:

I’m fascinated endlessly by the rare media made available by the internet, and this is a fascination that may not outlive my generation, so I’ll never tire of saying it. For instance, “Museum Day” by s / s / s, one of the rarer Sufjan songs I’ve come across. If there were a theme song for this episode, that would be it!

And now, if you’ll humor me, since we looked at the museums this week, I thought of doing a showcase of some writing from the past. My own version of the pharaoh’s training pot and pencil box on exhibit in Summers; not huge–no, not like the bones at the Fourside museum. But like them, a replica of something that once lived, and who knows, might still have a little life in it–a puff of inspiration from the video game muses: A poem about Dalaam. Short sketches of Winters and Summers. Then a kind of dialogue, an experimental work named after Pinocchio.

Thanks for reading!)


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