II)Alan Wake Plot and Gameplay Synopsis
III) Blog Synopsis and Analysis
1) Cauldron Lake
2) The Dark Presence
3) Deer Symbolism and Motifs
4) Light vs Darkness Motif in Media
This is free to reproduce or recreate. Knowledge is to be shared.Written by: Chris Strott
This is not a review. The point of this paper is to look at literary and gameplay motifs as well as symbolism in the Alan Wake universe. For this paper, I consider that universe to encompass: the six episodes that make up the game itself, the two special episodes that occur after the main campaign, the expansion Alan Wake: American Nightmare, the blog This House of Dreams, the mini-series Bright Falls and The Alan Wake Case Files short book that came with the collector’s edition of the game. The novel has a similar plot to the game, but it differs in some places from the other media in the Alan Wake universe, so I am not going to consider it for this paper.
I am a believer in the death of the author, but I do believe that the author can help provide insight. The final word however goes to the reader (or player in this case). Writer Sam Lake did an AMA (or a Q&A) on Reddit.com in which he partly discusses the meaning behind the ending of the game, as well as some other elements of the game. In addition, a Remedy (the developer of the game) employee responded to forum posts regarding Alan Wake on the Remedy Games message boards. I have read these, but I do not believe either to be a direct part of the universe.
II) Alan Wake Plot and Gameplay Synopsis20
Alan Wake is a third person shooter in which you play as writer Alan Wake. The game was released on May 28,2010, and is broken down into six episodes. Two epilogue episodes were released on July 27,2010 and October 12, 2010. The gameplay mainly consists of shining a flashlight on “Taken” (seemingly feral humans who have been corrupted by the Dark Presence) in order to make them vulnerable to bullets. Inanimate objects also get possessed and hurl themselves at Alan; a theme also found in many Stephen King novels. The story of Alan Wake could sit alongside King’s other novels, and King is quoted in the opening cutscene. Shining light on inanimate objects that become ‘Taken’ is the only thing necessary to eliminate them. Light posts serve as both checkpoints and safe points.
The game takes place in the year 2010 in the fictional town of Bright Falls. The story follows Alan Wake who encounters an evil called the Dark Presence which can turn fiction into reality. Alan receives aid along the way from Thomas Zane, a poet who encountered the Dark Presence in the in the 70’s.
In the game, writer Alan Wake visits the town of Bright Falls in the hopes of taking a break from his city life. After struggling to begin his next book, Alan hopes to clear his mind with a break from writing. His wife Alice has different intentions however, and has brought Alan to Bright Falls to see Dr. Hartman, a doctor specializing in helping artists.
The Wake’s rent a cabin on Bird’s Leg Isle which lies at the center of Cauldron Lake. The lake has a rich history of oddities and Native American Lore surrounding it. Shortly after arrival, the Dark Presence drags Alice into Cauldron Lake. The Dark Presence is an evil being that dwells in Cauldron Lake. It has always existed, and it has the power to make fiction into reality. Real world Native American culture seems to have largely influenced the lore behind the Dark Presence. “… [I]n… Native [American’s] (Cherokee/Creek/Seminole/Choctaw) world view, any way of speaking, be it in speech or in writing, becomes a living, breathing entity that once spoken, cannot be taken back”.5
Alan mistakenly believes at first that Alice has drowned in the lake, but instead the Dark Presence is holding her captive at the bottom of Cauldron Lake. Alan tries to wield the Dark Presence’s power to make fiction into reality to revive Alice. Instead the Dark Presence takes control of Alan, trapping him in what appears to be the Cabin on Bird’s Leg Isle. The Dark Presence tries to use Alan to help release its true power from Cauldron Lake. While under its control, Alan has no contact with the outside world. After a few days, Alan’s agent and long time friend Barry Wheeler becomes worried; prompting him to go to Bright Falls to make sure Alan is okay.
After a week under its control, Alan is able to write just enough to allow him to escape the clutches of the Dark Presence. After Alan frees himself with some help from his ‘mentor’ Thomas. Once free, Alan follows a trail of manuscript pages left by Thomas containing clues on how to stop the Dark Presence. The manuscript pages detail Alan's time in Bright Falls, including things he has yet to encounter. Alan wrote the manuscript while under the control of the Dark Presence. In the end, the compiled pages of the manuscript make up Alan’s new novel Departure. The paranormal events in Departure are coming true, and the Dark Presence is growing stronger by the day.
