Hello, my brothers and sisters!
My last few posts have been very analytical in nature – and I must say, the positive reaction to them has been amazing. I’m so happy to see that people genuinely enjoy my deconstructions of legendary characters like Tali’Zorah or the Arbiter. But this time around, I’ve decided to take a break from that. Instead, I’d like to build a case as to why I think 343 Industries should devote some form of tome-style book to the Sangheili civilization.
This is something that I’ve considered making for a long time now, as I have always advocated for a Halo expanded universe that takes a brave step forward, giving its alien species as much of a spotlight as its fan-favorite, Spartan-centered humans since I first played Halo 2 as a kid in 2006 and picked up Halo: Ghosts of Onyx in 2007. At the time I was nothing but a young man, ten-years of age. But even then, my hunger to see more detailed looks at the Covenant’s various species – particularly the Sangheili – was strong.
Of course, as I grew up, my interest in these species only grew – not only were they cool, but during the course of maturing into an adult, I began to see and take interest in things such as their culture, political structure, and other aspects of a civilization that make it, well, a civilization.
Sadly, due to the way that Bungie tended to treat the expanded universe lore, these concepts would ultimately remain unexplored, save for what we got in Halo 2 (which was an excellent introduction to the Covenant’s political, religious and social structure). To them, the games were much more of a priority, it seemed, given the way Bungie rarely advertised or mentioned the novels, as well as the significant conflict that Halo: Reach caused with Eric Nylund’s Halo: The Fall of Reach (I talk about that in length here). While I can definitely understand and respect that position, the “lore-whore” in me that I was becoming felt disappointed at this. For the longest time, the only thing besides Ghosts of Onyx and The Cole Protocol (neither gave significant insight, either) that took a deeper look at the Covenant was the animated short “The Duel” from Halo Legends.
However, after 343 Industries took the wheel as the new developer and leader for the series, I noticed that the expanded universe lore became a lot more far-reaching. With novels such as Broken Circle, Shadow of Intent, Hunters in the Dark and the Kilo-Five trilogy, we began to see special attention be given to the Covenant, and in particular to the Sangheili.
Words can’t describe how much I loved this new attention directed towards this species. What these books have given is absolutely incredible.
But I think they could even take it further.
You see, since 343 has come to Halo, they’ve proven that they’re very open to exploring the nooks and crannies of the Halo universe – the Forerunner Saga is proof of that. What those series of books did was essentially send a love letter to the big Forerunner fans of the community, such as my fellow writer friend Haruspis. Those novels explored the Forerunners in their entirety – their caste system, their government, their culture, their military, and quite literally just about everything between. And it did it in rich, deep detail. And while the novels that I mentioned above certainly gave us a great look into the Sangheili already, I would argue that we haven’t had anything for them that’s on quite the same level. And while I would be more than ecstatic with a traditional novel series for the Sangheili as well, I personally think that a tome-style work, as I mentioned at the start of the article, would allow them to go into even further detail than you could with a novel, where the culture and civilization is the setting, and not necessarily the focal point.
By a tome-style work, I mean something along the lines of The Jedi Path or The Book of Sith. For those of you readers who don’t know, those works are essentially a dense collection of history, culture, and ideologies about the Jedi and the Sith from the Star Wars universe. I consider these pieces tomes because of the fact that they’re very educational and scholarly in nature – think of them as “Jedi/Sith For Dummies” works, except they’re more like “Jedi/Sith For Dedicated Lore Junkies”. However, they contain more than just simple text – lightsaber stances, visual sketches of meditation poses, photographs and studies of influential members of the respective Orders. You name it, and there’s a very good chance that one of those books has it.
So, how could we make this style of piece work with Halo?
Well, with the introduction of Olympia Vale into the Halo series, who happens to be an expert on the Sangheili, I had an idea.
What if this book could be organized and written as her lifelong collective study of the Sangheili species?
It would make complete sense, considering the sheer level of expertise she has on the Sangheili. She knew more words in the Sangheili language by age eleven than the UNSC’s AIs and even ONI researchers. Considering that now, as an adult, she serves ONI as humanity’s leading Sangheili cultural and lingual expert, I can’t think of a better “excuse” to create something like this then Vale! I have some interesting ideas on how the creators could play around with this idea, but I’ll get to that later in the article…
Now that we’ve established the type of work it is and how it can be done, the question becomes, what do we include?
That’s a simple one. As much as possible.
A Complete Study Into The Sangheili
Now that I’ve covered the idea and the potential execution of it, I’d like to go into some detail on the subject and talk about some (not all – we would be here all day) of the things that I would like to see from a piece of lore content like this, as well as brainstorm how they could make it work with the theme of the book being Vale’s personal collection of studies.
Without further ado…
Art & Architecture
Take a moment to immerse yourself in the beauty and majesty that is Sanghelios from Halo 5: Guardians:
Pretty awesome, right?
Yes – Sanghelios in Halo 5: Guardians gives us an amazing, in-depth look at their architectural designs and artwork, from of huge, intricately detailed structures right down to sculptures that vaguely resemble Energy Swords. Yet, it would seem that Sanghelios brings more questions than it does answers in this regard.
