Clearing Up Some Myths
It’s no secret that when Shigesato Itoi created the games in the MOTHER series, he used ideas inspired by all sorts of books, movies, music, and whatnot that he liked. I’ve listed a few of these inspirations before (I really should make a page that lists them all), but here’s a look at two more.
The other day PK Coffee posted on the Starmen.Net forums, asking about “The Sirens of Titan” and “The Body” (the short story “Stand By Me” was based on) and how they specifically inspired Itoi. Itoi’s mentioned that he’s been inspired by all these things, there was even an exhibit at the MOTHER 1+2 event that displayed a lot of the things that inspired him:
Sadly he’s never given specific examples, he usually just says, “If you read it/watch it you’ll probably see the similarities.”
So last year I picked up a few things that apparently inspired him and you can definitely see the influence they had on the games. I don’t have time to write a big huge review/similarity thing myself, but if you’re a big-time MOTHER/EarthBound fan, you should definitely check some of this stuff out.
Anyway, PK Coffee also posted a huge analysis of The Sirens of Titan and The Body and how they related to EarthBound, which I’ll post here:
First up is The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut. All of his books are pretty famous, and Itoi absolutely loves everything he’s written. It’s a pretty easy book to read, too. Even though it’s technically science fiction it’s more like a light, easy-reading parody of the genre. You can find the book pretty cheap on eBay, Half.com, Amazon, or anywhere else probably. I’m sure you can find it at your local library too, so check it out if you can.
Now for PK Coffee’s analysis:
Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan, and Mother
Vonnegut’s similarities to the Mother series are more obvious than King’s (you might be thinking, “How the hell is Stephen King similar to EarthBound?”), so we’ll start with him. At first, I didn’t see how Vonnegut could be similar to the Mother series. Sure, there’re aliens in M1 and M2, but the Mother series doesn’t really… take them seriously, y’know? It’s a caricature of aliens in fiction. They land on a copy of the Devils Tower as it appears in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Their spaceships are cute, lil’, and wear pink bows. And most of the time the enemies you encounter are goofy possessed inanimate objects or animals. The fact that aliens are behind the plot isn’t really emphasized as much as you’d expect from seeing, say, the opening of M2 or the Fourside level of Super Smash Bros. Melee.
But Vonnegut doesn’t really take his aliens seriously either. Take his most famous alien race, the Tralfamadorians (as they appear in Slaughterhouse). They’re described as plungers with hands on top of them, and a single eye in the palm of the hand. They’re goofy, silly, but also wise beyond human understanding. They almost give the same impression as Mr. Saturns do, even if they can speak English perfectly normal. The robotic Tralfamadorian has a similar level of goofiness and lovability.
Honestly, I don’t think of Vonnegut as sci-fi. I think of Vonnegut as a cartoony caricature of sci-fi through which he conveys philosophical views. Like the Mother series.
Anyways, on to The Sirens of Titan (1959).
The de facto antagonist is Winston Niles Rumfoord, an “old money” aristocrat turned space traveler. After scientists discovered a crazy quantum space-time warp thing called a “chrono-synclastic infundibulum” in between Earth and Mars, everyone became too afraid to travel into space. To promote space travel, Rumfoord, with his dog Kazak, piloted a spaceship straight into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum and disappeared. They had become a wave phenomena stretching from the sun to Betelgeuse. Essentially, he and his dog are a spiral-shaped “broadcast” spiraling out from the sun. Whenever a planet’s orbit intersects the spiral, Rumfoord and Kazak materialize on it. They also experience all time simultaneously, so the second after Rumfoord went into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum, he experienced everything from that moment to… well, read the book. His perception of time would prefigure Billy Pilgrim’s in Slaughterhouse, Jon “Dr. Manhattan” Osterman’s in Watchmen, Paul “Muad’Dib” Atreides’s in Dune, and Desmond Hume’s in Lost. And probably others. Dr. Manhattan is the closest example, though. Rumfoord can tell people what will happen in the future.
His spiral, somehow, always crosses Titan, the moon of Saturn. On Titan is Salo, a Tralfamadorian robot whose ship crashed there long ago. Rumfoord and Salo start an odd friendship since Rumfoord is always there on Titan (he’s only on Earth every so many months for so many minutes). With Salo’s alien technology, his ability to experience all time simultaneously, and his ability to be on every planet at various times, Rumfoord schemes to set up a new religion on Earth to make it, in his mind, a better place. He sends flying saucers based on Tralfamadorian technology to Earth, kidnapping people and bringing them to Mars, where they build a city and train an army. Almost everyone in Rumfoord’s Martian army is mind-controlled, having an antennae in their brain. Nobody realizes the army is just part of a larger conspiracy.
