“Essay Twenty-Two: The Kraken and Opening the Pyramid–EarthBound and Myth”


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.”

I’m a little down this week, readers, remembering how Uruguay were knocked out of the last World Cup after yet another brilliant, brave run by the little country where I taught and where I have some close friends. And then in quick succession, Brazil, Sweden, and Russia followed them out, each in descending order of the teams I next would have deigned to root for. Then it was England by default, more or less,–let’s say because I was amused by the sartorial choices of the England coach– so they were soon sent packing, my secret wish to see Modric hoist the trophy dashed, and don’t even get me started on France and Belgium… I know that the tournament was objectively fun to watch, which only made it worse; and worst of all, that the US did not even make it to the event. But all’s not lost. Uruguay’s young talent bodes well for them for years to come. 

Image result for uruguay 2018 world cup

With that, let’s head to Scaraba. Maybe you remember the billboard guy on the threshold between Summers’ main strip and the neighborhood of Toto, pronouncing parenthetically where you are, then insisting he is not a billboard? He might remind you of Liar X Agerate back in Onett, who calls himself a billboard guy. Or Brickroad, from Jeff’s journey through Winters–we’ll meet him again soon, in another form. But also Itoi, the game’s creator, made a living in advertising, generating excitement and interest about information, which is sort of what a game does. For the pure billboard guy, it’s probably inconsequential whether you actually buy the advertised product, as long as you read and are amused by the billboard. (Or talk to him, in this case, playing on that again.)

There’s the Captain on the quay in Toto, glad his wife has come out of Stoic Club seriousness and into the sunshine. He’s willing to take you across the sea now that he’s got his life back together. He remarks, perhaps as a result of his experience, or maybe this is how his personality was before all this happened: “The only thing you have to lose your life, and you got that for free.” Devil-may-care! (I used to think that was a hairstyle, devil-make-hair, like how you look after teleporting, I bet, your hair all swept back, or like riding a bike without a helmet.)

So we head out with the Captain’s little boat, our brave blue pennant flying, for a small fee. Out beyond the outlying boats in the harbor, the view shifts to an overworld scale. We don’t see Summers and Toto behind, only the sea and islands ahead, zigging and zagging through lighter and darker, deeper and shallower waters. The Captain has to get his sea-legs, he’s seasick for a moment and then recovers, laughing at your adventurousness as manifested by the presence of your friend Prince Poo. And we’re on our way again.

The graphics in this part of EarthBound are reminiscent of StarTropics, a great game for the NES, where you travel around the islands by submarine. Even the names are kind of similar, huh? Just like Undertale and Starbound and Stardew Valley. Good names! In EarthBound, you’re not directing where the ship goes, just along for the ride. For the first time since the dawn after the meteorite night, time passes before our eyes. Day becomes night. And in this night sea journey, we get the attack of the Kraken by a volcanic island.

Now this is different from the second boss in StarTropics (a giant octopus who kidnapped a dolphin), and from Polar Kraken in the old Magic cards (since this one is not polar, obviously). It’s akin, in that it appears massive in size beside the ship. But note its green and red color scheme. Its lack of eyes, its froth of blood around the fangs. It’s more of a Leviathan or sea dragon than a Kraken as I thought of it. For more on those figures, I commend the end of the Book of Job to you, and perhaps some of the mythic stories in the Enuma Elish, which we’ll touch upon later in the episode. And oh, Moby Dick! There’s a light summer read for you. But brilliant, brave, as Uruguay’s dear celeste.

Related image

Anyway, this made me realize that I maybe don’t have the best sources for my idea of what a Kraken is, or, if it’s a made-up thing, where it comes from. Would The Very Scary Almanac know? It’s in there all right, but this time, like anyone who wants to find something out, I looked it up on wikipedia. Sure enough, the crowd-sourced encyclopedia offers some great resources–I hope I attribute them properly here, accessed circa July 8 2018:

The kraken (/ˈkrɑːkən/)[1] is a legendary cephalopod-like sea monster of giant size that is said to dwell off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. Authors over the years have postulated that the legend originated from sightings of giant squids that may grow to 13–15 meters (40–50 feet) in length. The sheer size and fearsome appearance attributed to the kraken have made it a common ocean-dwelling monster in various fictional works.

