Why the Librarian is Halo’s greatest antagonist

“She is stubborn, brilliant as a nova, dark as a singularity.”

The forces of antagonism in the Halo universe are among some of the most memorable (and quotable) in gaming.

From the soft-spoken machinations of the Prophet of Truth in Halo 2, to Atriox crushing some of the most powerful symbols of the series in his fist – these are characters you don’t soon forget.

In Halo 4, however, it becomes clear that the greatest threat faced not only by humanity, but the galaxy itself, is not an all-consuming parasite, or an army of warmongering mercenaries, or even the Didact himself…

It’s the Librarian.LibrarianHD3The origins of this line of thought of mine can be textually traced back to an article I wrote in 2015 – ‘On the Librarian, Vanity, and Reclamation’

This was, of course, six months before Halo 5 released, and we’ve had a wealth of fiction since. With Halo Infinite a similar amount of time away, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to renew and update this particular critique, to bring it up to my modern style and standard.

For this, we must look in great depth at some of the most pivotal concepts in Halo that have taken centre-stage over the last decade, and across the series as a whole.

The Mantle of Responsibility, accelerationism, empire, transhumanism, and the thematic intersection of all these things across 343’s franchise media – to build a complete picture of what the story they’re telling is and what it has to say.

But first, as with all things in storytelling, we have to begin with character.


“To so many species, she has made herself like unto a god, that they will remember her, that she can manipulate them in future times.”

hft4The Librarian, ‘First-Light-Weaves-Living-Song,’ was a Lifeshaper, head of the Lifeworker rate. She was the mastermind behind the Conservation Measure (indexing species to reseed after the Halos fired); mother of twelve (all-deceased) children with her husband, the Didact; and a ‘surrogate-mother’ of sorts to humanity.

She is also one of the most complex, flawed, and brilliantly conceived characters in the series.

Perhaps it is reductive to define her in this way, but she was the Catherine Halsey before Catherine Halsey…

The Librarian champions the idea that it is humanity’s ‘birthright’ to inherit the Mantle of Responsibility for the galaxy. But to what end?

What is the Librarian’s interest in humanity? What is her plan? And how do these things make her – as I have boldly claimed – Halo’s greatest antagonist?


It was said that the Librarian showed favour to at least one-hundred-and-twenty-three technologically capable species in the Orion Arm of the galaxy, including humanity. But this was not always so.

During the war between ancient humanity and the Forerunners, ten thousand years before the Forerunner-Flood war, the Librarian was a voice that spoke in-favour of humanity’s eradication.

Ironically, it was the Didact who opposed her in this. Following the rule of the Mantle, he believed that humanity must be brought back into the fold.

The war reached its inevitable conclusion on Charum Hakkor, humanity’s capital world (their ancient equivalent to Reach), where the last remnants of the resistance – under the command of Forthencho, the Lord of Admirals – finally fell.

It was the responsibility of the Lifeworkers to study the defeated humans, as it was believed that they had discovered a cure for the Flood (who had mysteriously retreated outside the galaxy).charum2In this, the Ecumene Council turned to profoundly macabre measures…

Composers were used on the humans to extract their mental patterns, which were then copied and placed into mechanical storage where they were subjected to rote ‘interrogation.’

Seeing this horror play out, the Librarian was moved to campaign for humanity as a ‘renewable’ species. In order to preserve them, the Forerunners ‘extracted’ thousands of survivors from the war who were hiding in redoubts, and brought them back to Earth – as it was known then, Erde-Tyrene.

The Council then decreed that the humans be devolved, their epigenetics were to be dialled backwards, and select humans would be made to feel – to consciously experience – the pain of this reversal. As punishment.

Finally, the Council and the Builders ordered the Composed essences to be imprinted – holographically stored – within humanity’s flesh, in a state of dormancy. And the humans themselves would be conditioned to show docility towards Forerunners.

What became of the “library of enslaved ghosts” created from the copies of these Composed essences has not been explicitly explored, but the Forerunner Saga (and other media, along with a comment from Frank O’Connor) strongly suggests that they were the minds used to create Mendicant Bias.

“MB wasn’t built with human technology, although he may not have been exactly alien either.” [Frank O’Connor (‘Stinkles’), NeoGAF (20/3/2015)]

On this, I have a whole article on the topic: ‘Mendicant Bias… is ancient human’mendicantbiasPerhaps simple extinction would’ve been less cruel than this cosmically gruesome act of this ‘rehabilitation’ – of reassimilation. Yet it was here that the Librarian found herself ‘in charge’ of nurturing humanity in their fallen state.

“Despite my husband’s triumph over these broken wretches, I felt like weeping, remembering fallen friends, colleagues… family. But not for them alone would I weep. These pitiful humans, wounded and fallen, were also my children. So the Rule of the Mantle instructs.” [Halo: Silentium, p. 31]

The Librarian’s motives are drawn from the core themes of ‘family’, ‘duty’, and ‘home.’

As, indeed, are the Didact’s.

“The Mantle is our guidepost in times such as these, we must not falter in following its teachings. The enemy must be sent home, and taught to stand with the galaxy, rather than rail against us and take what they desire. The Mantle shelters all.” [Halo 4 – Terminal 1 (‘War’)]

The Didact believed that the Forerunners’ duty was to ‘reintegrate’ humanity into the galactic family by sending them home.

When there is unity between these three themes, ‘home’ is articulated as a place of wisdom and learning. It is a noble idea that is perverted by the overtones of assimilation, and this is the ‘loophole’ in the Mantle that the Forerunners exploited.

If you step out of line, your civilisation will be reset – plunged into a technological dark age – and remoulded into something more agreeable. (And, as we’ll get to later, technology is the key here.)

Much of Silentium is dedicated to the Librarian’s own testimony on these events, which we had previously seen primarily through the eyes of other characters in the previous two books (Cryptum and Primordium).

This was the turning point that would inform the Librarian’s actions over the 100,000 years to follow – up to the ‘present.’hft57

I gave them all my geas, my mark of instruction, utility and pride. I wished to be remembered. My own existence seemed so frail, after what we had done. When I worked with the humans, studying their genetics and personalities, I could almost forget the larger conflicts that loomed. [Silentium, p. 47]

The Librarian’s greatest flaw is vanity.

She has to feel that all she’s done has been worth something. It is not enough to have simply done what she believes to be ‘good,’ she wants her efforts to be known. She wants this so much that her abstracted essence will still be around in the ‘modern’ galaxy to ensure her work is done.

Just as the Didact said, she has effectively written herself into many of the cultures she shepherded to ensure she will be remembered.

That they can be manipulated in future times…

Who will use this portal?

Who will live to return here? And what will they think of this machine that I’ve buried? Those I have fought for, for so long. Those who, it is clear to me now, ultimately will and must inherit the Mantle.

I can only hope that they will survive and upon returning, that they will find this portal and use it to travel to the Ark – in order that they might discover their rightful place in this galaxy, and the great responsibility they have finally inherited.

They are the last of my children. They must reclaim their birthright. [Silentium, p. 324-5]

As much as she genuinely cares for and loves life, it is abundantly clear that humanity is something of a vanity project.LibrarianHD1She even altered her own appearance through the Forerunner process of mutation to appear more human.

