…and if so, what is it?
As Uncharted grows, and finds its way into more and more media, its authorship will grow almost as a matter of necessity. To date, Uncharted is spread across games, a motion comic, a novel, and a comic. This is not to mention the fact that almost since Nathan first threw himself over the railing of the blown up boat there was talk of a film to complement the franchise. I find it hard to believe that Uncharted will stop where it is now, even if we never get another PlayStation game.
It is not only the authorship that expands, but so does the audience, their expectations and their wishes. It is hard to pinpoint what is, or what is not, an event in the life of Nathan Drake. Uncharted began as a tale written by Amy Hennig following Nathan and two friends through a jungle on an island. Like the motto of Sir Francis Drake himself; Sic Parvis Magna (“Greatness from small beginnings”) Uncharted has grown into a large world populated with good guys and bad guys all vying for their place and time on our screens.
When quizzed on aspects of the Uncharted world that we have not yet seen, Amy Hennig has said that she doesn’t get bogged down with backstory, and this allows her creative freedom. I’m going to let Amy write however the hell she likes if it means she churns out stuff like Uncharted, but it leaves people with brains like mine to wrestle with what is (and what is not) a genuine event in the ever more crowded timeline. For the purposes of All Things Uncharted I consider (chronologically) UNCHARTED: Golden Abyss, UNCHARTED: Eye of Indra, UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune, UNCHARTED: Among Thieves, and UNCHARTED: Drake’s Deception to be ‘canon’. Now, I know that I am going against the ethos of the developers and designers in trying to shoehorn the work into “this guy did try to kill Nathan” and “Nathan did not steal that artifact” but my brain needs that order. I am unapologetic.
The knock on effect of this is that it leaves us with stories from outside the Uncharted world, with varying levels of success. For example, I am not entirely sure of the motivation behind the publishing of the novel UNCHARTED: The Fourth Labyrinth, but the end result is, in my opinion a sub-standard Uncharted story that isn’t really Uncharted. I am not going to lay into the book; but it ends up being a bit of an oddball, in that it could have taken place with anybody of the author’s choosing/creation. It doesn’t feel Uncharted to me, and so it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I am sure I would have enjoyed it a heck of a lot more if I hadn’t kept thinking; “Nate would never have done that” or “Sully would have thrown in an innuendo there…” The comic worked better for both myself and for other fans that I have talked to; it feels far more Uncharted and yet still does not properly fit in the universe.
A talk about the ‘canon’ of Uncharted would not even be remotely complete if I did not mention the mercifully averted plane-crash-in-slow-motion that was going to be the movie as scripted and directed by David O Russell. I try to be unbiased but I was never going to have a nice thing to say about a story that dicked so completely over the source material. I won’t revisit the horror that was going to be the ‘movie that killed Uncharted’ too deeply; suffice to say, in case you don’t know, O Russell’s plan (crime) (among other things) was to introduce a “family” to the cast, and not any family, but Nathan’s. This did not sit well with fans of the series, as although we, at the time, did not know what happened to them, and why he never mentioned them; the feeling was that they didn’t really get on, or they were all dead. He certainly wasn’t tackling the major antiquities crime bosses with them at his side. Eurgh.
The point is that this version of the movie was scrapped, and although I don’t think fan outrage was ever officially cited, I can not help but believe that our collective out pouring of bile hastened his exit. It is hard to say how far down the line UNCHARTED: Drake’s Deception was in terms of writing at this point, but a lot of the questions regarding Nate and his ‘upbringing’ were answered in that story. And they were not compatible with O Russell’s version of Nate’s family history. Back in 1989 there was a simply marvelous TV Miniseries called ‘Lonesome Dove‘, which was based on the then recent novel written by Larry McMurtry. It was incredibly popular (and rightly so; it is amazing) and spawned a sequel, imaginatively titled ‘Return to Lonesome Dove‘ in 1993.
However, this sequel was inferior in quality, in both writing and production that it is often written off by fans. Personally I like it; in its own right there is nothing wrong with it. However, it wasn’t written by McMurtry; he himself wrote a sequel; ‘Streets of Laredo‘. This was published in the same year as ‘Return to Lonesome Dove’ and contains an incident in the first few chapters that renders the entire plot of ‘Return‘ entirely impossible. I have seen it suggested that so annoyed was McMurtry with what the writers of the TV sequel did to the story that he deliberately sabotaged it in such a way as to always confine it to the edge of the Lonesome Dove universe in the eyes of the audience and fans of the original. I am not suggesting that Amy Hennig did that (and nor do I really subscribe to the idea that McMurtry did) but if you write or create something within an existing universe, or canon, do not be surprised if the fans don’t accept it quite as readily as they might if you fundamentally change what is established.
It doesn’t bother me that the entirety of Nathan’s, Sully’s, and Elena’s etc existences are not neatly plotted in the mind of Amy Hennig, ready to spring forth into the world in the form of new adventures; it is enough that it is sufficiently fertile to produce an intricate story with a great cast of characters. The gaps that we are left with can be filled in our heads however we so desire. It is this void that is filled with fanfiction; a genre that I have no talent at whatsoever. I know Nathan and chums (Nathan especially) better than probably any other fictional character, but I don’t want to second guess what happens in the gaps.
I have spoken for some time about ‘narrative canon’; but there is one more issue I would like to bring up, and that is what might be called ‘physical canon’. Although the Uncharted world is, to all intents and purposes, our world, it would be almost impossible to follow the footsteps of our heroes (or villains). While I wouldn’t necessarily go on a trek across the Rub al khali desert to fully indulge in the experience, I might be tempted to go looking for the spot on the pavement (sidewalk) in south London that lies directly above Marlowe’s lair (should I ever find myself in south London; which I wouldn’t, because it is south of the river), or I might go looking for the exit to the North Atwood station. But I can’t because although these places can be plotted almost exactly on a map, they do not really exist. This is another technique that allows for creative freedom; if you don’t tie yourself completely to reality you can do what you want. You only need to look at the ‘shrine’ by Cardiff bay to Ianto Jones of Torchwood to know that some fans will go to that length to get closer to the things they love. A friend of mine wrote her dissertation (unpublished) on the impact of Torchwood and Doctor Who on tourism in Cardiff; her research showed that people will make a special journey for these things. But Uncharted ‘canon’ does not allow this, and that is both frustrating and tantalising in equal measure.
So what have I proved? Honestly, not a lot. There is an acceptable timeline to Uncharted, but it isn’t necessarily an authorised timeline. Some people may consider even UNCHARTED: Golden Abyss outside of Nathan’s story. Despite being very protective I include it because I know that Naughty Dog and Amy Hennig oversaw the story. Also; there isn’t anything obviously wrong about it. OK, so we never hear from Chase again, but that isn’t really a problem. It just makes Nate look like a bigger slut than we already knew him to be.
Overall, there isn’t a problem at the moment. However, there may become one if the franchise grows even more than I expect it to. I doubt it will ever be as big as Star Wars, or Doctor Who, for example. It is at that size that assigning one continuous narrative really becomes a problem. For now, I am just going to enjoy the hell out of Uncharted, Nathan and everything that goes with that like I have been for several years already.
And Amy? If you want to write us some more; I am not going to complain. Whatever you do. This is your gig.