Serialized specially for The Well-Red Mage, based on the podcast by Wesley Schantz
“The following is a contributor post by the Bookwarm Mage.”
Welcome back. We’ll make our way to Tenda Village over the course of two weeks or more, partly because it is not truly accessible when we first reach it at the end of the Deep Darkness, but mostly because I wanted to get to make a multi-part episode.
First, a comment from my compatriot Alex Schmid at the History of Western Thought:
Something interesting about scarabs–as I’m sure you’ll remember, it’s two halves of the golden scarab that are put together by Jafar at the beginning of Aladdin in order to have them shoot their way towards the Cave of Wonders and then become the eyes, split in half and yet still creating a unity, because two eyes still create one focal point. So the scarab is that which leads one back to the treasures of the past. And then Jung, in particular, thinks the scarab is an interesting symbol, because once a bit of synchronicity happened with one of his patients: she was describing having seen a scarab in a dream, and then a particular beetle came through the window during one of her therapy sessions with Jung, that had the name scarab in its Latin name.
In a follow-up text, he remarked further on the root word of psychology, psyche, which in Greek meant both butterfly and soul. So that finding one deep in the Pyramid makes some sense.
The theme of vision, both inner and outward, continues to play an important role in our travels this week. We arrive on the outskirts of the Deep Darkness, a swampy jungle, via Dungeon Man’s yellow submarine. Unfortunately, we never get to explore the interior of the sub as a level in its own right, nor use it to explore the depths of the underwater passage. It carries Ness and his friends just a short way, playing the Tessie theme with the sound of water attached, and its periscope is the only part of it we see, bobbing along through the river before coming to a rest at the swampy delta. Here the monkeys run an inn where you can stay for free, just at the edge of the Darkness, a silhouette of massed trees. There are warnings, soon confirmed by experience, of the deleterious health effects of wading through the deep muck beyond, the screen flashing red for every few steps you take while submerged, something like a combination of the sunstroke of the desert and the sewers of Fourside, nature itself impeding and sapping your strength, whereas elsewhere, in each of the Your Sanctuary locations, the earth lends its power to your own. Another monkey playing along the riverbank wants to learn to teleport, and if you agree to teach him, he, in turn, shows you a new way to use the ability, turning at right angles to build up speed around his tree. Technically you could always do so, but I never realized it until I saw him go. The running run-up to the teleport ability will come in handy in the Deep Darkness if you ever need to cross a patch of gunk quickly, and don’t mind spending a little PP to save some health and some time. The little guy also gives you an item called Monkey’s Love, allowing you to summon him into battle for one-time aid against the foe. Like the handmade band-aid from Paula’s mom, the sweaty gym socks of the Fourside baker who lost his ancestral contact lenses, or the brain food lunches for sale in Dalaam, it’s something between too sentimental and too valuable for me, at least, to ever actually use. It’s also the physical manifestation, in the form of an inventory item, of something intangible, which is fun to think about. Since in a way, everything in the game is.
The only other characters you meet here are a shady doctor under another tree, who does not think it is necessary for you two to speak, the international businessman from another country interested in claiming the rich natural resources of the Deep Darkness, who acts as the doctor’s agent, and an odd breathing tube, which turns out to be a money-changer hiding under the swamp. The anti-colonial message could not be more clear. There are indeed some priceless magic truffles to be found growing under certain of the trees, but it takes a piggy snout to sniff them out–or the big red X’s in the player’s guide. And along with the monkeys, there are the shy inhabitants of Tenda Village on the far side of the jungle, completely unprepared for the foreign invad–er, investors. To proceed further, once you cross over the boundary of the inky blackness toward the gift box luring you in, it will be necessary to use the Hawk Eye (or at least it’s helpful to do so). Whereupon, whatever using it entails–holding it up to your eye like a telescope or periscope, or letting it crumble to dust in the moist air–the jungle becomes perfectly visible and the ancient artifact disappears in the sound of magic butterfly.