Seemingly, out of nowhere, Agent Nightingale of the FBI shows up. It is revealed in the Alan Wake Case Files16 that Nightingale is not on official FBI business, but is there of his own accord to try to capture Alan. Nightengale's served in New York with his partner Finn. Finn died under odd circumstances similar to what is happening to Alan in Bright Falls. Nightingale didn't believe Finn's crazy stories at the time, and he feels guilty he didn't help his partner. He isn't sure how Alan is connected, but he knows Alan is involved with the whatever killed Finn.16
The Dark Presense seems to have been active for decades. At least since 1970. In 1970 Thomas Zane lost his wife Barbara Jagger when she disappeared in Cauldron Lake while scuba diving. Thomas also tried to use the Dark Presence to write Barbara back through his poems. Thomas grew fearful of using the Dark Presence, but the Alan Wake Case Files reveals that his assistant Emil Hartman encouraged him to continue to write and see the extent of the Dark Presence’s powers.16 Thomas suffered the same fate as Alan however, and the Dark Presence took the form of Barbara and tried to force Thomas into releasing its true power from the lake through his poems.
|Cauldron Lake Lodge Sun Dial|
Dr. Hartman later opened a health center to (he says) treat people who came into contact with the Dark Presence in The Cauldron Lake Lodge. At the Lodge, there is a sundial that reads In Tenebras Cadere (“Fall into Darkness” in Latin). I believe this illustrates the idea that Dr. Hartman believed that artists who are able to channel the Dark Presence should ‘fall’ into the Dark Presence and try to use its power to its full potential.
Just before being completely taken over by the Dark Presence, Thomas was able to write a poem which stopped the Dark Presence by writing everything he had ever done out of existence (including bringing the Dark Presence into the world). In the Poem him and Barbara’s souls end up together in happiness, while their human forms, possessed by Light and Dark, continue their endless struggle.9 Writing everything about him, Barbara, and the Dark Presence out of existence in 1970 also destroyed Bird Leg Isle; the same place that Alan and Alice stayed in 2010.
Knowing the Dark Presence might resurface, Thomas left a backup plan to help anyone else the Dark Presence might use. Thomas ensured that the contents of any shoebox he leaves in the real world would remain intact and unaffected by his writing himself out of existence.9 Thomas employed Cynthia Weaver, a fan girl of Zane back in the 70’s, to guard the shoebox containing a special light switch, called the Clicker.
Alan’s mother gave him the Clicker during his childhood to help him deal with nightmares. Alan had given the same Clicker to Alice before they came to Bright Falls. This second Clicker in Thomas Zane's shoebox forms a kind of paradox; it is impossible to know if Alan wrote that Thomas would leave a Clicker in the shoebox, or if Thomas wrote that Alan would find a clicker in the shoebox. In the DLC expansion Alan Wake: American Nightmare, a manuscript page reads, “… reality is too complex. Ordinary questions become meaningless. [Like], ‘Who created who?’ and ‘What is really real?’”21. It seems when dealing with the magical evil that is the Dark Presence natural laws and logic don’t apply.
Regardless, Alan follows a trail of pages and clues left by Thomas to reach the Clicker, housed in the power plant of Bright Springs and guarded by Cynthia Weaver. Once armed with the Clicker, Alan makes his way to Cauldron Lake in hopes of destroying the Dark Presence and saving Alice. When Alan emerges from the power plant, it is daytime, even though Alan believed it should have been night. It is implied that the Clicker had something to do with it. However, by the time Alan reaches the Dark Presence at Cauldron Lake it is dark again.
At Cauldron Lake, Alan is able to get close enough to the embodiment of the Dark Presence, Barbara Yaggar, to shove the Clicker into a hole in its chest. This severely weakened the Dark Presence, and greatly inhibited its ability to manipulate anything outside of the Lake.