Something I think would be an amazing addition to the type of book that I’m pitching here would be an analysis into the significance of these structures. For example, why do the Sangheili build massive pillars between large chunks of terrain separated by elevation as seen in the images above? It could be hypothesized they are support structures for the terrain. But, you see, that poses another question! If that’s true, then why? Is it supposed to be the way they give back to their planet and all it provides for them? Helping to keep its impressive landmasses standing tall against the timeless tests of erosion or tectonic shifts?
Another question you could ask – why do so many of the temples that you see in the game have no ceiling? Is it to “let the gods shine their light upon them”? Obviously, that’s a speculation, but it’s an interesting trend and design consistency in their architecture, and for these kinds of things I would love to see them explored.
And, of course, what about artwork? What is the significant behind that Energy Sword shaped sculpture? Does it represent their respect of the blade in combat? Or, what about hieroglyphic-style artwork? We know it exists, as we see some of them in Halo 5: Guardians, if you have a keen eye:
Obviously, this one can be pretty easily worked out to be a representation of the formation of the Covenant and the signing of the Writ of Union. But this can’t be all there is.
This is what I’m talking about – there’s so much potential information behind these structures and creations.
As for how this could work in the idea, Vale traveled to Khael’mothka, a Sangheili colony world, in 2555, as touched on in Hunters in the Dark. I would find it logical to assume that the architecture there would be similar to what we saw on Sanghelios. What if, therefore, there was a section in this book that shows several photographs of the structures and artwork that she finds around the colony, as well as an analysis written by her about each example with research based on what the Sangheili there told her?
That would be perfect.
This is a big one. Ever since Josh Holmes confirmed that the Sangheili language had a defined structure, Halo lore fanatics have been hard at work trying to decipher the language, bit by bit, piece by piece.
Don’t get me wrong – what the community has put together so far is mind-boggling to me. And I’m sure it’s also doing the same to the employees over at 343 Industries.
But, dammit, I want more!
And I can’t think of a better way to give us more than this idea of a tome of Sangheili knowledge, written by the woman who deciphered the entirety of the Sangheili language before she hit puberty.
Now, I’m definitely not suggesting that 343 give us an entire one-to-one translation of the human dictionary into Sangheili, that would be a monumental task for them. But things like their alphabet, an analysis of the similarities it shares with real-life Japanese, a look at their sentence structure, and some basic words translated into English would be absolutely amazing. As for how it would work with the theme of the piece, I think the best way to make it work is to make it a sort of “Guide to the Sangheili Language” type of thing that Vale has created for humans who aren’t as educated on the Sangheili as she is. Something she could hand out to someone for them to reference, except it would be assimilated into the book we get and essentially be another chapter.
Or, 343 could give us the entire language.
That works, too.
Something else I’d love to see is some exploration and analysis of the history of the Sangheili prior to the creation of the Covenant.
There is so much opportunity here for some really interesting information. I, for one, would love to see how the Sangheili came to operate under an Ancient Greco-reminiscent government of city-states and oligarchies – a “path to governance” if you will.
The Sangheili, when not part of the Covenant, slipped into civil war, both then and now.
Another aspect of their history that could be explored could be the Clan Battles of Sanghelios – the Sangheili civil war of old that prefaced the War of Beginnings and the Sangheili’s first contact with the San’Shyuum. Next to nothing else is known about this period at all. And getting to read about legendary clans of ancient times that modern Sangheili idolize? That would be a dream come true.
Of course, this would cover more than just the history of war. We could also get a detailed look at the Sangheili’s rise to technological success, their discovery of the Forerunner artifacts on Sanghelios, or even some factions of united clans that existed at the time. Hell, the fan base themselves have even written their own factions, such as the Cleansing Blades, a paramilitary group of spies and assassins that targeted corrupt leaders of clans or city-states on Sanghelios prior to the War of Beginnings. 343 can totally take inspiration from stuff like that! Wouldn’t it be awesome to read about several ancient organizations like this one? And what I’ve listed is truthfully only the tip of the iceberg of possibilities to be explored in a section of this work dedicated to history.
As far as making it work with Vale, that isn’t hard at all. Considering the fact that Vale’s visit to Khael’mothka was when she completed her study of the Sangheili in full, it would definitely make sense that Vale would have a wealth of historical information to write down in those pages.
As confirmed by GrimBrotherOne in a past Canon Fodder, the Sangheili warships seen in the campaign of Halo 5: Guardians are designed around wildlife native to Sanghelios and other Sangheili colonies. Something I think they could elaborate on with the style of book I’m suggesting is give us more specific insight into these types of things. Show us the actual wildlife that the ships are based on – give us information on why the Sangheili choose to build their warships in their image.
This can be explored for the vehicles and weapons in Halo 5 that appear to bear biological resemblance as well, such as the Wraith or Banshee. Was the Wraith built in the image of a large, crustaceous predator with thick carapeces that could withstand several forms of attack, like military tanks do? Does this Banshee design draw inspiration from an agile and acrobatic avian species native to Sanghelios?
