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In my never-ending quest to find new themes for my armies and numerous conversions I’ve decided to do an in depth look at what inspired the game designers of 40k in the first place. When I say “in depth” I mean what I have picked up from WD articles and fluff and such over the last 12 years of playing, no actual research has taken place
This may be of some interest to some and none to others but I’ve felt the need to write it down so I’m lumping it on you poor sods.
Let’s look at the origins of the 40k universe in the first place. We all know it and love it but what aspects have been drawn on to create such a nightmare future where there is no peace, no respite, only war? 40k plays very much on the idea of a ‘used future.’ This concept was very popular in the 80s especially after the release of Star Wars and Alien, both of which abandoned the crisp, shinny, silver future of popular sci-fi of the 70s and went for something that looked lived in. The 41st millennium is just such a place, populated by untold trillions on a galactic scale; there is no chance of this place being clean. Gothic imagery is ever prevalent in the 40k universe especially when looking at the Imperium of Man. This immediately gives a felling of religious overtones and a culture steeped in ritual. There is also an aspect of Future-Noir in a lot of the goings-on in the Imperium with a suspicious light shed over everything and furtive glances into darkened rooms. Also prevalent in the imagery is the work of Hieronymus Bosche (spelling?). Every piece of artwork has so much going on and so many strange things in hidden corners of the pictures. This is shown even more in the Warhammer Fantasy imagery and in particular in Mordheim.
I know I’m brushing over a lot of things but this is already shaping up to be a very long post.
Being the major focus, and indeed players’ view, of 40k is the ever expanding Imperium of Man. A more gothic and dark future for humanity has not since been envisioned and it is from this that much of the character of the armies is drawn. Being primarily a Space Marine player and the fact that so much fluff has been written about the Angels of Death, I know a lot more about the Astartes than anything else in the game. Besides, there is so much about the Space Marines and the personalities of the chapters that is drawn from the worlds of popular fiction, mythology, classic sci-fi imagery, religion and actual history that I could (and most likely will) fill up the rest of this post just on them.
To start with I’ll look at the Horus Heresy. For the entire history of 40k this event has been the driving force behind the mythos of Warhammer 40,000. It is a sprawling story of vast legions, Gods, betrayal, massive conflicts and death. The most obvious reference for this is the Bible and the War in Heaven. The Emperor takes the place of God while Hours Lupercal is in the position of Lucifer Morningstar. The father and the favoured son, the betrayal and the great war between the Angels. Ring a bell? The names have changed but the basic theme is still there. Of course it is not a direct take of the story, what with the Horus dying and the Emperor being turned into a living corpse, but much of it holds true to the biblical War in Heaven.
Now onto the part that really got me in the mood to write this. Where do the themes, names and ideologies of the Astartes come from? Let’s start with the names of the Chapters/Legions, their Primarchs and even the names of their planets. This 1st Founding is the obvious place to start with this line of inquest. The Dark Angels get both their name and the name of their Primarch from the one source. It is a poem by a real man named Lion El’Johnson called The Dark Angel. In one reference we have the basic foundations of one of the most well know Legions of the Astartes. The name of their home planet is Caliban, taken from the Shakespeare play The Tempest. In the Tempest Caliban is a sort of mutant/otherworldly being who helps out his master Prospero (I’ll get to that name next). For any that doesn’t know the Dark Angels fluff, Caliban was a death-world overrun by Great Beasts that had been corrupted by the effects of the Warp that worked strongly on the world. Thus the name and the characteristics of the planet tie in together. This happens a lot in the themeing of the Space Marines and indeed in the rest of 40k, a name from popular fiction or mythology is used and the associated characteristics are passed onto the thing in 40k.