I once had an eye for beauty among all rates. Yet the Librarian’s beauty lies neither in youth nor in physical perfection. She is in many ways flawed: a tilt of one eye, slanted lower lip, unseemly whiteness of teeth. She seems to have deliberately adopted a few characteristics of those humans she now collects. [Silentium, p. 21-22]

Part of the geas she imposed on humanity (and many other species, it would seem) has her appear as what an individual would perceive as the ‘ideal female.’

I see very clearly how much the Librarian has shaped humanity since the end of the first human-Forerunner war. Whenever you look inward and see an ideal female… whether it be goddess, anima, mother, sister, or lover… For a brief, barely sensible instant, you will see the face and feel the spirit of the Librarian. [Halo: Primordium, p. 375]

Indeed, she is depicted in two subtly different ways when she appears in Halo 4’s campaign and Spartan Ops.

Where the Master Chief sees a more elderly, motherly figure (not unlike Halsey – the ‘mother figure’ for the Spartan-IIs), Halsey herself sees a much younger-looking visage (not unlike her own abstraction – Cortana).

Naturally, we must acknowledge that, on a technological level, these are two different models. What we see in the campaign is an in-game character model created by 343 Industries, while the Librarian’s cinematic model for Spartan Ops was created in-concert with Axis Animation.

As a result, whether this was intentional or not is somewhat ambiguous.

That ambiguity is also unimportant. The difference is there. It fits quite perfectly with the established lore and characterisation of the Chief, Halsey, and the Librarian…librarian comparisonThe Librarian wanted her mark left on the galaxy, to be known by those she fought to save.

She sees humanity as her children, the last of her children, after having lost all of her own (ironically, in the war with ancient humanity, as all twelve of them chose to become Warrior-Servants alongside their father).

After pouring so much time and investment into the devolved humans placed in her care – after their sacrifices against the Flood, their loss against her own kind, and the hideous torture they were subjected to – she felt it had to all be worth something (to her).

And this is what the Gravemind chose to be the final twist of the knife.

When the Librarian trapped herself on Earth, the Gravemind sent down the souls of Forthencho and other ancient humans to inform her that this was all for nothing. The Halos – which have already been fired – will destroy the Domain, condemning the Didact to countless millennia of madness within his Cryptum.

Some of this, however, has since been ‘dealt with’ in the Halo: Fractures anthology story ‘Promises to Keep,’ where Bornstellar and the other surviving Forerunners oversee the final stage of the Conservation Measure – sending the catalogued species back home. Bornstellar discovers the final message the Librarian sent him after this revelation, imploring him to return to Maethrillian – their fallen capital – in order to find a way to save the Domain.

In this, they succeed, which is how the Domain returned for Halo 5 (something which, I would like to smugly note, I called in June 2014).

The present state of the Domain, however, is stripped bare of the collective knowledge and wisdom it was said to hold. It appears barren, empty, and is now simply used as a vast network to control Forerunner technology across the galaxy.domainI specifically use the word ‘antagonist,’ not ‘villain,’ for the Librarian because what she does is not out of malice or nefarious intent. But her endgame – humanity inheriting the Mantle – is something to be opposed, not embraced.

Because of her vanity, her need to be remembered, her intervention, her desire for her actions to mean something, she has entirely missed that what she aims to perpetuate was the source of many of these problems in the first place.

In the end, her plan came to hinge entirely on the Ur-Didact, who she couldn’t bring herself to kill, but instead chose to induct into her plans once more. Through a long sojourn in the Domain, she believed that he would be ‘healed’ of the Gravemind’s malediction, emerging as a champion and teacher for humanity.

He would then claim the Janus Key, which reveals the real-time location of all Forerunner technology in the galaxy. Again, we return to technology. We’ll get there soon.

However, all the Gravemind did was distort and exacerbate prejudices and feelings that were already there…

That which had already been learned from the philosophy of the Mantle.


“The Mantle isn’t to be inherited by the noble, it is to be taken by the strong.”

“She will tell us where all things sacred are hidden in this galaxy. Ships, weapons, bounties beyond our imagining. And she will tell us how to make those miracles our own.”

hf603The Mantle is an ancient philosophy in the Halo universe, stretching back to the time of the Precursors, many millions of years ago.

The Forerunners believed that this ‘divine right’ to rule had been passed down to them by the Precursors before they departed our galaxy to destinations unknown. It was also believed that, one day, the Forerunners would likewise part with this responsibility, that another would take their place.

The reality, however, is far uglier than this idealised mythology.

While many details remain obscure, some fragments have been revealed. In Halo: Warfleet, it is stated that the Precursors created the Forerunners to serve as their “assistants and adjutants,” which has some curious military-related implications.

And it is known that the Precursors chose humanity to inherit the Mantle – or, at least, to be ‘tested’ for it. Upon learning this, allegedly believing that the Precursors were going to erase them (as they had supposedly done to other ‘failed’ species they created), the Forerunners rose up against their creators and hunted them across and beyond our galaxy to near extinction.

In doing so, in this act of such cosmic violence, they consolidated their claim for the Mantle.

As the Precursors conceived it, the Mantle was deeply tied to their esoteric concepts of neural physics and Living Time. Their definition of what constituted ‘life’ extended not only to physical beings, but matter and energy too.

“The universe lives, but not as we do.” [Halo: Cryptum, p. 103]

In Silentium, the Precursors’ conception of the Mantle is summarised by the Gravemind as:

“The blessing of rule and protection of life and change that thinks.” [Silentium, p. 174]

And the base idea, which finds its origins in Halo 3’s Terminals, is to do with the protection and preservation of genetic diversity in the galaxy.

Suffice it to say, this is a mandate that the Forerunners fell horrifically short of, with devastating consequences for the galaxy.primordiumTo the Forerunners, the Mantle belonged to one species. Them.

While their philosophy stated that they would pass it on, that they were just a temporary stage, it is clear from where we pick up the story in the Forerunner Saga that they had no plans for that to happen any time soon (after ten million years as top dog).

We cannot say much about what the rule of the Mantle looked like under the Precursors, these strange transsentient beings that seeded galaxies with life and then moved on.

But we can say that the rule of the Mantle under the Forerunners was an ideology steeped in racism and imperialism, propagating the supremacy of one race above all others.

As 031 Exuberant Witness succinctly summarises it to Jameson Locke in Halo 5:

Locke: “The Mantle?”

Exuberant Witness: “A forced peace upon the galaxy. The threat of death overpowering any celebration of life.” [Halo 5 – Genesis]

It is a totalitarian belief, where one privileged race has the God-given right to rule all others on the basis that their technology is most advanced – their evolution most ‘complete.’

Those who did not comply were destroyed, or worse: Subjected to the horrors of the Composer, had Halo rings test-fired on their worlds to quell an uprising, or Guardians used to wipe out their technology and forcibly impose a Dark Age…

In Warfleet, we learn that Guardians aren’t even the highest tier of ‘Peacemaker’ constructs – they’re ‘tier-two’ on that scale.

