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, one and all. A week or two in the making, maybe, but the discombobulated two-part episode rattles on. In the meantime I had a couple of friends get married! So let’s start there. This is from Judge William’s “Reflections on Marriage,” in Stages on Life’s Way, by Kierkegaard:
I return to what I said before, that resolution is a person’s ideality. I shall now attempt to develop how the resolution most formative of the individuality must be constituted, and I rejoice in thinking that marriage is precisely so constituted, which, as stated, I assume for the time being to be a synthesis of falling in love and resolution.
There is a phantom that frequently prowls around when the making of a resolution is at stake–it is probability–a spineless fellow, a dabbler, a Jewish peddler, with whom no freeborn soul becomes involved, a good-for-nothing fellow who ought to be jailed instead of quacks, male and female, since he tricks people out of what is more than money and more valuable than money. Anyone who with regard to resolution comes no further, never comes any further than to decide on the basis of probability, is lost for ideality, whatever he may become. If a person does not encounter God in the resolution, if he has never made a resolution in which he had a transaction with God, he might just as well have never lived. But God always does business en gros [wholesale] and probability is a security that is not registered in heaven. Thus it is so very important that there be an element in the resolution that impresses officious probability and renders it speechless. (109-110)
For about a year between when I proposed and got married myself, I went reading through the works of the Danish ur-existentialist, mostly just before going to bed. His writing represents the pinnacle of complexity, two-edged in all ways, and his obsessions with faith and love do a remarkable job of putting things in perspective. Reading Kierkegaard falling asleep, I am convinced, has indeed been very thorough preparation for marriage. He remarks here on the gulf between probability and absolutes, and so I thought this passage connected nicely with that topic which was raised last time, with respect to the odds against finding a Sword of Kings, or Apple Kid’s calculation of the 7% chance that you would rescue him and the others kidnapped by the Starmen in Stonehenge. Now, after the fact, with the countless tiny chances which have led to this moment, we can speak of the vanishingly small likelihood of our own existence and all there is to be grateful for and laugh about it, wondering, marveling at it. We’ll come back to this before the end, to the role of the Apple of Enlightenment, of prophecy and providence, and how to reconcile all that with chances and choices. Improbability, or even impossibility, and yet what looks like the working out of some beneficent intention, even inevitability, depending on your standpoint, are all essential elements of the good story, whose events, to hang together, require something like the suspension of disbelief or the the emotional investment in a secondary world, to take Coleridge and Tolkien’s formulations, or in Kierkegaard’s here, the overlap of love and resolution, possibility and actuality.
Apropos of probability, last time, when we came across the Casey Bat courtesy of the baddie formerly known as Master Belch, I really should have read this poem out, as well:
Casey at the Bat
A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888
The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;The score stood four to two with but one inning more to play.And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The restClung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;They thought if only Casey could but get a whack at that—We’d put up even money now with Casey at the bat.But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted some one on the stand;And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clinched in hate;He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.
Listening to this poem, reciting lines from it in class, discussing it with the teacher, is one of the more distinct memories I retain from my elementary school lessons. It is almost at the opposite end of the spectrum from Kierkegaard, perhaps, in many ways– an example of writing which requires minimal effort, wakeful as a joke rather than soporific, dreamlike, and convoluted like the pseudonyms’ poetic-psychological-philosophical ramblings. I never liked playing baseball, couldn’t stand watching it, yet somehow always have been fascinated by the idea of it. Maybe if I’d lived in the heyday of radio, like Hemingway’s Old Man, I’d have been a fan. So that baseball motif in EarthBound which comes to the fore now and then is probably outside my purview, but I’d love to hear people’s thoughts about it. I know the first time I played, I was tricked by the Casey Bat, though I should have known better if I’d recalled the poem. Probably not realizing at the time that poetry, like philosophy, could actually mean something if you tried to live it out, and thus its lessons could be applied to life, saving yourself some whiffs, or holding out the possibility of home runs.
For more on improbability and stories, I refer you again to the Tolkien Professor, his book Exploring the Hobbit and his Mythgard discussions of the theme in Boethius, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Or you might like Terry Pratchett’s fantastic send-up of the Bard and the Black Arrow scene in Guards, Guards:
‘There’s a pond just here,’ he said. ‘They use it for cooling water in the stills. I reckon it’s pretty deep, so after the sergeant has shot at the dragon we can jump in it. What d’you say?’
