Now My Wings Fit

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Exeter’s First Haiku Slam

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Photography by Emily Appleton

On the first day of the Exeter Literary Festival, I was delighted to take part in Exeter’s first Haiku Slam. In the first round, I performed Je Suis Un Short-Arse, but for the second round, we were tasked with writing a brand new haiku using a prompt given by the audience on the night – that prompt being ‘ecological supermarkets’. In the half an hour or so which we had to compose, I wrote the following haiku. Enjoy!

Welcome. We are the
greenest supermarket. Look!
Our walls are chartreuse.

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Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

The Particular Sadness of Lemon CakeThe Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is one of those novels that’s more of an experience than a story. The events of the narrative take place over more than a decade, which, like The Graveyard Book, allows for seamless transition between plot-relevant events while skipping over those that would serve as nothing more than filler.

Like quite a lot of books that I have read, it took me a few chapters to get into. The chapters vary in length throughout the book, but they are usually short at the beginning of the novel; the kind of length that you could easily pick the book up and put it down again when you’re busy.

The first thing that struck me was that the dialogue is not in speech marks. This, admittedly, made me a little wary; the last book I read which made this decision, The Night Swimmer, has proved one of my least favourite books, and that The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake was following in the same philosophy had me a little on edge. That there is no punctuation separating the dialogue from the narrative can make parts of the novel difficult to follow, but now that I have finished the book I realise that this adds to the confusion Bender is trying to evoke; the protagonist, Rose, is confused by her abilities, and we are also left a little bewildered by the events as they unfold, viewing them as we do through Rose’s eyes.

The first ‘part’ of the book (for the book is divided into parts and then into chapters) follows Rose when she is under ten. The narrative style, written in the first person from Rose’s point of view, serves this perspective well. One highlight for me was the honest and real descriptions of mental health, described as they only can be through the eyes of a child. That being said, the prose is poetic, which, while gorgeously crafted, can sometimes feel unnecessary and pretentious.

The middle section of this book, however, where the plot shifts to focus on Rose’s brother, Joseph, is utterly compelling. It was during this section that I found it difficult to put the book down, desperate as I was to find out what was going on. I would have to say that Joseph is undoubtedly my favourite character, especially considering that Rose’s character development leaves her rather unlikable by the last page (though this is by no means indicative of bad development; much like Kvothe from The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, I find Rose to be excellently developed as an unlikable character).

By the end of the book, I was left flagging a little, only to be picked up by the thought-provoking last line, which has stayed with me. The entire plot feels as though it was leading up to that last line, much like the last line of Cloud Atlas.

All in all, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought and perhaps hoped I would. I’d say that this is another case of a book that I am glad I have read once, but I would not revisit. That being said, I think there is worth in reading this book once, and would recommend it for fans of literary fiction.

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Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second Neil Gaiman book I have read. The first was American Gods. I approached this book with a little trepidation, because I didn’t enjoy American Gods as much as I had hoped that I would. My main gripe with the novel was that I didn’t particularly care about what happened to any of the characters, which made finishing the book more of a chore than it should have been.

My experience of The Graveyard Book was completely different. I absolutely loved this book. I’m not sure why there was such a difference between my experiences, because I am not sure that it was purely because The Graveyard Book is a children’s book and American Gods is not. Whatever the reason, this book had me captivated from the very first line.

The Graveyard Book is not structured like a traditional novel. Rather, each chapter reads like its own short story which exists within itself (in that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end) but where each builds upon the previous stories to reach an exciting climax. This suits the tale perfectly, as it allows for the story to progress in such a way that the reader receives only the most important and relevant information without having to sludge through filler content. The structure remains true to the story, and that, I feel, is important.

The language is also a joy to read. Obviously being aimed at younger readers, it is perhaps less sophisticated than novels aimed at older readers, but it doesn’t feel patronizing as some children’s books can. Rather, it gives the reader the information they need in an organic and clear way.

