Today’s featured Tomb Raider fan is Jenni M, a writer who has also done voice-overs for a variety of fan projects and custom levels. What does Jenni have to say about the Tomb Raider series?
My name is Jenni, and I was born and bred in Robin Hood country, a stone’s throw from Nottingham, England. I have a BSc majoring in biological science with the Open University, and am currently studying for my Honours. My energy is limited due to illness but in my spare time I enjoy reading, writing, and spending quality time with my other half and extraordinarily supportive family. It often feels as though I have one foot in the world of science, and the other in the realm of imagination, each one complimenting and supporting the other. For me, Tomb Raider has been a gaming adventure and a gateway to meeting some fascinating people and expanding my skills in quite unexpected directions.
When and how did you learn about the Tomb Raider series?
Lara and I got off to a rocky start. For several years after Tomb Raider was released, I ignored and disdained that ‘big-chested bimbo’ who seemed to be splashed across every magazine and advertisement at the time. Then, in 1999, I bought my mum Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation for a joke after she’d commented, ‘Hmm, that looks like fun!’ at one of the game’s TV commercials. It may have been around the point when Lara exclaims, ‘You know me, Werner – a regular virtuoso!’ that I became irretrievably hooked. To my everlasting joy, this ‘big-chested bimbo’ turned out to have a brain, dry wit, and none of the damsel-in-distress clichés that had dominated female characters, in most creative genres, for far too long. Here was a character I could really root for, and the beautiful environments and puzzles only made me eager to continue exploring.
Do you run a Tomb Raider fansite or blog? If so, what would you say was your biggest achievement to date?
This is one of those technical internet-questions, isn’t it? Well, all of my Tomb Raider-related writings are available from my website, J R Milward, and I maintain an intermittent blog, J. R. Milward Thoughts and Writing, for more everyday writing-orientated topics when time and the muse coincide (note to self: must update more often!). You can also find me over at Voices.Com and DeviantART, where you can also see some of my Tomb Raider pencil drawings, paintings, and XNA Lara composites. Hey, maybe this technology-thingy isn’t so bad!
There’s no question: writing and publishing my full-length novelisation of Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness has been my biggest achievement in the Tomb Raider universe to date. In addition to teaching me the practicalities and rewards of writing a novel, it also led to a dialogue and friendship with Murti Schofield, something I never thought could happen and am humbled that it did. I’m also honoured to have provided Lara Croft voice-overs for a large variety of fan-projects and custom levels.
How has Tomb Raider changed your life?
Tomb Raider has opened many unexpected doors for me. In 2005, I quite casually offered my vocal skills for a friend’s custom level purely on the basis that ‘I’m female and British – does that help?’ Since then I’ve voiced Lara Croft (and several other characters) in dozens of fan-made works, from custom levels and trailers to cartoon series and podcasts. Without this opening, it would never have occurred to me to try out recording voice-overs. I now have my own spot on a professional voice-over website and, although it doesn’t bring me much work, it’s something I’m still quite proud of and would like to build upon in the future.
Tomb Raider has also been important in boosting my writing skills and confidence. Writing has always been important to me, but Lara Croft’s character and universe have been invaluable about teaching me the practicalities and technical aspects of writing, as well as being great fun!
I also have Tomb Raider to thank for introducing me to many extraordinarily gifted, generous, kind, and creative people. It’s pure magic to work with them – simply priceless.
Were you interested in archaeology before discovering Tomb Raider? Have the Tomb Raider games and films inspired you to learn more about ancient history?
Ancient cultures have always enthralled me. One of my first loves was a book on Ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology – I simply could not leave it alone. Tales of gods and goddesses, mysterious ruins, famous excavations, and fabulous artefacts have always excited me; I still feel sad that a friend borrowed a book about the excavation of Tutankhamen’s tomb during my second year at primary school and never gave it back! When I play Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, it gives me goosebumps to descend into Seth’s tomb, and to hear Lara recite the story of the Sphinx. To this day, Lara’s adventures only add an extra layer to a life-long passion for ancient cultures.
What are your thoughts on Lara’s image? Is she simply the product of a sexist gaming industry or can she be seen as a positive role model?
