Sir Daniel Fortesque: Living Up to the Lie
Tracing the footsteps of the archetypal Hero's Journey through the hack-and-slash action-adventure game MediEvil
Stories are often exaggerations of the truth. On other occasions, they are flat-out lies. The history books of MediEvil’s Kingdom of Gallowmere tell us that once upon a time, Sir Daniel Fortesque led the militia into battle against Sorcerer Zarok’s unholy zombie hoards: “Songs are still sung of how he spearheaded the charge deep into the accursed multitude, how demons fell before him like wheat before the scythe, and how, at last, though mortally wounded, he destroyed the sorcerer utterly.”
Sir Dan went down in history as The Hero of Gallowmere, but in fact, he fell from the very first arrow fired.
Throughout his years, Sir Dan was a teller of tall tales. He would often regale nobles (especially the ladies) with tales of vanquished legions and slain dragons. Sir Dan’s wild tales always impressed and delighted King Peregrin, ruler of Gallowmere. He made Dan ‘Head of the Royal Battalion’, an honorific title in a kingdom that had known peace for decades and needed no such role.
Unfortunately, not long after this, the once-exiled Sorcerer Zarok returned with an undead army in tow. So naturally, the Head of the Royal Battalion led the charge. At the first volley, a single arrow struck Sir Dan directly in his left eye.
They defeated Zarok's army, but never found Zarok himself. King Peregrin, to make his kingdom feel safe (and a little embarrassed at Dan’s fall) spun the tale of Sir Dan’s victory. That he defeated Zarok, but succumbed to his wounds moments after. They erected a Hero's Tomb for Sir Dan on a tall hill in the Gallowmere Graveyard.
He was at rest.
Until one day Zarok returned with even more tricks and a bigger army. Zarok’s great spell raised the undead of Gallowmere in mass, including Sir Dan from his slumber.
Gargoyle #1: "It has risen again - Sir Daniel Fortesque! See? The hero who fell at the first charge! The fog of war and the shrouds of time conspired to turn the arrow fodder into the savior of the day. But we know better!"
Sir Dan: "I'll show you!"
Gargoyle #2: "Let it alone! Fate has given it a second chance, and a chance to forget the ignoble truth, a chance to defeat Zarok and live up to the legend!"
In MediEvil, the story follows a classic Hero’s Journey, focusing on redemption. Sir Dan’s resurrection provides him with a second opportunity to fight against Zarok and save Gallowmere a hundred years after his death. What’s more, this presents Sir Dan with a chance to prove himself worthy of his status as a hero and redeem himself in the eyes of history... postmortem.
To live up to the lie.
A Hero's Journey
The journey of Sir Daniel Fortesque follows a path that mimics a knight's and hero’s rise, as well as the story written about him after his death. He begins at the bottom and must undertake the tasks he failed to complete during his lifetime to earn his rise to heroism and receive such posthumous accolades.
Clinking cutlery, toasting pewter mugs, laughing barmaids, arm wrestling, and old war tales echo from afar in The Hall of Heroes. For Sir Dan, the hall appears empty, emphasizing that he is but a visitor. An outsider.
Circling the walls of the main chamber and its upper landing are statues of Gallowmere's greatest heroes from time past. All earned by their many heroic deeds. Among them, a statue of Dan stands on the bottom floor, but it's a hazy apparition. Practically an illusion.
"See the ghostly statue of your fraudster self? When it has turned to solid, a true hero you will be."
Some of the heroes are still fooled by the old tales of Sir Dan, like his young charge, Canny Tim. While others are dubious, if not hostile, like Woden the Mighty.
"You know, I've always had my doubts about you, Fortesque. You're just not carved from hero material."
"I'll show you!" Sir Dan replies, echoing his opening conversation with the gargoyles.
The hero, Megwynne Stormbinder, however, believes in Dan and can see the potential that was always in him. "I know you have the heart of a hero, Daniel, now we must show the others."