Etymology: The English word kraken is taken from Norwegian.[2] In Norwegian Kraken is the definite form of krake, a word designating an unhealthy animal or something twisted (cognate with the English crook and crank).[3] In modern German, Krake (plural and declined singular: Kraken) means octopus, but can also refer to the legendary kraken

[K, but I’m still not clear whether this is real or fantastic, legendary. Let’s see.]

History: In the late-13th-century version of the Old Icelandic saga Örvar-Oddr is an inserted episode of a journey bound for Helluland (Baffin Island) which takes the protagonists through the Greenland Sea, and here they spot two massive sea-monsters called Hafgufa (“sea mist”) and Lyngbakr (“heather-back”).[a][b] The hafgufa is believed to be a reference to the kraken:

[N]ú mun ek segja þér, at þetta eru sjáskrímsl tvau,

[I’ll spare you further Old Norse and get to the translation.]

Now I will tell you that there are two sea-monsters. One is called the hafgufa [sea-mist[a]], another lyngbakr [heather-back[a]]. It [the lyngbakr] is the largest whale in the world, but the hafgufa is the hugest monster in the sea. It is the nature of this creature to swallow men and ships, and even whales and everything else within reach. It stays submerged for days, then rears its head and nostrils above surface and stays that way at least until the change of tide. Now, that sound we just sailed through was the space between its jaws, and its nostrils and lower jaw were those rocks that appeared in the sea, while the lyngbakr was the island we saw sinking down. However, Ogmund Tussock has sent these creatures to you by means of his magic to cause the death of you [Odd] and all your men. He thought more men would have gone the same way as those that had already drowned [i.e., to the lyngbakr which wasn’t an island, and sank], and he expected that the hafgufa would have swallowed us all. Today I sailed through its mouth because I knew that it had recently surfaced.

So that’s pretty awesome. There’s some historical references below that, and a note that Tennyson published his sonnet The Kraken in 1830, which must have helped popularize it. And there’s a great old illustration from Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, etc.

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber’d and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Thinking of Moby Dick or Job, all this makes it sound like there’s two sea monsters, a whale-type thing and then a squid-type thing. And in the saga, too. Shades of Skylla and Charybdis, again, from The Odyssey. Two archetypal sea monsters… It’s interesting there’s this kind of division between these two, they don’t resolve into one.

For some reason, fighting the Kraken, the music is that technology-groovy track last heard when fighting against the Smilin’ Sphere in Dusty Dunes Desert. It’s maybe a better question not why this music here, but why was such cool music lavished back then on the lowly Smilin’ Sphere? What do these two enemies have in common? Sci-fi as a genre with its technology focus emerged from Jules Verne, with its origins in a fascination with the deeps. The Kraken reappears in Ness’ mind, in Magicant, near the center where Ness’ Nightmare awaits.  You’ll also fight a Bionic Kraken later in the Cave of the Past when you’re approaching Giygas. So there is some connection between horrors of nature and of technology, the past and the future. Neither has eyes, both smile. Both (surprisingly in the case of the Kraken) have low HP. Fortunately, the Kraken does not explode the way the Smilin’ Sphere does. The sailor congratulates you on your victory, mentioning that he helped by throwing his slippers–so that’s what did the monster in so quickly, like Lardna Minch smashing Buzz Buzz, perhaps.

Image result for i threw my slipper earthbound

Light returns, a new day, and the boat pulls into the purple, wine-dark sea of Scaraba, back at the normal zoom level. Stepping off the boat and sweating immediately until you’re quite in town, you regain control over your party’s movements. The name Scaraba seems to be a reference to the scarab beetle, so to Buzz Buzz again, and to Egypt; also, sounding a bit like Arabia, it contributes to the general Middle Eastern/ North African vibe. In terms of real-world geography, we’ve basically gone from the French riviera to Morocco or Egypt, anyhow across the Mediterranean.

