On Kings

Dennis the Peasant: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

[King] Arthur: Be quiet!

Dennis the Peasant: You can’t expect to wield supreme power just `cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!

  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975

As with some of my other posts, such as On Magic, this post focuses on a dual-usage of the phrase “King.” The first is on the over-saturation of ‘Kings’ in media, particularly media of a fictional or agented (tabletop games, video games, etc.) manner. Since first noticing this over-saturation, I’ve found myself increasingly irked by finding new additions to the cast of offenders. I’ve also found myself guilty of contributing toward a count of ‘Kings’ in fiction as well.

I recall playing games on the Nintendo 64 with my father when I was young. The two that are most memorable are Super Mario 64 and Donkey Kong 64. In these games, players take on the digital avatar of a hero of simple means (a mushroom-addict of a plumber or a gorilla) to take the fight to the nefarious King Bowser and King K. Rool (a reverse-portmanteau of ‘cruel’), respectively. The term used for the ‘violent’ encounters with these kings is that of a ‘boss fight/battle,’ and I am compelled to note, also, the oddity that is the term ‘boss’ therein. When I, a young child, brought up the term ‘boss fight’ with my father, he remarked about wondering why bosses were so antagonized in video games—he didn’t want to pick a fight with his boss, after all. That aside, these two ‘kings’ are likely the first I encountered that brandished such a title, and to their credit they are at least a little bit more kingly than many others we’ll get to soon—King Bowser lords over the Koopa Kingdom, home of the turtle-like (ahem, Kappa-like) Koopas, and King K. Rool is king of…something. I don’t actually recall what, but he does possess some crocodile-subjects of his own. Obviously I need to brush up on the deep lore of Donkey Kong.

In no particular order, consider Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King (The Nightmare Before Christmas); King Grayskull (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe); Oberon, King of the Fairies (A Midsummer Night’s Dream); any one of a seemingly-endless supply of Baratheons (Game of Thrones) and, likewise, The Night King; Mufasa/Simba/Scar (The Lion King); The Crimson King (The Dark Tower); or even The Burger King, who has been canonized into The Simpsons universe and has made a few appearances in video games. Were I to enumerate a full list of kings in fiction, I anticipate that this blog entry would dwarf the combined size of all my previous entries. And Queens, don’t think you’re not over-saturated too.

And I have it on good authority that this list is missing a couple hundred entries.

Royalty, it seems, is a cheap way to catch an eye of importance in fiction. Oh, a king of something has appeared, the plot must be about to progress!


And it isn’t just our western literature that has grown infatuated with the notion of kings and queens. In recent years I’ve fallen victim to imbibing Japanese manga and anime which, I have found, is rife with tales of royal bloodlines. Thankfully, within such fester is a tale of immense subversion of various tropes, and the supposed-importance of ‘kings’ did not escape the story’s wit—One Punch Man, written by ONE (a manga artist whose name is not public knowledge), is a satirical genre-bending of the typical superhero trope. One Punch Man features a number of villainous monsters, many of which possess a title of ‘king’ to their names or aliases, especially in the earlier chapters of the series. With rare exception, all of these ‘kings’ are—spoilers—obliterated on a whim by one of the series’ handful of overpowered and bored characters. As far as I am aware, a few kings in name remain in the series, though if I were a betting man I’d wager they are not long for the world within their universe (save for a supporting character who goes by the alias of King, which is itself further evidence of the over-saturation of the title). Virtually all of these kings are kings in title, recognized by a small few subjects but commanding no great significance to the story’s plot.

I mentioned earlier that I, too, had sinned in contributing to a hypothetical list of fictitious kings, and in hindsight it is an error I deeply regret. I intend to discuss my books themselves individually at a later date, but for the point of conversation here, I devised of an antagonist by the name of Arxe Nightsoul, the Lich King. Arxe is loosely inspired by two other kings—Oryx, the Taken King (Destiny) and Arthas, the (also) Lich King (World of Warcraft). (One may see that Arxe’s name itself is a combination of his inspirators.) I confess to no small worry that I risk a lawsuit with an intersection of nomenclature with the latter, but my fears are assuaged by this: Arthas, frankly, wasn’t very kingly (though to his credit he was raised as a prince). In practice, Arthas felt more like a military commander, such as a general. Furthermore, what does it mean to be a Lich King? Is that a King that is a Lich? Or a King of the Liches? I admit much Warcraft lore is lost on me, but to my knowledge there are Liches that are technically sworn to their King, but I recall many don’t much care to follow anyone but themselves. Cutting many corners in this description, I think Arthas, as a Lich King, is a Lich that was a King of the Undead of his universe. A bit convoluted, but leaves the opportunity open to also be called ‘The Undead King’—albeit with less of a ring to it. Arxe, of my design, meanwhile, is a King of multiple Liches. So I struggle to think of a better title for him.