This, too, sees its origins in Halo 3’s Terminals. The Librarian herself criticises the Forerunners’ belief in the Mantle, in how their rule has impacted those they were meant to protect…

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! [Halo 3 – Terminal 2]

…which is further corroborated in the introductory conversation between Mendicant Bias and the Timeless One (here referred to as  LF.Xx.3273).

MB.05-032.> I have travelled a very long time to meet you. I had imagined that our [introduction] would be somewhat more violent.

LF.Xx.3273.> That is a choice you must make yourself; {~} to be how your creators go about things. [Halo 3 – Terminal 2]

Violence, in one form or another, was the Forerunners’ way. It is truly no wonder that they had no allies to call upon when the Flood came to their shores.guardiansHalo: Cryptum, the first book of the Forerunner Saga, is all about exploring this.

It is notable that the Flood do not make a single appearance in Cryptum. It is Mendicant Bias who shows up at the very end, hijacking the Forerunners’ own systems – their own technology.

This is because the story’s focus is on how a young Forerunner, born into the privileged Builder rate, discovers an awful truth.

All along, they have been the villains of their own story.

All my young life I had lived on an invisible cushion of civilisation. The struggles and designs of thousands of years of history had brought me to this pinnacle. I had had to exhibit only the tiniest minima of self-discipline to inherit the place my family had planned for me: the life of a privileged Forerunner, the very notion of which I found so restraining.

My privilege – to be born and raised all unaware of what Forerunners had had to do to protect their position in the galaxy: moving opposing civilisations and species aside, taking over their worlds and their resources, undermining their growth and development – reducing them to a population of specimens. Making sure their opponents could never rise again, never present a threat to Forerunner dominance, all while claiming the privilege of protecting the Mantle.

Mopping up after the slaughter.

How many species had collapsed beneath our hypocrisy, stretching how far back in time? What was myth, what was nightmare, what was truth? My life, my luxury – rising from the crushed backs of the vanquished, who were destroyed or deevolved

And what did that mean, precisely? Had the humans defeated by the Didact and his fleets been forced into sterility, senescence without reproduction, or had they been forced to watch their children subjected to biological reduction, to becoming lemurs again? [Halo: Cryptum, p. 126-7]

Cryptum is a story about the blinding effect of societal privilege, perpetuating generational cycles of maintaining the power structures that ensure a stagnant status quo – against foes both without and within.

All in the name of preserving power.

This line is echoed in Silentium when the Gravemind declares the Precursors’ new intent through the Flood, a twisted and warped mirror of the Precursors that marvelled at the Forerunners’ capacity for violence.

Making sure their opponents could never rise again, never present a threat to Forerunner dominance, all while claiming the privilege of protecting the Mantle. [Cryptum, p. 127]

“All creation will tailor to failure and pain, that never again shall the offspring of the eternal Fount rise up against their creators.” [Silentium, p. 175]

And has now been echoed by humanity in the aftermath of the Human-Covenant war.

I promise this to every man, woman, and child on Earth and in its colonies. While we will continue to strive for a peaceful coexistence with other species, humanity will never again allow itself to be the victim of aggression. This is the moment we start to reclaim our rightful place in the universe.” [Halo: Glasslands, p. 43]

Never again.

It is most succinctly summarised in Halo 4 with a single line: “We are the giants now.”

As I have oft remarked: this is not an aspirational statement for humanity, but the unmaking of ourselves as the villain.

Seizing absolute power to ensure absolute security.vad45Perhaps the most easily understandable and accessible ‘explanation’ of the Mantle comes in Halo’s original trilogy – in the form of the Covenant.

The Prophets hoarded and controlled all Forerunner technology. They imposed a caste system below them which determined the worth and purpose of those below them, breeding racial conflict while the San’Shyuum retained their revered status.

They spread the lie that humans are heretical, unclean, inferior, to cover up the ugly truth that their religion was based on a lie. For the truth to emerge, the Covenant would shatter.

Just as it did with the Forerunners, who spent ten million years covering up what they did to the Precursors.

“This is not irony; it is echo. The way of the Mantle. If we who are honoured with life do not perceive the obvious, then we are forced to live it again, around another corner, from another angle.” [Silentium, p. 179]

Other species were brought into the fold, forced to accept and practice this ideology, totally shape their civilisations around the Great Journey. Those at the top decide where you are on the ladder, on which rung, and what that means you’re worth.

Perhaps you’ll be an honourable warrior-class of protectors for the elite, or perhaps you’ll be bred as totally disposable cannon fodder…

While Halo 1 presented this story as one of survival for the human race, battling against all odds, it is Halo 2 which deepened it into a story about breaking a theocratic hegemony by exposing its lies – bringing humanity and the Sangheili together as allies, finding some reconciliation through this truth.

The Reclaimer Saga scales this conflict up, pulling the curtain back to reveal this cycle of violence throughout history. All that’s changed are the players on the board, and this is the cycle which we must break.

In this, we perhaps begin to see how, thematically, beyond the notions of ‘Bungie versus 343,’ there is a broadly holistic nature to Halo’s overarching story.

And while Halo 5 has a great many issues, it is no exception here. In fact, Halo 5 brought this story to something of a confluence point.30-03-2020_17-34-03-bc4daeccHalo 5 made this explicit in dialogue from the Master Chief and Exuberant Witness, condemning the Mantle.

John-117: “The Didact made it clear the Mantle of Responsibility was an imperial peace. Step out of line, and suffer.” [Halo 5 – Reunion]

Exuberant Witness: “A forced peace upon the galaxy. The threat of death overpowering any celebration of life.” [Halo 5 – Genesis]

This is what the Librarian seeks to perpetuate. Even with the best of intentions, driven as she is by love and hope and desperation, this is what positions her as the ultimate antagonist of the Halo setting.

The truth is that there is no ‘quick fix’ to society. Technology can alleviate certain burdens, aid in easing suffering, but it cannot ‘fix’ people. It is not, in itself, progress.

Progress comes through hard work and determination, which is obstructed by racism and prejudice – small-minded hatreds given systemic power when societies are led by those who exploit it for their own gain.

There remains, of course, the interesting possibility that humanity is being ‘prepared’ for the inevitable return of the Flood. In Halo 4, when the Master Chief meets the Librarian, this exchange ensues:

“Your physical evolution. Your combat skin. Even your ancilla, Cortana. You are the culmination of a thousand lifetimes of planning.”

“Planning for what?” [Halo 4 – Reclaimer]

This question goes unanswered.

If we are to take this to be true, does it justify the Librarian’s actions – her intervention in our development?mo315An argument I often see come up is that this story is bad because it strips humanity of agency and lessens our achievements by making things a matter of destiny.

And… yeah, you’re absolutely right, it does do that. But you’ve clocked out while you’re half-way there.

The mistake being made is just looking at this as a ‘fact,’ not the larger whole it’s part of, which is a condemnation of this kind of intervention. This is what the story is about.

Let’s look at another well-known sci-fi universe: Mass Effect.

When Commander Shepard meets Sovereign on Virmire and learns about the Reapers, this exchange ensues:

“The pattern has repeated itself more times than you can fathom. Organic civilisations rise, evolve, advance. And at the apex of their glory, they are extinguished. The Protheans were not the first. They did not create the Citadel. They did not forge the Mass Relays. They merely found them, the legacy of my kind.