‘Oh, but we don’t need to do that,’ said Carrot. ‘Because the sergeant’s lucky arrow would of hit the spot and the dragon’ll be dead, so we won’t have anything to worry about.’
‘Granted, granted,’ said Nobby hurriedly, looking at Colon’s scowling face. ‘But just in case, you know, if by a million-to-one chance he misses–I’m not saying he will, mark you, you just have to think of all eventualities–if, by incredible bad luck, he doesn’t quite manage to hit the voonerable dead on, then your dragon is going to lose his rag, right, and it’s probably a good idea not to be here. It’s a long shot, I know. Call me a worry-wart if you like. That’s all I’m saying.’
Sergeant Colon adjusted his armour haughtily.
‘When you really need them the most,’ he said, ‘million-to-one chances always crop up. Well-known fact.’
‘The sergeant is right, Nobby,’ said Carrot virtuously. ‘You know that when there’s just one chance which might just work–well, it works. Otherwise there’d be no–‘ he lowered his voice–‘I mean, it stands to reason, if last desperate chances didn’t work, there’d be no…well, the gods wouldn’t let it be any other way. They wouldn’t.’ (262)
So the story isn’t quite so easy to pin down.
It turns out once you rescue him that Apple Kid has already returned the Overcoming Shyness Book to the Onett Library. The librarian still tells you not to worry about returning the town map until the year 2001. The hockey mask-wearing man of few words has been reading the shyness book, but has since put it back on the shelf. He asks you, with his newfound confidence, what mistakes you’ve been making while he’s been on his own adventures. Is he the same sprite who in Happy Happy Village took part in the kidnapping of Paula? Or is he just looking forward to chatting about the everyday life he’s been leading in Onett, which is revealed by his recent reading to be wonderful? The Japanese Mother 2, according to Legends of Localization, has him speaking English here, referencing a popular English textbook, which suggests learning a second language is a good way of overcoming shyness, which certainly rings true for me. You can find it on one of the bookshelves, where the cheerful library-goers are still there, through all your journeys, studying the same things. Elsewhere the text changes, like with the Tessie Watchers, we get another haiku:
I waited for you.
I’m glad to see you again.
You’re back, Sebastian.
…I just love making Haiku
And of course, back in Tenda Village, passing along the book takes immediate effect with all of the Tendas except the inn-keeper ready with something new to tell you. The Tendas’ inn is the same, where you can begin to repair the broken technology from Stonehenge, but not the odds and ends in the corner of the cave. There’s the shop open to you now, where you trade in Horn of Life, thus making the connection to Saturn Village even stronger. You’ll need seven horns in total for a Hall of Fame Bat to replace your useless Casey Bat. Also pick up Talisman Ribbons and Bags of Dragonite there and from the elder after he gives you the Tendakraut, too, if you talk to him again for a new reward. Your own shyness is brought into play again, as you’re called on the phone to confirm the player’s name. It isn’t clear this time if it’s Tony calling or someone else, perhaps someone who’s read his research and is checking his facts. Either way, it’s another example of the game breaking its frame insistently. Another beautiful break, like the one in Saturn Valley, comes as the game invites you to a cup of tea:
Like a great tapestry, vertical and horizontal threads have met and become intertwined, creating a huge, beautiful image. You may have cursed this never- ending journey. You have known injury and defeat, but you have struggled on to reach this place. Your in-born intelligence and courage have helped bring you here. You have believed in your friends, and as a group, you have supported each other. Have you ever stopped to consider how much your power has grown? Now, you could fell enemies in Onett and Twoson with one blow. As you certainly know, you cannot turn back. Giygas, the arch field of the universe, is growing frightened of you and your power. He is searching for ways to end your journey. From here, the challenge grows and your adventure will take you beyond anything you ever imagined. You are drawing near to Giygas. Remember when you are suffering hardships, your enemy is also struggling. By the way, do you know where Pokey went? When this cup of tea is finished, your adventure will continue. Your destiny pulls you in the right direction. Believe in yourself and press forward. Ness! Paula! Jeff! Poo! I wish you luck... [Tea Break text courtesy of https://www.neoseeker.com/earthbound/faqs/138014-script.html]