During his adventure, Alan figured out the reason Zane’s attempt to save Barbara failed. He realized when dealing with the Dark Presence everything must even out; or that there cannot be a plot hole. To save someone who the Dark Presence has killed or captured, someone else must take their place. Alan switches places with Alice, trapping himself in the Dark Presence’s home at the bottom of Cauldron Lake. At the end of the original six episodes, Alice safely emerges from the Lake, as the Dark Presence traps Alan in the embodiment of its home; the cabin that was on Bird’s Leg Isle. At the end of episode six, Alan’s last words are, “It’s not a lake, it’s an ocean.”. I believe this is referring to the fact that the Dark Presence is more powerful than what occurred during Alan Wake at Cauldron Lake. This interpretation is the same held by the writer, Sam Lake.9
There are two special episodes which deal with Alan trying to escape his imprisonment by the Dark Presence. These episodes are set entirely inside of Alan’s mind. They revolve around Alan fighting to free himself while trying to retain what sanity remains after his eventful two weeks in Bright Falls. At the end of the second episode, Alan begins typing the apparent sequel to his recently completed novel Departure, entitled Return.
Return tells the story of Alan trying to escape the Dark Place, this time by writing himself into a Night Springs Episode. These events are played out in the expansion DLC entitled Alan Wake: American Nightmare. By the end of the DLC, it is still not clear whether Alan has escaped the Dark Place at the bottom of Cauldron Lake. It is evident he has weakened it though.
III) Blog Synopsis and Analysis9
The blog “This House of Dreams,” elaborates on the history of Thomas, Barbara, and Emil and their time at Cauldron Lake. Fictional character Samantha Lake from the town of Ordinary buys a new house which she intends on turning into her dream home. While renovating she finds a shoebox full of knick-knacks, photos, and a batch of poems. The photos are of a man and women scuba diving in a lake. What appears to be black ink has blacked out the couple’s faces in the photos.
Curious about who wrote the poems, Samantha contacts the house’s previous owner’s family. The former owner of the house suffers from Alzheimer’s, and the daughter isn’t sure how her mother came into possession of the shoebox. Her best guess is that her mother probably bought the shoe box at a yard sale. The poems only attribution is a few initials. T. appears to be the author, while B. is his significant other, and E. seems to be a friend/editor. It is safe to assume that T is Thomas Zane, B is Barbara Yagger, and E is Emil Hartman.
Shortly after finding the shoebox, Samantha has a nightmare in which an FBI agent visits her house asking about the shoebox. The agents face, “was leaking inky smoke so that [Samantha] couldn’t see what he looked like.” After the dream, the shoebox, including the poems, went missing. I assert that the FBI agent was Nightingale under the control of the Dark Presence, trying to find anything else Thomas left behind that might hinder its quest for freedom from Cauldron Lake, and the power that comes with that freedom.
|Alan Wake's Jacket|
Samantha soon has another dream in which she intends to visit the previous owner of the house in order to learn where the shoebox came from. Instead, Samantha ends up visiting a man who was, “…wearing a funny jacket with old-fashioned elbow patches.” This sounds very similar to Alan Wake’s jacket in the game. I think it is safe to assume this character is Alan Wake. In the dream, Alan frantically and continually asks Samantha to turn on the lights. Right before she wakes up, Alan is shouting at her to turn on the lights. Awoken and distraught from the dream, she goes to get a glass of water and sees a man’s black silhouette outside. Alan knows the Dark Presence can't enter any kind of light, so the dream seems to be some kind of warning from Alan against an incoming attack. In the end, she calls a neighbor to check the yard for her, and he finds nothing.
Shortly after the dream, one night while listening to music at home, Samantha sees black silhouettes outside of her house. Upon seeing the silhouettes, the power in the house goes out and Samantha hears a window break. She runs to hide in the closet and calls 911. The closet bursts open before “…all went black.” The last thing she saw before she lost consciousness was the shoebox on a shelf in the closet. Samantha insists, “There was no way I could not have seen it before if it had been there since it went missing.” When the police arrived, they said that there were no signs of a break-in. After later investigating the newly found shoebox, Samantha finds six new poems inside of it, a title page, and an old light switch.
The first time Samantha tried flicking the light switch, the power went out in the whole neighborhood. She said a thunderstorm going on outside caused the power outage, but it is possible the switch has a supernatural power to control light similar to the Clicker in the video game. (The first time Alan used the Clicker in the game it became warm and sunny in Bright Falls, and he questioned whether the it had changed night into day.20)
Shortly after finding the shoebox and the new items, Samantha receives a phone call from an anonymous person warning her that she should stop writing about the shoebox and its contents in her blog. The caller says that the shoebox must remain a secret because there are people who might want to do terrible things in order to obtain it. Samantha says, “…in a way it felt a lot like my nightmare about the agent who came asking about the shoebox.”