Originally, I would have said that Lara Croft’s image was quite badly abused by the popular press simply to excite pulses and drive sales. Even the Legend-Anniversary-Underworld reboot didn’t divorce itself from the ‘sex sells’ message. The Japanese dress in Tomb Raider: Legend was a case in point. Even though the over-sexploitation seems to have largely calmed down, even the 2013 reboot couldn’t escape some sexually-orientated jibing on forums and in the press (e.g. the controversial ‘rape’ QTE). As time goes on, I hope that the emphasis/trend to sexualise the appearance or behaviour of Lara is consigned to the dustbin, and that goes for all female characters in the game and film industry.
However, the character of Lara Croft was and continues to be a universe away from the popular media portrayal of her. Magazines might have had her blowing provocative kisses, but the character of Lara is more likely to roll her eyes at such irrelevancies and get on with the mission in hand. She’s tough and highly intelligent, observant and curious, practical and courageous. These are qualities that are sexier and more attractive than any kind of body-image could ever be. I think she’s an excellent role model.
What’s your favourite Tomb Raider game?
It’s a toss-up between Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation and Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. They essentially carry across as part of a single story arc, and contain some really juicy character conflict and development. There is a darker, edgier intrigue and sense of danger than in the other games. For the first time, we see Lara experiencing major internal conflict to match the chaos brewing around her. Plus we have ancient Egyptian and Biblical mythologies side-by-side – woo hoo!
And your least favourite game?
I’d probably say Tomb Raider: Legend. It has a lot going for it graphically, but the short length, unnecessary (and therefore annoying) extra character input via the headset, and easy puzzles made it disappointing.
Classic, Legend-Anniversary-Underworld or Reboot Lara?
All have their good and bad points, but I’m an old-school Classic Raider at heart.
Do you have any favourite Tomb Raider moments or quotes?
Descending into the Great Pyramid/the final confrontation with Seth in Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, and Ireland in Tomb Raider: Chronicles probably rank highest on my favourites list. The first because it was so awe-inspiring to climb down the shaft of moonlight into this vast cavern, to suddenly being confronted by an angry god, and that final, desperate escape (!). It tugged at the emotions and adrenaline with equal force. Ireland was also wonderful because both the gameplay and story deviated slightly from the straightforward hunt-the-artefact formula. This time, we had no weapons, no experience, and a really creepy atmospheric setting. I loved all of the dialogue between young Lara and Father Patrick, but Lara’s dry, ‘Stay put – right!’ always makes me smile.
The ‘busy girl, got to go…’ line is also a favourite.
What about least favourite moments? Is there anything you dislike about the games/films/comics?
I was disappointed in the Legend-Anniversary-Underworld games because the main motivation behind Lara’s archaeological career was switched to a melodramatic family quest rather than an independently-acquired passion. Lara’s entire life’s mission became a hunt for her mother and that felt overly-cloying and sentimental for such a supposedly hard-boiled character.
Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life also ticked me off because it attempted to turn Lara Croft into James Bond. Special gadgets, her Majesty’s orders, potential love-interest-come-traitor, save-the-world mission… the only difference was the protagonist’s gender. Sure, it had ancient ruins and artefacts, but these Tomb Raider cornerstones were diminished to mere wallpaper. Such a waste.
If you could change one thing about the Tomb Raider franchise, what would you change?
Whoever thought shorts and a tank top were a sound choice for trekking across snowy mountains?! Seriously though, I’d have left out the characters of Zip and especially Alister from the Legend-Underworld stories. Zip might occasionally have proved his worth with assisting with equipment and communications (as was shown briefly in Tomb Raider: Chronicles), but the entire concept of Alister was a lame duck.
Which places would you like to see Lara explore in future games?
Eek! I’d rather not say. Surprises are nicer!
Finally, if you could join Lara on one of her adventures, where would you go?
That depends if she’d agree for me to tag along, or shoot me before I became too annoying. ;)
A huge thanks to Jenni M for taking part in our series of fan interviews. Feel free to follow her on Twitter (@JRMilward) or visit her site, J. R. Milward, to read her Tomb Raider fan fiction.
You can find an archive of all our fan interviews over here.
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