[…] Your civilisation is based on the technology of the Mass Relays, our technology. By using it, your society develops along the paths we desire. We impose order on the chaos of organic evolution. You exist because we allow it. And you will end because we demand it.” [Mass Effect (2007)]

Millennia of societal and technological development were engineered by the Reapers in order to facilitate the ontological patterns of the same predetermined end every 50,000 years.

These stories are not about saying “Ooh, isn’t it a cool bit of Lore™ that this was all planned out!” – they engage with the true horror of that path to annihilation, the story being about rejecting it.

And Forerunner technology is guiding everybody in the Halo universe down that same destructive path. As the Didact puts it (and, later, Jul ‘Mdama):

“We squander eons in the darkness while they seize our triumphs for their own!” [Halo 4 – Epilogue]

“[The Librarian] will tell us where all things sacred are hidden in this galaxy. Ships, weapons, bounties beyond our imagining. And she will tell us how to make those miracles… our own.” [Halo 4, Spartan Ops – Episode 4 (‘Didact’s Hand’)]

What the Reapers and the Librarian are doing is essentially the same thing, forcing a civilisation to develop along predetermined paths for their desired outcome.

The ultimate difference between them, really, is that she has a kinder face.asI’ve buried the lede a bit here because we can, in fact, turn to an in-universe example for Halo with the San’Shyuum. Their recovery post-activation was aided considerably by the vast amount of Forerunner technology that littered their homeworld.

In the Halo: Evolutions anthology story ‘Wages of Sin,’ written by Frank O’Connor, it was revealed that Mendicant Bias influenced the development of the San’Shyuum after the Keyship his fragment was aboard (which would later become the centrepiece of High Charity) crashed on Janjur Qom.

The ship is and has always been the key. It once stood on our secret world, just as majestic and mysterious as it is now, an enigma that drove our civilisation to greatness – the seed of all our discoveries. Our world – our true world – had been unkind to us, or I suppose, we to it. The ship liberated us from the toxins and ash of our own endeavours, sanctifying our path.

From it, we learned of the Forerunner legacy, the ubiquitous scatterings of their wake. So many worlds contain their leavings and their structures, but only ours was blessed with a Ship, a teacher. It taught us all how to unlock the secrets of space and time, to build ships of our own that sail the stars to spread the word. But it also seemed to ever nudge us in a direction, to build weapons of war – energy that could burn or sear flesh, vaporize bone. Technology that oft ekes conflagration from vacuum.

And only now as I look into the flickering light and watch the parasite spread, do I understand why these wise and ancient people would push those who remained in such a destructive direction.  [Halo: Evolutions – ‘Wages of Sin’, p. 290-91]

These cycles of violence have many of the same things in-common, brought about by intervention with technology that these civilisations were not ready for.

Again, with understandable motives, as Mendicant Bias, driven by a hope to atone, was preparing the San’Shyuum for future conflict with the Flood by teaching them how to develop plasma-based weaponry.

But this technology did not solve their problems, nor provide any great wisdom. And the San’Shyuum, too, believed that they were inheritors of the Mantle, when their ancient counterparts were in fact enemies of the Forerunners.

Another long-buried truth.

“Or, as I fear, are they to reclaim the mantle we so terribly squandered? The responsibility the Forerunners left us was a magnificent one, but perhaps beyond our means and character. We are a greedy, squabbling lot. We clamber over each other for rank and privilege, and kill, maim, or betray for power.

The Forerunner mantle was one of responsibility, it seems. Perhaps we were intended to nurture rather than conquer.” [Evolutions – ‘Wages of Sin’, p. 299]

No, the desirable qualities of progress are simply not a matter of genetics or technology, which brings us to…


“Your evolutionary journey must be accelerated.”

“Take this Key to the Absolute Record. Use what you find to propel humankind.”

LibrarianHD2‘Accelerationism’ is the idea that capitalism and its processes should be sped-up in order to instigate radical societal change.

This idea intersects with industry and technology, as it greatly favours automation and a push towards a technological singularity (transhumanism, which we’ll get to later).

In the Halo universe, Forerunner society was one that had reached this telos.

They wore personal armour equipped with their own artificial intelligence. This removed their need for sleep and provided them with some degree of functional immortality. Their factories are able to pump out Halo rings and other immense constructs through entirely automated labour (Sentinels).

Upon entering Requiem’s Cartographer in the second mission of Halo 4, Cortana translates a series of glyphs on the Eld – the symbol for the Mantle.

“Guardianship for all living things lies with those whose evolution is most complete. The Mantle of Responsibility shelters all.” [Halo 4 – Requiem]

Many have taken issue with this line because you surely can’t ‘complete’ evolution, right?

In the context of Forerunner society, and as far as accelerationism is concerned, they very much had.

And this is another idea that finds its origins in Halo 3’s Bestiarum, where the Precursors were first mentioned as a Tier 0 species – something the Forerunners labelled as a “theoretical ceiling.”

Their ecumene spanned three-million fertile worlds across the Orion Arm of the galaxy, they had no need to expand outward because they had effectively neutralised all threats to themselves and secured more resources than they could ever need.

What mattered, from there, was maintaining that order. Ancient humanity was but the last domino to fall.

Their society existed in a state of stasis for countless millennia after reaching their own singularity point, leading to its stagnation.

Your history is an appalling chronicle of overindulgence and self-appointed authority. You have spent millennia [navel-gazing] while the universe has continued to evolve. And now you claim the Mantle is justification for impeding nature’s inevitable refinement?

You are deluded. But through death you will transcend ignorance. [Mendicant Bias, Halo 3 – Terminal 5]

07-03-2020_19-57-55-4gpke4g0The acceleration of capitalism and technology is felt most strongly by those who exist at the bottom of the social ladder – the outliers, the working-class, the marginalised and underprivileged. The people that systems work against and perpetuate the suffering of. The ones who are left behind.

We see this manifest on a micro (Forerunner society) and macro (the rest of the galaxy) level throughout the Forerunner Saga.

Where the system for the galaxy was simply ‘Forerunners on top, everybody does as we say,’ the politics were much more complex for their own castes.

Throughout their history, it was Warriors and Builders who have ranked the highest, something which Bornstellar – himself a Builder, at this point – questions in Halo: Cryptum as he gradually uncovers the rot and hypocrisy of his people.

If the Mantle – the exalted preservation of life throughout the universe – was the core of our deepest philosophy, our reason for being, then why were Lifeworkers at the bottom of our rates?

Why did Builders, who worked mostly with inanimate matter, rank so high? [Cryptum, p. 150]

The Builders hoarded power and profit for themselves. A central tension throughout the Forerunner Saga is how many of the cultural artefacts and rituals of the other rates were suppressed by the Builders – particularly those of the Warrior-Servants and Miners.bornstellarAs I said, Cryptum is a story about societal privilege, told from the perspective of a wealthy young Builder who must reject this. He becomes a Warrior-Servant instead – the rate that does the dirty work of maintaining the status quo of the empire, while being conveniently looked down upon by those they keep in power (and the aesthetics of this story are strongly analogous to trans narratives – but that’s a whole other article).