Here’s something neat I noticed–I distinctly remember realizing this back when I was playing the game as a kid, then later I made an experiment to test it: Scaraba’s music is a remix of Onett’s, maybe even bar for bar. I took some midi files people had made and uploaded on starmen.net, and using a sheet music notation software I opened them both side by side and started to do a mash-up, copying and pasting to see how it would sound, without particular musical training, so just kind of messing around. Having converted the midi file to mp3–thanks again, internet!–I’ll include it here. See what you think:

Not to toot my own horn, but I think it’s pretty cool. Did you hear the haunting melody quoted there, too, from the trumpet player, of Dvorak’s Largo? Playing through Scaraba this time, I’m noticing more connections to previous towns, besides the musical echoes. People here evidently speak your language (or again, your PSI abilities translate for you, making your meaning lucid to one another). One of the first people you meet, levitating at the top of a rope, or sitting on the edge of a roof up there, it’s hard to tell, mentions that he misplaced a key to his friend Dungeon Man. That’s BrickRoad, recall: he was going to get Dr Andonuts’ help to become, not just make, a dungeon. So he’s around here somewhere, and his key is, too. But this friend at the top of the rope also reminds me of Ness’ friends up in their tree house. Over in the trees north-east of town, someone tells you to watch where you step, “A chubby kid did his business out here.” Checking the little scat, the message appears: “Pokey’s stink hangs in the air.” Geographically, this is where your house and Pokey’s would be with reference to Onett, so that checks out. You’re on the trail, he’s left his mark. Your arrival from the north, then, corresponds to Buzz Buzz’s descent, your boat to the meteorite and beam of light he arrived on. In arriving from the resort town and its barrio, you’ve come from the future, in a sense, from a more sophisticated place to a less. Still, Scaraba’s bazaar looks a lot like Burglin Park’s market, down to the seasonings salesman. Instead of fresh eggs and the For Sale sign, though, the most useful commodities here are snakes and piggy noses. In that respect, outdoor markets represent a point of connection across cultures. We love to get out in the open air and haggle. A street market used to set up outside our house in Uruguay one day a week. And just like we had to let the people there know that someone was renting at the moment, so please leave us some room to come in and out through the doorway, the people in houses in Scaraba tell you, No, they don’t need any mummy wrap, or, I don’t have anything for you so please get out of my house. The arms dealer in the hotel is just like the one you first met in Threed behind the hotel, still telling you to keep on the watch for bad guys. The overall impression, then, is that this is an exotic place, no doubt–but it is a place like home in many ways. That cosmopolitan aspiration is reinforced by the conveniences of a modern hospital and ATM, and in another way by the sudden shock of the desert sun once you’re beyond the walled perimeter of Scaraba town. You’re protected from that in town, and there’s not even any blue-faced people here. 

Venturing out into this desert, the new music and the sweat springing from your party let you know you’re somewhere else. You have no way of knowing how brief this desert will be, however. After encountering just one or two foes, reprises of Bookas and Skelpions, and the Criminal Caterpillar’s successor, Master Criminal Worm, if you’re lucky or just know where to walk back and forth by that little oasis from screen to screen and then chase after it for tons of exp, in short order you come to the water merchant. He’ll claim to be indispensable, like any good salesman, but if he is, it’s only insofar as PP, not hydration, is at issue, as the latter is not actually something the game tracks. Poo’s ability to steal PP from foes using PSI Magnet and then use it for Lifeup or Freeze may prove even more important, unless you do stock up on plenty of water or brought some magic tarts.

For there, just beyond the merchant, reposes the Sphinx before the Pyramid doors, which are adorned with what look like eyes, maybe the ones missing from Kraken, maybe alluding to the one called Hawk Eye in the ancient texts. Thief or warrior? is this Sphinx’s question, essentially, and the right answer, as it turns out, is, first: scholar, museum-goer, so as to know about the hint with the numbers 1-5 arranged in a strange-looking way, and second: not thief or warrior, but dancer, dancing in a star pattern on the conspicuous spots arrayed before the impassive face. When you do it right, you get some cool sound effects, piecing themselves together a bit like a mini Sound Stone arranged in a crude pentagonal circle, and culminating in the Sphinx addressing you as warrior and bidding you enter. The Pyramid doors open.

For all the intense Pyramid-exploration music, it’s a deceptively easy dungeon at first, so long as you have gone through the next two Sanctuary spots already and leveled up a bit, or just fought a few desert worms. There’s a linear series of rooms like the ones from Threed underground to Grapefruit Falls, only with better decor, hieroglyphic wisdom adorning the walls, and better coffins. Then you come to the central chamber where choices branch out from the room with the suspicious sarcophagus in the middle. This necessitates retracing steps, no matter which way you go first, and re-fighting hieroglyphs and petrified temple guards who launch themselves at you. Going left to recover a bag of dragonite, mummy wraps, and vipers might be worth it, but the redundant battles seriously began to wear my party down. Finally, pressing on rightward, you come to the hidden pressure panel on the floor of a distant room, revealing a way down through that hole you could see under the sarcophagus whenever the screen goes into battles in the central room. As it does, over and over…