The jungle which had looked dark is now just like all the rest along the river, so it seems that plenty of light was there all along, only now it illuminates rather than casting into shadow. Perhaps you moved slightly, out of the light you were blocking–you, the one playing the game, had been between the light behind you and the trees before you, the way you wanted to go cast into darkness by your very desire to go on, and by stepping aside, the way becomes clear. Perhaps it’s something like this. For what is vision, of whatever wonder, without the light to see by? And who can take credit for the light?
As your party toils through the inhospitable waterways, the oppressive music blaring, the fetid ooze draining your HP, you are accosted by demonic petunias and electric eels, fishmen and hard crocodiles and pitbull slugs, all brightly colored, blue, yellow, green and red. Enemy sprites are reused with a fresh coat of paint. To break up the tedium, you might think about how funny it is that the people who run up to you called by the For sale sign to buy your extra items are not hindered by the swamp, and if you hadn’t used the Hawk Eye, you could use their approach to see which way to go next. The practical similarity between the ancient wisdom and the invisible hand of the market is bizarrely apt. It comes in handy, for there are numerous present boxes and dead ends, besides those magic truffles luxuriating in the muck at the base of the tangled roots of trees. Everywhere the mangrove-type trees and violently bright flowers grow profuse, rank, either apart in single glory or fused into impassible walls. For this portion of the game, the corresponding work of art that comes to mind, perhaps a little superficially, is Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I haven’t read it closely, but I looked at again just for a bit now and it’s mesmerizing. See what you think–
The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished sprits. A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.
The Director of Companies was our captain and our host. We four affectionately watched his back as he stood in the bows looking to seaward. On the whole river there was nothing that looked half so nautical. He resembled a pilot, which to a seaman is trustworthiness personified. It was difficult to realize his work was not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind him, within the brooding gloom.
Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea. Besides holding our hearts together through long periods of separation, it had the effect of making us tolerant of each other’s yarns—and even convictions. The Lawyer—the best of old fellows—had, because of his many years and many virtues, the only cushion on deck, and was lying on the only rug. The Accountant had brought out already a box of dominoes, and was toying architecturally with the bones. Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled an idol. The Director, satisfied the anchor had good hold, made his way aft and sat down amongst us. We exchanged a few words lazily. Afterwards there was silence on board the yacht. For some reason or other we did not begin that game of dominoes. We felt meditative, and fit for nothing but placid staring. The day was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more somber every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun.
And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun sank low, and from glowing white changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men.
Forthwith a change came over the waters, and the serenity became less brilliant but more profound. The old river in its broad reach rested unruffled at the decline of day, after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks, spread out in the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth. We looked at the venerable stream not in the vivid flush of a short day that comes and departs for ever, but in the august light of abiding memories. And indeed nothing is easier for a man who has, as the phrase goes, “followed the sea” with reverence and affection, than to evoke the great spirit of the past upon the lower reaches of the Thames. The tidal current runs to and fro in its unceasing service, crowded with memories of men and ships it had borne to the rest of home or to the battles of the sea. It had known and served all the men of whom the nation is proud, from Sir Francis Drake to Sir John Franklin, knights all, titled and untitled—the great knights-errant of the sea. It had borne all the ships whose names are like jewels flashing in the night of time, from the Golden Hind returning with her round flanks full of treasure, to be visited by the Queen’s Highness and thus pass out of the gigantic tale, to the Erebus and Terror, bound on other conquests—and that never returned. It had known the ships and the men. They had sailed from Deptford, from Greenwich, from Erith—the adventurers and the settlers; kings’ ships and the ships of men on ‘Change; captains, admirals, the dark “interlopers” of the Eastern trade, and the commissioned “generals” of East India fleets. Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! . . . The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires.
The sun set; the dusk fell on the stream, and lights began to appear along the shore. The Chapman lighthouse, a three-legged thing erect on a mud-flat, shone strongly. Lights of ships moved in the fairway—a great stir of lights going up and going down. And farther west on the upper reaches the place of the monstrous town was still marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars.
