“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point . . . A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.”[1]

– C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters #29

What became Fact was a Myth [and] carries with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a Myth . . . We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology . . . If God chooses to be mythopoeic — and is not the sky itself a Myth — shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the perfect marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact.”[2]

C.S. Lewis, Myth Became Fact

 

The stories of Halo and its sequel series Destiny hinge on embattled, heroic combatants discovering hidden, secret resources from Earth’s early and mysterious origin to aid them in their struggle to save humanity. That knowledge of our origins can provide the key to our fate and even our strength recurs in various superhero tales, such as that of Superman. Even before the COVID virus arrived in early 2020, the video game market had come to dwarf the box office receipts of the film industry, as in 2019 gaming revenues in the US alone garnered $60.59 compared to the $11.4 billion of box office receipts in North America’s theaters (and $42.5 billion worldwide).[3] [4] Gaming has come a long way since the days of Checkers, Nine Men’s Morris, Chess, Mr. Who, Mousetrap, Candyland, The Game of Life, Dungeons and Dragons, Made for Trade, Monopoly, Risk, Civilization the board game, and Axis and Allies; real-time choices, multiplayer online platforms, realistic graphics, and interactive character and story arcs (role playing) in which the gamer participates in a predefined but flexible story narrative are now the norm. Were the games a book or movie, the gamer could declare along with Pee Wee Herman, “I don’t need to see the movie, Dottie, I lived it.”[5] Prompted by the poetic interpretation of the Halo series by Cambridge poet and chaplain Malcolm Guite, integrated with music from the games’ soundtrack artist Marty O’Donnell, we look at the deeper mythology found, for those with eyes to see, in the HaloDestiny.game series.

The Destiny video series, first released in 2014 by Activision then in 2019 by its developer Bungie, is a continuation of the critically acclaimed Halo series (with five releases since 2001, and Halo Infinite due out in Fall 2021). Destiny continues the Halo story, an interstellar war (genocidal holy war, to be specific, begun in the year 2525) between humans and an alien religious order (the Covenant) bent on humanity’s destruction. The Covenant relies on giant ring-shaped “Halo” structures, left by the ancient race of Forerunners and serving as weapons to suppress a parasite Flood which spread throughout the galaxy. When humans discover them, they believe them to be portals for achieving transcendence. Technologically outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, and out-planned human Spartan warriors fight valiantly for the survival of humanity against the Covenant, which eventually falls under its own hypocrisies and comes to the aid of the humans, though tensions continue between the new race of Spartans created by the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) and its colonists.

Destiny continues the story as the player is cast in the role of a Guardian, tasked to defend the last safe city on Earth against alien attackers, wielding a power named Light in its defense. Guardians travel to other planets to destroy alien threats and are also tasked with finding a celestial being, the Traveler. A celestial sphere whose nature is unknown, the Traveler was first discovered on Mars and is responsible for allowing interplanetary travel. After sacrificing itself defending earth, it hovers dormant above earth, allowing The City to be built under the shadow of its protection against threats from the Darkness.[6]

Guite, in league with Marty O’Donnell, composer for the Halo and Destiny soundtracks, composed a set of paired poems for Destiny, illustrating the characteristics which have historically been associated with the planets.[7] For instance, Jupiter was considered by Ancients and Medievals as the king of the planets owing to its lion-scale size, a role borne out by the later astronomical observation that it protects life on earth from a stream of asteroids. Other celestial citizens of significance include the golden light-giving Sun, the silver light-reflecting Moon, swift and erratic Mercury (owing to its short circuit around the Sun) associated with commerce and communication, the war-like red planet of Mars, the life-nurturing and feminine Venus, and Saturn, which came to represent wisdom as well as suffering. That C.S. Lewis used the imagery and associated meaning of each planet to illustrate his Chronicles of Narnia fantasy series is the claim of Oxford University’s Michael Ward, as elaborated in Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis and The Narnia Code.[8] [9] Guite’s paired poems for each of these seven cosmic orbs, one for the virtuous, redeemed version of the planet’s characteristic qualities, and one for it in its fallen state, as a vice, were dedicated to Ward in the compilation Seven Heavens, Seven Hells: A Sequence for the Spheres found in Guite’s collection of poems After Prayer (2019).[10] Each of the poems are also set to music from the Destiny soundtrack and read by Guite at his site.[11] Guite’s deep, rich, sonorous, and sinewy voice is worth the effort to hear, one is reminded of the gathering of the minstrel of Gondor who sings of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom whose “clear voice . . . rose like silver and gold, and all men are hushed” until “hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”[12]

Humanity’s struggle against alien misrule, extermination in fact, is deftly illustrated by Guite’s lyrics. The Jupiter II poem illustrates how bad kings misuse and devour their subjects:

 

Come fill the cup, whether you will or no,

For the Great Leader, you will drink it up.

