The Secret of Nu by RabidTurtle
with contributing discussion by many
I. The Secret of Nu A. Notes on Symbolism B. Theories on Origin II. Concerning the Kingdom of Zeal A. Castles in the Air B. Aged Like a Fine Wine C. The Real Zeal D. The Culture of Zeal E. Events Concerning the Rise of Zeal F. Sunk to the Bottom
The Secret of Nu
In Enhasa, hidden away in one of Belthasar's secret rooms, is a book, titled "The Mystery of Life, vol. 841." Upon perusing the book, the party reads an excerpt from Chapter 26; "All life begins with Nu and ends with Nu...This is the truth! This is my belief! At least for now..." What cryptic message lies herein? Many past players have dismissed it along with Nu as an enigma, but RabidTurtle of OCR holds striking new insight to this passage in Zeal. Keep in mind that Belthasar doesn't sign his name to the piece. Perhaps he found the book and stores it in his library, while it is actually an ancient text from millennia earlier. He may only be analyzing it rather than writing it. In either case it might not be relevant who wrote it as it still has interesting symbolism regardless.
Notes on Symbolism
The Mystery of Life" Vol. 841 Ch. 26 All life begins with Nu and ends with Nu... This is the truth! This is my belief! ...at least for now.
Now I'm sure that many people who play Chrono Trigger have found this room already. However, I don't think that they know what it means. I have a theory. "Nu" is a letter of the Greek alphabet and looks a little like a "v". Nu, in it's early forms, is closely associated with water. In early Egyptian, it was even written as a horizontal squiggly line, resembling water. Now, knowing that Nu is a symbol of water, integrated into Belthasar's writings, it looks like the following:
All life begins with water and ends with water... This is the truth! This is my belief! ...at least for now.
It is true, that life begins with water, in two separate interpretations even. Life on Earth is assumed to have begun in the oceans, with prokaryotic organisms evolving to more advanced beings. In a less general interpretation, babies survive in amneotic fluid during incubation. This is true for all mammals, and other species, in some form or another (e.g. chickens in eggs with fluid surrounding them). As for "All life ends with water," this selection of the message has many possibilities. Maybe it pertains to a cadaver's response to death with an action of fluid in the body, or it could be related to global warming and apocalypse with waters swallowing all the Earth's land. A reference to Chrono Cross and any of its sea themes that relate to destruction or the end of the world and time is reasonable. In fact, upon Serge's tombstone, this is written:
RIP Our beloved Serge Died at the age of 7 No one can take anything away from him Nor anyone can give anything to him For what has come from the SEA has returned to the SEA
In association with the general interpretation for "All life begins with Nu," Belthasar's full message could be the rise and destruction of life itself. There's an evolutionary theme in the plots of Chrono Trigger (pre-battle messages during Lavos' final form) and Chrono Cross (the top room of Fort Dragonia, where theres a mural on the wall depicting evolution, with Lavos changing humanity's course). Water created life, which evolves, and has a large capacity to destroy itself. But, pertaining to Chrono Trigger / Chrono Cross, Lavos guided the evolution of species, and killed them. Belthasar's final message "This is the truth! This is my belief!...at least for now" could be related to Crono changing the future, and Lavos not destroying the world. It was assumed that because the Fall of Zeal created cataclysmic flooding ("ends with water..."), this is what Belthasar was implying. Zeal's fall does not apply to Belthasar's notes. The book explicitly states "All life ends with..." and not all life ended in 12000 B.C. A question arose, concerning Belthasar's reference to the future in his notes and my theory. Belthasar postulated the Nu notes prior to his exodus to 2300 A.D., and he may have changed his ideas when he arrived in the new future. However, I believe that he still clings to his original theory, which is more or less symbolized by putting his faith (and programming) into a Nu in the Keeper's Dome.
Assuming that Belthasar is referring to 1999 A.D. (see paragraph eight), there is a conflict of interpretation. After the Apocalypse, humans survived at least 300 years, Lavos reigned from Death Peak (according to Queen Zeal, who states this if you try to enter the Black Omen for the first time in 2300 AD), and mutants/robots are the primary inhabitants of the planet. Supposedly, all living things would die off during the post-apocalypse, and this includes not only humans, but mutants. Now, the difference in interpretation occurs when robots come into question. When Belthasar wrote "All life ends," was he including robots? Life is primarily defined as:
Dictionary.com: "The property or quality that distinguishes living organisms from dead organisms and inanimate matter, manifested in functions such as metabolism, growth, reproduction, and response to stimuli or adaptation to the environment originating from within the organism.
This obviously discounts the belief that robots are alive. However, the third definition of Life is:
The physical, mental, and spiritual experiences that constitute existence."
This is the Platonic definition of life, which would apply to sentient beings like robots. And although the robots of 2300 A.D. did not have conventional spirituality, the Mother Brain did have a structured belief in creating a world of robots, a "nation of steel." So, in the end, it all depends on what Belthasar's intent was. And since whoever developed Belthasar's little enigma is obviously not on-hand to tell us, we can reach no definite answer as to whether Belthasar meant the biological or Platonic definition of life in his notes.
There have been many comments and criticisms of my theory on Nus. A number of people believe that I delved too deeply into Belthasar's notebook, and that it was just there to be there. However, I have a basis for going through all of this. Squaresoft, the creator and developer of Chrono Trigger, tends to put life lessons, hidden plot additions, and enigmatic references in every game I can think of. Was the Zack cinema in the Shin-Ra Mansion's basement there just to be there? No. It was a reward for re-visiting a secluded area, and it was a enhanced the overall story of the game. Squaresoft does this countless times its game developing history, and it ranges from revelations from talking with villagers, to secret CG sequences for accomplishing certain feats. Belthasar's book was hidden in a corner of a secret room in Enhasa, Zeal. In addition, it looked like an ordinary book, and could have easily been overlooked. I do believe that there was a definite intention to create an enigma in the book to be solved, and I truly hope that I have at least gone in the right direction in revealing the secret of Nu.
More Nu symbolisms, and water/life/death correlations from the forum discussion at OCRemix follow here. Hallah contends that in Roman mythos, "nu" was kind of analogous to existence/soul. If I could find this, I would agree with it, but I searched the internet and I could not discover this particular nu.
