Rise of the Tomb Raider's Myths Explained

An explanation of the two myths behind Lara Croft's latest journey.

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In Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft is searching for the secret of immortality, spurred ahead by two Slavic fairytales: Koschei the Deathless and the Lost City of Kitezh. Crystal Dynamics has taken some creative liberties in meshing these two stories together, but the meaning and symbolism behind each one remains intact on Lara's adventure. We took a look at these old myths to get a greater sense of what lies ahead for Lara.

This story of Koschei the Deathless centers around an antagonistic man named Koschei who is often represented in Russian illustrations as being a very old, ugly and skeletal man who harasses young women with magic. He can't be killed by physical harm, because his soul doesn't reside in his body. Koschei, in a bid to extend his life, removed his soul and placed it inside a needle. This needle was then placed inside an egg in the womb of a live duck, the duck was then placed inside a live hare, and the hare was placed inside a chest made of iron or gold (depends on the storyteller) and buried beneath a green oak tree.

This oak tree resides on an isolated island in the middle of the ocean called Buyan, a mysterious land mentioned in several Slavic myths. This isolated island plays into the second myth in Rise of the Tomb Raider, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Koschei can't die so long as his soul is buried and untouched. The myth states that if the chest is dug up and opened, the hare will leap out and try to run away. If the hare is killed, the duck will try to escape. If both the hare and the duck are killed and someone gets the egg, Koschei will weaken, lose his magical powers and be subjected to their will. If the possessor opens the egg and breaks the needle, Koschei dies.

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A story called "The Death of Koschei the Deathless" appears in several collections of Russian fairytales, as well as fairytale historian Andrew Lang's The Red Fairy Book. In this tale, a man named Ivan Tsarevitch marries a beautiful warrior woman named Marya Morevna, who keeps Koschei locked up in her basement. Ivan is tricked into giving Koschei 12 buckets of water, which restore Koschei's magical powers and allows him to escape. Koschei kills Ivan, but Ivan is revived by three wizards and receives a magical horse from the fabled witch Baba Yaga. On his horse, Ivan fights and kills Koschei, then burns his body to ash.

The idea of achieving immortality by removing the soul from the body and housing it in an external object is explored in Rise of the Tomb Raider. It's Koschei's path to deathlessness that Lara's father was researching before he died, and using his notes Lara follows in his footsteps.

The island of Buyan mentioned in the story of Koshei the Deathless ties into the story of the Lost City of Kitezh. Both Buyan and Kitezh are mysterious isolated cities, though Kitezh is a city beneath the waters of a lake rather than an island in the ocean and is often referred to as the "Russian Atlantis."

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Kitezh is mentioned for the first time in Russian literature in an 18th century book called Kitezh Chronicle. The city is supposedly located beneath Lake Svetloyar in central Russia.

A town called Little Kitezh was built on the Volga River in the 13th century by Georgy II, Grand Prince of Vladimir, with Big Kitezh being established on the shores of Lake Svetloyar a few years later. The Mongol ruler Batu Khan heard of these cities and captured Little Kitezh, with Prince Georgy fleeing to Big Kitezh. A Russian captive told Batu Khan where to find Big Kitezh, and so the Mongolian army descended on the town.

When Batu Khan's army arrived, they discovered Kitezh had no fortifications and no citizens prepared for battle; instead they were all praying, begging God to save them. Suddenly, the land around the city began to gush water, and the town sank into the lake, leaving nothing behind. Legends say only the pure of heart and soul can reach Kitezh.

The team behind Rise of the Tomb Raider is spinning these two legends together and melding them with our reality. They stories have been adapted and combined with real-world history, leading Lara through Syria and Siberia on the hunt for clues. Lara will solve puzzles that lead her along the trail of Koschei and Kitezh as she searches for the answer to becoming immortal.

Alexa Ray Corriea on Google+

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