His grateful people must put on a show . . .

Or you and yours will suffer. One false step

And someone disappears. They say below

His banquet hall the tortured cry for help.[13]

 

By contrast, the rule they truly desire is displayed in Guite’s virtuous Jupiter:

 

Come fill the cup and let the fountain flow

Your king has come! There is a feast to keep

With kindled eyes and faces all aglow.[14]

 

Servants to such a king find themselves ennobled, just as Lewis claimed in The Screwtape Letters as the devil’s apprentice declares, “We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons.”[15] Guite echoes the point when he continues:

 

Here is a joy that makes the spirit leap

And makes the humble greater than they know . . .

Rich music stirs your spirit, solemn, slow

Whose true nobility still draws you up

Beyond yourself with blessings to bestow.

Come, fill the cup.[16]

 

Courageous battle is yet required – that is the fun of Halo and Destiny — which Guite illustrates in his Mars:

 

Rise up and stand for what you know is right,

Marshall your strength and take the upper hand . . .

The red rose kindles to a flaming brand

When Love needs her defenders. Though the night

Is long and dark, deliverance is at hand!

So, battle-hardened, fearless in the fight,

Rise up and stand.[17]

 

By contrast, the efforts of marauding aggressors ring hollow with the call:

 

Rise up and stand to grasp with iron will

The spoils of war, the conquest of the land.

Whilst there is war to wage and blood to spill

Rise up and stand.[18]

 

Such courage required of Halo’s noble Spartans and Destiny’s Guardians of Earth and humanity echoes throughout classical literature. J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, found the model for such bravery in Norse mythology like Beowulf, as gods fought alongside heroes, the threat of extinction for all looming ominously:

In Norse, at any rate, the gods are within Time, doomed with their allies to death. Their battle is with the monsters and the outer darkness. They gather heroes for the final defense . . . It is the strength of the northern mythological imagination that it faced this problem, put the monsters in the centre, gave them victory but no honour, and found a potent but terrible solution in naked will and courage. “As a working theory absolutely impregnable.”[19]

Greek and Roman gods, by contrast, did not face such existential threat, and thus offered less in the way of inspiration, Tolkien claimed: “So potent is it [northern mythology’s central theme of courage], that while the older southern imagination has faded forever into literary ornament, the northern has power, as it were, to revive its spirit even in our own times.”[20] But the Norse genius reflects an even longer tradition of cosmic struggle, that found in Scripture.

Tolkien claimed that Beowulf’s allusions to scripture were key in giving such Norse fables their spiritual power. War between giants and God himself, as well as references to Cain, show how “elements of Scripture” and the “noble pagan of old days,” “new Scripture and old tradition,” the “noble pagan of old days,” “touched and ignited.”[21] The themes are precisely the same, Tolkien claimed: “Man alien in a hostile world, engaged in a struggle which he cannot win while the world lasts . . . that his courage noble in itself is also the highest loyalty.”[22]

Guite’s final and fifteenth poem of the sequence (there were two for each of the seven planets used), Destiny: Earth’s Enigmas, reflects the greater spiritual backdrop to such heroics as those of Halo, Destiny, Beowulf, and Frodo Baggins, and is introduced as an embodiment of “Bungie’s vision of ‘Guardians,’ ‘The City,’ ‘The Darkness’ & More.”[23]

The poem, an “eightfold rhyme” (eight stanzas of eight lines each), speaks of the mysterious origins of Destiny’s world:

 

Riddles of the shadowed path . . .

Set against dark and dread

Cryptic clue and fragile thread

Sent to those with eyes to see”

Who may find in the

Hidden patterns of the past

Might reclaim what you have lost

Secrets kept by saint and sage

 

and consoles the combatants that:

 

All your hope is not in vain

Seven heavens over earth

Bring that common hope to birth.[24]

 

Scriptural allusion can be found throughout the poem, for those “with eyes to see” (Matthew 13:16), also including statements like “night comes when no man can work” (John 9:4) and “our hope is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). Lines speaking of an unheard music directly refer to the poem’s theme of the music of the spheres, in which may be found salvation, as noble (and gaming) warriors are implored to “seek within that hidden light / through whose music you unite.”[25] T.S. Eliot’s renowned poetry lends to the drama and the message, as Guite alludes to his 1922 poem The Wasteland, in which Eliot bemoaned the spiritual exhaustion of the post World War I world, with:

 

In the darkness, cold, accurst

where the wasteland does its worst

loyalty may fail and lapse

every living truth collapse.[26]

 

Eliot’s thought also appears in the idea that in the hidden music of the spheres can be found humanity’s redemption. In his Four Quartets, structured after The Wasteland though written two decades later and after he had come to faith, Eliot encourages us to seek the hidden sounds, the laughter and the music, “Not known, because not looked for / But heard, half-heard, in the stillness.”[27] Salvation for the Guardians consists in finding those who can answer the call:

 

Who can count the ages gone?