There are cultural references to sending the dead into water. The Romans believed that the dead had to cross the river Styx to reach the afterlife. The Vikings often set the bodies out to sea believing that the afterlife was there. Often if diseased or contaminated animals fall into a drinking water supply, all life in the area would become infected too. Thus, it would kill life to all who drank there (pertaining to how the black plague was carried as well as malaria in South America). There are even beliefs that the afterlife ends with the introduction of water. Some cultures believe that the souls of the dead cannot cross water. The Chinese must inform the dead that they will cross a body of water before doing so, otherwise the soul might not cross. Even in American folklore, the headless horseman could not cross the Pocantico river when it was high. In India, they take the ashes of their deceased and throw it into the river Ganges. Former Beatle George Harrison had this done after his death.
The global symbolism, in all cultures, of water in with life and death reinforces the Nu theory. EH elaborates:
There is a very famous Zen koan that you guys might be interested in. If you're not familiar to what a koan is, it's a small story, usually a dialogue between a Zen master and his disciples, that reveals some truth about the nature of Zen, often in very confusing ways. In fact, many of these are amusing and comical. Anyway, one of the most well-known Zen koans goes like this:
A disciple asked the Zen Master Chao-chou: "Does a dog have the Buddha nature?"
The Master replied "Mu!" And this disciple instantly achieved enlightment.
Now the meaning of the word Mu is hard to explain, it's literally "not!", and it could be seen to be nothingness, but of course in Zen there is not simply nothingness, but also simultaneously everythingness, so it's hard to put down it's exact meaning, and I think it varied for everyone. Here's one interesting explanation:
A monk asked Chao-chou, "Has the dog Buddha nature or not?" Chao-chou said, "Mu."
For the practice of Zen it is imperative that you pass through the barrier set up by the Ancestral Teachers. For subtle realization it is of the utmost importance that you cut off the mind road. If you do not pass the barrier of the ancestors, if you do not cut off the mind road, then you are a ghost clinging to bushes and grasses. What is the barrier of the ancestral Teachers? It is just this one word "Mu" -- the one barrier of our faith. We call it the Gateless Barrier of the Zen tradition. When you pass through this barrier, you will not only interview Chao-chou intimately, you will walk hand in hand with all the Ancestral Teachers in the successive generations of our lineage -- the hair of your eyebrows entangled with theirs, seeing with the same eyes, hearing with the same ears. Won't that be fulfilling? Is there anyone who would not want to pass this barrier? So, then, make your whole body a mass of doubt, and with your three hundred and sixty bones and joints and your eighty-four thousand hair follicles concentrate on this one word "Mu." Day and night, keep digging into it. Don't consider it to be nothingness. Don't think in terms of "has" and "has not." It is like swallowing a red-hot iron ball. You try to vomit it out, but you can't. Gradually you purify yourself, eliminating mistaken knowledge and attitudes you have held from the past. Inside and outside become one. You're like a mute person who has had a dream--you know it for yourself alone. Suddenly Mu breaks open. The heavens are astonished, the earth is shaken. It is as though you have snatched the great sword of General Kuan. When you meet the Buddha, you kill the Buddha. When you meet Bodhidharma, you kill Bodhidharma. At the very cliff edge of birth-and-death, you find the Great Freedom. In the Six Worlds and the Four Modes of Birth, you enjoy a samadhi of frolic and play. How, then, should you work with it? Exhaust all you life energy on this one word "Mu." If you do not falter, then it's done! A single spark lights your Dharma candle.
Anyway, I think the "Nu" might be a reference to Zen teachings, or nothingness, since it sounds very similar. Also, "nu" in Japanese is simply one letter.
That concludes Evilhead's explanation. Anyway, I'll give credit to this one for it's extreme detail and spirituality reference to life, but I don't see how, even though they're similar, Mu could be Nu. And Nu in Japanese doesn't really have a symbolism to it that would apply to Belthasar's notes whatsoever.
The Egyptian creation myths (which are among the first creation myths) state that in the beginning there was only Nu, an endless expanse of water. Out of Nu came either Atum or Khepri (depending on which myth you look at) who's will created the egyptian gods and evenually the egyptian people. Nu is also a key figure in the Egyptian myth "The Destruction of Mankind" which is a kind of "end of the world" myth. The Egyptians placed Nu at the beginning and ending of all things, much like Balthasar theorized in his hidden book.
ZenthWolf: Hmm... Well, something I haven't seen talked about is actually quite simple. Think simply of the calendar. It begins and sends during the same season, winter. So, in a sense, even the planet itself begins with Nu and ends with Nu. Another single point I have has to do with the life/death of a living creature. The only true cause of death, is lack of oxygen to the brain. Every cause of death causes something that keeps oxygen from going to the brain. Asphyxiation (suffication) is an obvious example, as is drowning. Heart attacks work as well, because blood transfers oxygen. I'd also say in starvation or extreme conditions, you eventually just lose the energy needed to pump your heart. Now, the point to make with the oxygen related note, is the chemical compound of water (H20; and we all know the "2" is supposed to be a sub-script). So, one of the atoms that creates water is the very thing that lets us live, and without which, we surely perish. And also, for robots. Robots can't function infinitely forver, as Robo proved. Water can be a ~killer~ of machines, in that it makes it metal rust. But there'd have been no machines without water to spawn an organism to make the machine/robot. This is here simply so we need not worry whether or not robots were considered part of "Life."
Radox Redux added to the discussion in 2007 with notes from Wikipedia entries (yeah, that means they're automatically true...oh come on; Wikipedia is not that unreliable!).
In Greek, “first principles” are arkhai, starting points, and the origin of the physical world and the faculty used to perceive them is sometimes referred to in Aristotle and Plato as “nous” which was close in meaning to “awareness” and therefore “consciousness”. This leaves open the question of whether we become aware by building up and comparing experiences -- such as the Entity -- or some other way. Nous is a Greek word (pronounced "noose"), that corresponds to the English words intelligence, intellect, intuition or mind. It signifies a search for order by the part of the soul or mind that knows and thinks. In some forms of Greek mythology, order was imposed by an anthropomorphic father of all things, the Demiurge (or God).