“And this also,” said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark places of the earth.”
So we get the frame narrative, as Marlow begins to tell the tale which will become Heart of Darkness. It’s worth knowing that Conrad did lead an adventurous life on the sea himself before settling in to write his novels, and that he picked up English as a second or third language, displaying it with incredible flair. Anyhow, when you come upon the wrecked helicopter in the middle of the jungle, banged up and without an engine, you might also think of Apocalypse Now, and the recurring American nightmare of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and wonder where Pokey has got to.
Just past there, in a narrow channel of the maze-like jungle, another familiar face awaits. Chuckling, expectorating, and threatening you with death by vomit, he challenges you to a rematch: Master Belch, now calling himself Puke, called by the fight dialogue Barf, who has been training, just like Poo. Stink and nausea flow from him, along with the little piles and belches of washed-out beige wandering the jungle, but after a few rounds, likely crying and poisoned by now as you are, Poo swoops in to deal the final blow with his new Starstorm PSI. Which is pretty cool. No further words are exchanged–he rejoins your party, bringing you back to full strength. At last, you come upon dry land by Tenda Village, suitable for teleportation purposes.
In the soothing cool and dry of the cave-dwelling, with gentle hoots and whistles and chimes for ambient tunes, you can wash the gunk off in a hot spring and see a cup of something you can’t yet drink, just like in Saturn Valley. The inhabitants, too, are like the Saturns, small and soft-looking, only green with stick arms rather than a bunch of oversized heads and noses walking around. Rather than speaking with a strange dialect, the Tendas hardly speak at all. We’re shy, they say, ….we’re shy, or some slight variation in the case of the one who looks like he has horns. At the back of the cave, the only outgoing Tenda reveals that there is a book which can help the villagers communicate, as he has learned to do, and then the blocked tunnel to the underworld could be opened by his strong neighbor of few words there beside you, guarding the rock that covers the hole. Going back outside, all set to go look for the Overcoming Shyness book, Ness receives two phone calls in quick succession, a bit like the sequence on emerging from Jackie’s Cafe after Moonside. The first is from Apple kid, who is cut off in the middle of telling you about his new invention and the missing Dr Andonuts by what sounds a lot like a kidnapping. Then, immediately after that, Orange kid calls, wondering where Apple Kid is, and before Ness can get a word in–as if he ever did speak–Orange Kid goes on: he was hoping Apple Kid would lend him the Overcoming Shyness book he borrowed from the library.
So while it briefly looked as though the game would give you a choice whether to rescue Apple Kid or go look for the book first, the two goals collapse into one. As much to say, helping out friends is what overcoming shyness looks like. We know that Apple Kid has always been isolated, living in squalor with only a mouse for company, totally devoted to his work to the point of forgetting to bathe or eat. Since you began funding his projects, he’s become more outgoing, seeking out the great scientist in Winters, and finishing a number of useful inventions. He’s been working on self-improvement, it seems, by reading as well. And while Ness has made friends and traveled the world, he still only receives calls on his phone, never makes them except to a select number of people, mostly just his family. Surely Ness, too, could still work on overcoming shyness. So you teleport to Winters, where Maxwell is outside the boarding school gates, looking around because Tony has gone missing. Down by Lake Tess, Sebastian the Tessie Watcher is also gone; one of his friends is inspired to speak a haiku in his honor–
Where are you, my friend?
They came and took you away.
Come back, Sebastian.
Hey, that’s a Haiku poem!
Another thinks he saw Tessie in the form of a UFO that snatched him away to Stonehenge. The kids in the tea tent remark on the frightening new monsters which have appeared in the pine woods. Still, Tessie and the Bubble Monkey will carry you across to Brick Road’s old digs, where the same old monsters skedaddle, and the same billboards remind you how far the dungeon maker has come in some ways, how little he’s changed in others. His name, Brickroad, seems even then to have referred to the maze he built, his aspiration to be both person and place, like noblemen whose names possess a homeland (de Montaigne, of the mountain) or gods (Apollo of Delphi; the Muses of Helicon or Parnassus; Athena; Hades, whose name connotes the unseen underworld he rules over). More old enemies flee before you in the Rainy Circle caves, and in Dr Andonuts’ lab his friend the Cave Boy is still happy to do business with you. Apple Kid’s friend the mouse bequeaths the Eraser eraser he just finished before being captured–the mouse could do nothing, but this gift is enough: now you can enter Stonehenge proper.