A gripe I often have with novels is when authors leave plotlines unfinished, or loose ends untied. While I shall not spoil any part of the plot, there is a mystery in this book which is left unanswered. This, however, is handled differently than such things have been in other books (The Ghost of the Mary Celeste comes to mind). As the book is written in limited third person, and Bod, the protagonist, never finds out the answer to the mystery, it makes sense that the reader doesn’t find out the answer either. What’s more, the Bod’s being restricted from discovering the answer to the mystery serves to develop one of the secondary characters, and a somewhat lukewarm character development structure was one of the things that had me rather bored with American Gods. That being said, the final chapter in this tome will rip your heart right out.

Speaking of gory imagery, this book deals with dark subject matters. At least, matters which we in our contemporary society consider dark. The majority of the book is set in a graveyard (surprisingly) and references to unfortunate and often sticky ends are rife. This kind of darkness is reminiscent of Darren Shan’s books, which I absolutely loved when I read them as a teenager and still adore now. The setting of the graveyard is described in such a clever way: minor characters are introduced with their dates of birth and death and with the sentence on their gravestone, which not only builds information on the characters but about the world itself and how Bod perceives and interacts with that world. Gaiman also skillfully weaves cultural and traditional attitudes towards death and burial throughout, as well as portraying societal shifts over hundreds (and thousands) of years.

This was one of the best books I have read in months. I think I’ll even keep my copy.

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Review: Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the ElementsPeriodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have wanted to read this book for a very long time, and it was definitely worth the wait. The prose reads like poetry, and the short sections (around 10 pages each) make it easy to pick up and put down for when you don’t have very long to read.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science, not just chemistry, and those with an interest in art. One aspect of this book which pleasantly surprised me was the wealth of anecdotes relating to the art world – how various elements are used in the creation of different colours for paintings and other forms of physical artwork. This bridging of the gap between the arts and the sciences is a welcome sentiment in a world where the two are often understood to be mutually exclusive. It is for this very reason that I was disappointed by the allusion to the sciences being the true ‘home’ of intellect and in this way superior to the humanities with regards to Lavoisier’s change in discipline. This sentiment is given in passing, but can still promote a problematic message if not read critically.

I have learned quite a lot from this book, and I feel that I may return to it in the future for reference. The information is delivered in such a way that it is easy to understand even for those with little formal chemistry training, but this is not a book which only teaches its reader about the science behind the chemical elements. The elements pervade our culture and our history, and in this book, Aldersey-Williams artfully demonstrates how our perceptions and uses of the elements have shaped our interactions with them.

I immensely enjoyed this book and heartily recommend it. It certainly deserves the praise plastered over its front and back covers.

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Review: Home Boy by H.M. Naqvi

Home BoyHome Boy by H.M. Naqvi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the reviews on the back of this book declared it to have the ‘instinct of a slam poet’. I can honestly say that this sentiment has it right on the money. I watch a lot of slam poetry and the style of prose of this book and the way it conveys its message – and, indeed, the message conveyed itself – is not unfamiliar in that way.

I would divide the plot of Home Boy into three parts: the set-up/backstory, the Event, the fallout. The first part lasts for around 100 pages and is very difficult to read. It is slow and not much actually happens, and for me this was a chore to read. The Event is undoubtedly the most exciting and engaging part of the plot. Not only is it where the most seems to actually happen, but it is where the message of the book is most clearly conveyed. If any part of this book showed a slam poet’s instinct, it is this second part. During the third part, I often found myself wondering how these new developments were related to the second part. Occasionally, flashes of clarity would reveal the links being made to previous events of the novel, but in between these flashes lies little more than confusion and the slowness present in the first part.

That being said, I would recommend this book purely on the strengths of the Event – not just because of the events of the plot itself, but for the clever ways in which these events are relayed to the reader.

On the whole, I would not read this book again, but I am glad that I have read it once.

