Sunday, 26 April 2015


Some sort of prize for "most egregious appropriation of a literary source" has to go the makers of this 2015 Xbox One advert that just began airing on UK television.

"Be the master of your fate and captain of your soul. Bring home the best games of the year like Halo 5, Evolve, Battlefield Hardline, and Tomb Raider".

It seems unlikely that William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) had precisely this use in mind when he wrote Invictus (Latin for "unconquered") at a dark point in his life after multiple surgeries to save his remaining leg after one had been amputated following tuberculosis of the bone.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

- Henley, Invictus, 1875
Maybe the advertising team was inspired by the resemblance ...

William Ernest Henley
The Hunter cyborg Torvald from Xbox One EVOLVE
Although Henley is known almost solely for Invictus, he wrote much else: notably the collection In Hospital (see LitMed description), a powerful sequence of poems recording his 20-month stay, from admission to discharge, in an Edinburgh hospital in the 1870s. See Internet Archive inhospital00henlgoog.

Henley made it into popular culture in another way. He was a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson, whose stepson Lloyd Osborne described him as ...
... a great, glowing, massive-shouldered fellow with a big red beard and a crutch; jovial, astoundingly clever, and with a laugh that rolled like music; he had an unimaginable fire and vitality; he swept one off one's feet"
... and Stevenson himself credited Henley as the inspiration for the pirate Long John Silver in Treasure Island:
"I will now make a confession: It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver ... the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you."
- RLS, Letter to Henley, Hyères, May 1883
- Ray

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