With Halloween swiftly approaching, I’d like to take a moment to salute one of the most memorable non-playable characters of my childhood. A figure so firm in his convictions that even the game defines him as an object instead of a person.
On the shores of Ultima VII’s Misty Channel, there stands a ferry station shrouded in a mysterious fog. Aboard the rickety wooden ferry a sole figure waits with an eternal patience, his only duty in life to shuttle passengers across to the mysterious land of Skara Brae. With a scythe in one hand and a black cloak concealing his skeletal form, he strikes an oddly familiar picture.
Hang on, that’s the sodding Grim Reaper.
Look, I know he’s Death and you know he’s Death, but both Britannia’s Ferryman and everyone around him seem curiously unwilling to broach the subject. With the player dancing around waving his arms in the air shouting ‘IT’S SODDING DEATH!’ the Avatar and his companions merely seem contented to make small talk about the finances in river crossing.
Although not even given the common courtesy of the ability of movement, the Ferryman nevertheless seems remarkably stoic about his situation. Despite the lonely nature of his work and the fact that you’re probably the first to require his services in several hundred years, he seems neither excited nor impatient to get going. Cross the river, don’t cross the river, it’s all the same to him.
Inspired by Charon, the ferryman responsible for transporting tormented souls across the river Styx to Hades, Ultima VII‘s Ferryman is without feeling or emotion. Nevertheless, encountering him is a moment that has lived on in my memory for many years.
Despite an apparent lack of emotion, he is allowed just one moment of personality. When offered the possibility of sacrificing himself to save the souls of Skara Brae, a look of hope momentarily crosses that skeletal face. Could one selfless action free him from eternal damnation? Apparently not. The Ferryman knows there can be no end to his torment, and that look of hope soon passes.
Even after the curse of Skara Brae is lifted, the Ferryman remains, stuck in his grim occupation for the rest of time. Even as the ghosts of his land find peace, the Ferryman finds only duty.
Or does he? In the Avatar’s final journey to Britannia in Ultima IX, someone is curiously absent. He’s gone, ferry and all. Despite the terms of his bondage condemning him to serve from now until the end of time, the clever bugger seems to have taken advantage of all the upheaval caused by the Guardian’s emergence to take his ferry and nip off over the horizon.
Even now he’s probably sunning himself somewhere off the coast of Buccaneer’s Den.
Good luck to him, I say. Here’s to you Death, I mean, Mr Ferryman, sir.
Happy Halloween everyone.