343 Industries, stewards of the Halo franchise, are seeking out a new Franchise Writer – an expert capable of dropping any number of trivial canonical facts off the top of their head, somebody who knows the Halo universe inside and out – according to this article from Examiner.com.
“If you already know off the top of your head how much an Unggoy weighs, the maximum top speed of a Warthog, and how big a Halo ring is, you might be interested in being a part of the franchise team responsible for creating new Halo stories across an ever-growing collection of games, books, comics, and live action video.”
Of course, as somebody who has lived, breathed and consumed every piece of Halo media since 2001 (every novel, comic, web series, even taken part in a collaborative fan-made anthology a few years ago called Halo: Revolutions), I am pretty sure that I can drop these things off the top of my head. Your average Unggoy weights about 118kg, the Warthog’s top speed varies across each model, but the latest model featured in Halo 4 can reach 78 mph and is able to go up to 490 miles before it needs to refuel, and a Halo ring is 10,000 km in diameter – this, of course, refers to the final 7 Halos which were used to wipe out all life in the galaxy, as the original Halos created by the Master Builder were 30,000 km in diameter.
In 1000 words or less, create a comprehensive summary of the concept of “The Mantle” as it currently exists in game and expanded universe fiction. Include images/videos if and when appropriate. Anticipate that this document would be used by Halo creators at 343 Industries and external development/creative partners. (It won’t really be, but that’s your expected audience.)
A very interesting task, something which anybody who claims to be a Halo lore expert should be more than capable of doing. So, naturally (because I know I’m perfect for this job), I’m going to have a stab at it – a 1000 word essay to comprehensively summarise our current understanding of the concept of the Mantle. (Note: quotes are not being included as part of the word count.)
1) What is ‘the Mantle’?
The Mantle, often referred to as the ‘Mantle of Responsibility’ by the Forerunners, can be simply described as the highest form of guardianship over life. It is the official ‘religion’ held by the Forerunners, as they believe that the race that preceded them (the Precursors, near god-like entities who mysteriously vanished millions of years ago) passed down this ultimate responsibility to the Forerunners which entitled them to steward life in the Milky Way galaxy. This belief was founded partially on the concept of a thing called ‘Living Time’, described in Greg Bear’s novel Halo: Cryptum as “the joy of life’s interaction with the Cosmos” and the origin of the Mantle’s “compelling rules”.
In every natural circumstance, living things engage in competition. This is a prime directive for those who uphold the Mantle: it is not a kindness to diminish competition, predation – even war. Life presents strife and death as well as joy and birth. But Forerunners in their highest wisdom also knew that unfair advantage, mindless destruction, pointless death and misery – an imbalance of forces – can retard growth and reduce the flow of Living Time. ~ Halo: Cryptum, page 267
This is the purest expression of the responsibility that the guardians of the Mantle must confront, they must provide a balance to the growth of life to ensure the flow of Living Time. It is their failure to adhere to this principle which ultimately proved to be the downfall of the Forerunners, as their actions stunted the development and growth of life and when they came to face their ultimate enemy, the Flood, they had no allies to turn to (more on that later) and ended up having to exterminate all life in the galaxy with the Halo rings.
“Guardianship for all living things lies with those whose evolution is most complete. The Mantle of Responsibility shelters all.” ~ Cortana, (Halo 4, Requiem)
This is a translation of the Eld glyph, the symbolic representation of the Mantle of Responsibility which can be seen on numerous pieces of Forerunner architecture. The Eld’s inscription confirms the purpose of the Mantle, that those whose evolution has come the furthest down the twining streams of Living Time hold the responsibility of guardianship over life. The Forerunners believed that they were just one stage in this grand plan shaped by the Precursors, the universe’s grand architects, and that one day they themselves would pass the Mantle down for another race to assume these responsibilities. Of course, it’s a major thematic point in the Halo series that humanity is destined to reclaim the Mantle – and, indeed, it is revealed in the Forerunner Saga that we were always meant to have it while the Forerunners weren’t.
2) Forerunners and their failure to uphold the Mantle
“The Mantle. You still hold to that [fairy tale] after all that has happened? After this thing has consumed a million worlds? Can’t you see? Belief in the Mantle sealed our doom! Weakened our [protectorates], bred dependence and sloth. Our [so-called Guardianship] has stripped those we would keep safe of any capacity for self-defence!” ~ Librarian, Halo 3 (Terminal 2 )
The Librarian was adamant that the Forerunners had failed in their duties to uphold the Mantle, as they had systematically dismantled any species in the galaxy who could potentially be a threat to Forerunner dominance. In Greg Bear’s Forerunner Saga, this is a huge part of the story as we see the consequences that ancient humanity and the San ‘Shyuum (better known as the Prophets) suffer as a result of them losing their war against the Forerunners.