Arxe takes from Oryx, the Taken King, an intended feeling of regality and dominance. Arthas tries a hand at this on occasion but never possesses a consistent air of superiority as Oryx does. (Author’s note: Both Arthas and Oryx are deceased within the stories, and I am conflicted on whether to describe them in the past or present as your experiences with them are not necessarily stuck in time.) Consider the opening motif of grandeur for Oryx:

Grandiose horns, empowering drums, and a solemn choir, all of which are followed by tense strings. I could gush over this track all day, suffice to say that for me, this piece creates an image of a creature of abnormal importance. Rarely is that conveyed for any other king mentioned at all above; rather, we are led to assume importance based on rank or title. I believe the latter to be weak storytelling, and give kudos to Michael Salvatori, composer of the above track, for telling a far more compelling tale with wordless music. Show, don’t tell—and Oryx, the Taken King, demonstrated his place in his universe quite a bit with the ‘Taking’ of countless worlds. (Taking being the sundering of a soul from a corporeal form and enslaving it to one’s will; Oryx was hardly a nice guy. And by the end of things, Oryx ‘Took’ himself too. Go figure that one out.)

The Visage of Oryx. That's a spooky big bad if I've ever seen one.

So Oryx may be a King of sorts (possessing command and control over the Taken), but an assumption of his importance based merely on his title alone is a great disservice to his character. And I think that is damn good writing. In my works ahead, I intend to try to emulate that depiction of import, and in so doing aspire to make a king worthy of their title…though I still regret contributing to an ever-growing list of those that bear it.

In summary, kings and other royalty have rather polluted modern fiction, in my opinion. Their presence should not inherently command any great attention in literature, and yet here we are, plagued with their overuse. The importance of a character should be judged by their relevance and weight within a story, and not by any titles they possess going into it. (Daenerys Targaryen, Queen of the Andals, Breaker of Chains, the Unburnt, the Mother of Dragons…meets Jon Snow.)

Now, about the second usage of the word ‘King’…

Those that know me or my writing particularly well may also know that I have a great adoration for Stephen King, author of a great many works (particularly of psychological horror). While he is far from the first author I’ve ever read, and while I had written a little bit before finally delving into his works, it is Stephen King that inspired me to set upon this path more seriously. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is the first book of his I ever read. It wasn’t necessarily the most amazing novel, but it was sufficient at getting me to substitute a forested walk of my real, childhood life for the treacherous journey of Trisha, the book’s protagonist. And that immersive substitution was unlike any I had yet encountered so far in my fledgling involvement with the world of fiction. From there I set out upon a journey of my own through King’s The Dark Tower series, leading with The Gunslinger. And oh boy. What a journey.

I had read other series in the past. A 90s kid, I grew up on Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson, Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein, and James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series. (One of those is not like the others, particularly for the intended age group…) I had not, however, encountered a series of such a volume as The Dark Tower before, and the sheer size and number of involved works indicated to me that Stephen King was on to something a little different from his peers. That, and the fact that he joined his various works together at a focal point with his Dark Tower.

Could I do that?

I hope so. I suppose we’ll see, won’t we? Personally, success in this vein is measured merely by answering the above question, not necessarily by the monetary returns of such a pursuit. I never really cared about being the next Stephen King. I’ve only ever aspired to be the first me. That’ll suit me fine.

Having said that, I should admit that I share a bizarre few similarities with Stephen King. We’re both Red Sox fans. If/when I can, I intend to venture into—and eventually vanish within—the woods of northern Maine, as he has. We both write of the human psyche, though our genres may differ. And while not a point of similarity, when I envision the image of an author (just as Gary Larson, cartoonist of The Far Side, envisions God as a man with a long white beard and a long, flowing mane of white hair) that which comes to mind to me is a partially-farcical depiction of Stephen King in a blue corduroy shirt. (I do not know whether Stephen King possesses a blue corduroy shirt.)

Is there a point to all of this? Not really. But I couldn’t title this post “On Kings” and miss an opportunity to mention my own inspiration for joining this whole author gig.

That and Stephen King has earned the title of ‘King of Horror’ from some, adding further credence to the overuse of the term. He’s on the list!

P.S. “The importance of a character should be judged by their relevance and weight within a story,” -me, above. Depending on the setting and story as a whole, it’s not impossible that a king’s mere presence—or, perhaps, dearth thereof; kingslayers are nearly as common as kings are—carries with it a great deal of weight. In such a circumstance, I don’t really have much of a complaint, other than a desire to read more of the lives of common folk as opposed to valiant princes slaying dragons. Although that may be the plot of my first novel…as I said, guilty!

P.P.S. Oryx is such a character. I can definitely go on and on about the brilliance of their design, but it’s worth mentioning that they were not always a King. In fact, they were born Aurash, daughter of the Osmium King. After making a pact with mighty Worm Gods, Aurash became Auryx, King of their kind; later, upon slaying one of those Worm Gods, Auryx became Oryx and ‘took’ the power of ‘Taking’ from the deceased Akka, Worm God of Secrets. This is the Sparknotes version for sure, but Destiny lore is something else. And Oryx’s stories are a cut above the rest. Truth be told, I’m not aware of any comparable LGBTQIA+ villains that command such weight and presence as Oryx had. Rarely do our fictional kings possess such gravitas, and rarer still are they born a princess.

Oryx, then Auryx, faces off against the Worm God Akka to save his people.

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