The Amy Hypothesis and Raiders of the Lost Ark

This is probably old fedora to most of you, but having rewatched Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) last night, I thought I’d tackle the famous Amy Hypothesis. The idea that Indiana Jones (the character) is superfluous to the outcome.

This notion arises from a famous line by the character Amy Fowler in the Big Bang Theory (Season 7, Episode 4):

Indiana Jones plays no role in the outcome of the story. If he weren’t in the film it would turn out exactly the same… If he weren’t in the movie the Nazis would have still found the Ark, taken it to the island, opened it up and all died… just like they did.

The big question: is she right?

People have been arguing about this since the episode aired back in October 2013, so I rather doubt I am adding anything new, but I thought I would give my impression anyway. I like playing around with counter-factuals, even in fictional settings. Note also that I am relying purely on the 1981 movie, not on additional information from the novelisation or deleted scenes.

Anyway, I think Amy is wrong.

ark

Let us start with the premise: Indiana Jones is not in this film.

Now, some have hypothesised that without Jones, René Belloq would have got himself killed whilst hunting for the golden idol, and hence never have been hired by the Nazis. I reject this on two grounds:

  • Belloq’s modus operandi is to let Jones do the work, and then steal the results. If Jones isn’t hunting the golden idol first, Belloq won’t risk his neck to go after it.
  • Even if Belloq dies in the temple, the Nazis will simply hire someone else to lead the expedition. Their desire to get their hands on the Ark does not depend on Belloq, and one may hypothesise any number of amoral 1930s archaeologists willing to head the mission.

Well and good. So the Nazis still start their dig outside Cairo, based off available archaeological knowledge. They still discover that they need the Headpiece to the Staff of Ra, which means they are hunting down Abner Ravenwood.

But they clearly don’t know where Abner Ravenwood is (or was). Based off the intercepted message, they appear to think he is in the USA – otherwise they would have gone straight for Nepal.

So in the movie they monitor Dr Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones – student of Ravenwood, famed archaeologist, hunter of ancient artefacts, and former lover of Ravenwood’s daughter. This would require a decent amount of spying and investigation, but it is their best option, considering what they know. For all we know, they have been monitoring him for some time. They are certainly following Indy when he first gets on the plane.

(It is also entirely possible that they are following other Ravenwood associates around. They just get lucky with Indy. Hell, they might even have leaked that communication deliberately, just to force Indy’s hand).

In short, Indy leads the Nazis to Marion Ravenwood. Had he not been in the movie, the Nazis would likely never find her. They’re accordingly stuck with following around American archaeological experts until Hitler loses patience and cancels the mission. The Ark is never found, no-one from the movie dies, and history progresses as in real life.

However, let us suppose that through perverse serendipity (maybe via their interest in Tibet) the Nazis find Marion in Nepal without needing Indy. They torture her to death, and take the Headpiece. They now have access to both sides of the Headpiece, rather than just the one they had in the movie. So rather than digging in the wrong place, they find the Ark.

(It is also possible that they find the Ark even without the Headpiece. Indy and Marion’s escape from the Well of Souls is via a prominent architectural structure. Investigating the structure through generalised digging would give the Nazis the Ark. The only difference between this scenario and the Nazis-find-Marion scenario is that Marion lives).

So let us hypothesise (as does Amy) that the Nazis have got themselves the Ark. With no Indy. What happens?

Amy thinks they still head to the island (or at least some other place), open the Ark, and die horribly.

This ignores that the stated plan is to fly the Ark to Berlin. Presumably to be opened by Adolf Hitler himself. That the Ark is opened on the island is due to Indy’s intervention – he has scuppered their flight option, and their truck-to-Cairo option. It also requires Belloq’s intervention. He wants to open it himself, and convinces the Nazis to go along with it on the basis that they need to be sure they have the true Ark.

Well and good. This throws up three potential possibilities:

  1. Belloq (or someone filling Belloq’s role) opens the Ark prior to the flight to Berlin.
  2. Belloq (or someone filling Belloq’s role) opens the Ark in Berlin, prior to Adolf.
  3. The Ark is unopened, flown to Berlin, and left for Adolf.

Amy only envisages the first possibility. And even then, there is a difference between this and the end of the Indy-influenced movie.

In the movie, Indy is able to turn the Ark over to the American Government, and it ends up in the warehouse. Here, the Ark wipes out Belloq and the Nazis at the digging site… but presumably there would be plenty of other Nazis in close proximity. In Cairo, say. They would have received communications that the Ark has been found, then silence. They would investigate the disappearance of the expedition, finding the Ark and whatever remained of Belloq and Company. Without that pesky Frenchman badgering them to open it, they fly the Ark to Berlin as planned. Which feeds into one of the two other possibilities.