Samantha again has a strange dream, in which she encounters the diver from the photographs. She says, “He looked nothing like in the photos, but it was the same man. He was the poet who wrote the poems as well.” The diver is described as, “…wearing a strange, heavy diving suit… shining with a bright light”9; the same way Thomas is depicted in Alan Wake.
In the dream, the diver explains how the Dark Presence has taken over his girlfriend, and that he has figured out how to stop it. The dream then shifts to Samantha being underwater with the diver, going into the center of the Dark Place, where anything spoken or written comes true. As they are descending, things start to surge up from below; “Things of darkness, but bright things of light as well”.9 The diver tells Samantha “…that these things, or these presences, were forever fighting a war between the forces of light and darkness”. This presents the idea that the Dark Presence has always existed. Thomas talks of one last poem about a safe haven from the darkness, “a ‘baby’ universe”9 where his and Barbara’s essence's, or souls, or whatever you want to call it can be together. Creating this universe would allow Thomas and Barbara's souls to rest in peace while leaving their bodies behind to be inhabited and used in the eternal war of light versus dark.
After the dream, Samantha has a feeling of hope; an expectation that, “…something amazing is coming.”9 (Perhaps setting up Alan Wake 2?)
1) Cauldron Lake
Cauldron Lake is the epicenter of the Dark Presence. It is where Thomas Zane lost his love Barbara Yagger, it is where Alan lost Alice, and it is where the Dark Presence is the strongest.
The real world’s Crater Lake inspired the design of Cauldron Lake.7 Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed in on itself almost 7,700 years ago to form the foundation for Crater Lake.
Geologically, the name for the foundation of Crater Lake is caldera, Spanish for cauldron.19 Over time the caldera filled with rainwater and snowmelt to become the deepest lake in the U.S., and the seventh deepest in the world at 592 feet.12
There are many myths surrounding Crater Lake. Just as Cauldron Lake houses the Dark Presence which dragged Alice and Barbara into its depths, Crater Lake is said to be, “…a haunt of water-devils who [drag] into it and [drown] all who [venture] near.”15
Native American myths about Crater Lake seem to have helped to inspire the Dark Presence. According to Clark’s “The Origin of Crater Lake,”2 the Klamath Indian tribe believed the entrance to the Below World, (more commonly known as the Underworld), is below Mt. Mazama. The myth says that the Chief of the Below World, or Llao, got spurned by a beautiful maiden and to get revenge he starts spewing fire from atop Mt. Mazama. This destroyed the mountain much in the same way a volcano might. After a few sacrifices from the village medicine men, the Chief of the Above World, or Skell, agreed to help the villagers and collapsed Mt. Mazama in on top of the Chief of the Below World, ideally trapping him there forever. This also formed the caldera where Crate Lake is in present day. The bottom of Cauldron Lake in Alan Wake may not be the underworld, but it defiantly houses a terrible evil.
2) The Dark Presence
The Dark Presence is the antagonist in Alan Wake. It seems to have no form of its own; it can appear in any form it wants. The Dark Presence draws influence from a few different cultures’ folktales about “witches,” or women with special powers. The Dark Presence shares similarities to the Klamath Indians’ legend of Llao, as well as with Slavic myths of Baba Yaga, and also to the Deer Woman of Oklahoma Native American lore.
The Anderson twins, siblings living under the care of Dr. Hartman at Cauldron Lake Lodge, refer to the Dark Presence as Baba Yaga, which is very close to Barbara Jagger. The name Baba Yaga is of Slavic origin. In Russian folklore, Baba Yaga is, “… usually shown as a…old woman”18. In most Slavic languages, Baba means “old woman.” Yaga is generally a feminine name, but it is also possible that it, “… comes from the old Russian verb yagat which means to abuse, to find fault.”18
In some folklore, Baba Yagga lives on a house that stands on chicken legs.13,18 This could be an allusion to Bird’s Leg Cabin, the cabin on Diver’s Isle at the center of Cauldron Lake. Diver’s Isle even looks like a chicken foot.
The Dark Presence also shares similarities to Native American legends surrounding the ‘Deer Woman’. The deer is one of the most prominent symbols that appear in Alan Wake, with banners and floats for the town’s ‘Deerfest’ scattered throughout Bright Falls.