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Review: The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin

The Ghost of the Mary CelesteThe Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the whole, I enjoyed this book. Its strengths lie in its portrayal of its female characters and its relationships between those female characters. The interweaving of the various plotlines reads much like Cloud Atlas, though this is a decidedly less ambitious project. Nevertheless, this style of non-linear storytelling fits the narrative well.

Unfortunately, I turned the last page feeling slightly unsatisfied; there seemed to be several loose ends that remained dangling, and questions that were promised an answer were left too ambiguous to live up to those promises. As a character piece, however, it is a fine tale. I doubt I shall read it again, but I am glad I have read it once.

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Is the protagonist of Skyrim really the last Dragonborn?

One of the hallmarks of The Elder Scrolls series is that the player character is referred to with a title. In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the hero was the Nerevarine. In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the hero was the Hero of Kvatch or the Champion of Cyrodiil. In the latest mainline instalment, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the player character is known as the Last Dragonborn, the prophesied hero destined to defeat Alduin at the end of the world. Yet is the player character of Skyrim truly the last Dragonborn?

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The Last Dragonborn, as depicted in promotional material; picture from http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Last_Dragonborn

Dragonborn (or Dohvakiin) in the universe of The Elder Scrolls are individuals born with the soul of a dragon, granted to them by the Divine Akatosh. The entire Septim line, which dominated the Cyrodiilic Empire throughout the entirety of the Third Era consisted solely of Dragonborn. So reliant was the Septim Empire on the installation of a Dragonborn on the Ruby Throne that when this tradition was threatened, it was enough to begin the Oblivion Crisis. The first Dragonborn, Miraak, lived thousands of years before Tiber Septim, the first of the Septim dynasty, and the Last Dragonborn – the player character of Skyrim – lives two hundred years after the death of Martin Septim, the last. So while the Septim Empire was dominated by Dragonborn, it does not have monopoly on those blessed with the blood of dragons. Why, then, are we led to believe that the player character of Skyrim is the last Dragonborn?

The most definitive reference we have to the player character of Skyrim being the last Dragonborn is the prophecy which details their destiny in defeating Alduin. During the main quest, Esbern tells the PC that the Last Dragonborn is the one who will face off against Alduin at the end of the world. Yet when the PC faces off against Alduin during the quest Dragonslayer, the world does not end. If the PC returns to Arngeir after defeating Alduin, Arngeir will tell them that it is likely that Alduin isn’t dead, and will return at some point in the future to end the world. The PC, then, did not fulfil the prophecy. In this case, can the character who is known as the Last Dragonborn as described the prophecy, in fact be the Last Dragonborn, when they did not fulfil the prophecy which describes them as being so? In other words, is it possible that there will be another Dragonborn on Tamriel after the Dragonborn who is the PC in Skyrim?

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The Last Dragonborn depicted on Alduin’s Wall; picture from http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Alduin’s_Wall_(Lore)

As I have already mentioned, Dragonborn are made when they are blessed by Akatosh, yet the process is a mystery worthy of the Divines themselves. Prior Emeline Madrine, in Book of the Dragonborn, says: “being Dragonborn is not a simple matter of heredity – being the blessing of Akatosh Himself, it is beyond our understanding exactly how and why it is bestowed”. If the creation of a Dragonborn is such a mystery, then, it is entirely conceivable that there could be another Dragonborn after the protagonist of Skyrim.

The issue that arises if we accept the possibility of Akatosh blessing another after the protagonist of Skyrim is that of the prophecy. The prophecy is reproduced in Book of the Dragonborn, and reads thusly:

When misrule takes its place at the eight corners of the world
When the Brass Tower walks and Time is reshaped
When the thrice-blessed fail and the Red Tower trembles
When the Dragonborn Ruler loses his throne, and the White Tower falls
When the Snow Tower lies sundered, kingless, bleeding
The World-Eater wakes, and the Wheel turns upon the Last Dragonborn.

