I like references and easter eggs in media. I might not always be as ‘in the know’ about certain things as others (my knowledge of Marvel comics and old American sitcoms is certainly not strong enough to get all of the things hidden away in WandaVision), but the idea of having little nuggets of a thing in something else has always delighted and intrigued me. Heck, I did an entire dissertation at university on references in the works of Chretien De Troyes (medieval romance writer), Edgar Wright (cult film director), and Hideki Kamiya (cult game director). At the time I posited a theory of ‘a game of intertextuality, intratextuality, and interactivity’. Despite their far flung differences in medium and background (a French medieval writer, a British film director, and a Japanese game director) I saw something that connected the fabric of their work. It was that connective tissue, that reverence for the things they enjoyed becoming new again, that became in my mind part of the reason I loved those works so much.
I did not receive a very good mark on that dissertation. Maybe it was too ‘out there’ for a place to set on the superiority of canonical texts as Cambridge, maybe it just wasn’t very good, who’s to say? But that same concept has returned to my mind again, and again, and again.
If Hideki Kamiya hadn’t made such strong use of Dante Alghieri’s The Divine Comedy in some of his most famous games (Devil May Cry and Bayonetta), I wouldn’t have had the desire to go and read it myself. Had I not read Dante’s Divine Comedy, I might not have had the success I did getting in to university where I did. Games like Tales of Symphonia, Bayonetta (once again), Tomb Raider: Underworld all had an impact on my fascination with Norse mythology which has only grown stronger with its constant inclusion in so many other things throughout film and literature. Books have led me to films, films have led me to books, games have led me to books, songs remind us of other songs. It’s a never-ending cycle of references that excite and entice, and I love it.
I know I’m not the only person who gets a kick out of these. After all, check the ridiculous number of ‘here are all the easter egg in X film you missed’ articles and YouTube videos that appear the second a new piece of media comes out. Sometimes it feels like people are just a bit too obsessed by this game of easter eggs, but I suppose it all comes down to the very human desire to find patterns and connections and labels to help us better understand the world around us.
Whether a reference is there purely to make people in the know smile (‘Diplomacy has failed’ in Bayonetta 2 being a direct reference to The Wonderful 101, both worked on by Hideki Kamiya and translator JP Kellams) or to posit a deeper reflection of a work by its connection to another (Philip Pullman’s use of John Milton’s Paradise Lost throughout His Dark Materials), I feel they’re both equally important and effective in the way the brain engages with it.
Whereas I used to think of it all as ‘a game of intertextuality’, I guess I now see it more of a ‘journey of references’. Not quite so snobby a concept but one that’s infinitely more exciting in its potential.
A single reference (big or small) has the potential to send you on a journey to so many new stories that may lead you on to many more. The use of Arthurian legend today in TV shows like Merlin or games as seemingly frivolous and Sonic and the Black Knight could lead you all the way back through the use of Arthur in history to those medieval romances like Gawain and the Green Knight or those of Chretien De Troyes to those histories that sparked it all like Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. That constant use of Norse mythology has certainly led me to get my hands on a copy of the Poetic Edda from which so much of it stems, but it also takes me forward as I’m constantly intrigued whenever anything features that Norse goodness.
Even things that aren’t intended to be references can lead to fascinating discoveries. The phrase “Pandæmonium rose like an exhalation” in Milton’s Paradise Lost inspired another dissertation I wrote and led to research into how breath and breathing was seen in the Renaissance. Honestly, that was one of the things I was most proud of in the work I did during my degree because it was a truly interesting bit of history as natural philosophy began to turn into the science we know today.
This is probably why I enjoy putting references in my own writing. It’s my way of paying homage to the things that have inspired me, it’s a little game for anyone who can spot it, but it could also start someone on a journey where they might find something else they really enjoy or learn something new.
Who knows, maybe someday someone will reference something I’ve written? I love the journey I’m potentially setting up for people, so it’d be incredible to be a link in someone else’s journey of references.
In the meantime, next time you spot something you recognise, or someone points out that it’s a reference to something else, follow it up. See where that journey leads you! It’s bound to be fascinating no matter where you end up!