The underground base pulses with the kind of light last seen beneath the graveyard in Threed; deeper in its depths it recalls Belch’s factory behind Grapefruit Falls, the last time people were being kidnapped. Dealing with item capacity is key here, for there is the possibility of picking up the priceless Sword of Kings, the only weapon Poo can equip, from a gold-plated Starman Super. They appear in only a few of the deeper rooms, by which point the levels you’ve gained making your way there may well render it sort of moot whether you get the sword or not. I’ve never found one, partly because of the astronomical odds against it, 1/128, partly because I get mixed up thinking it’s the regular old Starman who holds the present box–I fought enough of them by one of the rooms where butterflies appear to win a brain food lunch finally, before realizing my mistake. The Starmen are easily picked off, since they are vulnerable from the front, rather than the back–so long as you run up and tag them just after they’ve materialized close enough, before they can teleport behind or into the midst of your party, you can earn a green swirl and strike first every time. The trouble is they’re usually accompanied by menacing Mooks wielding Freeze PSI, or worse, Atomic Robots who can replenish HP and move quickly, then explode on being destroyed. Unlike in Sanctuary areas, where they’ll run from you, the enemies in Stonehenge all disappear after you defeat the boss, Starman DX. So the window to find a sword is limited.
Beyond the flashing blinking mazes, the eerie drumming music, the broken instruments you gather, a trumpet and harmonica, and a Pixie bracelet and spicy jerky, you come at last through dark hangar-like catwalks to tubes full of pale green goop where not just Apple and Andonuts, Tony and Sebastian, but several other people are imprisoned. A hippie, a Mr T farmer, a Mr Saturn…Why? Was it an attempt to lure Ness and his friends in? To wheedle information from the prisoners which would help Giygas defeat them? Or perhaps an attempt to form a team? Wisdom, courage, and friendship, to the consternation of the aliens, are not susceptible to backwards engineering. As it happens, Apple Kid and Dr Andonuts encounter the Mr Saturns through their misadventure, leading to the long sought-after Phase Distorter technology which will prove critical to the end of Ness’ adventure. Yet again, the mysterious Apple of Enlightenment is invoked, this time by Starman DX, whose spiky carapace adorns the box art and who seems to lend his name and motto to the fan website: starmen.net– ‘Do not underestimate us.’ I guess because they worked for so many years to try to get Nintendo of America to release Mother 3/EarthBound 2. And in the end, they finally succeeded. Anyway, attempting to thwart the prophecy, spoken of by Buzz Buzz back at the beginning of the game, about Ness and his friends defeating the universal cosmic destroyer, only tends towards bringing about that very result. As so often with mythic interventions in destiny, destiny will out. The enemy warns you not to underestimate them–as if one multibottle rocket weren’t more than enough to wreck the robot-voiced miscreant–while admitting that you are stronger than they thought, that indeed all their attempts to waylay Ness and his friends have only contributed to their wisdom, courage, and friendship growing, so that evil’s grasping is its own undoing. More on this another time.
I’ll transcribe another conversation with friends and listeners this coming week, and then come back to Tenda Village and Lumine Hall, with a stop at the Library, to wrap up this story thread concerning seeing in the dark. Today we rambled through the swamp of Deep Darkness and the technological sprawl of Stonehenge, with a brief stopover on the Thames with Marlow just beginning to spin his yarn, Heart of Darkness, and just scratched the surface of shy Tenda Village. Until next time: do not underestimate us. Which is another way of saying: love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and trust and hope that your friends leave an Eraser eraser behind them in time for you to come rescue them with it.
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