Who can hear the hidden song?

Who is he who feels and hears

Long-lost music of the spheres?

Hears the secret symphony

Sevenfold in harmony.[28]

 

An earlier poem of Guite’s is instructive here. In The Singing Bowl, we are instructed to not just seek but to reflect and become this hidden music:

 

Begin the song exactly where you are.

Remain within the world of which you’re made.

Call nothing common in the earth or air . . .

Become an open singing bowl, whose chime

Is richness rising out of emptiness,

And timelessness resounding into time.[29]

 

Eliot implored us likewise to listen for “the music heard so deeply / That it is not heard at all, but you are the music / while the music lasts.”[30]

The strongest spiritual imagery of Destiny: Earth’s Enigmas is that of the Traveler. Celestial hope for the Spartans of Halo, the Traveler is a dormant but protective orb hovering above The City of Destiny’s Guardians, and assumes the dimensions of Christ in the cryptic lines of Destiny: Earth’s Enigmas. His otherworldly origins inform man’s earliest beginnings,

 

seek the one who travels far

from the deepest roots long drawn

and provide a hopeful prelude:

to the city’s golden dawn

quickened life begins to stir

a long awaited messenger.[31]

 

The two final stanzas paint a picture of a Traveler which is the hope of ages, as they begin:

 

Far above the city’s domes

Seek the Traveler when he comes

Even in the blackest night

From the Darkness springs a Light

Which provides both our destiny and our purpose

Find the end where you begin

Light without and Light within

Seek the secret sages know

Light above and Light below.[32]

 

Guite’s “the end where you begin” also famously appears in Eliot’s Four Quartets, referencing the final words of Mary Queen of Scots as she faced execution, declaring that upon death her (eternal) life was just about to begin, “in my end is my beginning.”[33] Eliot reverses them to claim that “in my beginning is my end” then encourages us to “not cease from exploration” as “the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”[34] [35] Once we (or any superhero) find our true beginning, just as Spartans and Guardians ensure their destiny by discovering the Traveler and the powerful rings which hail from earth’s mysterious origins, then we will know our purpose, our end.

The Traveler’s angelic, if not divine, significance is revealed in Guite’s likening it to the Seraphim of the Old Testament, the highest of the angels, translated as “the burning ones,” who appear in Isaiah’s vision as six-winged creatures flying about the throne of God declaring “holy, holy, holy.”[36] As Guite writes in the final stanza:

 

Seek in starlight soft and dim

Secrets of the seraphim

Weapons no one else can wield

Patterned on a sacred shield

Where the spheres of heaven shine

Where the elements combine

Where the fearless and the free

Rise to meet their destiny.[37]

 

Just as the Traveler uses “weapons no one else can wield,” so does Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross defeat death itself with a weapon available only to him, the self-sacrifice of God Himself.

Final reflections on the pregnant spiritual significance that Guite’s scribing lends to the Halo and Destiny stories can be found in reflecting on his Saturn poems. In Greek and Roman mythology, Saturn was associated with both suffering and the wisdom born of such suffering.[38] Guite’s fallen Saturn poem bemoans senseless suffering:

 

In every heartbreak he is to be found

He is the end. He makes things fall apart.

There is a prison where his slaves are bound …

He crushes hope before we even start …

In him there is no mercy to be found,

No truth, no grace, no beauty and no art,

Only the grave, the cold and stony ground

In every heart.[39]

 

By contrast, suffering informed by, or leading to, knowledge of the deep mysteries, is the path to salvation, shown in Guite’s poem of the redeemed Saturn:

 

In every heart-break wisdom can be found,

The end of things may be the place to start . . .

We listen for the music; not a sound.

But we discover, silent and apart . . .

There is a deeper dance, an inner art

There is a hidden treasure to be found

In every heart.[40]

 

That such suffering is unavoidable, the cost of the courageous battle with which it must often be met, is likewise affirmed by Eliot’s poem. “Not fare well, but fare forward, voyagers,” Eliot inveighs, referring to Krishna’s advice to Arjuna (Indian mythical superheroes) on the battlefield in which he granted blessings to combatants on both sides: the moral struggle will continue.[41] This suffering, borne with courage and finding in silence the music half-heard which is the true music of the spheres, enables the brave soul, like the Spartans of Halo and the Guardians of Destiny, and implores us, as in Guite’s Destiny poem, to:

 

Find the end where you begin

Light without and Light within

seek the secret sages know

Light above and Light below.[42]

 

Guite and Halo/Destiny follow Eliot further here, who yet held out hope, citing the medieval Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, that “all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” once this light is found.[43] More significantly, most significantly, they affirm the wisdom of Ecclesiastes (3:11) from long ago, that “He has placed eternity in our hearts,” and we — or any Superhero — need only listen to find it, and follow it with courage.


