Tunes of Magic VI: Jester Tunes

joker

Art by Anry

Those who are following the Battle Bards podcast will have heard me mentioning my love for “jester tunes” several times now – a term I use to describe an intriguing subset of melodic tracks within the more spooky, playful and magical box of videogame music. While it’s almost impossible to verbalize this theme accurately, and listening to a few tracks is clearly the best way to go, I’ll make an attempt anyway at describing jester tunes and why I am so fascinated by them in particular.

Depending on whether one studies the character of the jester from a more historical or fictional viewpoint, portrayals will range from what the Royal Shakespeare Company (see also on Wikipedia) calls the “natural fool” (abuse of physically or mentally disabled men for public sport) to the “licensed” fool who was invited by nobles and kept at royal courts where he was granted free speech by decree. I say “kept” because royal fools were basically property and while they served the function of a political and social critic, sometimes acting as the people’s voice, they lived in constant danger of giving too much offense and being physically abused. To romanticize the status of jesters in either contexts would be wrong and there are those who question whether they ever indeed held positions of much importance.

The fictional, much merrier jester we know best from stories on the other hand, is a creature of many colors: a sharp-tongued trickster, a singer and teller of tales, an acrobat and performer flamboyantly clad in the brightly colored uniform of his trade – the motley. An enigmatic, almost uncanny air surrounds jesters in many a tale, where one can never be quite sure of a character so shrill and free, so unpredictable and hence mysterious. Not surprisingly some developers (see Kefka for an example in videogames), authors and movie directors have expanded on this image and turned the fool (or clown, or joker) into the stuff of nightmares: a many-faced, fearsome and demonized character. Nothing is quite as spooky as a killer with a smiling face and make-up.

I love the duality and ambivalence of jester figures that stop being a real person and much rather become creatures of legend and myth. A daredevil persona with the potential to serve both very selfish or altruistic goals, to speak scandalous truth delivered with an innocent face, unmasking evil or acting as its messenger. Fools personify chaos which is why they remain forever unmeasurable and scary. That said, I like my jesters to remain on the more harmless, non-killer side of things!

Jester tunes convey all that foolish complexity: a playfulness and frivolity combined with spooky undertones, a characteristic use of disharmonious elements adding special flavor and chaos to the music. In short: I’m having a ton of fun with these tracks, I can never quite get enough of them! I hope you enjoy!

Art by Crazywulf

 

“The Jester enters the stage, in gold and purple motley, swinging a scepter…”

  1. Chrono Trigger – Kingdom Trial
  2. FF6 – Kefka’s Theme (remastered)
  3. FF7 – It’s difficult to stand on both feet, isn’t it?
  4. FFXI Online – Sometime, Somewhere
  5. Guild Wars 2 – Halloween
  6. Fable 2 – Old Town

 

4 comments

  1. Have you seen the jester-like monsters in Tera? The game has some wonderfully imaginative artwork and animations for monsters actually and the jester-like demons are sinister in the extreme. (hopefully this link shows a screenshot – http://gamingsf.wordpress.com/?attachment_id=3251)

    Also the ‘sinister jester’ archetype makes me think of bards in the Dark Sun post-apocalyptic world for the D&D rpg. They were not the charismatic ‘jack-of-all-trades’ from normal D&D settings, but instead were entertainers that doubled as poison-wielding masters of intrigue and deception.

    1. There’s a very circusy (that adjective should totally exist!), frivolously dark thing going on in Tera, I noticed. I’m not playing it, so I wasn’t aware of the jester-like mobs in particular, but they’re really cool! :)
      it seems jesters as a class are often rogue/thief archetypes, probably due to being regarded as sneaky. Belghast told me via twitter that there’s the Shaco Jester in LoL which is also a melee assassin type. he can summon a jack-in-the-box!

      it would be interesting to see someone create a jester class that isn’t essentially a rogue, but a proper ‘trickster’ with a lot of magical illusions etc. – something between a mesmer, summoner and doppelganger class for instance. I would love to see that.

  2. I realize a lot of people will think “jester” and associate it with “The Joker”. (Or worse, a demented circus clown.) Me, I spent my youth watching old movies from the 50s on our local independent television station, and I associate “jester” with the old Danny Kaye film “The Court Jester”. Yes, it’s a comedy, and not that good a one either, but when I think of a jester I think of goofy old Danny Kaye trying to learn how to be a knight so that he doesn’t get himself killed in a joust. (It’s a long story.)

    1. I so need to go look up that movie now, thanks! sounds like my kind of thing :D
      As I don’t read comics, I never really knew the joker until much later on TV. as a child nursed by fairytales and mythology, I was always drawn to the royal court jester. one of my alltime favorite fantasy book series has the fool in it (robin hobb’s farseer books), one of the most enigmatic characters of all times. I reread them regularly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available