Bornstellar’s ending, where he and Chant-to-Green depart from this galaxy to become farmers on a distant world, is perfect because the most powerful image of decelerationism is that of the rural, pastoral lifestyle.

This has been a recurring image practically throughout every one of our glimpses into the Forerunners’ world since 2007.

When we are introduced to the Librarian in Halo 3’s Terminals, she is on Earth and describes having built a garden.

Did I tell you? I built a garden. The earth is so rich. A seed falls and a tree sprouts or a flower blooms. There’s so much… potential. We knew this was a special place because of them, but unless you’ve been here, you can’t know.

It’s [Eden]. [Halo 3 – Terminal 6]

Our first proper look at the Forerunner perspective outside of the final days of their war with the Flood came in 2009’s Halo: Evolutions – specifically Frank O’Connor’s (very) short story ‘Soma the Painter.’

I actually wrote a whole article on ‘Soma,’ back in 2015, which also features the text from the story itself (as it’s only two pages long).

This is a story about a group of decelerationist Forerunners who live outside of the empire, without armour or advanced technology.

She had moved here for these moments; silence, unsterilised air, sounds of nature, the minuscule dangers of a real place – stinging plants and quarrelsome insects. Like the inhabitants of the town below, Soma had given up her armour in order to experience life more intimately. No more lenses, no more n-barriers, no more omniscient guides. She had come here seeking a primitive lifestyle, one demonstrated perfectly in her sagging skin, her telling wrinkles. She’d come here to love life, but also to age and die. [Halo: Evolutions – ‘Soma the Painter’, p. 7-8]

One of the brilliant things this story accomplishes is introducing us to the Forerunners by showing us everything they aren’t.

Even at this early stage, before the first page of the Forerunner Saga had been written, there were suggestions of major cultural tensions.

Soma notes that their world, Seaward, was an anonymous world by the design of some unknown benefactor who maintained their secrecy in exchange for art (there’s a lot more to this which I go into in the article linked above).ah1And then, finally, in Halo: Silentium, the Librarian and a group of Forerunners journey to Path Kethona in the Large Magellanic Cloud, just outside our galaxy. The purpose of this voyage was to discover the true origins of the Flood.

What they find is an ancient fleet of abandoned warships, and a world which hosts the descendants of the Forerunners who left the galaxy ten million years ago to hunt down and exterminate the (supposed) last Precursors.

They, too, lived a rural lifestyle, and their ancestors were virtuous in the sense that they refused to carry out the orders to commit this act of genocide against their creators.

As a result, they were marooned on this world, and their descendants chose to forsake their technology.

This same motif recurs as one of the core conflicts in Halo: Nightfall, playing out on a smaller scale between the ONI team and the Sedrans from the Outer Colonies, as well as the smugglers from Aleria – Haisal Wari and Arris Le (whose world has been suffering a century-long drought).

Agent Horrigan disdainfully notes that the Sedrans are two centuries behind them, that they still believe in Valhalla. Talitha Macer later discusses with Locke that the only difference between them is training; the Thanolekgolo were literally ‘created’ by the Forerunners to sense technology (magnetic fields, radio waves, and electromagnetic pulses)…

And Haisal, at the mid-point of the film, sums this theme up as such:

“These people don’t know how to react, brother. So reliant on their technology, they wouldn’t know what to do without it, would they? Maybe that’ll be the thing that kills you.” [Haisal Wari, Halo: Nightfall (43:00)]

vitruvianchiefThe thing about accelerationism is that it’s a fascist ideal. It’s something that’s been embraced by white supremacists and alt-right movements, by Dark Enlightenment, and cited in the manifestos of murders to justify genocidal ideas.

Belief that technology is the ‘answer’ to hitting that telos. That we can not just societally and culturally evolve, but genetically create the ‘superhuman’ – Nietzsche’s Übermensch.

That’s a Nazi philosophy.

It’s eugenics, which the Spartan program is absolutely swimming in – that is, until the Spartan-IVs, which is composed of consenting adult volunteers without the stringent genetic requirements.

The transhuman ideal is one that rests on the belief of genetic purity and supremacy, that certain people are fit to influence and direct the future of humanity. Naturally, this means that there are others who are not – who are inferior, unworthy. Any notion of there being a line between transhumanism and eugenics vanishes here.

It is, of course, the elite progeny, those who are wealthy and powerful (and white), who may one day do something terrible ‘for the future of humanity’ because that is the ‘duty’ they have.

This, I believe, is what Halo 5 really wanted to engage with in its story around the Master Chief. Not just the in-universe ‘worship’ of him as humanity’s champion, but the fanbase’s as well, as he is unbound from the chain of command.

This much is certainly captured strongly by the much of Halo 5’s marketing material. Part of Locke’s perspective is to do with the threat of “believing in a hero,” while the Chief talks about making “great sacrifices.”

Locke: “My mission is warranted – bring down a verified traitor.”
Chief: “I’ve made my choice, my path is clear.”
Locke: “Our greatest threat is believing in a hero.”
Chief: “I believe in completing my mission. At all costs.”
Locke: “I believe in protecting humanity.”
Chief: “I believe great threats require great sacrifices.”
Locke: “I believe in taking down a traitor.” [Halo 5: Guardians – Believe teaser (9/10/15)]

frank librarianThese are the connotations that come loaded with the statement that “Guardianship for all living things lies with those whose evolution is most complete.”

Where the Mantle may “shelter all,” this ‘noble’ ideal (and that’s all it is, it’s nothing physically quantifiable, it’s a case of who has the most powerful technology) gives power to one race and enables them to make all the decisions for everybody else. Just as, on a smaller scale, we impose that same view on the Chief.

The Mantle is a sci-fi’d up White Man’s Burden, the profoundly racist belief that it is the responsibility of white people to culturally assimilate and rule the non-white peoples of the world in this enterprise of empire.voyI’ve been watching through Star Trek: Voyager over the last few months and there are a number of episodes which I feel are profound parallels to this topic as it applies to Halo.

‘Innocence’ is the 22nd episode of Voyager’s second season, where Captain Janeway and the crew make contact with the Drayans – a reclusive, private culture, represented by First Prelate Alcia.

Upon arriving aboard Voyager, the first thing that Janeway chooses to show the Drayans is their ship’s warp core. To the Federation, it represents our greatest achievement: technology that enables us to explore and learn about the universe.

Alcia, however, is not particularly impressed because her civilisation has had a very different experience with technology.

Alcia: I find it interesting that you chose this to show me first. Do your people consider advanced technology to be their highest achievement?

Janeway: Not as an end in itself. The purpose of all this is to help up gain knowledge about the universe and the people in it.

Alcia: Our ancestors were brilliant scientists and engineers. They were continually developing better, smarter, more efficient machines, until the technology became more important than the people. I believe our society would have self-destructed if it weren’t for the Reformation. My great-grandfather helped to return us to ourselves, and since that time we’ve remained isolated to avoid the influence of those who might lead us back down the wrong path.