The army is sent to invade Earth, however Rumfoord purposefully under-equips them, and the Earthlings massacre the Martians even though the Martians didn’t stand a chance. Rumfoord, on Earth, praises the Martian soldiers as martyrs who tried to change the world for the better, and sets up the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, which teaches that we’re not important enough for God to favor some people over others, and that all humans should make themselves equal to all others in terms of money, strength, beauty, intelligence, and so on. The Earthlings, guilty after killing defenseless Martians, convert. But little do they know that even this is part of a conspiracy larger than anyone on Earth could possibly imagine. Read the book.
You know who Winston Niles Rumfoord reminds me of? Porky. Obviously, Porky isn’t a New England aristocrat, though his family does seem to be wealthy (and he gets wealthier when joining Monotoli). But what reminds me of Porky in Rumfoord is his resources. Both have an army of flying saucers and human soldiers (and of course humans aren’t normally the ones in flying saucers). Both armies are a result of time travel (well, Rumfoord’s case isn’t time travel per se, but…). Both Porky and Rumfoord are somehow immortal. Both are basically worshipped once they come to power (Porky in New Pork City, Rumfoord as the head of the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent). Both use mind-control (Porky with happiness boxes and nice person springs, Rumfoord with antennas in people’s heads).
But most importantly, Porky and Rumfoord have huge egos. In Sirens, the main character’s son (born to Rumfoord’s wife) is named Chrono. He’s named Chrono because that’s the month he was born in. The book explains that there are more months on Mars than on Earth because Martian years are longer. The months on Mars are January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, Winston, Niles, Rumfoord, Kazak, Chrono, Synclastic, Infundibulum, Salo. I thought this was hilarious. Can’t you imagine Porky naming the months January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, Porky, Minch, Phase, Distorter, Needles, Dark, Dragon, Giygas?
Another example of the ego thing is how both Porky and Rumfoord make their superficial, wacky civilizations reflect their childhood. Porky has everything in New Pork City reflect his childhood; the movie theater showing the Chosen Four’s journey, the restaurant with robotic Lardna waitresses, the amusement park attractions. On Rumfoord’s Martian colony, the only sport played is German batball, like baseball, except instead of a baseball it’s played with a flabby, melon-sized ball “no more lively than a ten-gallon hat filled with rain water.” Rumfoord played this sport as a child and always won because he played it with his elderly butler. Also, even though the flying saucers are horribly equipped for battle, they have an expansive collection of classical marching music, Rumfoord’s favorite. Also, Rumfoord wrote the history book on the Martian invasion. Even though he made it happen.
On Titan, Rumfoord somehow had an exact replica of the Taj Mahal built, which he named Dun Roamin’. This sort of extravagance reminded me of Porky. Then there was Rumfoord’s relationship with Malachi Constant, the protagonist. Rumfoord made the image of Constant hanging from a noose the symbol of his religion. Porky didn’t exactly demonize Ness, but the focus he put on his nemesis, with capturing the “Best Friend’s Yo-Yo” and showing the Chosen Four’s adventure in the movie theatre does show an obsessive parallel. Rumfoord also reminded me of Giygas, somehow. Only in how Rumfoord is a spiral-shaped wave phenomena broadcast, kinda like how Giygas is a roughly spiral-shaped… evil energy thing. But yeah, that’s stretching to make a connection.
Well, that’s everything that reminded me of the Mother series in Sirens. Mind-control, flying saucers piloted by humans, time travel, an egotistical ruler with an immensely powerful alien friend. And the overall cartooniness. It all goes back to Rumfoord. Of course, Rumfoord and Porky are still very different characters.
Next is The Body, by Stephen King. It’s the story that the movie “Stand By Me” was based on. It was one of four short stories in a Stephen King book called Different Seasons, which also included the story that Shawshank Redemption was based on.
Stephen King, The Body, It, and Mother
Next, Stephen King. This comparison might seem a little crazy. But let’s start with The Body, one of the four short stories/novellas in Different Seasons (1982). The other stories are Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, and The Breathing Method. The Body was adapted into the movie Stand By Me (1986), only three years before M1 was released (I guess something gave them the idea the title “The Body” wouldn’t sell that well). I haven’t actually seen the movie nor read the short story. But it’s about four boys who, one Labor Day weekend, go on an adventure along train tracks to find a boy’s corpse they heard about.
The similarities to M1 are obvious, right? Well, all right, there’re no corpses Ninten, Lloyd, Ana, and Teddy come across (though they do fight non-stationary corpses). But it’s about kids just having a good time (and plenty of bad times) wandering a rural American countryside. They bond. They cross swamps (though Ninten doesn’t get a leech on his… well, watch the movie). They run into other knife-wielding kids. They come of age. I oughta see that movie sometime, and read the book. The Wikipedia article makes it sound good.