The events alluded to in the prophecy are the same as those which appear on Alduin’s Wall, which are the events of the five main titles in The Elder Scrolls series to date. Thus, it would seem that the ‘Wheel turning upon the Last Dragonborn’ has to happen in the third century of the Fourth Era, as this is the point in time when “the Snow Tower lies sundered, kingless, bleeding”, in the midst of Skyrim’s Civil War. I would argue that it is entirely possible that the prophecy is vague enough that there could indeed be another Dragonborn in the history of Tamriel. It is further possible that ‘Last Dragonborn’ is merely a title, and other Dragonborn will exist but they will never themselves face a reincarnated Alduin. Yet another possibility is that the protagonist of Skyrim will be the last Dragonborn to die, though there will be other Dragonborn before this happens, particularly if the PC ends up spending countless years in Apocrypha after the events of The Elder Scrolls V: Dragonborn.

In either case, the Last Dragonborn is not the last Dragonborn who will appear. This, I believe, is the far more likely scenario than that Akatosh will never bestow the Dragonblood to anyone else ever again.

Did Dumbledore’s plan require the Potters’ deaths?

NB: Throughout this post I have used in-text citations to chapters in the Harry Potter books. These citations follow the format of the book’s title in abbreviated form followed by the chapter number. For example, (PS1) would be a reference to the first chapter of Philosopher’s Stone.

In many ways, the Harry Potter series is really about Albus Dumbledore. The series follows the struggle between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, but in this struggle Harry is in fact more of a passive participant than he might at first seem. The active agent on the side of the light is, overwhelmingly, Dumbledore. After all, Harry’s involvement and role in the fight against Voldemort was put upon him; he did not seek out such an important role. Rather, the fight against Voldemort and the events of the entire series follow the plans of Albus Dumbledore.

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The Daily Prophet declares Dumbledore to be dangerous; picture from http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Albus_Dumbledore

Dumbledore’s plan was to eradicate Voldemort, at all costs. Indeed, he even sacrifices his own life for that very cause. Yet as we find out in Snape’s memories, he also planned – from the very beginning of the series – to sacrifice Harry’s life for that cause as well (DH33). I shall argue that Harry was not the only Potter whom Dumbledore sacrificed for the opportunity to defeat Voldemort.

I would like to point out that I do not believe that Dumbledore initially wished for the Potters to die, yet neither do I believe that he was ever unwilling to sacrifice them ‘for the greater good’. My theory is this: once the prophecy had been given, Dumbledore reasoned that the only way to defeat Voldemort was to allow the deaths of the Potters.

To argue this, I would like to point out some of the things that we know about Dumbledore both as a man and as to his actions throughout the series:

  • Dumbledore is a master manipulator and will use anyone in any way to achieve his overall goal of defeating Voldemort
  • Dumbledore knew of the prophecy and its contents (OOTP37)
  • Dumbledore knew that Voldemort knew of the prophecy and its contents (DH33)
  • Dumbledore knew that Voldemort had decided that Harry was the subject of the prophecy, and so would target the Potters to prevent the fulfillment of the prophecy (OOTP37)
  • Knowing that the Potters were under threat, Dumbledore suggested that they hide from Voldemort using a Fidelius Charm (POA10)
  • Dumbledore’s every action within Harry’s life was designed to bring him to the point where Harry could defeat Voldemort (DH33)

Thus, with these points in mind, I would argue that Dumbledore would go to any lengths to ensure that Harry becomes the perfect weapon for defeating Voldemort.

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The final showdown between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort; picture taken from http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Voldemort%27s_Last_Stand

Before the prophecy is given, there are seemingly many ways in which Voldemort could be defeated. After the prophecy is given, there is only one: he needs to be killed by the subject of the prophecy, whoever that is. That subject could either be Harry Potter or Neville Longbottom, but Dumbledore is aware through Snape’s double-agency that Voldemort has already decided that the subject will be Harry (DH33).