Chakotay: Some human cultures have done the same. [Star Trek: Voyager – ‘Innocence’ (2×22)]

It’s just a few lines of an episode with a much broader story going on, but it is profoundly applicable to the Reclaimer Saga – because these are common tropes of the genre.

343’s storytelling brings with it a certain willingness to trust that its audience is familiar with the structure and rhythm of these kinds of stories. This allows for certain bits of unnecessary exposition to be skimmed over in order to shift focus elsewhere, to use that knowledge of established conventional structure to explore more provocative, ambitious questions of the series.

Halo 4 is structured around the big idea of awakening an ancient Forerunner, this unstoppable force that we have to fight. But it is far more interested in the question of what the Chief and Cortana would do when put in this situation where they must deal with what they want (revolving around Cortana’s rampancy) versus their duty (stopping the greater threat).

It does this to explore in great depth who these characters are and what personal sacrifices they have to make for humanity, and for each other.voy1The most recent episodes of Voyager that I’ve watched (at the time of writing) was the two-parter ‘Future’s End,’ in the middle of Season 3.

In this story, Voyager is intercepted by a Federation vessel from the 29th century (Voyager is set during the 24th) and the pilot, Captain Braxton, claims that Voyager will be the cause of a temporal explosion that will wipe out Earth’s solar system in his time. As such, he has come to destroy them to prevent that from happening.

Voyager successfully holds off Braxton’s attack, sending him into the time rift which takes him to Earth in 1967, where he is discovered by a young hippie in a forest (again, that accelerationist/rural imagery) named Henry Starling who uses the advanced technology of Braxton’s ship to create Chronowerx Industries and kickstart the micro-computer revolution.

Janeway and the crew are also pulled into the rift, which deposits them at Earth in 1996. They discover that Starling intends to use Braxton’s timeship to travel to the 29th century and steal more technology for more power and profit, as he has expended all he can from the ship itself – revealing that he is the cause of the temporal explosion.

Janeway: You’d destroy an entire city? You don’t care about the future, you don’t care about the present. Does anything matter to you, Mister Starling?

Starling: The betterment of mankind.

Janeway: It doesn’t look like that.

Starling: Why do you think I want to go to the future, a vacation?

Janeway: To get more technology. That’s why you’re launching the timeship.

Starling: I’ve cannibalised the ship itself as much as I can. There’s nothing left to base a commercial product on.

Janeway: And the future is just waiting to be exploited.

Starling: You just don’t get it, do you? I created the micro-computer revolution.

Janeway: Using technology you never should have had.

Starling: Irrelevant. My products benefit the entire world. Without me there would be no laptops, no internet, no barcode readers. What’s good for Chronowerx is good for everybody. I can’t stop now. One trip to the twenty-ninth century and I can bring back enough technology to start the next ten computer revolutions.

Janeway: If you even attempt to travel to the future, you risk creating a temporal explosion that could cost billions of lives, including your own.

Starling: I’m willing to take that risk. [Star Trek: Voyager – ‘Future’s End, Part II’ (3×09)]

Starling is all about capitalism and accelerationism, and this is again a representative parallel to the post-war galaxy in the Halo universe, where the greatest currency for its resident factions is Forerunner technology.librarian planWhile narratively unsatisfying in its execution, in the writing of this article I find that I have completely reevaluated my feelings about the conclusion to Halo: Escalation with regards to the loss of the Janus Key.

It’s unreservedly a good thing that the information provided by this Key (the real-time location of every piece of Forerunner technology in the galaxy) was lost.

The Janus Key offered all the answers. Every bit of automation, every tool of accelerationism, neatly packaged into something you can hold in your hand.

We believe, naively, that we will survive this. Even knowing that we are a civilisation that is not ready for it; it is knowledge and power and pain that has been given, not earned.

Even the custodian’s dialogue in the scene where it seizes the Janus Key is reflective of the terms of this exchange.

“Your performance during the examination was excellent. Then you decided to usurp the system authority. A legitimate transfer of power was about to take place. The Absolute Record would have been yours.” [Halo: Escalation – Issue #24]

This exchange of power must happen on the Forerunners’ terms – on the system’s terms. And the presentation of the Librarian in the scenes she appears throughout this final arc comes across as incredibly sinister in how the comic visually frames her, as well as the choices made in which part of her dialogue is emphasised in bold.

As the Assembly says in Halo: Reach, discussing the discovery of Onyx in 2491 and its clear indication of extra-solar intelligence:

But allowing them to access technology possessed by this intelligence… That would be a grave mistake.

Give an ape a knife and it might give itself a nasty cut. Give an ape a hand-grenade, and eventually you will have simian confetti. [Halo: Reach – Data Pad #6]

And this is what the galaxy would look like with humanity having inherited the Mantle.janusbyeThe most obvious form that this evil takes is represented by the Ur-Didact, who believes that the Mantle belongs solely to the Forerunners.

In Silentium, when the IsoDidact and Ur-Didact confront one-another towards the end of the book, he states:

“This quest to fulfill the Mantle has haunted me my entire life. And for countless millennia, we have failed to realise 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.” [Silentium, p. 224]

As poorly executed as the Created were, and as eminently disagreeable as bringing Cortana back to be the figurehead of this is (given the narrative context here, this was absolutely Halsey’s place in the story), it is undeniable that Halo 5 is built around this theme.

Meridian explores the Liang-Dortmund Corporation’s exploitation of the workers who are ‘deglassing’ the planet (many of whom formerly lived there and were evacuated when it was invaded).

Vale: “A lot of money going into this, where’s the profit?”

Buck: “Sure your mom was signal intelligence? You sound like a banker’s daughter.”

Tanaka: “Liang-Dortmund pays a couple generations of chumps to break off the glass, then has land rights to an entire planet. It’s a long con. But it’ll pay.” [Halo 5 – Unconfirmed]

And while we often note that the Sanghelios arc is largely separate from the overarching plot, on a thematic level this part of the story is all about freeing a civilisation from the Covenant – whose dominance came from the San’Shyuum hoarding Forerunner technology and establishing themselves as its proprietors.

This conflict is scaled even further in Halo Wars 2, as the Banished seek to gain control of the Ark – foundry of the Halos, the ultimate autonomous factory – and the Halo rings themselves.sof249The root of this ultimately comes down to the Librarian seeking to perpetuate the Mantle in this setting, believing that it is humanity’s ‘right’ to rule – put into practice by giving us the biggest guns in the galaxy.

Again, we may quibble with the execution of many of these ideas and disagree with the manner of their delivery, but one has to admire the throughline that ties all of this fiction together. They are undeniably consistent in this regard, exploring why the Mantle is bad.

It’s the Covenant under a different name. It’s the UNSC under a different name. It’s just another breed of imperialism.

And, y’know, what Halo has to say here isn’t just “Technology is bad!” The central thesis – the philosophy of virtue – in its use of the pastoral aesthetic is summed up on the very last page of the Halo: Fractures anthology novel.

What we once were before our pride, before the wars, and before Halo. We were noble, kind creatures who served one another and recognized our small place in the greater story. That is how we would be on this world. That is how the last chapter would be told.

