Flood myths are ancient tales of global catastrophes. Common across cultures separated by space and time, they are some of the oldest human stories. They are retold endlessly, in one form or another. The gist of Noah’s Ark, for example, is God sends a flood to reset humanity for becoming too corrupt, thereby giving humanity a fresh start to try again.
In Demon’s Souls (DeS), the mythical flood is central to the plot. The player character is the chosen one meant to overcome the impending chaos, who therefore holds the fate of the world in their hands – just like Noah. The Old One, reawakened by man’s greed for soul power, is the flood itself: the source of all demons and the thick colorless fog in which they dwell, which continues to sweep the landscape while the demons within raze civilization to vestiges along the way. Like land forever lost beneath the risen sea, half the world was permanently destroyed by the Old One and its minions during the First Scourge. So, the Second Scourge is no joke. It has serious potential to wipe out humanity for good.
Like flood myths, the Old One is old. It is the first demon, who, “on the second day” was “planted upon the Earth.” This word choice is telling. It suggests the natural power, and possibly supernatural origins, of the Old One – in conjunction with whom the word ‘planted,’ in particular, evokes a sense of rawness, wildness, nature’s fury: tornadoes, which the Old One vaguely resembles, and of course, floods. The fact that the Old One is composed entirely of plant matter supports this hypothesis. Not to mention, the way the Old One operates within the world is effectively identical to a force of nature: it emerges every so often, not of its own freewill but as a predetermined involuntary response to external factors it can’t control; it’s like a damn weather pattern. Interestingly, the Maiden in Black is presented as a special sort of caretaker for the Old One: it is her job to “lull” the Old One back to slumber, like a mother might put an infant to bed by singing a lullaby. If the Old One is Nature, the Maiden in Black is the Mother of Nature (she also takes on a nurturing, motherly role to the Slayer of Demons, whose soul power she grows and strengthens via level-up). Also, the Old One configures itself in the shape of a wild animal, one which most people have an instinctual fear of: the serpent.
This fact alludes to another source of inspiration behind the Old One: snake mythology. Related to that is the ideal of the walled garden, a paradisaical sanctuary that keeps orderliness in and chaos out. That’s the Nexus, roughly speaking, and sealed away at the bottom of it is the Old One, the proverbial ‘snake in the garden,’ like the primordial serpent in the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. That serpent was ultimately responsible for giving man his God-like powers of intellect; the Old One, by the mere fact of its existence, facilitates man’s use of the powerful Soul Arts, magic and miracles. Each of these ‘gifts’ come with profound consequences, however: the falling of man from grace and the birth of evil as such, and the constant risk of inadvertently triggering the apocalypse by rousing the Old One through overuse, respectively. Both of these serpents are harbingers of chaos, fundamentally.
It was that same primordial serpent – Darkstalker Kaathe, I believe his name was – who
trolled tempted Eve, who in turn tempted Adam. The serpent told her that if she were to partake of the forbidden fruit then despite God’s claims to the contrary she “surely will not die” and instead her “eyes will be opened, and ye will be like God, knowing good and evil.” What the first- and best-ever clever ruseman didn’t mention is that such power is not entirely a good thing; it is a double-edged blade in its own right. While it is extremely sharp, it cuts both ways, and on top of that it can only be acquired through sin in the first place. So it is a tool man obtained at extraordinarily high cost to himself, that he wields at his own risk.
The first thing it taught Adam and Eve was shame, for example. They instantly realized their own nakedness, and so, for the first time, they felt self-consciousness and embarrassment. It also made evil a thing that exists – in the world and, more specifically, inside ourselves. For no other creature is capable of evil: when a predator kills a prey animal, that might be tragic, but it’s not evil. That’s because evil requires malicious intent. Evil, fundamentally, consists in a desire to deliberately inflict unnecessary pain. That’s something only people can do.
So how does this relate back to DeS? Well, the soul man received on the first day – giving him “clarity” and the means to “comprehend the world around [him]” – is somewhat analogous to the knowledge bestowed by the fruit. The fact that the Old One was born the following day seemingly reinforces this connection, as if the Old One is the consequence of that gift, the price man must pay for that which makes him human: the divine spark, his soul, clarity; the awareness of good and evil alike. If asked to put a name on such a price as that, one might feel obliged to call it, “Original Sin.”
Original Sin is born soon after Adam and Eve quite literally take the bait. It is man’s dark inheritance (his ‘Darksign’, if you will) of the punishment God dealt his most distant ancestors for their initial rebelliousness. It is a kind of curse upon humanity, which some denominations believe to be irredeemable and unforgivable. These elements are reflected in DeS with the Old One being described, metaphorically, as an irrevocable poison upon the Earth. Poisons and curses are similar afflictions, forms of plague and ailment. Original Sin is also known as Ancestral Sin; since the Old One is the original demon, and the origin or ‘ancestor’ of all other demons, the Old One might rightly be referred to as the Ancestral Demon.
So, the Old One is actually an allegoric amalgam of several sacred source stories, not just the relatively obvious flood myths. And while the Old One does play a key role in DeS, the game itself is based, fundamentally, on Western dragon mythology.
To explain, allow me to pose a question: What is a demon? I posit that it is the same thing in DeS as in reality: a monster, basically. Well, what is a monster? It’s an amalgamation of things that are chaotic; an embodied representation of chaos as such, chaos itself, meta chaos. Dragons are a classic example of this.
These gigantic fire-breathing winged-serpents easily overcome man’s best efforts to insulate himself. No man-made structure nor fortification – no garden, no matter how high or thick its walls – is ever safe from dragons, hypothetically; thus they are a kind of ‘snake in the garden,’ harbingers of chaos that can’t be kept away, which, again, is what the Old One is. Meanwhile, the hero of the tale is the one who slays the dragon, the dragon slayer (or as the Maiden in Black would surely say, the Slayer of Dragons); the one who actively routes out chaos and gains something valuable in return, such as a trove of treasure; the one who transforms chaos into order, dragon into gold – demon into soul, as the case may be.
At its core, this story shows there is great potential to be had within the perilous realm of chaos. Does this sound familiar, Souls fans? It should, for Souls games are fundamentally predicated upon this presupposition. All anyone ever does in Souls games is play out that story, over and over, with every demon slain and every soul gained, from Lesser to Arch. That’s all that happens, and that’s partly what makes it so great.
In DeS, for example, the Slayer of Demons (the knight, the mythical hero) voluntarily ventures into the colorless fog (the dragon’s den, the unknown, chaos) from the safety of the Nexus (the castle, the walled garden, order), and by confronting and vanquishing demons (slaying dragons, organizing chaos) acquires souls (treasure), granting power that is, in some cases, “beyond human imagination.”
Floods myths, dragon tales, Adam and Eve, and DeS all tell different stories packed with meaningfulness, yet there is one important message they all have in common: that it is impossible to eliminate chaos, pain and suffering from life. The Old One never dies and the serpent of chaos always finds its way into the garden of order (even God, Himself, couldn’t stop it). So the message seems to be that these things are intrinsic to being, and the solution to that problem is to learn to act properly to minimize their effects.
Taken altogether, the course of events which transpire in Demon’s Souls are a lesson on how we can do that – and what can happen if we don’t. Its story is good because it aims to teach useful information, which is the nature and purpose of stories in general. That’s why we consume them – in print, on screen, or otherwise. A good story is like an Arch-demon soul: its consumption grants new understanding of something formerly beyond comprehension. It’s food for the soul, soul food.
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