In philosophy, there were three ordering principles:
1. arche - the source of all things. The idea of an arche was first philosophized by Thales of Miletus, who claimed that the first principle of all things is water. His theory was supported by the observation of moisture throughout the world and coincided with his theory that the earth floated on water. Thales' theory was refuted by his successor and estimated pupil, Anaximander. Anaximander noted that water could not be the arche because it could not give rise to its opposite, fire. Anaximander claimed that none of the elements (earth, fire, air, water) could be arche for the same reason. Instead, he proposed the existence of the apeiron, an indefinite substance from which all things are born and to which all things will return. Anaximenes, Anaximander's pupil, advanced yet another theory. He returns to the elemental theory, but this time posits air, rather than water, as the arche. Anaximenes suggests that all is made from air through either rarefication or condensation (thinning or thickening). Rarefied, air becomes fire; condensed, it becomes first wind, then cloud, water, earth, and stone in order. Remember the books in Zeal?
2. logos - the underlying order that is hidden beneath appearances. It is often translated into English as "Word" but can also mean thought, speech, meaning, reason, proportion, principle, standard, or logic, among other things. By the time of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, logos was the term used to describe the faculty of human reason and the knowledge (fitting for the Guru of Reason) men had of the world and of each other. Plato allowed his characters to engage in the conceit of describing logos as a living being in some of his dialogues. The development of the Academy with hypomnemata brought logos closer to the literal text. Aristotle, who studied under Plato, first developed the concept of logic as a depiction of the rules of human rationality.
3. harmonia - numerical ratios in mathematics. Harmonia is the natural state of being of all creatures asserted by Plato.
The word Nous signifies more than one concept. It is therefore ambiguous. This is a result of the word being appropriated by successive philosophers to designate very different attributes.
- Homer used Nous to signify mental activities in general.
- Anaxagoras's Nous was a mechanical ordering force that formed the world out of an original chaos. It began the development of the cosmos.
- Plato described it as the immortal, rational part of the soul. This section of the soul of the world is the component that brings reasoned order to the universe. It is a godlike kind of thinking in which the truths of conclusions are immediately known without having to understand the preliminary premises.
- Aristotle asserted that Nous was the intellect, as distinguished from sense perception. He divided it into an active and passive Nous. The passive is affected by knowledge. The active is an immortal first cause of all subsequent causes in the world. To the Stoics, it was the same as Logos. This is the whole cosmic reason. It contains human reason as a part. (Belthasar sure liked his Nus.)
- Plotinus described Nous as one of the emanations from divine being. This sounds like the Entity, and goes well with the idea that Nu are watchers of the planet.
Theories on Origin
Since Nu only appear in the eras designated the Entity for Crono's use, as do the Gurus from the Ocean Palace Incident, perhaps Nu are a creation of Zeal. Under this theory, many were scattered during the fall of Zeal or Ocean Palace Incident, appearing across time. This theory also accounts for how Belthasar can program his Nu, as it establishes that they are created beings and not independent sentients. Nonetheless, we never see Nu gated to other eras in the game. One exception is the one in 65000000 B.C. at the Laruba ruins, who carries the SilverRock (as the rocks themselves were probably engineered in Zeal).
Under this theory, the Nu are a species evolved from 65000000 B.C. onward; they mostly stayed in the shadows until the creation of Zeal, when they went with the people of Zeal to live in the pristine environment in the sky. In the modern era, as time wore on with deforestation and urbanization, they became increasingly reduced in number. Strangely, they have the capacity to be reprogrammed like a machine, as Belthasar kept a Nu assistant.
Conclusion and Thanks
Does this mean Nu is connected to water in Chrono Trigger? As with most real world influences, links can be coincidental or tenuous at best. If the developers wanted to link the Nu to water, they could have made it more obvious by naming them the Japanese word mizu. Also, while we can trace it all backwards, it would be much harder to find the thing that means water then trace the lineage forward and come up with a name that is viable; there would be too much risk of it being a failure when they could put those man-hours into something else. Nonetheless, there are interesting similarities. Take it as food for thought.
I appreciate the contributions of everyone who furthered The Secret of Nu thread with relevant discussion on the OCRemix forums. Special thanks go to the following:
- ZeaLitY, for thread bumping, the Nu-counting contribution, posting this compiled version of The Secret of Nu from the OCRemix forums on the Chrono Compendium, and support for my Secret of Nu theory.
- Ybrik Metaknight, for the discussion on Belthasar's reference to a pre- or post-Lavos battle timeline as well as a sub-topic discussion on the bliss of ignorance, and for his support on this and other threads.
- ifirit, for a heated discussion on whether Robo and the rest of the robots are "alive" or not, for his additions to the water/life/death correlations, and for contributing to The Secret of Nu thread.
- Kiyosuki, for an more overanalyzation and life-interpretation contributions, and an appreciation for the Secret of Nimh and Fahrenheit 451 (the latter of which I have yet to read =/ )
- Akuen, for Nu-counting and Greek alphabet contributions, Scandinavian mythology clarification, support for my Secret of Nu theory, and a fine appreciation for the taste of chicken. ^^
- Evilhead, for the extensive Zen koan theory.
- hhallahh, for the Roman mythos theory.
- StarZander, for water/life/death contributions.
- ExcelHyatt, for the life-interpretations contributions.
- Dain, for the Egyptian origin of life comments.
- ZenthWolf, for the seasonal, oxygen, and calendar comments.
- Stratos and Sigma, for the overanalyzation concept.
- and You, for taking the time to read this. - RabidTurtle
Concerning the Kingdom of Zeal
Concerning the Kingdom of Zeal by Lord J Esq
October 14, 2003
Table of Contents:
- Castles in the Air, pp. 1
- Aged Like a Fine Wine, pp. 1
- The Real Zeal, pp. 2
- The Culture of Zeal, pp. 3
- Events Concerning the Rise of Zeal, pp. 8
- The Rise of Zeal, pp. 11
- Lavos-Based Theories for the Raising of Zeal, pp. 16
- Sunk to the Bottom, pp. 17
"It all began ages ago, when man's ancestor picked up a shard of a strange red rock... Its power, which was beyond human comprehension, cultivated dreams... In turn, love and hate were born... Only time will see how it all ends." ~ Balthasar
Castles in the Air
No point beating around the bush -- when I saw Zeal for the first time I was moved. In that moment a theretofore interesting game all at once became the best I had ever played. I remember lingering for a long time in Enhasa, checking everything out, sitting back watching the clouds roll by on the world map, and taking in the musical piece that for a long time was my favorite on the soundtrack. Then I had to use the Skyway to get to the next continent -- and I landed right back on that awful surface. It was cold, no music, and unenlightened! I wasted absolutely no time getting back up there onto the main continent. I was addicted. It was all too soon that Crono & Co. were banished from the era. And later, Zeal was of course destroyed altogether. If 600 B.C. was a steady flame, the Kingdom of Zeal was a brilliant flash of light that shone across the ages.