As I mentioned above Caliban (in the Tempest) was a servant of the Wizard Prospero. Now this name brings with it the theme of magic and forbidden knowledge as well as being cast out and abandoned. What better name then for the home-world of the Thousand Sons? A legion steeped in magic and lore lead by a Primarch who is eventually cast out by the Imperium for the use of magic. The Thousand Sons themselves though draw their imagery from a very different and much older source: Ancient Egypt. This is simply taking a good visual theme and applying it to 40k as is again done many other times. I’m sure all of us can seen the visual link between the Thousand Sons models and head-dress of Egyptian Pharaohs. Interesting side not, in a comment made by author Dan Abnett about his upcoming Horus Heresy book, he sees the Thousand Sons as being Aztecs rather than Egyptians.
This drawing of a pre-set imagery is again shown in the Space Wolves, who are obviously based off Vikings and Norsemen in general. Names like Fenris and Morkai (which are the names of Odin’s wolves) are drawn from Norse mythology while the overall imagery is of Viking raiders. The Ultramarines draw heavily from Greek and Roman influences while the White Scars are very much Mongols who have replaced their horses for bikes.
I feel that I may have gone on enough for this section of the rant at least. If the response is good from this (and I don’t get reprimanded by LO authorities) I will endeavour to look at other races and armies besides Space Marines.
I hope this rant has helped show that inspiration for an army or a conversion can come from anywhere, you just have to look at the world around you, a history book or delve into mythology and there is a plethora of ideas to draw from.
Until next time, I am your faithful sciviner PHM
I thought that was pretty interesting. I'd LOVE for you to go into more depth. It gets the cogs in my head working for once Great work Monkey. Cheers!
-Praise the God of all machines!
I think I too would enjoy reading more. You always hear people saying about the origins of armies and races that GW has developed, but I've never really bothered to look much past the surface. And I didn't know that bit about The Dark Angel at all, so I've already learnt something!
Well that was really quite cool. And you've just confirmed the name of the new chapter for me. Awesomeness!
Yeah I didn't get to go into nearly as much depth as I wanted to coz I was writing it at work (naughty!). Plus I realised I was going in loops a bit and hadn't got all my ideas lined up. I'll get some time during the week and try for a more in depth look
Hello again. This is not gonna be an essay sized post (EDIT: its seems it has become one tho) as the last one was but there was a bit more I wanted to add about the names givien to Marines and their Primarchs.
I'll start back with the Dark Angels again, being the 1st Legion. As I mentioned earlier Lion El'Johnson was the name (or at very least nome de plume) of an actual author who wrote a poem called The Dark Angel. The other names of the most famous charcaters of the Dark Angels though are all taken from names of Angels as mentioned in the Bible and other religious writtings. Azrael and Asmodai are both names for the Angel of Death in one biblical text or another. Ezikiel is another angelical name. Note that many names finish in an 'iel' or 'ael', this is taken from the Jewish angelic choirs. The much-missed character Brother Bethor also takes his name from an angelic forbear. By naming characters and such in this way the Dark Angels theme is very tightly knit and plays off itself. I'm not sure how many of these names belong to Angels that are considered Fallen but I'm sure some are and this adds to the Dark Angels theme even more. EDIT: Both Samael and Beliel are names of Fallen Angels in Christian mythology.
Infact many names are taken from a Biblical or religious context. Names like Horus and Vulkan are taken from various mythologies. Horus is the falcon god from Egyptian mythology while Vulkan is the Roman god of the Forge and Fire. Two of the most well known Chaos characters, Abbadon and Ahriman, draw their names from religious sources. Abbadon is ofcourse a Fallen Angel but also one of the many names for Hell. Ahriman is the (or an) Arabic name for the Devil or corosponding evil being (I'm not certain on Arabic lore). Typhus draws his name from two sources. His current name is that of a disease but his original name, Typhon, is the name of one of the Titans from Greek mythology. There are others but I can't think of them just at the moment.
Another great source for names is Fiction and this is shown very well in the Blood Angels. While their Primarch draws his name from somewhere else ('ll re-visit that soon) the names of the planet and characters draw heabvily from fiction written about Hell. Chapter Master Dante takes his name directly from Italian author Dante Alighieri who wrote the Divine Comdey, the most well know being the Inferno (or Hell). Their home planet Baal is yet another name for Hell and the desctiption of the planet lays very much to the classic imagry of Hell. Chief Librarian Mephiston takes his name from the daemon Mephistophelese in Chritopher Marlowe's Faust. Again this text has strong links to Hell.