That takes us to the second possibility. That the Ark is opened in Germany, but not by Hitler. This kills those in the vicinity, but not Adolf himself. In this scenario, I think it likely that someone actually bothers to check the lore – specifically, The Bible (1 Samuel 6:19). The Nazis realise that opening the Ark is a bad idea, and investigate ways of weaponising it safely. If not, well, we just get a situation where the Ark sits unused (de facto equivalent to the end of the movie, only it is stored in Germany, not America) or a situation where silly Germans open it over and over again (de facto equivalent to the third possibility).

(If the Nazis do successfully weaponise the Ark, the only thing stopping them is the possibility of God deciding He doesn’t want the Nazis conquering the world with His power. In short, Divine Intervention in a manner more forced than the movie, where the Nazis and Belloq ignore the Biblical warnings. Talk about desperate hopes).

Then there is the third possibility. That Hitler opens the Ark himself.

(If he is tipped off about the dangers, this morphs into the second possibility)

So Hitler dies, his leading associates die, and goodness knows how many others die. In 1936, decapitating the Nazi leadership would create a power vacuum in Berlin. Who fills it is unclear, but at this point the regime was less cemented than it would become later.

Regardless of whomever picks up the pieces in Germany,  the demonstration of the Ark’s power will get worldwide attention. Rather than putting the Ark in a warehouse, other Great Powers (Washington, London, Paris, Moscow, et al) will be most interested in grabbing it for themselves. And if someone does grab the Ark, there suddenly becomes an enormous incentive to attack them before they have fully weaponised it. One might see a very different Second World War three years early.

So to recap, there are four possible end results of removing Indy from the movie, albeit these results may arise from different paths:

  1. The Ark is never found. Everyone lives.
  2. The Ark is found, but never used. Everyone lives, bar the people who open it, or fall foul of the Nazi attempts to find it.
  3. The Nazis weaponise the Ark. The Nazis conquer the world.
  4. The sudden elimination of the Nazi leadership and the appearance of the Ark causes chaos in Germany and potentially a geopolitical free-for-all.

Sorry, Amy, but only the second is a result comparable to the movie outcome, albeit the Ark winds up in German storage, rather than American. And even getting to the second outcome requires one of two chains of events, out of an array of plot possibilities. Specifically:

  • The Nazis stumble across Marion by accident OR they stumble across the exit to the Well of Souls without the Headpiece.
  • The Ark arrives in Berlin, and is opened prior to Hitler.
  • The Nazis decide to let this dangerous super-weapon be.

I myself think the first result (caused by the Nazis never finding Marion) is more likely.

But seeing as the absence of Indy opens up a range of possible outcomes, we cannot say (as Amy does) that Indiana Jones makes no difference to the outcome of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Ergo, Amy is wrong.

Q.E.D.

(Also, I am actually quite fond of my new theory. That the initial leaking of the Nazi communication was done deliberately by the Nazis).

The Adventures of Annalax: Volume III

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Time for another Annalax/D&D 5e update. Whereas previously I have summarised three sessions of game-play, I’ve decided to slow things down a bit, to allow more detail. This was two sessions.

The first session was an important lesson in not over-thinking things. After spending an entire real-world week figuring out a strategy to get the party out of the mess on the ship, it was helpful NPCs to the rescue. But since a Total Party Kill had previously felt a real possibility, neither I nor my character were complaining.  There was also an amusing moment when Annalax (who had passed his Stress Limit) was temporarily afflicted with Masochism during the battle. Definitely a “Yes, and…?” moment, given Annalax’s sexual tastes. The other humorous anecdote? One of the attacking merfolk kept rolling 20s, and another kept rolling 1s. The party nicknamed them Chad and Dave, respectively.

However, there turned out to be one fly in the ointment. The Queen we were supposed to be visiting was a Queen of the Underwater Realm… which meant she lived 7,500 metres under the sea. In short, visiting her in our current state would mean being crushed into pudding. The one character (our Warforged Fighter) who might survive such pressures? He doesn’t have Darkvision. Because that depth is pitch-black. Our Dreamland Cat Alchemist can breathe underwater, and can see in the dark, but he’s organic, and would be squashed like the rest of us.

[Further investigation suggests our DM might have had the Queen a bit too deep. Maybe 2,500 metres, rather than 7,500 metres might have fit better? But, well, this isn’t our world, and, more importantly, Magic is a Thing.]