Dumbledore now has a clear path to defeating Voldemort: use Harry Potter as the ultimate weapon against the Dark Lord. Yet there remains a problem, in that Harry is only one year old. How can a child so young be expected to kill Voldemort? What’s more, Voldemort is actively seeking to nullify the prophecy by making sure that Harry doesn’t survive long enough to become a threat. Dumbledore’s only solution is to find a way to protect Harry until he is old enough to defeat Voldemort.

It is at this point that Dumbledore decides to use Old Magic to protect Harry. He informs the Potters that they and their infant son are in danger, and advises that they go into hiding through use of a Fidelius Charm. Yet for Dumbledore’s plan to succeed, the Charm needs to be circumvented. At this point, the Marauders are already aware that there is a traitor in their midst. Dumbledore offers to be the Potters’ Secret Keeper, making out that he is worried about them using Sirius as their Secret Keeper for fear that said traitor would be able to betray the Potters’ location to Voldemort (POA10). Surely it is Dumbledore’s worry over the prospect of him being the Potters’ Secret Keeper that influences Sirius to tell James to change the Secret Keeper to Peter at the last minute (POA19). It is certainly no stretch of the imagination to believe that Dumbledore knew that Peter was in fact the traitor, and that influencing Sirius to step down as the Secret Keeper would result in Peter’s eventual betrayal of the Potters.

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Voldemort arrives at Godric’s Hollow in 1981; picture taken from http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Attack_at_Godric%27s_Hollow_(1981)

Once the fragile Fidelius Charm is in place, it is simply a matter of waiting. Peter will eventually tell Voldemort where the Potters are, Voldemort will then attack the Potters, and Harry will be placed under the protection of Old Magic in the form of his parents’ sacrifice which will keep him safe from Voldemort until he is old enough to be Dumbledore’s ultimate weapon in the Wizarding War.

In this sense, the Potters’ deaths become integral to Dumbledore’s plan once the prophecy has been given. While it would no doubt not have been Dumbledore’s first course of action, it did indeed become his only course of action, and at that point he would not have hesitated in following it through. And, in the end, Dumbledore’s plan worked.

Why I always fight for the Imperials

Like most games, Skyrim is filled with choices. Do you follow Hadvar or Ralof when escaping Helgen during the quest Unbound? Do you follow Delphine’s instructions to kill Paarthurnax in order to join the Blades? Do you tell the Alik’r warriors where Saadia is, or go after Kematu in order to get to the bottom of the story in the quest In My Time of Need? There are, however, few opportunities to choose between two sides of a conflict or cause.

As I understand it, there are three such choices in the game: at the beginning of the Dark Brotherhood questline, during the Dawnguard questline, and before the Civil War questline. Granted, one choice that you can make about these factions is to ignore them all completely; you don’t have to visit Aventus Aretino in Windhelm; you don’t have to buy the Dawnguard DLC, or go to Fort Dawnguard at all even if you have the DLC; and you can go the entire game without joining either side of Skyrim’s civil war. Yet each of these factions have two sides that you can choose between if you choose to engage with them, and it would seem that none is more contentious in the community than the Civil War questline.

Do you fight for the Imperials, or the Stormcloaks?

There are many reasons to fight for either side. Some of them are more superficial than others; some involve going into the lore and deciding which side the player thinks is ‘right’. Others, like the author of the following Skyrim Confession, has a very subjective reason for choosing to fight for the Stormcloaks.

When I started my first playthrough of the game, I was convinced that I was going to fight for the Stormcloaks, for one reason and one reason only: viva la revolution! I ended up not doing the Civil War questline at all in that playthrough, but over the course of that playthrough I changed my mind, and in my second playthrough I fought for the Imperials.

I do, admittedly, have subjective reasons to fight for the Imperials. What first turned my opinion against the Stormcloaks was the first time I met Elisif, who captured my heart immediately. Her grief ran so true, and made me began to question Ulfric and his motivations. My desire to fight for the Stormcloaks dropped even further when I found out that, if Ulfric wins the civil war, Jarl Balgruuf is no longer the Jarl of Whiterun. I truly believe that Balgruuf is one of the best Jarls in the game, because he really seems to give a shit about his people. It’s a refreshing change from the trope in the fantasy genre of having tyrannical leaders who only care about their own power.