Among contemporary Native American people of Oklahoma, the Deer Woman often plays a “’…bogeyman’ sort of role...”14; someone who seduces people into doing evil things.3 The Oklahoma Tribal council believes she has always been around, and that she is a door between life and death. According to lore, it is a bad omen to see her. In Carolyn Dunn’s “Deer Woman and the Living Myth of the Dreamtime” she says, “The only way to save you from the magic of the Deer Woman is to… recognize her for what she is.”4 This idea is also in Alan Wake. In order to defeat the Dark Presence Alan, just as Thomas did before him, must look past Barbara’s appearance, and recognize the Dark Presence for what it truly is.
The Deer Woman also has the ability to shape shift in some legends.29,4 In the Bright Falls mini-series, after Jake becomes scared of his black outs, he handcuffs himself to his refrigerator and sets up a camera to record himself. When Jake wakes up, he finds his room torn apart. Due to the jagged edges of the damage in the room, the investigating police officer infers that a deer did the damage. This damage might be the result of the Dark Presence, or Deer Woman, possessing Jake and then shape shifting his body into a deer.
3) Deer Symbolism and Motifs
The Deer is an oft repeated symbol throughout Alan Wake. The towns annual Deerfest occurred one week after Alan Wake arrived in Bright Falls. Banners, floats, and billboards of deer are littered everywhere throughout the town for the celebration. In the web miniseries, Jake’s first encounter with the Dark Presence is when he strikes a deer possessed by the Dark Presence with his car. Even though the deer seemed to suffer fatal injuries, it screeched and crawled into the woods. In the blog “This House of Dreams,”9 one of the first decorations that Samantha hangs in her house is antlers. There are many popular deer motifs found in both Alan Wake and literature
Legends often portray deer as victims; as hunted, “…persecuted animals.”5 In the old Buddhist story, “King Banyan Deer “1 the King of Benares has all the nearby deer rounded up and imprisoned in his park. He has one deer slaughtered per day for his dinner. There are copious amounts of video games which have the player hunting deer. In both Deer Hunter: Interactive Hunting Experience23 and in the Cabela’s Hunting Games video game series22 players hunt deer. People in trouble, like Alan during his week in Bright Falls, can often identify with persecuted and hunted animals.
Another very popular motif is the idea of the deer as a guide to other worlds. In the real world, hunter’s follow deer into a world very different from human life, or city life, into the wilderness. In the Welsh story Pwyll Prince of Dyved6; Pwyll follows a stag deep into the woods. Once he is able to catch up to the deer, he finds strange looking dogs have downed it. He drives off the dogs, and claims the deer as his own. Unfortunately for Pwyll, the dogs belonged to Arwan, King of the Otherworld (or Underworld) from Welsh mythology. As punishment, Pwyll takes Arwan’s place as King of the Otherworld. Following the deer guided Pwyll into an encounter with another world.
In The Hobbit17, white doe’s mark the borders of elven territory, an entirely different world to that of the protagonist Bilbo. In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe10, the child-protagonists enter a supernatural wardrobe that transports them to Narnia, a magical land unlike anything they have ever encountered. After a few years in Narnia, the now grown protagonists follow a white stag into a forest which transports them in space and time; back to their drastically different lives at their normal home and back to the time that they first found the wardrobe.
Biblical stories often tell of deer leading people to heaven, or to put it another way, to another world. Christianity has a much more cheery outlook on why the deer is luring people into the forest than the deer in Alan Wake.
4) Light vs. Darkness Motif in Media
A common gameplay element is using light to weaken enemies. Rock-n-Rope28 is the first game which has the player use a flashlight to daze enemies. Similar to Alan Wake, in ObsCure27 shining a flashlight on enemies weakens them. In Luigi’s Mansion26, flashlights weaken poltergeists so that Luigi can capture them with his Ghost Vacuum. Similarly, during a boss fight in the game Lego: Marvel Super Heroes25, a spotlight weakens the otherwise invincible boss so that he can be hurt. In the Kingdom Hearts24 series, exposing enemies known as the Heartless to light weakens or outright kills them.
In literature, the idea of light weakening or destroying enemies is also widespread. It is a very common motif throughout the Bible. In addition, in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath11 bright light kills creatures known as ghasts. Many tales involving Trolls state that sunlight turns them to stone, such as in The Hobbit.17