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Anyway, a few temporary magical alterations later, Annalax was cheerfully moving around in the frigid oppressive darkness, trying to stay in the good graces of a female autocrat. Just like home for him, I suppose, only with more deep-sea snailfish and fewer spiders. He was also able to pick up a full twenty-five helpings of sea-urchin poison for his crossbow bolts. Note that he bought these, rather than stole them – Annalax’s survival instincts trump even his avarice, and when one is reliant on magic not to be crushed into pudding, one does not anger the magic-user.

We also picked up a fresh Quest. Our party needs to find Silver Keys (why, yes, the campaign is Lovecraft-themed…).

The second session was a good deal less plot focused, and a good deal more Breather Episode. Everyone was pretty much off doing their own thing, amid the hustle and bustle of an immense Dreamland city (this one above water).

I should mention at this point that Annalax’s modus operandi on arriving at a new location is to seek out the local NPC rogues. It allows the party a convenient and cheap means of accommodation, as well as on-the-ground information as to what is going on. From this point of view, Thieves Cant – the code-language of rogues – is incredibly useful as an identification tool. Guides to Fifth Edition D&D Rogues tend to be dismissive of Thieves Cant, basically considering it fluff. Needless to say, I disagree. If you want to find NPC rogues, you need Thieves Cant.

Anyway, this session Annalax busied himself with sorting out the party’s Moondust problem. You see, the party (with one exception) are not native to the Dreamland, and while Annalax himself does not dream (he’s a Drow. He trances), and neither does the party Warforged, the remainder do. Without Moondust, there is a risk that half the party will suddenly disappear back into the Waking World, leaving behind their items… along with the rest of us. Moondust itself is a consumable resource, so the supplies need to be topped up regularly.

Courtesy of Annalax’s rogue contacts (obtained via Thieves Cant), he got his hands on ninety doses of the stuff, enough to last three party members between thirty and a hundred and twenty days. Along with twenty-five gold for those of us who don’t actually need it directly. This wasn’t actually stealing either – it was just offloading the box of residual Smuggler items. Stuffed Snakes Heads and other exotic weirdness. So all in all, a good day’s work.

Notwithstanding Annalax’s usefulness to the party, there are some tensions. You see, while my character has enough cosmopolitan experiences to keep the freakier aspects of Drow culture to himself (it’s Bad for Business), he has noticed that the overworld is more than happy to engage in slavery. So he’s happy enough to talk about that aspect of the Underdark, as though he were talking about the overworld weather. Problem is, our Barbarian has had a bad experience with slavery in the past, resulting in something of a culture clash. Our Tiefling Priest tried to play peace-maker, leading to an entertaining exchange:

(Paraphrased)

  • TIEFLING: I appreciate that it is part of your culture, but slavery is wrong.
  • ANNALAX: But everyone practices it in the overworld too.
  • TIEFLING: It’s still wrong. I’ve had family members sold into slavery myself.
  • ANNALAX: I’m guessing you bought them out then?

Courtesy of the Priest’s high Charisma, and Annalax’s mediocre Wisdom, however, the Tiefling did convince Annalax to stop talking about it.

The session concluded on a cliffhanger: the party were summoned to see the city ruler. Exciting!

2020 Just Reading: June

Rainbow

Completed reads for June:

  • Children of Earth and Sky, by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • She, by H. Rider Haggard
  • The Book of Nonsense, by Edward Lear
  • Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets, by Edward Lear
  • More Nonsense, by Edward Lear
  • Laughable Lyrics, by Edward Lear
  • Screwtape Proposes a Toast, by C.S. Lewis

The Transience of Ink: When Magazines Close

I have written before about how most writers will be extremely lucky to be remembered a hundred years from now. Even a field as inherently suitable to preservation as literature can be surprisingly transient – as depressing as that might seem.

In terms of the Internet, of course, never mind a hundred years – a mere decade is an eternity. A Phuulish Fellow (which turns five years old in November) is actually a comparatively long-running blog now. But speaking as someone who spends a fair bit of time searching out, and contributing to, various online magazines, I have noticed that two magazines in which I have seen my stories published are actually closing in 2020.

As such, I thought I would offer them thanks.

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The first of these is deindustrial science-fiction magazine, Into the Ruins. A quarterly publication focusing on resource limits and gradual decline, it has run for sixteen issues (the final issue was out this month). They published me twice: Après Moi, le Déluge, my ‘Green Antarctica’ story (2017), and In the Land of the Elephant’s Footprint, my far-future Chernobyl Horror (2019). I see the editor, Joel Caris, has decided to go on to other things, including his own writing – I wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

The other magazine that is closing up is erotic horror magazine Infernal Ink Magazine. They were biannual, running since April 2012 (the final issue will appear in October). Infernal Ink published me once: A Christmas In Bohemia (2019), my sickening and over-the-top retelling of Good King Wenceslas. It’s not every day that one is able to find a home for a piece I affectionately label as ‘necrophiliac Christmas porn,’ but Infernal Ink did take it. I’m not sure if anyone else would have.