A Tenda lets you know she is a woman, in case you thought she was a man; the strong Tenda by the stone in the back of the cave will heave it aside, in awe of his own power no longer encumbered by shyness. The Tenda by the door smiles, and the talkative Tenda has an identity crisis now that everyone has come out of their shell. Hearing about the talking rock deep in the cave lets you know what to look for next. Then you get a glimpse of what it will look like, though the talking rock you find at once, it turns out, is not the one you’re looking for. Lumine Hall hums with the sound effects of the start of the game, maybe a little remixed. After Stonehenge, it’s nothing much to look at, either. It turns out to be a short dungeon if you proceed straight through, and after leveling against Starmen, its enemies present no great challenge even if you get hopelessly lost exploring. You’ll find Poo’s headgear, the Diadem of Kings, as well as capsules boosting individual stats, luck and IQ, and the speed-enhancing Rabbit’s Foot. At the shiny spot, the guardian challenges you once more with those familiar words: You finally got here. This is the seventh location. But it’s mine now, take it from me if you dare! Dare, but be advised, the Electro Specter does wear a psychic shield, so if you go in Starstorms and PSI Rockin’ blazing, you’ll wind up on the wrong end of your own salvos.
To inspect the art of this boss just briefly, the concentric circles behind his angular metallic form not only convey a sense of earth-shaking movement but recall the model of electron shells, with all the uncertainty and spooky action at a distance that quantum physics entails. The connotations of its name suggest also the photoelectric effect, as well as the spectrum of light, shading into the invisible. So Electro Specter embodies the dual nature of light as we understand it, wave and particle. Focusing attention on the mystery of light itself, rather than the dichotomy of light and darkness so easy to invoke, it guards an area where darkness and light are in mysterious harmony, expressed in their ability to project Ness’ thoughts in words.
Dropping down into Your Sanctuary spot itself, then, the spectacular namesake of Lumine Hall is revealed. Walking right to left, there is a shift in direction and flattening out the path, as if we were back in one of those early caves around Onett or Twoson, glittering now with a new perspective, a variation on what is old. You might recall the tea, the coffee’s words of encouragement, and wonder, whatever did happen to Pokey? How much stronger are you, and how afraid is Giygas? If any of this is going through Ness’ thoughts, we don’t hear about it. For part of this variation on the cave terrain, the darkness and the light, is the big wall with blinking, colored lights, like a Lite Brite board, giving way to legible text, scrolling across above Ness’ head for us to read. It goes:
I’m Ness…. It’s been a long road getting here… Soon, I’ll be… Soon, I’ll be… Soon, I’ll be… What will happen to us? W… What’s happening? My thoughts are being written out on the wall… or are they?
We might recall Monotoli seeing cryptic words in Moonside, or Giygas himself seeing the writing on the wall with the prophecy of the Apple of Enlightenment about the path of light and the nightmare rock. “Writing on the wall”– a phrase that comes out of the Bible story of Belshazzar in Daniel 5. I’ll spare you the full quote, but the first two words are Mene Mene… sounds kind of familiar…
I’ve heard in a few places about Itoi remarking that Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut, was one of the game’s inspirations, and people specifically point to Lumine Hall as an example. I haven’t read it yet, so I’ll just point you toward the relevant article for now:
It’s no secret that when Shigesato Itoi created the games in the MOTHER series, he used ideas inspired by all sorts of books, movies, music, and whatnot that he liked. I’ve listed a few of these inspirations before (I really should make a page that lists them all), but here’s a look at two more.
The other day PK Coffee posted on the Starmen.Net forums, asking about “The Sirens of Titan” and “The Body” (the short story “Stand By Me” was based on) and how they specifically inspired Itoi. Itoi’s mentioned that he’s been inspired by all these things, there was even an exhibit at the MOTHER 1+2 event that displayed a lot of the things that inspired him:
Sadly he’s never given specific examples, he usually just says, “If you read it/watch it you’ll probably see the similarities.”
