a close examination of fumito ueda's creations

Sunday, August 31, 2008


"We, Dormin, have arisen anew..."

Understanding this compelling character is crucial to piecing together the ancient past etched into this bleak, lifeless world known as the "Forbidden Lands". One might think the story is about Wander -- our protagonist -- and the colossi he has set out to slay, but it is not too far-fetched to posit that this story is more about Dormin. In fact, perhaps even the story of ICO centers around Dormin more than we may think; perhaps the story of the horned boys could more accurately be called the story of Dormin's prolonged presence on earth.

All of the elements of Shadow of the Colossus's plot hinge on Dormin's existence. But what is Dormin? A god? A demon? Is he good? Is he evil? Do these terms even apply? Much more broadly, how and why has his existence lead to the colossi and the abandonment of this beautiful seaside domain?

It's hard to say, really, as we don't have much to go on. In Ueda's style, we're told only what is essential, so let us hope that with that little amount of information we have, we can infer a great deal. For the sake of ease, I am going to refer to Dormin as a "he", despite the duality of Dormin's voice. Nonetheless, this usage is reinforced by Lord Emon's own way of referring to Dormin ("He's been resurrected!").

First, a few outward facts about Dormin. We know he was worshiped here at the Shrine of Worship as some sort of greater being. He appears to consist of several entities, as he refers to himself as "We". It's not entirely clear how many entities are part of that group, but as Wander kills each colossus, a new shadowy being stands over him, alongside the others. If these are parts of Dormin, then it appears he has sixteen distinct entities. However, this may not be the case, as we see in the introduction scene several shadowy beings freely present themselves before Wander. Whether or not these are additional parts of Dormin that were never sealed away or simply separate "lesser" entities is unclear.

I've come up with one possible answer to these other beings' presence. Once Wander shows the sword to these creatures, the camera cuts to a lightning-streaked sky, and then to the light-filled aperture in the ceiling of the Shrine, suggesting Dormin's descent to the Shrine. This tells us that his attention was elsewhere, and that these creatures were merely sentinels.

A second thing to note is that he has two distinct voices, one being male and the other female, and they speak (more or less) in unison. This detail may be a significant one when we consider the events that transpire during Shadow of the Colossus's ending.

Dormin is clearly a supernatural being and, whether by his own fault or not, has been sealed away because of his powers, which Lord Emon dubs the "forbidden spell". If we can understand what these powers are, maybe we can understand why the ancient people who lived here saw Dormin as a threat. So what are these powers?

The game explicitly tells us two things that give us insight into the nature of Dormin's abilities. Firstly, we're told that he can "control beings made from light", and, secondly, on a separate note, that he can "control the souls of the dead." This first piece of information we learn from Emon's campfire monologue is curious, and at first glance, it seems we haven't really seen Dormin use this ability to control "beings created from light" in any immediately recognizable sense. So how are we supposed to approach this idea? Using what we see, hear, and perhaps implicitly understand from the narrative, how can we determine what is meant by "beings created from light"?

Despite the fact that Wander more or less confirms that "souls of the dead" and "beings created from light" are one and the same, to fully understand the intricacies of Dormin, let us ask: what is a "being created from light"? The answer to this is not terribly obvious, and my theories as to what this means have formed primarily as a result of external research of the official website (UK Version). In an interactive portion of the site, the user must click on certain hidden parts of the page to proceed, and he is rewarded with a list of questions he can ask only once (per playthrough). One of those questions is "What are those shadowy creatures?"

The site answers: "Everything casts a shadow," and it goes on to say, "When an entity exists beyond the mortal realm, a shadow is all men can see." So is this what is meant by "beings created from light"? Perhaps the fact that these shadowy beings are manifested before mortals at all is thanks solely to light, and in a sense, they are "created" by it.