A third magazine that has not formally closed, but which appears to have been on indefinite hiatus since June 2017 is Flash Fiction Press. I have a soft spot for them – this was the home of my first ever sale of short prose fiction, A Knight to f6, in May 2017. Why, yes, the story was chess-focused, and at 300-words, rather to the point. Hopefully, the magazine will one day return.

**

So yeah: a short tribute to two (or three) departed magazines, to which I owe the publication of over a quarter of my short fiction. Three years (the duration those stories encompass) is really the blink of an eye, but by good fortune, the existing back issues will remain available indefinitely, on the off-chance you want to check them out.

New Tolkien Book for May 2021: The Nature of Middle-earth

2020 has been an… interesting… year thus far, but a bit of news out today suggests that 2021 is something to look forward to. Specifically, we’re getting another Tolkien book, and for a change it’s going to be a meaty one on Middle-earth, rather than a slender overpriced volume of non-Middle-earth material:

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Whomever wrote the promotional blurb is taking a few liberties, of course. Unfinished Tales (1980) predates the twelve volumes of The History of Middle-earth (1983-1996), making it a Zeroth volume more than a thirteenth one. And arguably we already have the unofficial thirteenth and fourteenth volumes in the form of John Rateliff’s History of the Hobbit (2007). Rather, I’d suggest this is more a sequel to Unfinished Tales, which also has an entire section on Númenor. But that’s just quibbling. I am genuinely excited about this, not least because I was unsure whether there was much material actually left to publish (apart from Tolkien’s essay on James Joyce, which we know exists, and which should be fascinating if it ever sees the light of day). So there is more Middle-earth stuff. Yay!

(I’d still sell Gollum’s grandmother for an expanded Letters though).

The Last Libation – Published

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The Summer Solstice* 2020 edition of Eternal Haunted Summer is now out, and with it my insanity and Dionysus piece, The Last Libation. Yay!

*Winter here, of course.

The Bibliography page has been updated accordingly.

Of the Origin of Owlbears: A Parody

owlbear-and-cub

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of the Origins of Owlbears

(Original: The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, by Edward Lear)

 

The Owl and the Grizzly Bear went to sea

In a table-top R.P. game,

They took some lotions, and plenty of potions,

Left over from last campaign.

The Owl was playing a Bard that night,

And made a Persuasion roll,

“A natural twenty! A twenty, alright,

It’s a natural twenty,  I’ve rolled,

I’ve rolled,

I’ve rolled,

It’s a natural twenty, I’ve rolled!”

*

Grizzly said “are you done? I’ve natural one!

With terrible Wisdom too!

O let us be married! Too long we have tarried!”

So what was the poor Owl to do?

Hijinks ensued, for a session or two,

Then the Bard and the Fighter did laugh

For there in a wood a Sorcerer stood

With a gem on the end of his staff,

His staff,

His staff,

With a gem on the end of his staff.

*

“He’s wise but we’re hearty. I like our small party.

That gem?” hissed the Grizzly, “I’ll steal.”

So they rolled both their dice… and they rolled a one twice,

With no Cleric around to cast Heal.

The kindly mage, he quelled his great rage,

And he brought out a Polymorph croon…

Now a growling owl, with a temper most foul,

Still hunts by the light of the moon,

The moon,

The moon,

Still hunts by the light of the moon.

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The Adventures of Annalax: Volume II

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Last time we left our intrepid Drow Rogue, he had managed to spread the righteous ways of Lolth to a human village, and made off with a Healing Potion and a Vial of Poison. This time? Well, the plot has thickened.

You see, Annalax likes to lodge with fellow Thieves Criminals Ethically Flexible Seekers of Zero Interest Emergency Loans. It’s cheaper. And the kind Smugglers Toll-collectors of this town offered him and the party a deal: lodging in return for helping cart boxes of items through the surrounding forest. What could possibly go wrong? Well, after an encounter with one owlbear, one dryad, three pixies (who turned a Healer into a rabbit), and five blink dogs, we barely had time to grab the loot before the Summer Eladrin turned up. A party member (he who had spent a fair amount of time in cunicular form) found an escape portal, and we departed very, very quickly.