Our new life here would be the end of our great journey. [Halo: Fractures – coda, p. 421]

Perhaps the most interesting thing that Halo 5 does in breaking its setting is that it takes the Covenant and the UNSC with it. They’re gone, their infrastructure is destroyed, and the personalities behind them have either been killed or displaced.

With Halo Infinite drawing ever closer, last year’s Discover Hope cinematic revealing the aftermath of a great battle that we lost, the question is what we’re going to rebuild from the rubble.

Halo: Renegades certainly posits some interesting ideas, which many of us have been discussing for years now.

It reveals that part of the Librarian’s plan is for humanity to be given the tools to tend the Domain, and it concludes with Rion Forge ruminating on the ‘solution’ to the Mantle.

“Maybe the Mantle of Responsibility that the Forerunners had been so fond of wasn’t a one-race responsibility, but an every-race responsibility. Human, Sangheili, Kig-Yar, Unggoy… post war life had begun bringing small pockets of species together. If certain factions stopped making war, manipulating fears, clinging to their information and technology, and deciding for the greater good without the greater good’s input, it might be the beginning of something better.” [Halo: Renegades, p. 329]

To conclude, I reference the same point I made five years ago about Halo’s story.

It’s not – and never was – about Reclamation.

It’s about Reformation.

Author’s note: I’d like to extend a personal thank you to Sam (‘Snickerdoodle’) from 343, who very kindly provided me with several gorgeous high-quality images of the Librarian for this article (one of which being the header).

A new feature I’ll be adding to the end of articles going forward is a gallery for all the screenshots and images I use, as WordPress’s current format doesn’t allow readers to simply click on images for the full version the way it used to.

Just open any of the below images in a new tab and it’ll appear at its proper resolution, satisfying your desktop wallpaper needs.

Stay safe, Spartans!

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17 thoughts on “Why the Librarian is Halo’s greatest antagonist

  1. Your closing quote from Renegades evokes what Paxopolis was set up to do. But two issues gnaw at me.

    Firstly, Kig-Yar and human relations have almost always been transactional, except for Nor Fel whose display of compassion and generosity is unusual in the Halo universe. The Kig-Yar civilization has been recorded to be built upon piracy and banditry. Attempting to include them into a collective federation of mantlebearers would be akin to today’s humans help bring back scavengers like vultures.

    Secondly, the nature of the Jiralhanae is rooted in conflict. Only their piety can measure up to their penchant for violence.

    It is high time we get more fleshed out Kig-Yar and Jiralhanae characters.

    1. I absolutely agree, it’s time that we really moved beyond the Planet of Hats approach to the Jiralhanae and Kig-Yar – something which is LONG overdue.

      We’ve had a few glimpses at better Jiralhanae characters, such as Lydus in Halo: Escalation (super underrated character!), but it’s not been anywhere near enough.

      1. The stigma of Escalation has buried so many prospects. It’s quite tragic. We’ve also had a remarkable character in Castor, whose early-war connections to Atriox may lead to on-screen introductions in Infinite. Could be a good whoop for reader-gamers. But it could also seal his fate in appearing in future books.

        Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get more anthologies where the cross-species interactions are laid out for the concept of reformation to be thoroughly affirmed (a Redditor proposed marines and Grunts/Jackals fighting the Flood together). One can only hope.

  2. An excellent read! I cant believe how far behind I am in your articles I have some catching up to do, but I’m glad I had a chance to read and respond to this one. I had always believed the Forerunners were the villains of the Halo Saga, not because of how much I like and support the Flood and Precursors, but the sheer arrogance and stagnation they represented. I would definitely add that in addition to the Librarian’s vanity I would say she is a delusional optimist (or a bold-faced liar?), I always laughed at the notion that she thinks humanity would be better holders of the Mantle than them, humanity wouldn’t do anything differently than the Forerunners and history would inevitably repeat itself: advancement, expansion, subjugation, supremacy, stagnation, calamity, rinse, and repeat. How do you feel about another Master Chief novel coming out? Does it feel repetitive or is it all we can really expect now when it comes to Halo Literature/Expanded Universe (except for Renegades, we better get a sequel for that great novel!)?

    1. Cheers Nobu! 🙂

      I definitely agree about the Librarian’s rather delusional optimism. If she’s certain that humanity will be “better” than them, then surely her own influence in their development is polluting that potential…

      I’m excited for Shadows of Reach, but my first thought upon reading its synopsis was “Ah, well… there goes one of my book pitches!” because I had a very similar story in-mind if I were ever lucky enough to write a Halo novel lol.

      I think it’s the right time for that kind of symmetry with The Fall of Reach/Halo 1, but I’m reluctant to make any further judgements until I have read it. I’m absolutely on-board for a Renegades sequel, too!

  3. Bingo. I’m sure this article will be considered a “hot take” by many in this community that either don’t see or refuse to see the issue with humanity’s ascension, but it’s spot on. The Mantle and the associated machinations of the Librarian are pure poison for the societal and cultural development that needs to take place in order for the galaxy to become something more than a cyclical dump. In a lot of ways, the species of the galaxy need to stop thinking along the lines of species (But not every way. Some have been fucked over for a very long time and should have some form of reparation to correct the massive disparities that exist as a result of that mistreatment). The concept of viewing a person as their species first before considering them as an individual creates a barrier for connecting with them and developing a sense of kinship and empathy; they are “the others”, or “those people/creatures/things”. It creates the dehumanization necessary for exploitation and atrocity.

    The Librarian threatens to keep that kind of backwards thinking ingrained in the future political landscape of the galaxy by basing the galaxy’s future power structure on what is in effect a two-tier caste system based entirely on species – humans on top, then everyone else. It will encourage racial/species nationalism, which is effectively what is being promoted in the idea that humanity holds the Mantle: There will be a ruling state, and its participants shall be humans only.

    That’s bad for everyone, humans too. The failings and bad choices of the human leadership will end up being pinned to the shoulder of every human whether they supported it or not, because their race has become conflated with the state. It won’t just be a government being criticized by the other societies of the galaxy, it will be humanity personally. If that kind of thinking is not challenged through counter-example given how naturally susceptible evolved creatures are to xenophobia, then it will likely contaminate every other interspecies interaction – they will likely form nations around race reflecting the political landscape around them, consider the other species to be “the other”, and will compete with each other over who they think is best suited for the Mantle. They’ll be measuring each other up against themselves and against humans, very much in the same way that elements within the UNSC and certain Sangheili groups do now over who should inherit the Forerunner’s technology and former domains. In such a galaxy, Human-Covenant wars and Covenant style cruelty and exploitation would easily take place, and integration likely wouldn’t be common.

    In the end, humanity and the Forerunner’s inability to connect with each other as civilizations, instead choosing to wall themselves off from each other, lead to a chasm that was eventually filled with bloodshed. Bickering over the Mantle formed an integral part of why that chasm existed in the first place. It has to stop, otherwise the future outlook for human relations with the Covenant species isn’t going to be good. As humanity’s contemporaries in civilization and development, they aren’t going to bend the knee, and that could lead to a long lasting gulf between them that ends tragically, one day. What is at stake is essentially who or what will determine the galaxy’s future political dynamics, that could potentially last for the next million years or so.