Aged Like a Fine Wine
So it is that you will understand my bias when I say that I believe the kingdom is an old one. The bottom line is that it would cheapen and bastardize Zeal -- in my mind -- if it were merely the creation of one ruler (or two) across a span of ten or twenty years. That's like saying Rome was built in a day.
RPGs have always had to imply vastness with few materials. No RPG village or town actually has thousands of citizens drawn there on the screen -- they have five, ten, and perhaps the great capitals have thirty or so people in them. Thirty people! Obviously, the idea is to suspend the player's disbelief that she or he will accept the artistic interpretation that one is many, that a single house stands for one hundred houses, that one shop represents all merchants, that one ship implies a formidable naval presence.
Zeal is such a place. It is much larger, much richer, and much more populous than the SNES graphics could ever allow. It leaves so much to the imagination. The "cities" of Enhasa and Kajar were obviously more than the one big room apiece allotted to them in the game's software. And when a nation is that large, that rich, that populous -- and that distinct, you can bet your breeches that it has been around for a while.
Only the greatest (and sometimes most nefarious) people in our history were able to change the world significantly in their lifetimes -- Augustus, Charlemagne, Napoleon. Perhaps if Queen Zeal was truly that great -- which I doubt -- then she transformed Zeal vastly from what it had once been. But while transformation may be possible under the power of history's greatest figures, no one in all the ages has ever been able to create a vast nation from scratch in the short space of a lifetime. Zeal existed in some form, at least a century before the events of 12,000 B.C. and, in my opinion, a good bit longer.
The Real Zeal
Zeal is such a fun word, isn't it? I'll bet you hadn't expected that little curveball when you first played it. I sure hadn't. But why exactly did they choose zeal to be the name? Very rarely do players correctly identify the underlying elements of the Zealian culture, beginning with the name itself.
In the U.S. these days, and probably in most of the Western world, zeal is regarded as a negative word. When someone goes too far they are said to be "overzealous." People who let their beliefs get in the way of others' are called "zealots." And Christians, especially in the Bible Belt, typically refer to their motivation to spread the good word as "zeal," which soils the word further for many others.
You might wonder what it is then about Zeal that's so damn zealous. Besides the Queen herself, and good ol' Dalton, there's more enlightenment, more knowledge, certainly more arrogance, but there's really not so much zeal among the citizens of the kingdom.
It is another idiosyncrasy of video games that while graphically everything points to richness and depth, textually everything is precise and deliberate. The Kingdom of Zeal was not given its name by the producers because it best represents the sum of Zealian history, but because it highlights the events that occurred at Zeal during the course of the game. (Thus the word was meant to have a negative connotation even here, by the design team, although I personally do not accept their interpretation.)
The zeal that gave the kingdom its name was the Queen's decision to construct the Mammon Machine, and in so doing to abandon the energy of the sun and switch to the worst energy source you could possibly imagine that world to have. Two things important to note here are that, at first, the Queen was not in open contempt of her advisors and indeed the entire nobility -- many of them certainly initially supported the concept, which would indeed give them more power and provide a lasting alternative to the aging Sun Stone. So for setting the events into motion, the fault rests not simply with the Queen, but with most of those with status in Zeal -- and in a monarchy, and also in the mindset of Japanese video game designers, leaders speak for everyone, and to have taken part in any phase of a disastrous project deserves at least some blame, such that Queen Zeal inspired an entire 'Kingdom of Zeal.' The second thing to note is that the sun can be presumed in Chrono Trigger to be a benevolent character. Sunlight feeds nature, nature feeds life, and how many RPGs paint nature and life as a bad thing? So, theoretically, switching from the Sun Stone to any other power source would have been a mistake on Zeal's part. (The game designers ignored the subtle point that the Stone would have run out of energy, but that's simply a design flaw in their storyline and irrelevant to the discussion at hand; we may assume the Zealians would have recharged it or simply found another.)
So -- Zeal made a grab to boost its power. That was its zeal. The imagery was clear: a nation that already sat atop the world wanted even more. Disaster was inevitable, because, at least in RPGs, no act of hubris goes unpunished.
For my part, I never disliked the word zeal, nor anything it properly stands for. Even before I played Chrono Trigger I felt that way. I like zeal -- I like it when people behave zealously -- true to the proper meaning of the word, which is to say, I like it when people have passion in their lives. In Chrono Trigger there was Doan's world, where no one had any passion for anything, and then there was the enchanted Land of Magic that floated above the clouds. Guess which one was more colorful? Guess which one I would rather live in?
Arrogance is one of the easiest derivatives of zeal, but it is never an unavoidable one. We can assume that the Kingdom of Zeal was a very great, prosperous, and beautiful country in the long age before the Queen took things too far. And in this idyllic past we can find a reason for the kingdom's origins.
The Culture of Zeal
Zeal has several critical cultural elements that most players simply don't care enough to identify. Two of these are exemplified very well in the accessible cities of Enhasa and Kajar, and so I will begin there.
The Frozen Flame, the Dreamstone, the Land of Magic -- these are all central themes in the Chrono series. They appeal to some of our most treasured emotions and invigorate our ambitions. They put a lump in your throat and a chill down your spine. They make working at the office from nine to five seem silly. And it all begins with a dream.
Building castles in the air is not an idea original to Chrono Trigger. Ukulele Ike sang all about it in 1925, and you can bet that he didn't start the idea. Indeed, it goes way back in the combined mythoi, and even splits off at several instances in history -- which means that several cultures came upon the idea of touching the skies completely independent of one another. That's important, that means we as a species have some common genetic or perhaps an evolved cognitive desire to have what do not possess, and stand where our feet may not take us. These deepest ambitions that drive all human progress both cultural and technological historically manifested themselves in descriptions of divinity and paradise. You're far more likely to find ancient gods hanging out in the stars or on the mountain peaks than in a cave somewhere, or inside a forest -- because humans had plenty of caves and forests to themselves. But no one could build an empire atop the mountains (at least for most of human history), and certainly no one has ever built in the loftiest place of all: the heavens, or, more properly, the skies. (Ancient man made no distinction.)
