Spirit Tracks: The Elder Scrolls Chapter II
It is with great pleasure that I am joined again by Ben Knaak for the second part of our examination of The Elder Scrolls series of video games. You may want to check out part 1 first, if you haven’t already heard it. In that podcast, we did a brief (ish) rundown of the history of the franchise from our own personal perspectives. But tonight, we’re diving headfirst into the infamous Elder Scrolls lore, for some arguably the series’ signature standout component.
The Elder Scrolls has a collection of in-game (and frequently out-of-game) lore and worldbuilding that is unparalleled in video games. The scope and detail of its worldbuilding, in particular the heavy emphasis on metaphysics, cosmology and spirituality, is without compare anywhere else in the medium and raises unbelievably provocative implications. Comparisons can be drawn with Eastern mysticism, Blakean mythology, Gnostic heresy and ancient oral traditions and myth systems from all over the world. In fact, The Elder Scrolls has itself been influenced by all of these perspectives and more, and syncretizes them into an utterly unique high fantasy setting. It has the shape of magick, and is a metaphor for ourselves. And yet while The Elder Scrolls uses this to create something no other video game ever has, ironically it does so in such a way that only a video game ever could.
The Elder Scrolls, in particular its lore, has had an immense impact on the lives of Ben and I both. It’s caused us to see ourselves and the world around us in an entirely new light time and time again. While this is not something we can share with you directly, we can at least try to explain a little bit about how The Elder Scrolls has managed to do this. To that end, we look in depth at three influential in-game texts (two of which aren’t technically even in-game texts, because that’s just how The Elder Scrolls works) as case study examples of what makes The Elder Scrolls’ approach to worldbuilding, and its idea of narrative fiction itself, so unique. Check it out here, over at the Pex Lives Libsyn site.
And now, the liner notes…
- The Imperial Library is the best source (outside of the games, of course) for The Elder Scrolls’ in-game texts and associated lore fragments. Every single fragment of text that has ever appeared in one of the games, or was written in association with them, is archived here. Here are the links to the Imperial Library versions of the three texts discussed in our show, for those who might like to follow along:
- As Ben points out, the 36 Lessons are brilliantly summarised and annotated by Rotten Deadite over at the site The New Whirling School, which also contains a compelling new theory about the Dunmer’s relationship to the Daedra.
- The Metaphysics of Morrowind
- On the Hortator and the Sharmat
- Speaking of unorthodox readings, here’s my text on the Secret Song of the Underqueen again. Major brownie points to anyone who can decipher this based on the information we provide here.
- And once more, here are links to where you can buy the games in The Elder Scrolls series yourself:
- Shortly before this went to press, Zenimax Online announced that The Elder Scrolls Online would be getting its first major expansion in the form of The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind. As the story prominently features Vvardenfell and Vivec, this might be a great way for fans of that province and its mythology (or this podcast) to get in the game. The game will launch June 6, and you can preorder the upgrade version on Steam here.
- The Elder Scrolls on GOG (your purchase nets you a free copy each of The Elder Scrolls I: Arena and The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall):
- The Elder Scrolls on Steam:
- For physical media collectors:
- For console users:
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition
- The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind
“Enter the Cave of the Hidden Music, and hear the Song of the Earth.”
February 3, 2017 @ 2:52 am
I can’t say for certain that I would’ve discovered Eruditorum Press if not for Ben. It was 2012 and I was much more active at Milliways Bar than I am now (I think it had just recently moved from Livejournal to Dreamwidth), and he posted a link to TARDIS Eruditorum (as it then was) in the chat (where I’m active to this good day). I think it was specifically to Pop Between Realities 30: Doctor in Distress; certainly, that was at or near the top of the front page, so it’s as good a landmark as any for tracing the intersecting psychochronographies of my life and Phil’s (and Josh’s, since I’m pretty sure I discovered Vaka Rangi through a pre-merger boost from TE).
February 3, 2017 @ 2:45 pm
Also, he piqued my interest in TES (to the point where I participated in the ESO beta and subscribed for several months after launch) by posting links to the 36 Lessons of Vivec. I remain inordinately fond of the phrase “Nothing is of any use. We must go and misinterpret this.” (It probably helped that I had been prepared for Kilbride and all his angels by Hitherby Dragons and the other writings of the Jenna Katerin Moran formerly known as Rebecca Sean Borgstrom.)
February 3, 2017 @ 3:56 am
Wonderful podcast, as always. The last quote, as well as some comments in the middle, have pretty much summed up my thoughts on how fiction works. There will always be a reader watching/playing/experiencing a piece of fiction and they will come at it from their own perspectives. Any attempt at imposing a canon is essentially claiming that only one perspective on a work of fiction matters (guess whose?) I’ve never liked this concept, even when it was pitched to me as “The Auteur Theory”, which really just feels like a bunch of anxious people trying to make their fledgling film medium appeal to the high art crowd who views books as the apex of narrative art (much like how video games try to appeal to the high art crowd who views film as the apex of narrative art). It always feels counterintuitive to reading. I suppose that’s another reason why I’ve been gravitating towards comics: you have to participate in connecting one image to the next.
February 3, 2017 @ 1:34 pm
The fact that the concept of canon (a term that was invented LITERALLY as a joke at the expense of Sherlock Holmes fans) has come to be taken seriously by so many people is the worst thing to happen to fiction in the last hundred years.
February 5, 2017 @ 8:11 pm
Thanks so much to you both Josh for the great podcast. I will be honest tho I have never played any of the Elder Scrolls games (and may not), but I found especially this podcast really inspiring as far as exploring ideas around canon and narrative structure are concerned.
I have never really been into the idea of canon, which is why on one level I was for example drawn to Doctor Who, despite attempts by elements of its fandom to insist it has a canon – I love it’s contradictions and non-linear nature at times.
Anyways I am in the midst of cooking up a creative project that has been requiring a bit of background work and I have really found your current episode really useful. I do admit to being surprised at how much I got into what you both shared as I knew nothing about the games – so thanks again!
(On a side note I know I have been a bit quiet on the comments side in your recent posts Josh but I have had some pretty major family stuff going on that has needed my presence. Anyways, I am still here and appreciating what you do!)
February 7, 2017 @ 8:45 pm
I bet Ken Rolston would love to share his reminiscences on the origins + influences behind the setting.