The gameplay loop reinforces this rise. If Dan cuts down enough undead and demons in each stage of his journey, their souls are freed and fill a chalice. Upon returning to the Hall of Heroes between stages with the chalice, one of the heroes within will bestow their weapon and legacy upon Dan. As he fulfills his legend by slaying more undead, he becomes more accepted into the Hall of Heroes, both literally and figuratively.
His knightly arsenal grows, rewards from the mounting approval and acceptance of his heroic peers, and the statue becomes more corporeal.
If the player and Sir Dan choose to avoid enemies and not seek out the chalice, thus reinforcing the legend as a lie, then Sir Dan will not gain weapons or even speak to the heroes. The statue will remain ghostly and the ending will reflect this.
No risk. No story.… but this is the story of a hero.
In Joseph Campbell’s writing, “The Hero’s Journey”, he speaks of a specific stage called ‘Crossing the Threshold’ that signifies our hero has committed to the journey and crosses from the ordinary world to the special world. This can be a magic portal to a strange land, crossing the sea to a new continent, or simply leaving one’s home for the first time.
In Sir Dan’s journey, he crosses from the world of the dead to the world of the living, from the special world to the ordinary world, in a sort of reversal of the stage — ripe as it is with monsters and the undead — but it functions the same. The world of the dead is ordinary to our skeletal hero, but the living world, with all of its danger, is the special world to a would-be hero. The threshold, in this case, takes the form of the cemetery gate.
The first five locations of MediEvil all take place within the cemetery. They are Dan’s Crypt, The Graveyard, Cemetery Hill, The Hilltop Mausoleum, and Return to the Graveyard. This sees Sir Dan fight through recently risen zombies to the Mausoleum in order to get a key, and then leave the Graveyard, the realm of the dead.
The Guardians of the Graveyard are two wolves that act as a last line of defense against the undead, should they ever try to leave the graveyard. They guard the literal threshold that separates the dead from the rest of Gallowmere, much like the dog Cerberus guards the gates of the underworld in Greek mythology.
Like many tales of would-be heroes, they start their journey as humble farmers or simple villagers. A world as ordinary as The Ordinary World gets. It’s where one day “The Call to Adventure” strikes. Something that whisks them away on a journey of self-discovery. It’s no coincidence that the first locations of Sir Dan’s journey, upon leaving the cemetery, are the farmlands of Scarecrow Fields and The Pumpkin Patch, followed by The Sleeping Village. He is starting the journey where a young man dreaming of being a knight would be.
Sir Dan’s lack of discipline and amateur swordsmanship is wonderfully represented in his animation as he swings his blade loosely and wildly. This is not helped at all by a lack of musculature.
The following stages, The Asylum Grounds and The Asylum, both serve as a knightly test. The former challenges his mental faculties and the latter his martial prowess.
Afterward, Sir Dan arrives at The Enchanted Earth. Had Dan started this journey alive and well in the farmlands, this would be his threshold to cross. Sir Dan must release Zarok’s old army of Shadow Demons in order to progress. The stage acts as a dividing line between the villages, and the lands where war was raged and Zarok resides.
Dan is returning to where he died.
If a humble farmer or villager became a knight, they would then go to battle. The Pools of the Ancient Dead refer to the old battlefield, littered with ragged banners, and pocked by turgid waters, where the armored corpses of the fallen rise. Having journeyed through the farmlands and crossed The Enchanted Earth, Sir Dan now returns to the battlefield to fight where he never had the chance to.
In a cruel twist, many of the undead Sir Dan battles are the corpses of his compeers. While he is fighting the undead, he is also fighting alongside his men.
Docked in this flooded battlefield is The Boatman. He is a classic depiction of Death ferrying lost souls, evoking the image of Charon, the ferryman of Hades in Greek Mythology. He is a busy entity with Zarok’s recent mucking about, so he tasks Sir Dan with collecting eight lost souls for him, and in exchange, he will ferry Dan further on his journey. Sir Dan plunges into the battlefield not only to fight the undead but to help his fellow soldier. He relives the battle, but this time does not fall at the first charge. He is the charge.
What does a battle-hardened knight do after victory on the field? What makes a young villager dream of being a knight? It's the incredible journey he must embark upon.