Castles in the air have always been the perfect symbol of mankind. It works on so many levels, from the mundane to the empyreal. We want safety, we want power, we want vantage, we want what no one else can have. Higher is better, in English tongue and many more.
Masato Kato's best creative idea was not an original one, but instead to perform a rendition of one of the finest creative ideas ever conceived. He decided to represent the single culture responsible for so many of the events in the game as a floating paradise above an earthbound world whose people were locked in the grips of an ice age. Zeal would mean nothing if it did not float. Zeal would mean nothing if life on the surface of the planet were easy or fun. Zeal would mean nothing if its citizens behaved like earthbound ones -- and, indeed, when the kingdom died, the surviving Zealians assimilated into the earthbound culture, and not vice-versa. It all begins with a dream.
In the magical city of Enhasa, everyone loved to sleep. That is probably the single most underappreciated point in the entire game. You might recall Gulliver's travel to the floating isle of Laputa. There, everyone was so deep in thought that they tended to fall asleep at a whim, and the King in speaking to Gulliver required an assistant to hit him with a soft flapper every time he nodded off. So it is in Zeal, where an entire city is devoted to dreaming one's life away.
You might think of it as an ideal. In the Kingdom of Zeal which was borne of much hard work and sacrifice, the people were able to enjoy a perfect life -- that is, their every material need was met. As an average citizen, you could live your entire life in Zeal and not do a single thing. But life is precious enough to every living being that if you spend it that badly -- doing absolutely nothing -- you begin to notice. So many Zealians turned to the loftiest art form of them all: dreaming.
Such an evolution is one of possibilities in our human future. Why do we read books or play video games? What would you do with all that time if your material needs (if not desires) were met? Perhaps or perhaps not after a spell of initial debauchery and wanderlust, you would resort to self-enrichment -- which is the only valuable thing left in life when adversity ceases to exist. I can easily understand why many Zealians just -- went to sleep. It isn't a good thing, or a bad thing -- but the thought would probably scare a lot of the people in today's world. To dream your life away -- is that a life well-spent? If you already have everything your culture has to offer -- if you lived the greatest and most comfortable lifestyle of anyone in the world -- how many of us would decide that dreams are the only hope left? How many of us would go to sleep?
In the dreams of an organized, disciplined mind, our deepest thoughts become less inhibited and therefore that much deeper. Only in our dreams -- both the sleeping dream daydream type -- can we have more than is currently possible. The human mind is rightfully one of the great frontiers of human understanding; certainly it was on Zeal in 12,000 B.C.
But there is more to Zeal than this strange, desperate sort of paradise. There is also the thriving city of Kajar, center of science and magic. For those among the Zealian populace who have no wish to sleep, but at the same time have no adversities to overcome, they would almost want to make their dreams real -- through the march of technology, be it magical or mechanical.
Kajar is the counterpart to Enhasa. Kajar is the place that makes it possible for any citizen who so chooses to live in Enhasa instead. Kajar sustains the quality of life by broadening the scope of Zeal's future. There is a certain balance staked out, probably a stable balance, between people who want to life the carefree life of dreams in Enhasa and the people who want to contribute to the world physically, even though there is no need for them to do so, in Kajar. And, if resources should have become imbalanced, there were always the Earthbound Ones to "help" out. You might think of Zeal as a very efficient country, because it could afford to carry dead weight like Enhasa on the backs of industrious cities like Kajar. (Although, as a side note, are you prepared to call a city where art has evolved to the point of dreams, such as in Enhasa, "dead weight"? Who in the 21st century realizes that our forefathers toiled in the fields so that their children could settle in one place rather than wander as nomads? Who in the 21st century realizes that our forefathers went toiled in factories and foundries so that their child would be able to learn music, go to school, and learn to read? Who in the 21st century realizes that our forefathers went to war so their children could have peace? Likewise, as with all these things, I would imagine that the fathers in a world not too far removed from this one would toil to ensure that their children could live out the purest expressions of art and philosophy -- and may all their dreams come true. Perhaps while economically applicable, it is not humanly proper to call Enhasa dead weight, any more than literature is dead weight.)
In short, Kajar ensured that Zeal would have a future by acknowledging humanity's physical tie to the world and its need to nourish that tie.
And, from what I said earlier about symbolic graphical implication, we may assume that in addition to Enhasa and Kajar, there were many more cities in Zeal. Perhaps others specialized to various ends, but in Enhasa and Kajar the objects are mind and matters, and what you get when you let one dominate, or the other. Kajar also deserves great praise.
But there is more to the Zealian culture than just its two major cities, and here we begin to delve into the motivations that drove both the kingdom's creation and its ruin.
When you play Chrono Trigger, everywhere you go in Zeal you get the distinct impression that all sorts of people are just about to lose it. In the city of dreams an Enlightened One tells you that you can live out your dreams, "but at what cost?" That statement is not to be ignored, because it implies that Doreen has doubts about the nature of the entire Zealian culture. Similarly, there is the weapons smith who cannot sell his wares, and the token "pro-lifer" who wants to nurture a young sapling that the Queen has ordered her to burn. (Honestly, Queen Zeal must have had some serious extra time on her hands to come up with that proclamation. But we get the symbolism. The Queen, whether she realizes it or not, is acceding to the temptations of destruction -- a common Square theme.) And let's not forget the Zealians who linger about in the hall of the Mammon Machine -- driven faint by its corruptive power. All of this underlying madness is expressed by the Queen herself at the end of the game, when she tells your party to share in Lavos' dream, and then corrects herself. "Did I say dream? I meant his eternal nightmare!" She laughs then like she always does, but I think she meant it as much for herself as for anyone.
Therein lies a secret yet vital element of Zeal's culture. What happens when you begin to satisfy the basic human desires? I do not mean the physical desires, which are satisfied unconsciously by the completion of physical tasks such as feeding and breathing, but the mental desires, which are expressed only consciously and in fact help define our perception of consciousness itself, and thence all human meaning. I challenge you to create an image in your mind of what paradise would be like, and then imagine yourself living in it, for the rest of your life. If you should ever have that fanciful opportunity in real life, I would caution you to think twice before speaking in absolutes.