This also allowed the party to progress to Level Four. Annalax promptly grabbed the Magical Initiate feat, which has come in handy since. But I get ahead of myself. It turned out this was a portal into the Dreamworld… and we found ourselves in a large forest. Full of Zoogs, actually, though we got through via gifting them some of the drugs we’d looted from the Smugglers (why, yes, we found a fair quantity of… ethically flexible material). From there, it was up to a city. You see, the party had promised the godlike guardians of the portal that we were on our way to see the Queen of this realm. Annalax doesn’t know anything about the Dreamworld, so he just went along with it.

The stay in the city proved fruitful. Annalax got himself a shortsword (Smuggler’s stockpile), a Bag of Holding (filched), and some books on the Moon (filched), to go with his two bottles of rare wine (filched), and his laxative-infused wildberry cake (don’t ask). We were also lugging around the dead owlbear for quite some time. To unwind, Annalax also took the evening off at the Church of the Bloated Woman – a Dreamworld cult devoted to hedonism and debauchery. Not that Annalax subscribes to hedonism or debauchery. He’s not that sort of Drow. He was just after some chastisement, to set him on the straight and narrow. Ahem.

(Oh, and using a combination of Prestidigitation, Shape Water, and cocaine, he invented this world’s first iteration of Coca-Cola. He only made four gold off it, but it was fun to try).

Once past the city, the party hired an appropriately ethically flexible gentleman to arrange a ship voyage over to see the Queen of Dreamworld. Oh dear. Annalax failed a Constitution saving throw, and ended up sea-sick. Worse, he was still sea-sick (and thus at disadvantage) when magical sea-monsters turned up and attacked. Suffice to say, he did get knocked unconscious at one point – but even that was a mercy, since he was too injured to be affected by the attackers’ vicious fear spell, which screwed with nearly everyone else. The fight is still ongoing, but Annalax can report that he’s put his Magic Initiate spells to good use. Shape Water was used to rescue party members that had ended up overboard, while Fog Cloud has allowed us a safe space to regather. It has basically become a war of attrition at this point, to be continued next week.

Anyway, current stats:

Name: Annalax (Drow Rogue – Arcane Trickster – Level 4)

  • STR: 9
  • DEX: 20
  • CON: 11
  • INT: 15
  • WIS: 10
  • CHA: 12
  • Will Power*: 10

Spells:

  • Cantrips: Mage Hand, Minor Illusion, Parley*, Dancing Lights, Prestidigitation [Magical Initiate], Shape Water [Magical Initiate]
  • 1st Level: Faerie Fire (innate), Disguise Self, Spider’s Kiss*, Dusk Warp,* Fog Cloud [Magical Initiate], Silent Image

*Homebrew.

The Last Libation – accepted

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Another good bit of news: my 2000-word insanity-and-Dionysus piece, The Last Libation, has been accepted for the upcoming Summer Solstice edition of Eternal Haunted Summer. Winter Solstice here, of course, but it’s a Northern Hemisphere Magazine.

While I have made it an aim to focus on Old Phuul in 2020 (an aim rather displaced by the Coronavirus – I’ve found Quarantine kills creativity), I still have a number of short stories accumulated from previous years. The Last Libation is one of those – and, as mentioned, it has only now found a home.

The story was actually inspired by an Overly Sarcastic Productions YouTube video about the Cult of Dionysus, though there is at least one shout-out to The Wicker Man (1973). I have a soft spot for the Pagan Horror genre generally, and I think Greek Pagan Horror (in contrast to Norse or Celtic) is rather under-utilised.

(This isn’t my first piece with Eternal Haunted Summer either. I had a piece of poetry published there four years ago).

Down to Level 1

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Two lovely developments on the Coronavirus front:

  • The last confirmed case of the disease in New Zealand has recovered. We have not had any fresh cases for seventeen days.
  • As of midnight tonight, New Zealand drops to Level 1.

Level 1 principles, as detailed by the Prime Minister:

  • If you are sick, stay home
  • If you have cold or flu-like symptoms get tested
  • Wash your hands, Wash your hands, Wash your hands
  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow and regularly disinfect shared surfaces
  • If you are told by health authorities to self isolate you must do so immediately
  • If concerned about your well-being or you have underlying health conditions consult with your GP
  • Keep track of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen so we can use that for contact tracing if needed
  • Businesses should help with rule seven by displaying a QR code
  • Stay vigilant

As you can see, Level 1 is basically cautious normality. Social distancing is still encouraged, and the borders will be closed for the foreseeable future, but the upshot is that New Zealand has now eliminated the virus. 22 total deaths, and 1154 confirmed cases since 28th February… not bad going by international standards.