The later levels that lead to Zarok’s Lair are much more magical than those that precede it. The flooded town of Mellowmede with its aquatic horrors, the crystal caverns where a dragon bestows a gift to our knight, a jabberwocky chase, a ghost ship, and Zarok’s Lair. It all evokes the grand stories of the fabled heroes in Gallowmere’s history.
In the middle of all of this is an important stop for Dan: The Haunted Ruins.
“Welcome to Castle Peregrin. In the time of King Peregrin, this magnificent edifice was the seat of power and home to the royal household. Now it is home only to ghosts and forgotten memories.”
It’s here Dan is able to rescue captive villagers and put an end to Zarok’s Shadow Demons, but also to see King Peregrin one more time, not as a teller of tall tales, but as a proud knight. The ghost of King Peregrin tasks Dan with opening the floodgates of the volcano the castle sits upon. Gallowmere’s old wars are being buried, making way for the new generation.
All that remains of that old war now are Sir Dan and Zarok.
One last stop at the Hall of Heroes, having collected all the chalices, prompts a kind word from the gargoyle who has ridiculed Dan with each visit.
“You prove us all wrong! Maybe it is destined to be a Hero, maybe it can defeat Zarok! The people of Gallowmere may never know of your past mistakes and you will indeed be remembered as the people’s hero! Your time in exile is over. Welcome to your new home, Sir Daniel Fortesque!”
The beauty of MediEvil's narrative lies in the now-solidified statue of Sir Dan. Unlike the other heroic cliches lining the hall who are handsome, strong, and proud, Sir Dan is a lanky skeleton with a row of large teeth and one eye, who was never even a knight. But he stands proudly among them, a testament to both Dan's achievements and the player's as well. MediEvil teaches us that anyone has the ability to accomplish great things if they confront their fears, ignore the naysayers, and rise to the challenge. Sir Dan was never the strongest or the bravest, but that's what heroism ultimately entails – doing what needs to be done in spite of it all. And the player was an integral part of that story, in a way that only a game can accomplish.
It becomes clear that Sir Dan was never living up to lie for others. He already had the accolades. He was proving to himself that heroism lay within him.
But the story isn’t over. There’s still Sorcerer Zarok.
The first phase of the finale tasks Sir Dan with a more passive and supportive role. While Zarok’s undead legion battles the ghostly Knights of Gallowmere, Dan must move around the battlefield healing the knights while they do the fighting.
Sir Dan, from his modest beginnings in the village to his time on the battlefield, has now reached the pinnacle of his career as the Head of the Royal Battalion. After a lifetime of hard work and dedication, leadership now comes naturally to him. There is just one last thing left for him to accomplish: to "destroy the sorcerer utterly."
Zarok, in a final attempt to defeat Sir Dan, unleashes a powerful spell that turns him into a fearsome creature. It's no coincidence that the creature resembles a dragon, as this is the ultimate test for Sir Dan, one that he must overcome to prove his worth as a true hero.
The Knight fulfills his destiny and slays the dragon. With it, the lair collapses and all the souls of Gallowmere return to their rightful owners.
In The Hero’s Journey, the end stage is known as “Return with Elixir”. The hero often returns home from the Special World, having restored balance to the Ordinary World, and can rest or continue, forever changed by the journey.
Sir Daniel Fortesque returns to his crypt. Above the slab his body once rested on, is a stained glass window depicting Sir Dan on horseback, valiantly engaging a dragon. Dan smiles at it, having now made the depiction a reality, having lived up to the lie. He lays down once again in his resting place, now at peace with himself.
The Hall of Heroes bursts with activity and song as Sir Dan's single eye shuts for good, and he materializes in its midst. The ghosts of the heroic companions who helped him throughout his journey welcome him with open arms. Prancing across the table, Sir Dan assumes the mantle of leadership at the head, and a glass of wine is poured for him. The room resonates with boisterous applause, commemorating Sir Daniel Fortesque as the newest hero of the Hall of Heroes, where he'll be remembered for all eternity.
"I'll show you!"
And show them he did.
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