And, hell, they could even go a step further and give us detailed information on their pre-Covenant armors and weapons, like the Curveblade. How did the Sangheili evolve the forms of their blades? Did they start out using sharpened pieces of wood, or stone? Just like we evolved and built upon our own melee weapons over the centuries, I’d love to see an in-depth look at how the Sangheili did it.
As for how this would fit in with this book, that’s a no-brainer. In the same way that Vale would research the art, architecture and history of the Sangheili timeline on Khael’mothka, she would also have done research into their design history for ships, vehicles, weapons, and armor.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Sangheili as we know them is their society. We know some interesting things already – they live by a warrior’s honor code reminiscent of the real world bushido of the Japanese samurai, and the strongest, most honorable members of this society therefore tend to be the most highly respected members. We also know that Sangheili consider losing blood a loss of honor, and that because of this Sangheili doctors are considered some of the lowest members of Sangheili society, as they earn their keep by causing other Sangheili to bleed during surgeries or other procedures.
However, I would like to see where other members of Sangheili society rank in this caste system. Are artists highly respected? Do Sangheili in wartime place a greater emphasis on the skills of the weaponsmiths more-so than they do in peacetime? Did pre-Covenant Sangheili view scientists as weak or inferior due to their academic nature, or were they valued greatly for the advantages of technological advancement for the species?
It’s questions like this that would be cool to see answered. And as for how Vale would come across this information in her studies, I think it would be interesting to read her eyewitness account of how several members of the society on Khael’mothka were treated while she was there.
This is the last aspect of this work that could be explored I’m going to cover in this article. However, I’ve saved the best for last – I think it has the potential to be the most intriguing part of the entire work.
By religion, I don’t mean the Covenant religion. No, I mean the religion of the Sangheili prior to the Covenant’s creation.
For those who are unaware, the Sangheili actually discovered Forerunner artifacts on Sanghelios prior to the San’Shyuum’s discovery of their species. Viewing them as divine, they formed a religion around them, but it wasn’t the same form that would later be the mainstay of Covenant faith – where the San’Shyuum and Sangheili eventually agreed that the gifts of the Forerunners were there to be used by them to complete the Great Journey, the Sangheili prior to the Writ of Union believed that merely touching the artifacts was heresy of the highest degree. However, we really don’t get to see the specifics of their religious beliefs other then this.
After discovering that a Guardian was located under the raging seas of Sanghelios, the Sangheili built the city of Sunaion upon the water to pay tribute to what they saw as a divine power.
One example of Sangheili mythology we have is “The Ballad of Kel ‘Darsam” which was first revealed in Shadow of Intent. From the existence of this tale, and the existence of Sangheili demigods in it, we can hypothesize that the ancient Sangheili formed a wealth of mythological lore, in which they even possibly depicted their Forerunner gods as Sangheili themselves, similar to how real world Greek mythology depicts the inhabitants of Mount Olympus in human form. I think it would be quite fun to explore the religious mythology and folktales of the ancient Sangheili and compare it to the religious beliefs of the Covenant Empire – and I imagine it would be equally as fun for the loremasters of 343 Industries to brainstorm about and create.
Finally, in terms of how Vale would come across this information, a cool idea I had was that maybe she encountered a wise Sangheili elder who possessed several rare, ancient tomes chock-full of what I described above that were passed down to him after several generations of keeping these ancient texts secret in the wake of the rising Covenant faith.
The Sangheili are a civilization whose culture contains opportunity for potential deep lore exploration at almost every opportunity. What I mentioned here today is only part of what could be explored – things such as detailed familial roles, education processes, biological structure, and more coud all be explored in the type of book I’m pitching. Vale being the “canon” author of this book would further expand on her expertise on the Sangheili as well, and further flesh her out as a character in the Halo universe. In my eyes, I feel that this idea is a win-win in all respects, and I definitely believe that 343 should at least consider the idea. Hell, you could even get Daniel Wallace, the author of The Jedi Path and The Book of Sith to write the book as well – he’s made several books like what I’m describing, and they’re all critically acclaimed. With the guidance of 343’s lore team and assistance from their art and design group, I can 100% see Wallace writing an incredible book that gives Sangheili superfans like myself something they’ve wanted ever since they first fell in love with the species back in Halo 2.
And why stop there? Why not flesh out the Unggoy, Jiralhanae, Yanme’e, Kig-Yar, and Lekgolo, as well as every other Covenant species? This would be an amazing way to give all the species the attention they deserve. For me, what makes science fiction universes so compelling is not just the humans in them, but also the foreign species. Getting to see all of the species fleshed out on the same level the humans have been would be a dream come true.
So, what do you think? Do you agree with me this is a good idea? Or do you think it’s not worth the time and effort? Let me know what you think in the comments section. I always read every one!
And, as always, thank you so much for reading. And remember…
Kel’s uncle threw the spear that killed him. Not Nesh ‘Radoon. At least, that’s what I think.