If there’s anything that makes the connection between Stand By Me and M1 strong, it’s this. We all know that the people who worked on M1 also worked on Pokemon Red and Blue (how often is it noted how much Giygas from M1 looks like Mewtwo?). Think back to that game. Remember in the very beginning, after you name yourself and your rival, after you finish playing the SNES, after you maybe got on your PC and took out a Potion so you’d be sure to defeat your rival in your first Pokemon battle, you go downstairs and your mom says “Right. All boys leave home someday. It said so on TV” (what an insight into the minds of mothers!), and then you look at the TV. Remember what the TV said? It said, “There’s a movie on TV. Four boys are walking on railroad tracks. I better go too.” Stand By Me reference. A reference made by the same team that produced M1.
But just because Itoi was inspired by a movie based on a Stephen King book, that doesn’t mean anything actually Stephen King-y inspired stuff in the Mother series, right? Well, prob’ly. But I can’t help noticing a similarity between M2 and Stephen King’s It. Yes, that’s right, It. I think M2 is similar to a book about a child-eating clown.
But the titular character of It isn’t just a child-eating clown. I think it’s best described as an extra-dimensional destructive intelligence which can take any form in our universe that it wants. It’s favorite form is a clown, but it appears as almost anything (my favorite was the swarm of flying leeches that explode when they suck too much blood from you… ugh!). In our dimension, it’s “truest” form is a fifteen-foot-tall black spider, pregnant with little baby-Its. But it’s actual, true form can only be seen outside of our dimension, in the emptiness outside of our universe, in what the book calls the multiverse. It’s true, multi-dimensional form is what It calls the “deadlights.” The deadlights are described as “a silvery-orange [the clown form wears a silver suit with orange pom-pom buttons] shifting shape,” “his [Ben Hanscom’s, one of the seven children who fight It] eyes could not grasp what he was seeing.” “It existed as a titanic, glowing core[…] of homicidal endless formless hunger,” “a great blind light” that “glared and moved, snarled and smiled” (Since I don’t have my book with me, I got the quotes from this interesting article.)
A “homicidal endless formless hunger?” When I was reading the final battle between the heroes and It, I couldn’t help but think of Giygas in M2. Giygas is also a homicidal endless formless hunger (Porky said, “You’ll just be another meal to him!”, and It refers to children as “meals”). Giygas is also a being of some other form of matter which can’t be damaged by conventional attacks. And Giygas is often referred to as existing in a dimension all its own. Not in the game, admittedly, but I’ve seen fans describe it as such, and in the game is seems like Giygas is all around you. And before you fight Giygas, what do you fight? Porky, in a machine shaped like… a spider! The final battle also takes place deep underground, just like the battle deep underground Derry, Maine in It. My mental image of It was very much like Giygas, except Giygas is a red homicidal endless formless hunger while It is an orange homicidal endless formless hunger.
But what’s even more similar between It and M2 is how the homicidal endless formless hunger is defeated. In M2, Giygas is defeated by praying, by the love and care everyone had for the Chosen Four. Likewise, in It, It is defeated (or at least horribly damaged) by childhood imagination, by belief. Actually, the themes behind It are kind of like the themes in M1’s Pollyanna song. The seven kids who fight against It need imagination and pure faith in themselves to defeat It, because It just can’t take that kind of power. It feeds off of fear.
So, when the hero Bill Denbrough, a kid with a bad stutter is about to be shown the deadlights (and killed, since a human mind can’t comprehend the multi-dimensional form of the deadlights), he hurts It and escapes the deadlights by reciting a short phrase that’s really hard for stuttering kids to say without stuttering, and which Bill always fantasized about being able to say. Later, when the kids are adults, It is again harmed by Richie Tozier, who uses one of his “Voices,” since he’s had an obsession with impressions since he was a kid and has since become a radio show host. Of course, It is permanently killed when Bill and Richie… well, punch and push their way into It’s spider-form and crush It’s heart with their bare hands… but still, it required childlike wonder to defeat It. Just like how the enemies of M1 and M2 are defeated by children singing a song, or children simply praying for each other.
I’m not saying that Giygas was inspired by It. But they are very similar, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Giygas was inspired by It (unless It was never translated into Japanese). Can anyone think of a third example of a homicidal endless formless hunger? One of these evil cosmic entity-type things?
Also, Itoi said the Tanetane Island hallucination sequence was similar to the TV show Lost, and Lost takes many inspirations from Stephen King, especially The Shining.
There’s a lot more stuff that inspired Itoi when he worked on the MOTHER/EarthBound games. If you missed them, here are a few others I’ve covered:
- The movie scene that inspired Giygas
- The book that was the basis for lots of stuff in MOTHER 3
- A whole bunch of stuff, some of which is inspiried and some of which is coincidence
If you’ve read/watched/heard any of the stuff that supposedly inspired stuff in the MOTHER/EarthBound games, post your thoughts and opinions or send them in through the contact form. This stuff interests me greatly
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19 Comments to EarthBound and Literary Inspirations
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