The San ‘Shyuum home system was placed under quarantine by the Forerunners, monitored by the fortress-class Forerunner warship known as Deep Reverence. When the San ‘Shyuum initiate an uprising in the final years of the Forerunner-Flood war when the Librarian collects specimens for preservation on the Ark, the Master Builder uses one of his Halo installations to quell the uprising by sterilising the whole system – resultantly wiping out all but the five hundred million San ‘Shyuum who would be reseeded onto the planet following the activation of the Halos.
The ancient human empire was another known victim of the Forerunners, following their loss of the war they were forcefully devolved into a Tier 7 state and there was even talk of simply wiping humanity out altogether to eliminate the threat. Humanity were, in fact, victims of the Flood at the time and the Forerunners refused to listen to their warnings – all they saw were Forerunner worlds in cinders, destroyed by human ships with no evidence of this all-consuming parasite in sight. Humanity were seen simply as aggressive expansionists, until the Timeless One, the last surviving Precursor, was found on Charum Hakkor. It was believed that humanity and the San ‘Shyuum had developed a cure for the Flood, as a time came where the Flood simply stopped infecting humans, which allowed the Librarian to push for their preservation. The Composer was used to extract and preserve the memories of human survivors and imprinted into the memories of future human generations to be awakened when the Flood returned to challenge the Forerunners, but humanity had defiantly wiped out any trace of the speculated Flood cure and the last San ‘Shyuum with any knowledge of it was killed by the firing of the Master Builder’s Halo.
These are just two races who fell victim to Forerunner supremacy, two instances where they totally failed to uphold the Mantle and disrupted the flow of Living Time by stunting the growth of these two races because they were a threat to the Forerunners’ power. We can clearly see how the Forerunners were far from being noble guardians as their corrupt government, the Council and the Master Builder, acted as galactic dictators rather than fair-minded peacekeepers.
“The peaceful one is at war without and within.” ~ The Mantle, Fifth Permutation of the Didact’s Number
This has been labelled by Greg Bear as “the Warrior-Servant’s dilemma”. One must be centred to be at war, but to fight is to lose one’s centre. This is the character of the Didact in a nutshell, his constant struggle through life to adhere to the principles of the Mantle – though, sadly, the influence of the Gravemind and a botched mutation result in the Didact adopting an entirely new mentality in regards to how the Mantle is to be attained and upheld.
“This quest to fulfil the Mantle has haunted me my entire life. And for countless millennia, we have failed to realize the one truth that could have saved us from the beginning. The Mantle isn’t to be inherited by the noble, it is to be taken by the strong.” ~ Ur-Didact, Silentium (page 224)
The Mantle was what led the Forerunners to their doom. The Precursors intended for humanity to be their inheritors, but the Forerunners took it for themselves and wiped out almost every single Precursor. One was kept in captivity, some fled the galaxy and went into suspended animation, and others became dust which would regenerate their past forms – time rendered the dust defective, everything it touched decayed and mutated, thus resulting in the birth of the Flood. In the end, it is the hubris of Forerunners which proved to be their undoing and the Librarian is doing all she can to ensure that humanity rises again better than they were before so that they might uphold the Mantle as properly intended.
“Our time as the galaxy’s caretakers is passed. The Flood have overrun us. In the days to come, the Halo rings will fire, eradicating the Flood – and all other life, for a time. I have worked hard to index all species in known space. When the time comes, these indexes will open, and once more, the galaxy will breathe and grow… Blood will pump, life will claw its way out of the oceans and through the mud. Babes will be born, grow old under the warmth of a thousand suns. Civilizations will rise in our stead, and our job as caretakers will at last bear fruit.” ~ Librarian, Halo 4 (Terminal 7)
So, there it is. Exactly 1000 words defining the Mantle, explaining its relation to the Precursors, Forerunners and humanity, why the Forerunners failed to uphold it, and what it means for the future of Halo’s story. For a comprehensive study of all Halo media spanning the last 5 years in regards to the next step in Master Chief’s journey, humanity’s path to reclaiming the Mantle and how it can potentially feed into the games, check out my article: Halo: Xbox One – What’s Going to Happen?
To anybody reading this who feels that they’re perfectly capable of qualifying for this job, have at it! I wish you the best of luck, it truly is any Halo fan’s dream job to be so deeply involved in the development of the fiction. 343 Industries is full of people deeply passionate about every facet of the Halo series, and nobody is more centred in the development of a franchise’s progress than the fans.