In the future, the human mind may well evolve naturally or artificially to be able to cope with the fulfillment of its basic instincts and motivations. But in 12,000 B.C. this was not true. Zeal -- and any culture like Zeal that has advanced in power and art so vastly -- is built upon the minds and dreams, the hopes and ambitions of its people. I don't think the average human in 12,000 or in any other time period in Chrono Trigger is mentally competent to endure paradise. And I think this was a suppressed but very real and widespread cultural element throughout most Zealian history. That they were able to continue suppressing it through the destruction of Zeal itself is a testament to human will. But you can bet that there were people who fell through the cracks -- and many more who wanted to. And do be aware, if you build a castle in the air, you have further to fall by jumping out.
Indeed, if you build a castle in the air, the castle itself has further to fall. And this is another major element of Zeal's culture. You might remember Hamlet's sardonic quote, "What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!"
What Hamlet said unfaithfully, many other people -- people with great vision such as Augustus, people with great wisdom such as Jean-Luc Picard, or people with great curiosity for knowledge such as myself -- would say with undying conviction.
All human civilization is a castle in the air. If civilization is destroyed, there is nothing to catch it. Our arts, our sciences, our literature and philosophy, our music, our methods, our loves and lives, our reasons, our technologies, our bells and whistles, our sins, our strengths, our greatest ideas and most evil actions, our loftiest ambitions and our inmost emotions, of all of those things, all of them are possible because civilization has made it so.
William Gates Sr., a regent at my university (UW in Seattle), conveys the idea very nicely. "Nobody makes it alone," he says. "A person's physical comfort and opportunity have almost everything to do with the society into which he is born. Lucky if it's America; unlucky if it's Bangladesh or Botswana." Imagine, he says. "You'll never have a million dollars, never $100,000, never even $5,000, however smart or ambitious you are. The conditions of society don't allow for that. And you'll probably die of AIDS. That's the way it is. Those institutions and those phenomena of an orderly society don't exist in a vacuum. They exist because people pay taxes. If you stopped, all those things would die the next day. The police, the courts, securities markets."
He's completely right. If that were to happen, every bureaucracy and institution that keeps this country afloat would grind to a halt, and we would sink into anarchy. It's worth saying again -- civilization has nowhere to fall.
This is embedded in the Zealian culture. Many citizens in Zeal lost their grip on reality, but the reality itself was always there. If Zeal were destroyed, they would lose everything. There was no place else in the world with Skyways and aeroplanes, magical amulets and cities of dreams. Even in 1999 much of what had been lost with Zeal had yet to be recreated.
So, if you look at any cultural or material part of your life and imagine -- what if this never exists again? What if chess were lost forever? What if the piano was never reinvented? What if electricity vanished for all time? What if the idea of equal rights for men and women sank beneath the surface and did not remerge? How would you feel? I'll bet many of you wouldn't mind to be rid of a lot of it, but you might that rue that decision ten years from now, and your kids certainly would. And if you look at it from that perspective, I'll bet you would be a lot more appreciative of our world as it is right now, complete with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
They say it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. The Enlightened Ones who survived of the fall of Zeal seem to confirm this idea -- because they were all very thankful for their lives, even though they had lost everything. But if that had been the real world, I can promise you that many of the survivors would have committed suicide in the years that followed. Others would have died from their inability to adapt to a lower technology level. Others still would have been gutted for life, devoid of zeal -- just like Doan, before the seeds. And there would have been no dues ex machine -- no Crono, no sapling -- to deliver them from their misery. Of the survivors, many would never have acclimated to life with the Earthbound Ones, even though the latter -- having never loved and never lost -- could go through life just fine.
So, if you're going to love and lose, make sure your mind is not weak. Make sure the love will not drive you insane. Make sure the loss will not do the same. At some level, Zeal knew very well that it was its only defense against the Dark Ages.
Events Concerning the Rise of Zeal
The physical circumstances surrounding the elevation of the Kingdom of Zeal are worth discussion in this essay, because they tie in so well.
On the Chrono world, civilization reached a critical evolutionary threshold -- probably the invention of agriculture -- inside an ice age, the same ice age we see receding in 12,000 B.C. By reaching this critical threshold, the civilization began to evolve at a much faster rate than it had before, explaining why there was so little progress between 65 million B.C. and 12,000 B.C. compared with the much shorter time from 12,000 B.C. onward.
However, being locked inside an ice age, life would have been very difficult, for human civilization as we know it prospers not in the icy grips of glaciers, but in the lush, fertile valleys of warmth and green. Our world has had such places during every ice age in the past three million years, located inside the Torrid Zone -- the area between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Glacial ice has seldom encroached beyond those lines in the past three million years. (More than three million years ago, on Earth the geology and climatology becomes very different, and does not compare to the Chrono world in 65 million B.C.)
We can assume that even the Chrono world, despite Lavos' assistance in amplifying the ice ages, still had a band circling its equator where crops could be planted and towns could develop. This is almost certainly the place where the origins of the Land of Magic were sown.
It is said by Spekkio at the End of Time that humans in 65 million B.C. cannot use magic, because magic did not exist then. This poses a small problem. The only thing different between 65 million B.C. and the later ages is Lavos itself. Does this mean that Lavos is responsible for bringing magic to the planet? Yes and no -- the Frozen Flame is what evolved humans to the point of using magic, though this occurred only around 3000000 b.C.
The point is that humans probably had their first magical awakenings millions of years in the B.C. range, and first began to organize these wild powers in the 12,000 B.C. to 20,000 B.C. range. In fact, it may be possible that it was the organization of magical skill and not the creation of agriculture that was responsible for the aforementioned evolutionary threshold in planetary civilization.
In any event, once magic was harnessed, it immediately began to accelerate the development and power of its users. I would imagine that, in the traditional conflicts for territory, food, and mates that humans fought before they settled down in societies, magic users slaughtered many of their non-magic-wielding counterparts.
Using known applications of anthropological and sociological theory, the magic-users were the first to settle down in prosperous, permanent villages. There they cultivated a technology based not on mechanism but on magic. Children born into these magic-using families were probably either killed or outcast from their villages if they grew up to show no signs of magical prowess. It was likely these outcasts, along with the natural human curiosity of the non-magic-users to reconnoiter around magical villages in the deeps of night, that the non-magic-users eventually began forming settlements and permanent societies of their own, never to the same degree of success that the magic-users enjoyed.
