Vinland Saga: hate and forgiveness

Is it really possible to change as a person? Can a human being animated by pure hatred and revenge become a pacifist? Vinland Saga was a pleasant surprise. After watching The Northman for the fifth time, I was obsessed by revenge stories. One of the first results on Google was Vinland Saga, a manga set in the Viking era. The plot was as simple as the one depicted in The Northman. A kills B and C seeks revenge for B with the clear intent of killing A. It is no coincidence that most of the stories featuring Vikings are about revenge. One of the most important deities of the Norse mythology is represented by Víðarr who embodies the very concept of revenge.

The god Víðarr will fight in the Ragnarǫk, the end of the world, and his task will be to avenge his father Odin. Revenge is the best tool to preserve honour and ego: it is not just something entirely negative. Hurting those who committed a crime is nothing but justice. Fearing retaliation for committing an injustice also has the function of stopping a crime before it happens.

“Brushwood grows and high grass

widely in Vidar’s land

and there the son proclaims on horseback

his eagerness to avenge his father”

If we did not pay for the crimes committed, how many of us would be guilty of the most serious offenses? A lot of us. And if we talk about justice, wouldn’t the concept of “forgiveness” perhaps be an affront to the victims? How could it be possible to forgive someone who has done a serious crime to you or to someone you care about? A theft, a violence, a humiliation, a murder? It could be argued that the old and dear concept of “an eye for an eye” can only lead to more despair and hatred, which would lead to a new act of retaliation, in an endless cycle of revenge. You really have to be an incredibly strong (or incredibly weak) person to let go of your revenge fantasies and focus on the future.

Vinland Saga: justice, revenge and honour

This is the riddle of Thorfinn, who saw his father die at the hands of a mercenary for no apparent reason. Thorfinn lets anger and hatred take over and he meditates revenge towards his father’s killer. He is only  six year old but he begins his training. Askeladd, his father’s killer, seeing potential in him, makes him a proposal: join his army, prove his worth in battle, and earn the right to face him in a duel to avenge his father. Thorfinn doesn’t intend to cut Askeladd’s throat in his sleep. That would not be honourable: he must avenge his father by honestly winning in a duel. And this is how young Thorfinn begins his apprenticeship under the command of his father’s killer.

“The strongest lives and the weakest die” become his new mantra and he acts accordingly, joining the Danes and raiding the cities of Great Britain. Until, by a fortuitous circumstance, his desire for revenge is stolen from him. This causes it to become an empty shell. Without revenge, Thorfinn is nothing. From there, he begins his journey towards healing, but it is never entirely possible to escape from the past (a very dear theme even to the latest God of War which, not surprisingly, deals with Norse mythology). Perhaps it is impossible to be non-violent in such a world.

Vinland Saga is a highly recommended manga that comes close to the moral ambiguity of Berserk and Vagabond.

Silent Hill II: a traumatic past

Once upon a time in 2006

I was 9 and I attended grammar school. It wasn’t a good time of my life. I lived in a small town, far from home. I felt alone. I had no one to talk to. The days were grey and they were all the same to me: waking up, going to school, sport, studying and so on. I guess it’s a common routine for a child of that age. The days were so identical that I could not even tell them apart.

But at the bottom of this endless greyness, there was a light. I was the proud owner of a Playstation 2 and I had a stack of games inherited from my neighbour. One game title stood out among all.

Silent Hill II is a name that has appeared frequently in these pages. It is hard to convey the emotions I felt the moment I experienced it. I was confused, scared, disoriented. I wouldn’t have described that game as a good experience.

The long walks through the streets of Silent Hill in a thin fog, the monsters with a human appearance and the brutal and sexual nature of some moments made me feel a strong feeling of discomfort. It made me feel dirty. This is a further proof of the masterful job from Konami in painting a psychological picture of such complexity.

I didn’t understand the story perfectly. I didn’t grasp the references to Carl Jung and David Lynch. One thing I understood for sure: a guy was looking for his dead wife in a town full of monsters. And the plot, at least in appearance, is simple as that.

mountain slope covered with trees
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on

James Sunderland receives a letter from Mary, her wife, who died three years earlier from cancer. She begs him to return and meet her in Silent Hill, the city symbol of their special place. Confused, James leaves for the city but, once he is there, he doesn’t find the idyllic Silent Hill of which he cherished a fond memory.

Now everything is rotten, ravaged and inhabited by disgusting creatures, monsters and humans. On his journey to this hell, James will meet several people. The first is Angela Orosco, a mentally unstable girl whose emotional state is deeply damaged from the continuous memories of the sexual violence she endured inflicted by her father and from the psychological abuse caused by her mother.

Silent Hill and the shadows of the past

As the story unfolds, James meets Eddie Dombrowski, a severely overweight boy who has had severe self-esteem problems due to bullying. Here, the player has the sensation something is slightly off.

How come all the humans James meets are indifferent to the chaos that reigns in Silent Hill? Why is no one worried about the deformed monsters that appear in every part of the city? A further question arises when James meets Laura, an 8-year-old girl with no parents who roams the streets of Silent Hill carelessly.

As it turns out, Laura was friends with Maria, James’s wife, and came to Silent Hill on purpose to see her again. There is definitely something wrong here. It almost seems as if each of the characters is walking into a different and personal version of Silent Hill-Also, this city seems to attract a certain type of person.

One of the most common explanations is that Silent Hill is a purgatory, a place where anyone who has failed to overcome a severe trauma is finally forced to face it. Silent Hill is a shape-changing purgatory based on each person’s fear and trauma.

James still feels guilty about his wife’s death and he can’t get rid of the survivor syndrome. Every monster he encounters is full of sexual allegorical meanings.

Mannequin is an example of James’ clear sexual frustration when Mary was battling cancer. Pyramid Head, the faceless monster who takes what he wants by force. The character of Maria is also noteworthy. Maria is the physical copy of Mary, but her personality is completely different: she is the stripper of Heaven’s Night, a night club situated in Silent Hill. Maria could represent Mary’s split personality, as well as James’s sexual desire.

Still in that city

Silent Hill II is a journey into the depths of the human psyche. No wonder a game so full of metaphors, hatred, trauma and redemption gave me such a negative feeling as a child.

James’s journey will finally lead him to the truth, to the “special place” shared with Mary. There are six available endings. Not a single one of them is canon. I can just talk about the ending I had in my run that I first completed (I never finished the game as a kid) a few months ago. The ending called Leave: James has the opportunity to face his past once and for all and talks to his wife for the last time. James finally leaves Silent Hill with Laura. He has earned the right to process the trauma and leave the city. Silent Hill has one less soul to torment.

I am grateful I experienced this ending: the other epilogues had a much bleaker development. Still, a part of me will always be part of that city. Maybe Jame has abandoned Silent Hill for the moment. But, sometimes, I can still see it in my dreams. James has made his journey. I can’t say the same for me. Silent Hill called me to answer of my past a long time ago. I suspect my journey will be a long one.

But I don’t mind. I’m still in Silent Hill.