    1. I was eagerly anticipating your response to this, Anton! This is very much a soapbox we’ve been on for many, many years now and I’m glad to see I did it justice 🙂

      I wonder how many people have actually imagined the Librarian’s endgame coming to fruition, where humanity has actually ‘inherited the Mantle,’ and thought “What does that look like?”

      Because the more I think about that picture, with every story that introduces some horrific new Forerunner gizmo, it gets a whole lot uglier.

      I think the issue that 343 really faces here is that a number of races in Halo are still WOEFULLY unexplored, and still treated as monolithic. I think they’ve got things steered in the right direction in terms of the trajectory of the overarching story, but the substance behind it is lacking in some important areas on our way to get there.

      1. I suspect that many people who desire humanity claiming the Mantle haven’t really thought it through. The question I always used to ask was how does humanity get from the state it’s in post-Halo 3, to the galaxy’s supposed benevolent ruling elite?

        Post-Halo 3, the species is in shock. Due to the constant war, it’s never had time to digest the fact that it isn’t alone; there’s probably very little academic or philosophical work done in discussing and developing ideas around extending human rights to non-humans; no work done in trying to make people more open to the idea of non-human intelligent life. It’s first contact with alien life was the worst case scenario. It’s completely inexperienced in dealing with other species in any context other than war. The obvious emotional fallout of the war such as the xenophobia, the anxiety about alien life, and the anger, will be rife. It’s very difficult to see how this can develop into something that is supposed to be a role model for the galaxy if humans are to assume this responsibility alone. It’s especially difficult to envision it if humanity are given super advanced technology right at this moment, before it has been able to overcome any of this. The deep involvement of the other species is probably going to be required to reduce the xenophobia, alleviate fears, anxieties and misconceptions about alien life and address the fact that human cultures have little experience in inter-species diplomacy.

        There’s also the question about what the word humanity actually means. People use the word “humanity” interchangeably with the UNSC, or Earth rule. But that’s not what humanity is. It’s far more diverse and fractured than that. There are humans who want nothing to do with Earth and its culture and administration. People forget about the insurrection and the Carver Findings when thinking about humanity claiming the Mantle. So when people think about humanity claiming the Mantle, what does that even mean? The only thing it can mean is what you alluded to in the transhuman section. Some humans will claim it, and others (Likely outer colonists and any humans who choose not to be ruled by Earth) will be left behind. So in reality, humanity’s “birthright” will likely end up just being the “birthright of Earth humans and the worlds under it”.

        Agreed on the point of the species being underdeveloped as well. 343i make it more challenging for themselves in going in the direction of the Mantle being rejected by not developing these species, as there are a lot of people that just don’t care about them, or actively despise them, because all they ever read or see is the worst presentations of them. How can the fanbase be brought along to see the value in interspecies co-operation and rejection of an imperial peace if everyone besides maybe the Sangheili are consistently portrayed as either violent, sociopathic and uncaring, entirely self-interested and/or backstabbing?

        I hope they understand that now, but when Legacy of Onyx said that there were no Kig-Yar or other species on Trevelyan because they were not part of the “human-Sangheili” alliance, I didn’t get the sense that Halo was really at that stage yet.

        I’m hoping that Infinite gives some kind of attention to this, perhaps by featuring alien characters that expand the range of personalities and occupations seen so far among them (But in a way that doesn’t highlight how much they stand out from the rest of their kind, otherwise the Planet of Hats trope is kept going in a sense through the idea that “the exception proves the rule”). The only other thing needed is time, probably. This trope has been built up over two decades of fiction. Reversing it isn’t going to be quick or easy. I imagine though that if they start refraining from using all encapsulating terminology like “humanity”, or “the Sangheili”, “the Kig-Yar” etc, start creating political divides that aren’t based on species so that characters can identify with a greater variety of groups and motivations, and diversify the characterizations of the covie characters themselves a little bit more, then maybe over time it might be possible for the trope to be broken down.

  4. I agree to the fullest extent of my heart. I am so damm happy someone could put this into words, and I just cant believe how much you’ve managed to put out in this post. Keep up the good work!

  5. This is one of the myriad reasons that I love the Chorus arc of Red vs. Blue, because it puts this into sharp focus. Throughout Seasons 12 and 13, you get to know (and hopefully love) the people who are being screwed over by the other people who are using technology as a means of gaining power. The other people who are also probably pretty close friends with the semi-imperialist Earth government.

  6. Excellent article, although I have one question. What exactly were you referring to when you said: “(and the aesthetics of this story are strongly analogous to trans narratives – but that’s a whole other article).” As far as I can tell the story of the builder becoming a warrior servant and being looked down upon for that decision, despite upholding/maintaining the civilization, has more in common with people who decide to work in ‘less valued’ professions, such as Garbage collection, Construction, or Truck driving/postal services. Am I missing something, because I really cannot see how it relates to transgender people, aside from the fairly basic motif of transitioning from one thing to another?

    1. The class analogy is definitely present, but the thing about Forerunner mutation is that there’s a literal physical dimension to it – it changes how a Forerunner looks, and that is another aspect of how they fit their ‘role’ in society. After Bornstellar receives his brevet mutation from the Didact, transitioning from Builder to Warrior-Servant, he undergoes physical changes which leave him looking unrecognisable to both rates.

      Chloe Bear (Greg Bear’s daughter, who was responsible for a number of major story beats in the Forerunner Saga) is trans herself. In the Silentium epilogue, Rebirth, she wanted Growth-Through-Trials-of-Change to be a fully trans character, aligning both gender and rate. For more on this topic, I’ve actually spoken with Chloe about it: https://twitter.com/Correspondence/status/1191831799451701249

  7. Such a well written article – thoroughly entertaining and informative for someone like myself who hasn’t read or seen all the extra-game content. I’m particularly intrigued by your parallelisms to contemporary political debates. However, in your discussion on eugenics and its relationship to Nazi ideology, you juxtapose rural, agricultural lifestyle as the antithesis to ‘accelerationist’ (technophile) societies. I thought it was worth pointing out that this is also Nazi ideology. Hitler and his political colleagues thought that technology and urban lifestyle were fonts on sin, which should be subverted by the rehabilitation of citizens to individual farms (hence the desire for large areas of fertile land east of Germany) where they would find a more ‘spiritually rewarding’ and ‘morally based’ life. I may be mistaken, but I inferred that you espouse this sort of lifestyle as the only valid alternative to a capitalist, technology-driven society whose hierarchy is determined by technological success in which the unsuccessful are left behind. Therefore, I’m curious as to how you think the Forerunners should have wielded the Mantle? Because surely if species were left to their own devices there would be galactic war between them, or if rural lifestyles were enforced everywhere then it’s not much different from ‘devolving’ them on an imperial scale.
    Also, is it possible that the Librarian is trying to accelerate Humanity so it is better prepared for its ‘test’ by the flood? If the Precursors had already sanctioned the Forerunners’ demise but were curious about Human supremacy, perhaps she is just trying to give Humanity every chance so as to ensure that all life is not homogenised by the Flood – and like you say, she is vain enough to think her intervention is not flawed.

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