A deep rift grew between enlightened magic-users and those unenlightened people who could not use it. Given many thousands of years, these two branches of humanity would probably have evolved in separate directions, into separate species -- if the enlightened ones did not first wipe their counterparts out first. But as it so happened, the development of magical societies was so rapid, so utterly fast, that soon their cultures became very advanced indeed. They cultivated scientific and magical academies, studied the arts, wrote literature, and spent time with the Nu. They likely used wood and steam as their major fuel sources, in those events where fuel was needed. Human food and magic-restoring ether were probably much more important. (If the world was pervaded by Lavos' magical fields, we might think of ether as a way of clearing out buildup in an individual's connection with those fields.) Eventually, modern political entities such as monarchy arose. One or more of those societies would become the Kingdom of Zeal.
The discovery of the Sun Stone was almost certainly a pivotal moment in human history. It would be the Sun Stone that allowed for the rise of Zeal (and the subsequent fall, along with the reintegration of the enlightened ones with their unenlightened counterparts). I would imagine that the Sun Stone was a naturally-occurring stone, capable by chance of storing incredible amounts of energy over vast periods of time. However, it is also (less) possible that the Sun Stone was a piece of Lavos that had broken off in his descent onto the planet.
The Sun Stone allowed the country that possessed it to open up new avenues of magical and mechanical possibility never before conceived. Between 12,000 and 14,000 B.C., one nation used that stone to establish unquestioning supremacy over all the best lands on the continent, and later the world. But insofar as "best lands" went, there weren't many of them. Most of the world was still cold, in the thrall of a receding ice age, while attacks from natural animals seeking limited warmth and food near the equator, along with the competition from increasingly desperate non-magic-users. The keepers of the Stone undoubtedly wanted to bring safety to their borders. They had magic; they had the Sun Stone. They were going to solve this.
The major idea that sprang from this quandary was to build a place that no animal could touch, no ice could reach, and from which no non-magic-users could steal and copy. The solution? A floating homeland.
The magicians and engineers who approached this breathtakingly ambitious plan would have encountered many challenges and setbacks along the way, ranging from the logistical rigors of moving a major portion of the world's crust, all the way to the fact that the air gets cold and thin with higher tropospheric altitude. (Interesting sidenote: On Earth while the atmosphere continues to get thinner the higher you go, it does not continue to get cooler, instead oscillating between several points of extremely high and low temperatures, before dissipating into the higher spheres of the atmosphere. This is true on many worlds in our solar system.)
It no doubt took the major efforts of many generations of people in this country to implement the raising of what would become a major continent and multiple smaller "islands," all the while fending off predators, human competitors, and the ice age. This would be the sacrifice and hard work mentioned by the Enlightened One in Zeal.
To obtain landmass, the magic-users probably went to the edges of the world, where few predators would bother them, simultaneously leaving the most fertile lands alone. It is not a dangerous assumption to say that these people possessed sufficient knowledge of botany, mineralogy, and agriculture that they would have known that frozen land is not necessarily infertile land once thawed, and they probably scoured the world for the most fertile, frozen soils they could find. If they were really smart, they took particular interest in soils that thrived in mountain ranges and other high-altitude topographies. These would become the topsoils used on the surfaces of the floating islands. To give these soils and other planned constructs a common base, natural rock would have been quarried, reinforced with alloys such as steel -- which we know existed in the Kingdom of Zeal itself, making it possible to infer they existed long beforehand. The heavy mass would serve not only to anchor the topside cities and countryside onto a common base, but would also imbue the floating lands with sufficient inertia to resist the dispositioning power of the atmospheric winds.
Many of the magical spells required to keep the floating lands aloft were certainly tied to the Sun Stone, so that it would not be that fleets of spellcasters expend continual energy to renew the floatation spells for all time.
The other terraforming aspects critical to the floating lands' success would be the establishment of a water source and the pressurization and warming of the air. In the game we saw that Zeal obviously has water to spare -- given that it can afford to have a gigantic waterfall cascading off the main continent. And, as always, in video games where there is one of that sort of thing, there are generally more. There would only have been three possible sources of water on the floating lands: precipitation, underground aquifers, and importation of water from the grounds of the world. The first possibility seems remote -- the floating lands were deliberately positioned above the stratus and possibly alto layers of cloud -- the first of which from whence nearly all precipitation falls. And the existence of aquifer reservoirs inside the rock used in the construction of a baseboard for the floating islands is preposterous -- it would have rendered the material incapable of providing the strength and rigidity necessary to keep everything on top from falling apart. So, at great expense, the floating lands probably continued to import water. They dug at least one major lake or reservoir so as to create an emergency reserve, and accepted that they would need to continue to import water.
(There is a fourth, albeit unlikely possibility. It could be that the floating continents -- at least the main one -- were so incredibly large as to be capable of storing more water than its populations would ever need all in the upper layers of its rock beds. This would have provided the floating islands with a self-sustaining water source. What it would not have provided, however, is an extravagance such as a waterfall, making importation of water from the grounds of the world necessary to at least some extent. Possibly, though, that waterfall was an overflow that did not regularly occur.)
With the water problem addressed, the floating continent had only one major problem left to address: atmospheric density and air temperature. Given the nature of cloud formations, versus the images of Zeal portrayed in the game, we can conclude that the floating islands were deposited at a height between 7500 and 20,000 feet. That range is habitable to humans without any further support, but decreasingly so for the long-term, especially above 12,500 feet. Not only is the temperature in these higher ranges difficultly low, but more importantly the atmosphere is very thin. Physical exertion becomes dangerous, and solar radiation exposure increases by a high order. The obvious solution would have been to create spells capable of using the landmasses as nuclei around which proper densities of air could gather -- heated air, I would imagine, although that part is not absolutely necessary. With air density restored to an effective level below 8,000 feet, most human beings would be able to adapt over time. The spells they created to do this were undoubtedly very unique, and therefore very sloppy -- which means very high in energy. Fortunately for them, they had the Sun Stone. But I would say this among other expenditures highlighted the burden on the Stone that the keepers of the floating nations realized to be, ultimately, untenable. The Stone was being drained far faster than it was being recharged by solar rays. Someday, that would be a problem.
But not yet.
No doubt the elusive dreamstone also played an important role in the great story of the raising of the landmasses, which likely accounting for its incredible rarity in 600 A.D. and beyond -- for it would mostly have sunk to the bottom of the ocean with the fall of Zeal.
