t.s. eliot would’ve enjoyed playing elden ring

Last Wednesday I found myself completely sucked into the RPG gamer world during Dr Ken Rooney’s seminar titled ‘A fine tale, all told, of true chivalric romance’: The medieval and renaissance romance traditions of Miyazaki and Martin’s Elden Ring.

First of all, I would like to point out that I have not played the game myself, but have only seen playthroughs of it, as I am aware that attempting to finish this game would’ve required a lot of patience which is a foreign concept to me. Therefore, with that in mind, I was all the more impressed and would like to take my hat off to Dr Rooney who, despite not being a gamer, powered through and finished a very challenging game.

Back to the talk: Although I really enjoyed the talk and appreciated that Dr Rooney explained the full context of both the game and the medieval stories he was referring to, I found myself to be completely ignorant of the texts he was mentioning (I suppose this is payback for avoiding Chaucer like the plague during my undergrad.)

Nevertheless, one text that I could not get out of my head during the talk was T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Similar to how this poem intertextualised romance texts, Elden Ring uses the structures found in the romance tradition as foundations for its world and quest. When setting the scene Dr Rooney said that the world of Elden Ring, although beautiful, is a ‘post-apocalyptic world’ that is ‘decaying’ and full of horrors. He even compares the ‘landscape of nightmares’ to that found in Spenser’s Fairy Queene. Therefore, I saw it fit to look at the world of Elden Ring as being an allegory for Eliot’s wasteland.

In the game, the player must traverse a damaged world that just emerged from a civil war. This ties into the romance tradition where a hero is usually returning from some form of disaster, Dr Rooney said. Comparatively, Eliot wrote his poem just after the catastrophic First World War and painted this picture of the wasteland to represent a fragmented world that has put an end to all values that came prior to the war.

In Eliot’s poem, there are many allusions to the quest for the holy grail which seems to indicate that there is a desire for a spiritual revival, however, this spiritual revival never comes. The poem ends with the speaker sitting by the sea with ‘arid plain’ (line 424) behind them and asking: ‘Shall I at least set my lands in order?’ (line 425). The lines following this are in different languages and tones all referring to disorder and desires. The ending does not refer to any land and is very confusing, which suggests that life will continue in this way fragmented way. This is where the video game seems to resonate with The Waste Land more than it does with the romance traditions as in the game there is also no spiritual revival. Going off what Dr Rooney said, although there are multiple endings that the player can choose, once the game is over, nothing changes for the better. The only thing the player can do is play through this wasteland again. When Eliot begins his poem with the famous lines: ‘April is the cruellest month’ (line 1), April represents spring – the start of something new – however, for Eliot, this something new is simply a restart of the cruel world he writes about. The same can be said for Elden Ring because, at the end of the game, the only option would be to traverse the game’s world all over again.

Disclaimer: I understand that if this was not the case, there would be no game and also that I am completely pushing aside the aspect of replayability; but kindly allow me to play around with this comparison, whilst ignoring the fact that players would generally enjoy replaying this game unlike living in Eliot’s wasteland.

In addition, ‘The Burial of the Dead’ can be closely tied to the undead world of the game, where everything is ‘neither/Living nor dead’ (lines 39-40). Later, when describing a crowd crossing London Bridge he writes ‘I had not thought death had undone so many,’ (line 63) which is taken from Canto 3 in Dante’s Inferno which takes place inside the Gates of Hell. These quotes seem to refer to a society that merely exists and has been ‘undone’ by the massacre of WWI. The characters in Elden Ring have also been ‘undone’ by the civil war that preceded them which has now left them stuck in this purgatory where they cannot die and where there is no real resolution.

works cited

Eliot, T. S. T.S. Eliot, the Waste Land : Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. Edited by Michael North, Norton, 2006.

Moody, A. David, editor. The Cambridge Companion to T.S. Eliot. Cambridge University Press, 1994.