So with the superficial reasons out of the way, I will venture into the lore-based reasons. As the Senile Scribbles put it, the only true ideological differences which will make a difference to the day-to-day lives of the citizens of Skyrim between the two sides of the Civil War are that Stormcloaks are for religious freedom but not racial equality, the Imperials are for racial equality but not religious freedom, and both support same-sex marriage.(1)

I would argue, however, that the reality is more complicated. If you fight for the Imperials, you are not fighting against religious freedom; on the other hand, if you fight for the Stormcloaks, you are fighting against racial equality.

The Stormcloaks claim that the White-Gold Concordat has effectively made Skyrim’s most popular religion, Talos worship, illegal. I do not dispute that. Yet what the White-Gold Concordat dictated and the reality of its enforcement are different things.

If you follow Hadvar during Unbound, you have the opportunity to speak to his family in Riverwood, and Alvor has this nugget to tell you: “We didn’t pay much attention to it [the clause of the White-Gold Concordat which outlawed Talos worship] when I was a boy – everyone still had their little shrine to Talos. But then Ulfric and his ‘Sons of Skyrim’ started agitating about it“.(2)

You can see this in the world of Skyrim itself. Once you fight for the Imperials, the Talos priest in Whiterun, Heimskr, disappears (and in a mod he ends up in the Dragonsreach dungeon), but this is a superficial change. You can still find Amulets of Talos in the world, and the several Shrines of Talos that dot Skyrim’s landscape are not torn down.

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A Shrine of Talos near Whiterun; http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Elisif%27s_Tribute, accessed 05/05/17

Talos worship lives on, even after Ulfric dies.

On the other hand, when the Stormcloaks win, there is even more hostility against non-Nords in Skyrim.(3) What’s more, is Ulfric seems to be that which is far more common for a fantasy ruler to be: a tyrant.

As we have already seen, Ulfric has no need to fight for the right to worship Talos. What Ulfric wants, really, is to be High King.

Of course, another contentious issue is whether Ulfric was fair in his killing of High King Torygg. I personally agree with Roggvir on this one; Ulfric engaged Torygg in a duel which he won fairly, even if his method was gruesome and unnecessarily violent.

Even taking that into account, however, we see that Ulfric had one motive and one motive only: he wanted to become High King. His reason for the uprising was to take power for himself, not to reinstate Talos worship (which hadn’t even disappeared anyway). While a Stormcloak victory gains Skyrim its independence from the Empire, this is barely mentioned,(4) and therefore it has no real consequences on the running of the country.

What Ulfric is really doing, then, is telling Nords that they are being persecuted when they aren’t, and drawing them in to fight and die for the sake of raising his own station.

Yes, there are subjective reasons for my fighting for the Imperials, but the way I see it, they have done nothing wrong – unlike Ulfric. I have nothing against Stormcloak soldiers other than their racism, because they have been played like pawns in Ulfric’s bigger game. Yet, on the whole, the Imperials seem to me to be the better side to choose.


Notes:

(1) https://youtu.be/mv3ScKLD1Vc?t=3m11s (Accessed 20/05/17).

(2) Quote is an edited transcript from http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Alvor (Accessed 20/05/17).

(3) One example of this can be seen in the treatment of Imperial Adrianne Avenicci after a Stormcloak victory during the Battle of Whiterun: “If the Stormcloaks win the Battle for Whiterun, Adrianne … notes that if it weren’t for her Nord husband, the Stormcloaks would have stopped purchasing from her altogether, due to her Imperial background.” Quote is taken from the trivia section of the page http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Adrianne_Avenicci (Accessed 20/05/17).

(4) http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Stormcloaks (Accessed 20/05/17).