The actual raising of the landmasses probably consumed an entire human lifetime, with some sections of the floating lands becoming habitable long before others were risen, as testing facilities and retreats for the wealthy and powerful. At the very least, it would have taken a few years.
Eventually, enough of the floating lands were ready for habitation that the capital of this powerful nation was moved from the ground to the heavens. It is at this moment that the kingdom most probably renamed itself the Kingdom of Zeal, in symbolic testament to the incredible feat they had just accomplished. Over time the remaining construction was completed, and the floating Land of Magic was born. Bit by bit, the "Enlightened Ones" moved their homes and cities onto the floating worlds, leaving the animals, the beasts, the ice, and the "Earthbound Ones" behind, presumably forever.
Debunking Lavos-Based Theories for the Raising of Zeal
I have read several theories for the raising of Zeal that rely on the power of Lavos to provide the raw energy necessary to complete these feats. Most of the time these theories are coupled with the so-called Young Zeal Theory, stating that Zeal is no older than Queen Zeal or perhaps her husband, due to the fact that a Lavos-based Zeal-raising theory would require either the Mammon Machine or another, never-mentioned device necessary to provde Lavos with a link to the world.
I have already made a case for the age of Zeal in the beginning of this essay. And, without a Young Zeal counterpart theory, any Lavos-based Zeal-raising theory is weakened.
Two great problems then arise to confront the Lavos-based theories. For one thing, Lavos is not a good business partner. We find out in the game that Queen Zeal was corrupted by it in the space of just a few years. Thus, in the time that it would have taken the magic-users to get Lavos to raise their landmasses in the first place, they would all have been corrupted by him as the Queen was, and she did not seem very gung-ho about the perpetuation and prosperity of her kingdom so much as the perpetuation and prosperity of herself. If anyone had tried using Lavos as a power source to raise the landmasses with conventional techniques, Zeal would have been destroyed before it was ever born. Furthermore, there would have been no need to use the Sun Stone to begin with, after having contracted out Lavos' ostensibly greater power, which would create a plot inconsistency.
For another thing, no one in Zeal seems the slightest bit impressed that the kingdom is afloat in the heavens! This means the Zealians had to have been born after the lands were raised, and probably the same holds true with their parents, as we would expect the sheer awe of building a kingdom above the clouds to last for more than just a single generation. The only applicable counterargument quote, being that the Queen has greatly advanced magic in the kingdom, does not hold a candle to the magnitude of the initial elevation of Zeal, which constitutes far more than any petty "advancement of magic." This problem is particularly fatal to the type of Lavos-based Zeal-raising theory that contends the construction of the Mammon Machine and subsequent link with it caused Zeal to spontaneously rise out of the air from Lavos' sheer resonant power with the Machine. Never-minding that this would almost certainly have corrupted the land and swallowed everyone as it rose, it still doesn't make sense that no one would be impressed that Zeal had sat on the ground a few years ago -- but now floated the air.
Sunk to the Bottom
We all know that Zeal paid the ultimate price for her Queen's corruption. Most of its citizens were killed. The lands of the planet were submerged under an enormous tidal wave. Everything was just about wiped out.
There is some small mystery to the exact nature of the kingdom's downfall. Namely, what caused it?
One possibility is that, having dismantled the Sun Stone, Zeal simply could not remain afloat once the power of Lavos was interrupted when the Mammon Machine (through which all of Zeal Kingdom's power flowed at the time) was crippled by the dreamstone knife. With nothing to keep its floatation and other incantations intact, Zeal broke apart and fell. That would mean that the energy shower erupted by Lavos caused only cosmetic damage to the kingdom. However, since the game specifically implied that the energy shower was responsible for bringing Zeal down by showing us the energy rays splitting the landmasses, this theory, however plausible in a logical sense, is weak.
The next major possibility is that the energy shower destroyed Zeal through brute force. With its stability destroyed by the sundering of the baseboard rocks, many parts of the landmasses lost their access to floating land and simply fell. This in turn created an imbalance that caused other pieces of the islands, still floating, to fly off in all manor of directions until they too were thrown clear of the floatation support fields. This would have made Zeal's destruction explosive (without fire), and quite an awe-inspiring -- and terror-inspiring -- spectacle to behold. This theory is consistent with what the game showed us.
Another major possibility is that the energy shower destroyed Zeal not by brute force, but by disrupting the sloppy, high-energy spells that kept Zeal afloat and its ecosystems intact. It is quite possible that these spells were not resistant to such a major disruption as Lavos presented, and unraveled like so many Twizzler Pull-n-Peels. This is also a plausible theory, although not quite as plausible as the brute force one.
And, of course, to any of those elements we can add in the question: Did Lavos do it intentionally or not? I contend he did not, as outlined before. But perhaps, even in all his disorientation and impotence, he still had the means and the will to destroy mankind's greatest accomplishment ever.
And who is to blame for the fall of Zeal? The Queen, for acceding to the temptations of Lavos' power? Lavos itself, for providing the mechanism through which Zeal was destroyed? How about Schala, whom we know had the chance to stop Queen Zeal's plans on several occasions but refused to do so. Maybe even Crono, who stabbed the Mammon Machine with the dreamstone knife? What about Ayla, for having borne the posterity that would grow up to commit these fateful actions in the Dark Ages?
But it hardly matters. As Magus said, upon the shores of the North Cape:
"Behold. Everything's at the bottom of the sea. Gone is the magical kingdom of Zeal, and all the dreams and ambitions of its people."
Perhaps Hamlet was not completely without foundation. What a piece of work is man, indeed. The Kingdom of Zeal, before its corruption by the Queen, represented the finest achievement mankind made in any age of Chrono Trigger or Chrono Cross. Somehow the idyllic serenity of a Millennial Fair in a land at piece, or the chivalrous deeds of men in an age of virtue, or the innocent ascension from animalhood to mastery of the planet in prehistoric times, or even the lush bubbled cities of a redeemed future, somehow none of them can compare with the world gripped in an age of ice, and castles afloat with the clouds.
If I were to write any epic story in the pages of that world, I can tell you that the enchanted land of magic, the enlightened Kingdom of Zeal, would be a dream to which mankind would return, once more.
Thus concludes "Concerning the Kingdom of Zeal." Thanks to Josh for writing it.