Curiously enough, dropping down that hole, after all that, you’re given a choice whether or not to take the Hawk Eye. This is an insistent element of the game, as we’ve seen from the very start: saying Yes or No to choices while within this great adventure of heroic destiny framework. And this time it is a real choice–you can actually, like my friend Steve I think did once, proceed with the game without taking the Hawk Eye from its pedestal. I forget whether he had his inventory full, or just didn’t check it out, or was afraid it was a trap, Indiana Jones style, or what, but he left it there in its underground resting place. He just went right along and managed to get through the Deep Darkness without it. Take it though, and, as the Help option helpfully explains, “You can see in the dark!” The game could probably have prompted players a bit more strongly here by, say, having the next few rooms be plunged into darkness until using the Hawk Eye. I have no idea, now that I think about it, where the light comes from in the Pyramid. Those paths under Threed and Stonehenge glow with some weird light of their own, but the Pyramid seems evenly lit as anyone’s house by its warm sandstone backgrounds for no reason other than simplicity. The mythological meaning, though, would seem to be that you already can see in the dark.

For more on the mythological sense of the Hawk Eye, as the recovery by the vibrant young hero of the value dormant within the decrepit old Pyramid of culture, Neumann and Peterson, these authors I’ve been reading lately with Alex and discussing over at his podcast on the History of Western Thought, suggest we look into stories of the descent to the underworld by Horus and Osiris.

As Peterson tells it in his Maps of Meaning:

The story of Osiris and his son Horus is much more complex, in some ways, than the Mesopotamian creation myth, or the story of Re, and describes the interactions between the ‘constituent elements of experience’ in exceedingly compressed form. Osiris was a primeval king, a legendary ancestral figure, who ruled Egypt wisely and fairly. His evil brother, Seth–whom he did not understand–rose up against him. Seth kills Osiris (that is, sends him to the underworld) and dismembers his body, so that it can never be ‘found.’

The death of Osiris signifies two important things: (1) the tendency of a (static) ruling idea, system of valuation, or particular story–no matter how initially magnificent or appropriate–to become increasingly irrelevant with time; and (2) the dangers that necessarily accrue to a state that ‘forgets’ or refuses to admit to the existence of the immortal deity of evil. Seth, the king’s brother and opposite, represents the mythic ‘hostile twin’ or ‘adversary’ who eternally opposes the process of creative encounter with the unknown; signifies, alternatively speaking, a pattern of adaptation characterized by absolute opposition to the establishment of divine order. When this principle gains control–that is, usurps the throne–the ‘rightful king’ and his kingdom are necessarily doomed. Seth, and figures like him–often represented in narrative by the corrupt ‘righthand man’ or ‘adviser to the once-great king’–view human existence itself with contempt. Such figures are motivated only to protect or advance their position in the power hierarchy, even when the prevailing order is clearly counterproductive. Their actions necessarily speed the process of decay, endemic to all structures. Osiris, although great, was naive in some profound sense–blind, at least, to the existence of ‘immortal’ evil. This blindness, and its resultant incaution, brings about (or at least hastens) Osiris’ demise.

[I’d interpose there that I think Neumann understands the right-hand man a little differently, as primarily serving not the rightful king, but the great mother. But to go on.]

Osiris has a wife, as befits the ‘king of order.’ Isis, as Osiris mythic counterpart, is representative of the positive aspect of the unknown (like the hierodule in the Mesopotamian New Year’s ritual). She is possessed of great magical powers, as might be expected, given her status. She gathers up Osiris’ scattered pieces and makes herself pregnant with the use of his dismembered phallus. This story makes a profound point: the degeneration of the state or domain of order and its descent into chaos serves merely to fructify that domain and to make it ‘pregnant.’ In chaos lurks great potential. When a great organization disintegrates, falls into pieces, the pieces might still be usefully fashioned into, or give rise to, something else (perhaps something more vital, and still greater). Isis therefore gives birth to a son, Horus, who returns to his rightful kingdom to confront his evil uncle.

Horus fights a difficult battle with Seth–as the forces of evil are difficult to overcome–and loses an eye in the process. Seth is overcome, nonetheless; Horus recovers his eye. The story could stop there, narrative integrity intact, with the now-whole and victorious Horus’ well-deserved ascension to the throne. However, Horus does the unexpected, descending voluntarily to the underworld to find his father . It is representation of this move–reminiscent of Marduk’s voluntary journey to the ‘underworld’ of Tiamat–that constitutes the brilliant and original contribution of Egyptian theology.