 

Dragonrider versus the Cleric Beast

I am sitting in my usual seat in the living room. One of my housemates (we’ll call him Housemate 1) is playing Dark Souls 2; he’s fighting Dragonrider, an early game boss and the first boss he found (he’s playing the game blind). Another of my housemates (Housemate 2) is playing World of Warcraft. In a moment of peace, Housemate 2 looks up at the TV screen and declares, “Wow, that boss is really boring”.

It was a statement with which I agreed wholeheartedly. Dragonrider is a terrifically boring boss. He is a large man in armour with a shield and a one-handed weapon and, while stronger than Housemate 1’s character, had one main attack: lunge with weapon.

That the boss battle was difficult and Housemate 1 died several times to it (sorry, he didn’t; it’s a zero death run…) did nothing to make it more interesting.

When Housemate 1 had beaten Dragonrider, he began to compare it with the Cleric Beast from Bloodborne, which is the boss most players find first and was indeed the first boss Housemate 1 played when he played Bloodborne. The difference, he said, was that the Cleric Beast was interesting, both in design and attacks. Dragonrider simply wasn’t; even his name was uninteresting. “I think he rides dragons,” he remarked.

My theory on this is that the different genres of the Souls series and Bloodborne is the main reason for the differences in the boss designs.

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Dragonrider from Dark Souls 2. Taken from: http://darksouls.wikia.com/wiki/Dragonrider

When Arin of Game Grumps began his playthrough of Dark Souls 3, he described the biggest difference between the Souls series and Bloodborne as being that Bloodborne is more “European, Gothic” – more, to use my own word, steampunk – whereas the Souls series is more “medieval”.(1) This, I believe, is the key difference between the Souls series and Bloodborne which affects things such as boss designs.

hbomberguy, in his analysis of Bloodborne, mentioned the ‘dudes in armour’ argument: the argument which recognises that many of the bosses in the Souls series are “dudes in armour”.(2) While hbomberguy had no issue with such a concept, I think that it was this that lead to Dragonrider being so frightfully dull, especially compared to the Cleric Beast. There are only a few variations you can have between ‘dudes in armour’, especially when not only bosses are ‘dudes in armour’ but several of the normal minion enemies you face are also of the same ilk. The path to Dragonrider is filled with Dragonslayers, who are – you guessed it – ‘dudes in armour’.

This is not the case in Bloodborne. Where you have a steampunk horror game with a lore that includes humans turning into beasts and alien psuedo-divine beings who inhabit a realm known as the Nightmare, you instantly have a game where there can be more variety in bosses, both in their appearance and in the strategies required to overcome them.

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The Cleric Beast from Bloodborne. Taken from: http://bloodborne.wiki.fextralife.com/Cleric+Beast

In contrast, a medieval-style game has little choice but to have lots of ‘dudes in armour’, as that fits the genre in a way that lots of beasts do not, unless the presence of Bloodborne-esque beasts has been established in the lore. While there are groteqsue and monstrous bosses in Souls games, these remain limited by the medieval setting in a way that Bloodborne bosses aren’t.

Dragonrider is, then, a victim of his own setting. The first boss cannot be the most interesting of the game – and indeed the Cleric Beast is not the most interesting boss in Bloodborne – but the genre and setting of Bloodborne means that the Cleric Beast can be vastly different from the other bosses in the game. Dragonrider, on the other hand, is limited by lack of variety that the setting and genre could provide for bosses. All in all, it made for a wildly boring first boss.


Notes:

(1) https://youtu.be/Zk2wuSJOjCs.
(2) https://youtu.be/AC3OuLU5XCw?t=1h2m9s. This link jumps to the particular part of the video where hbomberguy starts talking about the ‘dudes in armour’ argument. It should be noted that hbomberguy doesn’t mind there being lots of dudes in armour in Dark Souls, which he mentions in another video (https://youtu.be/SRTfcMeqhig).

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