But what does it mean that they exist "beyond the mortal realm"? We can take many guesses, but to me, the one that seems most obvious, practical, and unifying for the story is that they are, indeed, the souls of the dead. This definition matches up with what we already know, which is that Dormin can bring souls back from the dead, as Wander requests, and as Dormin seems to do upon the game's ending.

For the purposes of this interpretation, let us assume that Dormin's sole ability is to control the souls of the dead, as he exhibits no other significant powers within Shadow of the Colossus's timeline, other than an expanded awareness of things going on in the Forbidden Lands.

So how does this power work? Can Dormin just order souls around? Can he summon them back into their bodies? Again, how are we meant to interpret this?

One thing we may observe is that Dormin's own essence seems to be the root of his power; the "energy", so to speak, from Dormin's metaphysical presence is the very force which gives life, and it is not necessarily his ability to will beings back from the dead.

That is to say: it is possible that that the fraction of Dormin which resides inside each colossus could be the very reason these artificial creatures are able to come to life at all. This would mean that Dormin's essence compulsively and irresistibly contributes a life-giving force to whatever vessel it inhabits; but this would also mean that the vessel must already lack a life-giving force of its own. What evidence do we have to support this assumption?

Think back to the isolated moments in which Dormin brought someone back to life. In the case of Wander, Dormin does not seize control over him until he is dead -- slain by one of Emon's men. And in this moment, it is extremely apparent that Dormin's united essence is inhabiting Wander's body. In the instances prior to Wander's death, Wander is clearly in control, as his only desire is to approach Mono, to see that she is alive. If Dormin were in control in this moment, why would he risk letting his vessel become damaged? Why not grow into his enormous stature and terrorize Emon's company then? After all, in letting the soldiers injure Wander, Dormin himself is handicapped with a weak leg (thanks to the crossbow bolt).

Thus, let us postulate that Dormin's powers are governed by laws he cannot metaphysically break. As we must obey physical laws of the physical world such as gravity, inertia, and friction, Dormin too must obey the metaphysical laws of the metaphysical world.

If any of this is true, then it would also mean that Dormin's power could conceivably be harnessed. In this case, it has been harnessed by the ancient inhabitants of the Forbidden Lands for the purpose of creating self-defending fortresses that would keep the fraction of Dormin within safe from being reunited with its other pieces.

Now that we have a grasp on how Dormin's talent possibly works, let us build upon it. It's clear that Dormin is not omnipotent, as he was imprisoned against his own will. Or, at the very least, he's not all-powerful within the mortal realm. So how far does his dominion extend? Is he the divine ruler of a separate realm, where all souls go upon death? From here, we are free to our own musings. His relations to the supernatural are not clear, and so what would've been a handful of possibilities becomes hundreds or thousands. But let me point out one piece of information from which we may be able to glean some semblance of a concrete understanding.

We are led to wonder if Dormin's power originates from some authority over spirits, or a mastery of some kind of spiritual energy. In my line of thinking, if Dormin were given authority, it would have little to do with his own abilities. Merely by giving the word, he ought to have control over souls. But from what we've established, his own essence is the very driving force of his life-giving power, meaning that he himself has the ability to control the dead -- their spiritual energy, if you will -- not merely an authoritative voice. Again, this is largely speculation.

If Dormin is not an authoritative being, then what kind of being is he? Is he really a god, or in a lust for power, did he trick an ancient civilization into worshiping him for his life-giving abilities? We have to find our own answers, but one thing seems clear is that Dormin isn't as powerful as he lets on.

But where his power lacks, he makes up for with guile.

While what we have discussed here amounts to nothing more than a self-consistent interpretation, I will nonetheless say one thing: that Dormin can still speak freely and observe the happenings of the Forbidden Lands tells me that he is either not fully sealed or that his consciousness still remains in another realm of existence.



Luis said...

Very well written. Your theory about the "beings created of light" is the exact same as my own. I knew I wasn't alone in thinking that.

Unknown said...

I know old post is old but there's no mention of the shrine doves. Which look like beings of light in the game.