Tropes of Eldraine

Throne of Eldraine will go down in history for its issues with regard to power level, but it also had its strengths. For one thing, it was one of the most flavorful sets in recent memory. Now, on the eve of our return to Theros, it's time to recapitulate …

Magic: The Gathering has long been taking inspiration from any number of themes. One Thousand and One Nights served as the basis for much of Arabian Nights, pharaonic Egypt contributed to Amonkhet, and who could forget the process behind Ixalan? With a return to Greek-themed Theros imminent, it's perhaps reasonable to go down the rabbit hole of Throne of Eldraine one last time!

cardboard crack

A pocket full of posies
A tissue, a tissue
We all fall down

A fairly common nursery/playground rhyme and, yes, before you start posting angry comments, I know that nursery rhymes were not part of the design process behind Magic's latest set. But some speculation of the rhyme's origins speaks to how the passage of time has softened the tone and appearance of darker tales and actualities of our past. This is as true in the material behind several of Eldraine's cards.

plague doctor

Hänsel und Gretel

curious pair

We'll start with a classic German tale, somewhat fitting here since Nordkapstraße 4 is actually made from gingerbread. The tale as told throughout all our various childhoods is pretty much as it was first told to the Brothers Grimm around 1812. The titular siblings are led into the woods by their parents and left there, only to discover a cottage, constructed from gingerbread, candy, cakes, with sugar pane windows.

trail of crumbs curious pair

Lost and very much hungry they begin to eat the roof, only to be lured inside by the resident witch. Gretel is made to work keeping everything clean while Hansel is caged and fattened. Long story short, they shove the witch into her own oven, and escape. Arriving back home, they discover their stepmother now dead, with their father having endured foul luck ever since.

gingerbread cabin witch's oven

The details change somewhat, as we look at earlier versions of the tale. Sometimes it's a biological mother and a woodsman, but the mother figure always dies in the end. This, some suggest, is because the mother and the witch are one and the same. In a Russian tale, Vasilisa the Beautiful, the stepmother sends the daughter to fetch an item from the stepmother's sister, who it turns out is the Baba Yaga.

baba yaga
Baba Yaga by Koka, 1916

It's felt that the ultimate roots of the tale are in the famine that struck early 14th century Europe. It's probable that the tale was born as a way to rationalize the need to abandon or even eat those who could not sustain themselves, fantasizing that the myriad Hansels and Gretels were perhaps going to survive their "adventure," and that they would come out the other end all the better for it. In truth, the five years of extreme privation caused not only a drastic decline in the population, but led in turn to an overall weakening of the physical constitution. 30 years after what was known as The Great Famine the Black Death struck, killing as many as 50 million people in Europe alone.

Can I Watch This Somewhere?

2005's The Brothers Grimm was a disaster, somehow. Directed by the genius Terry Gilliam and star-studded to the point of oversaturation it just didn't work. Too much to say in one two-hour sitting. Maybe a visit to a theatre? The story is a popular one for the boards, and keeping with the Magic theme here's a poster for a Croatian production—Ivica and Marica locally—with the artwork beautifully arranged by one Marina Mesar, also known as Oko!

ivica i marica

Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Riding Through the Glen

It will come as no great shock to learn that almost everything you've read about Robin Hood should be taken with no small amount of salt. It's literally impossible to say with any certainty who he was, where he came from, or indeed whether he actually existed in the vague form that we've come to know over the years.

What can be said to be "true" is that the accepted form of the legend is very much that of a dispossessed noble, back from the Crusades, Richard the Lionheart is imprisoned and Richard's younger brother Prince John is keeping the throne warm. We'll show later why this is patently fiction. We can thank Sir Walter Scott for that particular thread. His 1819 novel Ivanhoe presented the world with a romanticized notion of the Crusades, and of the now-named Robin of Locksley (Loxley in other media). Whereas all references prior to this literary work framed Robin Hood as a sometimes-bandit, now he was at the heart of the Saxon-Norman tensions that were a factor in British history. In that context Robber of the Rich really does feel flavorful. Broadly speaking the Normans had all the wealth, the Saxons did not.

In terms of the color pie our Robber could not be white or blue, because he's operating very much outside the law. If you think that our Robin Hood stand-in should be green, you're wrong. Plus, he's only green in popular culture because of 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood. Green played well on screens using the then-new Technicolor feature, which is why The Wicked Witch of the West was also green in 1939's The Wizard of Oz.

Can I Watch This Somewhere?

The aforementioned movie from the 1930s ages somewhat. It's no Citizen Kane or The Seventh Seal. There wouldn't be a Robin Movie of note until Bryan Adams did everything he could to bring you one of the most pervasive songs of the summer. Costner's turn as the Prince of Thieves was terrible, with the movie taking several liberties with the general tale. None more so than including Morgan Freeman whose character never actually existed until introduced in 1984's Robin of Sherwood. Watch that instead. Three seasons of great action, an unbeatable soundtrack from Clannad, and a slew of names and faces you surely recognize. Just ask your mother about Prince Michael from Dynasty …

Fun fact: I am 90% sure that Phil Rose, who played Friar Tuck in the show, was drinking in Fred's Ale House on Stockport Road when I was there before GP Manchester in 2016.

Arthur Pendragon

Let there be no doubt, Kenrith is Arthur. Here he is dealing with a Knight of the Ebon Legion:

kenrith, the returned king monty python

His supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, and not from some farcical aquatic ceremony …


… oh.

His legend, however, has seen embellishment upon embellishment upon embellishment. John Boorman's Excalibur, truthfully the only Arthurian movie you should see had Camelot being built as a castle-city King's Landing-style, coated in gold. No matter when you think Arthur might have existed, and this will always have been prior to the arrival of the Normans and the Vikings, castles didn't really exist as we're thinking of them here. Keeps, like those in Beowulf, or like Craster's place in Game of Thrones, were what was built during this era.

Much in the same way that the origins of Robin Hood were eventually sculpted into an "accepted" shape by Ivanhoe, Arthur and his treatment by Boorman was heavily influenced by Mallory's Le Morte Darthur. Monty Python used elements of Mallory's work to produce my favorite of their expansive work, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, while the third and final Indiana Jones movie referenced the divine inferences contained within those 15th century pages.

Not long after Le Morte became must-read material for the hoi polloi, the notion of royalty as having divine right insinuated itself into the narrative of court life itself. Just look how clean and polished these saintly knights would seem, until Excalibur (for a bit) and later Brannagh's Henry V, and then modernity's Arthurian-esque Game of Thrones.

Anáil nathrach orth bhais betha, do cheol déanta …

… Serpent's breath, charm of death and life, thy omen of making.

If you've got anything to add, or want to see something expanded upon, then don't forget to comment. You can also find me on Twitter!

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