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Citation Information

Seth Myers, “Planets, Poetry, and the Power of Myth in Halo and Destiny,” An Unexpected Journal: Superheroes 4, no. 2. (Summer 2021), 257-278.

Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com/planets-poetry-and-the-power-of-myth-in-halo-and-destiny/


Endnotes

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 161.

[2] C.S. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact” in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2001), 67.

[3] “Market Size of the Video Game Industry in the United States from 2010 to 2020,” Statista, accessed May 7, 2021, www.statista.com/statistics/246892/value-of-the-video-game-market-in-the-us/

[4] Pamela McClintock, “Global Box Office Revenue Hit Record $42.5 B Despite 4 Percent Dip in U.S.” Billboard, last modified January 11, 2020, accessed May 7, 2021, www.billboard.com/articles/news/8547827/2019-global-box-office-revenue-hit-record-425b-despite-4-percent-dip-in-us.

[5] Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, directed by Tim Burton (Warner Brothers, 1985).

[6] “The Traveler,” Destiny Wiki. accessed May 7, 2021, www.destiny.fandom.com/wiki/The_Traveler.

[7] Malcolm Guite, “The Music of the Spheres: a poetic adventure resumes,” Malcolm Guite, February 23, 2019, accessed May 7, 2021, www.malcolmguite.wordpress.com/tag/destiny/.

[8] Michael Ward, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). This is Ward’s doctoral dissertation.

[9] Michael Ward, The Narnia Code (Cambridge: Tyndale House, 2010). At 224 pages, still a substantial work, but oriented for a popular audience.

[10] Malcolm Guite, After Prayer: New sonnets and other poems (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2019).

[11] Malcolm Guite, The Music of the Spheres: a poetic adventure resumes, last modified February 23, 2019. Accessed May 7, 2021, www.malcolmguite.wordpress.com/tag/destiny/.

[12] J.R.R. Tolkien,” Return of the King (NewYork: Ballantine, 2001), Book V, Ch. 4, “The Field of Cormallen,” 250.

[13] Guite, “Jupiter II” in After Prayer, 45.

[14] Guite, “Jupiter I” in After Prayer, 44.

[15] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperOne, 2000) Letter 8, 39.

[16] Guite, “Jupiter I” in After Prayer, 44.

[17] Guite, “Mars I” in After Prayer, 42.

[18] Guite, “Mars II” in After Prayer, 43.

[19] J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Monsters and the Critics” in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (London: HarperCollins, 2006), 25-26.

[20] Ibid., 26.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Malcolm Guite, The Music of the Spheres: a poetic adventure resumes, February 23, 2019, malcolmguite.wordpress.com/tag/destiny/.

[24] Malcolm Guite, Destiny: Earth’s Enigma, 2013, www.malcolmguite.wordpress.com/tag/destiny/.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] T.S. Eliot, “Little GIdding V” in The Complete Poems and Plays 1909 – 1950 (New York: Harcourt, 1971),145.

[28] Guite, Destiny: Earth’s Enigma.

[29] Malcolm Guite, “The Singing Bowl,” in The Singing Bowl: Collected poems by Malcolm Guite (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2013), xv.

[30] Eliot, The Dry Salvages V, 136.

[31] Guite, Destiny: Earth’s Enigma.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Thomas Howard, Dove Descending: A Journey into T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), loc. 806. Digital.

[34] Eliot, East Coker IV, 123.

[35] Eliot, Little Gidding V, 145.

[36] Isaiah 6:1-8.

[37] Guite, Destiny: Earth’s Enigma.

[38] The Greek god Kronos, who became Saturn under the Romans, feared being overthrown by his children (as foretold in a prophecy) just as he had done to his own father Uranus, so he would eat his children upon their birth, until his wife Rhea gave him a swaddling stone in place of their sixth child Zeus, who later overthrew Saturn.

[39] Guite, “Saturn II” in After Prayer, 47.

[40] Guite, “Saturn I” in After Prayer, 46.

[41] Eliot, The Four Quartets: The Dry Salvages III, 135.

[42] Guite, Destiny: Earth’s Enigma.

[43] Eliot, Little Gidding V, 145.

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