The third major source for names is Latin and other ancient languages. Latin is used in the 40k universe as Imperial High Gothic and used only by the high born and Ecclesiarchy. Much like Latin was used for centuries by the Catholic church, so that that unlearned masses could not read the Bible themselves and had to come to church to hear its teachings, thus bringing in money for the church. Many of the names of characters and places in 40k are taken from Latin. One that instantly comes to mind is the Iron Hands Primarch Ferrus Manus, which literaly translates into 'Iron Hands'. Sanguinius, as mentioned earlier, also takes his name from Latin. While his is not a literal translation but a variation of the Latin sangus (I think) meaning blood. Hence the the units ad wargear in the Blood Angels follows this theme: the Sanguinary Priests and thier wargear Exsanguinators - blood-takers.
This is what draws me to 40k and the GW fluff. So much thought and research has gone into the fluff for the entire universe that it gives such a depth to what would otherwise be a game of little platic men. While it may seem that all the good ideas have already been taken, there is a huge wealth of ideas out there still.
Get reading and get themeing!
Apparently all the Primarchs have some little in joke or reference connected to them.
The Night Lords Primarch Konrad Curze probably comes from Josef Conrad author of the 'Heart of Darkness' Whose main villian is called Kurtz.
Note also that Marlin Brando plays a similar character (also called Kurtz) in Apocalypse now (which was inspired by Heart of Darkness). He has a similar philosephy to Night Haunter and allows himself to be assassinated much as Curze did.
Corax is lating for raven I think and his last words are a reference to the famous Allen Poe poem.
Perturabo is probably a corruption of Perdurabo which means 'I endure' in Latin. It also has a slightly sinister edge as it was the name taken by Alesiter Crowly.
Last edited by Visitor Q; August 11th, 2009 at 17:05.
"God is dead" Nietzsche- 1886
"Nietzsche is dead" God- 1900
Why are there scams? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q71FLDIMBc8
Just an interesting side note; the collective term for Crows is a Murder and for Ravens its an Unkindness.
I knew Petruabo had to mean something but wasn't sure what, thanks for clearing that up. Didn't know about the Crowley link tho, just got my hands on Crowley's Moonchild too so rather good timing.
The Nighthaunter reference to Heart of Darkness fits really well and I'm sure thats what was the inspiration. I'd never linkd it before. And you're right, Curze does reflect Kurtz and his views in Heart of Darkness.
Visitor Q has helped to strengthen my point of getting out there and reading whatever you can, be it fiction, history or mythology there is a great wealth of things to draw inspritaion from
Very interesting reading, I'm learning!
Cheers Q for the Perturabo info, I didn't know that. I think 'I endure' is going my Baneblade.
40k draws quite a few elements from the Dune universe, the most obvious being the god-emperor and rejuvinating drugs.
Your right tho, both Paul and Leto II in Dune must have helped inspire the God-Emperor in 40k. For instance the 4th (?) book is actually called God-Emperor of Dune.
Another aspect is the Butilarian Jihad. While its is not the same thing in the 40k universe the underlieing themes prevail. The ending of a great age of technology and the current state of forgotten technologies and near fear/worship of machines from a previous age. Where 40k differs greatly is that instead of a fear of AI it openly embraces it with the Machine Spirits in vehicles and especially in Titans.
The navigators in Dune are almost exactly the same in 40k, even down to the eventual mutation into hideous creatures. The Bene Gesserit and Bene Telelix (forgotten how to spell it and too lazy to Wiki it) share a lot of similarities with the 40k Officio Assasinorum.
If anyone hasn't read the Dune series I have only this to say to you: READ IT NOW! Its a great read with the same kind of depth to the universe as 40k does and there are many points that you can say "thst just like in 40k"