So last year I picked up a few things that apparently inspired him and you can definitely see the influence they had on the games. I don’t have time to write a big huge review/similarity thing myself, but if you’re a big-time MOTHER/EarthBound fan, you should definitely check some of this stuff out.
Anyway, PK Coffee also posted a huge analysis of The Sirens of Titan and The Body and how they related to EarthBound, which I’ll post here:
First up is The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut. All of his books are pretty famous, and Itoi absolutely loves everything he’s written. It’s a pretty easy book to read, too. Even though it’s technically science fiction it’s more like a light, easy-reading parody of the genre. You can find the book pretty cheap on eBay, Half.com, Amazon, or anywhere else probably. I’m sure you can find it at your local library too, so check it out if you can.
Now for PK Coffee’s analysis:
Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan, and Mother
Vonnegut’s similarities to the Mother series are more obvious than King’s (you might be thinking, “How the hell is Stephen King similar to EarthBound?”), so we’ll start with him. At first, I didn’t see how Vonnegut could be similar to the Mother series. Sure, there’re aliens in M1 and M2, but the Mother series doesn’t really… take them seriously, y’know? It’s a caricature of aliens in fiction. They land on a copy of the Devils Tower as it appears in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Their spaceships are cute, lil’, and wear pink bows. And most of the time the enemies you encounter are goofy possessed inanimate objects or animals. The fact that aliens are behind the plot isn’t really emphasized as much as you’d expect from seeing, say, the opening of M2 or the Fourside level of Super Smash Bros. Melee.
But Vonnegut doesn’t really take his aliens seriously either. Take his most famous alien race, the Tralfamadorians (as they appear in Slaughterhouse). They’re described as plungers with hands on top of them, and a single eye in the palm of the hand. They’re goofy, silly, but also wise beyond human understanding. They almost give the same impression as Mr. Saturns do, even if they can speak English perfectly normal. The robotic Tralfamadorian has a similar level of goofiness and lovability.
Honestly, I don’t think of Vonnegut as sci-fi. I think of Vonnegut as a cartoony caricature of sci-fi through which he conveys philosophical views. Like the Mother series.
Anyways, on to The Sirens of Titan (1959).
[spoiler show=”Spoiler Alert: A Character Bio of Niles Winston Rumfoord”]The de facto antagonist is Winston Niles Rumfoord, an “old money” aristocrat turned space traveler. After scientists discovered a crazy quantum space-time warp thing called a “chrono-synclastic infundibulum” in between Earth and Mars, everyone became too afraid to travel into space. To promote space travel, Rumfoord, with his dog Kazak, piloted a spaceship straight into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum and disappeared. They had become a wave phenomena stretching from the sun to Betelgeuse. Essentially, he and his dog are a spiral-shaped “broadcast” spiraling out from the sun. Whenever a planet’s orbit intersects the spiral, Rumfoord and Kazak materialize on it. They also experience all time simultaneously, so the second after Rumfoord went into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum, he experienced everything from that moment to… well, read the book. His perception of time would prefigure Billy Pilgrim’s in Slaughterhouse, Jon “Dr. Manhattan” Osterman’s in Watchmen, Paul “Muad’Dib” Atreides’s in Dune, and Desmond Hume’s in Lost. And probably others. Dr. Manhattan is the closest example, though. Rumfoord can tell people what will happen in the future.
As you might have guessed, given what we saw at Pink Cloud, the vision this time when recording the Sound Stone melody is of Ness’ father, holding him. The way these visions are minimally narrated, rather than made visual, highlights the distance, rather than the connection, between you playing the game, and Ness himself. You never see his father, of course. And in Ness’ case, who never speaks, and whose thoughts we’ve just had our first glimpse of in words thanks to the writing on the wall, this father is seen from… where? Through his own eyes, or in the sort of vision from outside which we, playing the game, are given? All this is just to reflect a bit on the power of stories and games to bridge first-, second-, and third-person person views, nudging us out of solipsism and into community, yet never quite delivering that complete understanding which it would be arrogant indeed to suppose we had grasped.
Dreams, for their part, are soon to follow in Magicant, just one Sanctuary location away. As we explored a brief shift in perspective here, we’ll get a much more overt shift in scale with the lost underground next time. Make sure you have your smelly Tendakraut with you!
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