Exploring Tomb Raider Mythology

March 2nd, 2018Exploring Tomb Raider Mythology

Lara Croft is back. In the video game star’s rebooted big-screen return, Alicia Vikander plays our favorite Tomb Raider. The story is an adventure based on 2013’s game Tomb Raider, which itself rebooted the story for gamers. Audiences will see Lara plunged into a world of gods and monsters, with dangerous artifacts luring her and others to a remote location.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find Lara’s enemies are rooted in real-world mythology. In this case, the adventure will take her to the legendary Japanese island of Yamatai. There, she’ll find against Himiko, the Sun Queen. What’s the basis for these legends?

Welcome to Yamatai

According to China’s Orthodox Histories, in 238AD the Wei emperor received a diplomatic mission from Queen Himiko, ruler of the land of Wa. It’s actually implied that Himiko was a shaman priestess, respected for her sorcerous power. According to Gishi no Wajinden, Himiko had “occupied herself with magic and sorcery, bewitching the people.” She was said to be attended by a thousand attendants – but only one man. The Chinese government seems to have considered Himiko a powerful ruler.

When Queek Himiko died, her people constructed a massive burial mound in her honor. A male ruler took her place, but the country swiftly fell into disarray. “Assassination and murder followed,” Gishi no Wajinden notes. “More than one thousand were thus slain” Peace only came when Iyo, a 13-year-old relative of Himiko, finally settled on the throne.

The Tomb Raider franchise has always loved using real-world mythology as a backdrop to the action and adventure. The Cradle of Life, for example, explored both the legend of Atlantis and the real-world location Ol’doinyo Lengai. It’s no surprise to see the movie repeat that approach. But what can be expect from Tomb Raider‘s adaptation?

Lifting From The Games

The plot of Tomb Raider is lifted straight from 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot. The game saw Lara stranded on the island of Yamatai, gradually uncovering the legends of Himiko. She learned that the Sun Queen had never actually died; she had transferred her consciousness from body to body, continuing her rule for millennia.

Finally, one of Himiko’s hosts committed suicide as Himiko’s spirit overwhelmed her own. The act had left Himiko trapped, unable to free herself from the spirit world once again. A group of cultists launched the Ascension ritual, an attempt to give Himiko a new body. Lara wound up battling to prevent the Sun Queen’s return.

It’s a fascinating twist on the legends of Himiko and Yamatai. What remains to be seen is how much the game has been adapted for the film; the movie certainly features Himiko cultists, but nobody has officially been cast as the Sun Queen’s spirit.

In gaming, the Tomb Raider reboot was universally praised, and fan expectation is high for an accurate adaptation. Whatever the case may be, this is clearly a movie that will explore the mythology of Tomb Raider; and that’s a thrilling prospect.

Tomb Raider hits theaters on March 16.

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