William Blake’s Fable III: A Look at How Blake’s Works and Fable III Intersect
Set in Albion, a fictional world reminiscent of nineteenth century England, Fable III is a role playing game where the players takes control of either a prince or a princess whose actions puts them at odds with the tyrannical brother – the king of Albion – whose sole agenda as a monarch is the oppression of the people. The player’s character, driven by the hatred of the recent events performed by the king, decides to leave the palace and lead a rebellion against the king. It is, then, up to the players to win the support of the people. One of the more interesting aspects of the game is how the player has the ability to be an excellent leader and outstanding monarch, a coercive overlord and tyrannical despot, or anything in between. By allowing players the freedom of deciding who to help – and by extension who to ignore – and how to go about helping the characters, not to mention the ability of being able to murder innocent civilians, this game affords players an immersive experience the likes of which very few games can give. Certainly, I could spend the rest of this post talking about Fable III, its narrative, its world, the interactivity principles used by the designers, or even the visuals of the game; however, I won’t. Instead of gracing this post with what would be yet another review / discussion of what is unquestionably an excellent game, I will instead write about something more interesting: the link between nineteenth century England, Blake, the French Revolution, and Fable III.
The nineteenth century is one of the most significant centuries in recent history. Not only was this century host of major historic events like the Hatian Revolution, the Bakumatsu, the rise and fall of Napoleon, and the rise of American Manifest Destiny, but it was also witness to the Romantic and Victorian writers who flourished during the two greatest literary movements in history and who wrote about the events that influence the setting and narrative of Fable III – The French Revolution, The British Empire, and The Industrial Revolution. Responding to the events that led up to the French Revolution and to the French Revolution itself, the literature of the nineteenth century, especially that of Romantic poets, addressed the concerns dealt with during the Revolution. Ideas such as exploitation of the masses, obscene gaps in wealth distribution, unequal gender treatment, and the rising number of orphans are eloquently addressed in the writings of the Romantic poets – particularly in those of William Blake. In his Songs of Innocence and Experience, Blake encapsulates the major concerns of his time, while in his Marriage of Heaven and Hell he works out his Liberation Theology that frames his Prophetic texts. Throughout his Songs of Innocence and The Chimney Sweeper, Blake shows the same kind of oppression that is portrayed in Fable III; yet it is in his poem Little Boy Lost that we find the unquestionable link between Blake’s early works and Fable III. In this poem Blake portrays how a child who uses reason to argue with his parents is chained by the priest and burned for blasphemy. Blake concludes the poem by asking “are such things done on Albion’s shore?” It is in this oppressive, industrialized nineteenth century Albion which Blake so much disdained that the events of Fable III take place. In the introduction to the game, a narrator speaks:
“The age of industry has come to Albion;
yet some call it the age of oppression.
When freedom is nothing but a dream
it becomes time to make a stand,
to lead a rebellion, to be a hero.”
The clever reader will be asking right about now something along the lines of “rebellion? The French Revolution finished a year short of the nineteenth century and there were no rebellions or revolutions in nineteenth century England.” That is indeed correct, and it is one of the things that troubled Blake the most. The fact that England failed to follow in the steps of the egalitarian spirit of the French Revolution is something that was a great source of inspiration for him. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a theological poem which juxtaposes the tortures of a cold, logical, and oppressive “heaven” with the pleasures of a creative, vibrant, and energetic “hell”, Blake also makes a call for revolution. Being part of the revolutionary culture of the period, it comes of no surprise that Marriage of Heaven and Hell best encapsulates the romantic sensibilities and revolutionary ideals. It is in this Bible from hell, which Blake states “the world shall have whether they will or no”, that we find Blake’s call for a revolution against the oppression of the people for the benefit of an elite few. It is in Marriage of Heaven and Hell – arguably Blake’s most influential work – that the reader can best see Blake’s call to arms against the city of the downtrodden that he describes in his Songs. It is in this city of the downtrodden – the city where starving children are paraded throughout the city as a spectacle of mercy – where, as the introduction to Fable III states, “those who dare to speak out are punished and those who dare to hope find nothing to hope for.”