Horus discovers Osiris, extant in a state of torpor. He offers his recovered eye to his father–so that Osiris can ‘see’ once again. They return, united and victorious, and establish a revivified kingdom. The kingdom of the ‘son and father’ is an improvement over that of the father or the son alone, as it unties the hard-won wisdom of the past (that is, of the dead) with the adaptive capacity of the present (that is, of the living).

Marduk, the Mesopotamian supreme god, is by comparison a straightforward hero: he carves the familiar world from the unfamiliar [ie, from the defeated Tiamat, a sea monster]. Horus, equally brave, is more complete, and more sophisticated. He cannot remain content with his own ascension, feeling himself incomplete without his father. He therefore journeys voluntarily into the underworld, releases the disintegrated forces of tradition trapped there, and makes them part of himself. (128-132)

Stirring stuff. Later, getting into his discussion of Solzhenitsyn: 

The process of voluntary engagement in the ‘revaluation of good and evil’ consequent to recognition of personal insufficiency and suffering, is equivalent to adoption of identification with Horus (who, as the process that renews, exists as something superordinate to ‘the morality of the past’). This means the capacity to reassess morality means identification with the figure that ‘generates and renews the world’–with the figure that mediates between order and chaos. It is ‘within the domain of that figure’ that room for all aspects of the personality actually exist–as the demands placed on the individual who wishes to identify with the savior are so high, so to speak, that every aspect of personality must become manifested, ‘redeemed,’ and integrated into a functioning hierarchy. (367)

For me, this is great stuff from Dr Peterson. Granted, it’s buried in this long, dense book, but if you can excavate it, it’s a treasure trove. EarthBound presents mythic material in its ludic, silly manner, but it’s still not as silly as some of the diagrams I’ve passed over in these long quotes; at least it’s never pedantic, as we necessarily are once we try to explicate that whole abstract phenomenon, that meta-sense of identifying with the awesome conceptual leap which we gloss over in everyday language with the word “learning.” 

How well this mythological stuff fits with the space invaders story in the museum hieroglyphs! The past aiding the present; the present going down into the past, producing the future; seeing in the darkness, being creative… It’s fitting, then, that before exiting the far end of the Pyramid–there’s no going back, since you dropped down, the only way is forward–there’s a boss fight against a closed sarcophagus, holding the captain of the temple guards you’ve been battling through all along. Finally, just beyond that, there awaits a magic butterfly, likely lost on its way in from the other end of the Pyramid tunnel in southern Scaraba. And through which shortly you come out, too.

There the Star Master swoops in to congratulate you and borrow Poo, to teach him what he (the Star Master) had not yet learned himself when Poo was confronting the ancestral spirits at the Place of Mu. It’s too bad, since Poo likely played an integral role just now in the heroes’ making it through the Pyramid, that you’ll have to do without his PSI versatility and water drinking abilities for a time. But he promises to return as soon as he can. At least it’s not Paula getting kidnapped again.

To recap: we fought the Kraken, and struggled with the ambivalent nature of the sea monster-octopus-dragon; that seems to be part of what makes it so terrifying, after all, its very mysteriousness. We talked briefly about Scaraba and its culture, then descended into the Pyramid with its myths of Horus and Marduk, gleaned from Maps of Meaning.

Where we began with a billboard guy, we’ll continue with another one in Dungeon Man, next time.


Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in restoring integrity and quality to games writing through thoughtful, long-form reviews. We’re a community aspiring to pay our contributors and build a fairer and happier alternative to mainstream games writing and culture. See our Patreon page for more info!


Categories: Opinion

Tagged as: ,

2 replies »

  1. Hi, first time poster here! I’ve been following your coverage and in-depth analysis of Earthbound, and I must say it sure is fascinating stuff! I love how you really dig into the history and different cultures that inspire various aspects of the game, even some I feel I overlooked. Your Onett/Scaraba remix is great, by the way! I’ve often heard people say that many of the town BGMs from Earthbound are remixes of the Onett theme, but I could never hear it, personally. Anyhow, I will continue following your dive into the game, thanks for your work!


Kindly leave a civil and decent comment like a good human being

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s