Slack asked me to type up some notes for this fic, because it brings together so many diverse elements, all tossed into a blender along with 8-Bit Theater. "Night on the Phantom Train" incorporates elements from the hermetic Qabala, Tibetan Buddhism, British folklore, and "Night on the Galactic Railroad".
If "Night on the Galactic Railroad" is known to Western folks at all, its as a poorly-timed, deeply moving anime movie. The movie is based on the book, written in 1923. The book is ostensibly a children's book, and has had an effect on Japanese popular culture, similar to "The Little Prince" in France and "The Chronicles of Narnia" in English-speaking countries. Probably more of an effect, since the "Galactic Railroad" concept shows up obviously in Leiji Matsumoto's "Galaxy Express 999", and in the game Final Fantasy 6, as the Phantom Train. 8-Bit Theater is based on Final Fantasy 1, and has had elements of other FFs show up in it. So far, no Phantom Train, but you never know.
The correspondences I've drawn here, in "Night on the Phantom Train", are not set in stone. They aren't how I teach the concepts to students, and if asked about them later, I will probably have changed them around many times. They were drawn mainly for the purposes of this fic, as a result of putting things into the blender to see what would happen :) Slack has also reminded me to define a few of the terms I use: "Sephira" (plural "Sephiroth" - no, not the FF7 villain) is Hebrew and indicates the spheres on the Tree of Life of the Qabala. The term "Bardo" comes from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, also known as the Bardo Thotrol. Full, proper definitions of both terms are the stuff of books themselves, so I'll only give these bare-bones nutshell definitions here.
The fic itself is shoehorned rather loosely into the Lich battle sequence of 8-Bit Theater. It begins roughly around episode 383 and finishes up somewhere in the vicinity of episode 395. No, it doesn't fit perfectly and some events definitely collide - sosume, I was writing it feverishly while Brian was unfolding the story ^_~
"Now Boarding": The Doom Train is a Guardian Force from FF8; your characters can summon it. Back in ep 205, we learned that Black Mage used to be a Summoner. In FF6, the Phantom Train appears and the souls of a character's dead family are seen boarding. Again, this harks back to "Night on the Galactic Railroad."
"Luna Station": This station is corresponding with Yesod on the Tree of Life, which is sometimes known as the Hall of Illusion or the House of Mirrors; I chose to play up this aspect of it for the story. We all have illusions about ourselves and about others, that we choose to hold; the challenge of this station is to shed those illusions and see what's really there - however disappointing it may be. After I wrote this fic, a friend suggested that the Luna Station could also have corresponded with the realm of the Jealous Gods, in the Bardo Thotrol - I wish I'd thought of that ^_~
"Mercury Station": This one is sketchy because I'd caught up with the comic's storyline and BM had just arrived in Hell :D I had no idea what was going to happen to him there, and chose not to speculate - instead, I just let him be dropped off, and would pick him up later in my story. Mercury Station is corresponding to Hod on the Tree of Life, and to the Hell Realms of the Bardo Thotrol. In Tibetan Buddhism, there are several Hells; the familiar fire-and-brimstone Hell is brought on by the intense fear and anger, the desire to fight or flee. The other Hell, the frozen Hell, is brought on by passive-aggression, the kind that shuts out everybody and everything. As with all the Bardo states, the Hell states are illusions that can be navigated out of; Black Mage realizes that, himself, in ep 390. The conductor bears a slight resemblance to the Conductor in Leiji Matsumoto's "Galaxy Express 999" (itself inspired by "Night on the Galactic Railroad") and is one of the angels of the Tree of Life -- spooky critters, they are, not at all how modern folklore presents them o.O;; Read the visions of Ezekiel in the Old Testament or the Torah, for the classic descriptions of these angels.
"Venus Station": Confused? - don't worry about it, as I said, I was writing this while the comic's storyline was still unfolding =D Venus Station corresponds to Netzach on the Tree of Life. Netzach is the sephira of the forces of Nature, and it seemed that the Sidhe were appropriate here. In British folklore, to eat Faery food is to become bound to the Sidhe, which in turn suggested the realm of the Hungry Ghosts of the Bardo Thotrol. Apples and pomegranates, of course, are the fruits of the dead.
"Mars Station": Mars Station represents Geburah on the Tree of Life, and the realm of the Wrathful Deities in the Bardo Thotrol. Fighter's map isn't detailed in the story, but its actually the glyph of the Tree of Life, showing all the sephiroth and paths. BM would likely be familiar with this through his schooling in magic - but being BM, all the lectures probably went in one ear and out the other, since they didn't involve murder ^_^ The illusion of the realm is explained in the story. Fighter is performing the Japanese ritual, Setsubun, which drives out bad luck. To my knowledge, Ritalin is not used in any esoteric practices anywhere in the world.
"Jupiter Station": This station represents Chesed on the Tree of Life, and the realm of the Peaceful Deities in the Bardo. The bit about "Nearer, my God, to Thee" shows up in the original "Night on the Galactic Railroad"; I've taken a different turn with it.
"Sol Station": Here our heros have arrived at Tiphareth. One of the names of Tiphareth is "heaven", and I've chosen to use that aspect for this story. One of my sources on Qabala describes Tiphareth as "an empty room"; again, I've chosen to use that aspect here, and also chosen to pattern the empty room after the Holy of Holies as described by Dion Fortune. Slackbot, my charming host, plays Frank N. Furter at the Peachtree Cinema, and has occasionally been mistaken for a guy while in costume. The fact that she has hips and hooters should be a dead giveaway, but.....
"Saturn Station": This chapter is the only place where I've chosen to describe the experience of one of the Paths on the Tree of Life. The Paths are drawn between the sephiroth, and one experiences them while travelling from one sephira to another - in this case, from Tiphareth to Binah, across the Abyss. This Path is represented by the Lovers card of the Tarot. Tarot symbolism is often confusing to many people, if they don't understand that much of it is rooted in Qabala. The Lovers represents the three souls, Vivi (no relation to the little black mage in FF9), Emi (no relation to Emidecimal of ReBoot fandom) and Ori (no relation to anything that I know of). Incidently, Fighter is rather nicely representing The Fool, in this story: He's been completely clueless as to what's going on (ie that he's following BM through the afterlife), yet he manages to penetrate each and every illusion and progress to the next station.
Saturn Station represents Binah on the Tree of Life, whose name is often translated as "Understanding." In fact, the common English translations of all of the sephiroth names are hidden in the text of each chapter :) In the Bardo, this is where one makes a choice - to continue on to rejoin the One, or to return to the living world as a bodhisattva. I think the idea of Fighter being a bodhisattva is rather scary, don't you? :)p As for BM, he chose to leap straight down the Pillar of Severity.
Lucky for us that neither of them remembers any of this, neh? ^__~;;
All copyrightable characters and settings are copyright © Square Enix and Brian Clevinger. Copyrighted materials are used without permission but with a lot of affection and respect. The overall story is copyright © Katzedecimal. Permission is given by the author to copy this story for personal use only. Hey, does this disclaimer really apply to author's notes? Does anyone really read this fine print? Do you know the Muffin Man?