Certainly, there are some parallels between Blake’s poems Songs of Innocence and Experience and Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Fable III, but that influence is further exemplified when one takes a look at Blake’s Urzien mythology. In Blake’s mythology, Urzien is tradition, the controlling force – it is the oppressive overlord who stuns creative energies and controls individuals through force. On the other hand, Orc is the revolutionary force – the creative force that aims to end with Urzien’s oppression. Being the creative passion and energy that stands up to Urzien and the driving force behind the French Revolution, it is no surprise that Orc – the fire of revolution – was labeled by Blake as “Albion’s Angel” in his poem America: A Prophecy. It is this revolutionary force, Albion’s Angel, which, in Blake’s ideal world, would have answered the call for the British Revolution that never happened.
“True rebels fight against all odds,
true rebels will never give up;
yet they cannot triumph alone.
The uprising has begun,
but who will lead the revolution?”
The question of “who will lead the revolution” is one that was left unanswered in history, but in Blake’s poetry is answered by Orc. In Fable III, the call is answered by the player, thus effectively infusing the player with the revolutionary passion that Blake intended to sweep across Albion, and still, everything comes full-circle when the player manages to rule the kingdom.
In Fable III’s narrative, the purpose of overthrowing the king is not entirely that he is a despot as the game; in fact, allows the player the option to be as cruel a despot as the previous king. Despite the townspeople growing in hatred towards the player, the game allows the player to be a despot with no adverse consequence other than the state of being itself. The main reason to lead the revolution is because the king grows prideful and decides that he owns Albion and can do with it as he wills. When the players takes the crown, however, they find themselves “owning” Albion and being able to do as they will with it. It is in this moment that the revolutionary force becomes the oppressor. The same can be seen in Blake’s mythology when the fire of revolution that is Orc is ultimately sacrificed to Urzien. When Urzien dies, Orc’s fire is used to resurrect him. In this sense, Orc becomes Urzien – the revolutionary oppressed becomes the oppressor.
From the game’s setting that is reminiscent to the nineteenth century, the instances of oppression that parallel those in Blake’s Songs, the revolutionary call to arms against institutional powers, or the eventual transformation of the revolutionary powers into the institutions of oppression, there is certainly ample evidence to suggest that Fable III was largely inspired by Blake’s poetic works. The engaging narrative that lures the player in are as complex as the poetical narrative of Blake’s Prophetic Books, and the imagery in Fable III is nearly as sublime as that found in Blake’s “infernal method of printing.” (MHH) With all these parallels as evidence, it would be hard to disagree not only with the statement that Fable III wonderfully translates the spirit of Blake’s poetry, but also that they used Blake as inspiration.
Of course, there is always the possibility that no one in Lionhead Studios has ever read Blake. There might be the possibility that they aren’t familiar with Romantic poetry or with the French Revolution, and that they have never even heard of the literature of the nineteenth century. If this is the case, then the only possible explanation for the many parallels between Fable III and Blake’s works is that they both draw inspiration from the same source: an eternal, revolutionary spirit of imaginative creation. Indeed, one could always wonder if those from Lionhead have actually read Blake, or if they were simply high off the hellish printing fumes that Blake mentions in Marriage of Heaven and Hell and whatever it is that Blake was smoking that made him see a boy on a cloud as he was piping down the valley’s wild in The Introduction to Songs of Innocence. Of course, the easiest way to answer the question would be to write Lionhead Studios an e-mail asking, but that’s nowhere near as fun as speculating, is it?
Posted on December 13, 2010, in Literature Commentary, Video Game Commentary and tagged Albion, Blake, Fable 3, Fable III, orc, Revolution, Urzien, William Blake. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.