Apotheosis and Creation Myth
==>END OF ACT 7
Homestuck is a puzzle, and its ending is no different. This has many people frustrated and upset, I suspect because the story is now considered “over,” and so there is no hope the audience will get handed any hard answers. All that’s left now is to either wait for the epilogue (which in fairness will likely give those who are disappointed much of what they want) or find the answers for ourselves.
But make no mistake: The answers are there to be found.
The truth is, Act’s 6 and 7 are a damn near perfect fulfillment of the comic’s themes. Together, they make up a complete ending. A fulfilling and satisfying one. Not everyone will feel that way, which is fine — it’s the natural pitfall of an “open” ending that people may simply refuse to dig into it.
But, to be clear, I think it’s a mistake to conclude that Homestucks’ ending was bad because it was open. It fundamentally misunderstands the kind of story Homestuck has always tried to be, and I really think it deserves more credit than that.
In the interest of not coming off as condescending, though, I want it understood that these are all feelings I had, too. I think it’s reasonable to be confused and maybe even distraught, especially if you’ve been reading the story serially.
After all, the questions there are to be asked are substantial ones. There are what seems like entirely dropped characters, unfinished character arcs, and beginning with the Retcon, many people felt some of our “main” characters had taken sudden and jarring turns that made them feel like totally different people.
The ending to Homestuck was not really about the characters or the plot, but about the themes that the story has been running with throughout its run, and in order to deliver on those themes, the ending HAD to play out the way that it did. This does NOT mean that the characters and plot are unimportant, though! In fact, they are absolutely crucial.
And, for the most part, all of their plot arcs were fundamentally resolved. The most important thing in coming to understand this is putting the narrative weight off the “big finale” flashes that really were never meant to pull that kind of load and revisiting the later parts of Act 6 with the idea that they are conclusions, not continuations. Or you can just read stormingtheivory’s fantastic work looking into the subject here.
Continue reading here, however, if what you want is a take on why the ending was not only fantastic, but necessary. Homestuck had to conclude the way that it did. And the reason why is tied into the kind of story Homestuck is.
But to explain why that’s the case, and for that matter, define the exact kind of story Homestuck is, we’re going to have to make a jarring transition and talk about something else entirely.
THE DAWN OF MAN
Across the trajectory of human development, one thing seems to be true:
We have always been striving to grow in our understanding of our world and ourselves. Not just as individuals, but as a species. From the moment we first learned how to make tools out of the world around us, or wondered about the nature of the sky, the story of humans has always been the story of struggling to understand, of both carving out meaning in of a world where nothing is explained, and of learning the systems and rules that guide that very world — and thus, how to use those systems to our own benefit.
And our progression hasn’t been linear, but exponential.
As we have gained more information, more cultural introspection, more sophisticated understandings of reality, we have also gained the nuance and mental dexterity required to apply new tools that gather even MORE sophisticated understandings of How Things Work — in essence, allowing us to learn faster.
Textbooks, measurements, experiments, communication tools: all examples of ways to collect and transmit information efficiently. And the summit of that trend for us right now is the internet — a massive ideascape, where information is transmitted seamlessly between all people who can access it. The internet is not far off from being a literal worldwide collection of all of our disembodied thoughts.
This has had unfathomable, uncountable consequences, but I am going to focus on one that Homestuck is particularly concerned with:
The popularization of new kinds of Cosmologies. Specifically, ones based on metaphysics, philosophy, and interpretations of quantum mechanics. Popular culture has internalized a lot from both these fields. And the questions they lead us to somewhat cast into doubt our perception of reality, cosmology, and even humanity!
Think about the kinds of questions we are prompted to consider quite often by our modern media:
- Does reality exist without an observer?
- Does every decision create alternate universes via different timelines?
- Is reality created by our thoughts?
- Is the universe a hologram or computer simulation?
These are questions our culture is grappling with. They’ve spawned entire cultural shockwaves — ask yourself how often you and your friends joked about nothing being real and time being an illusion. Or consider the media empires brought about by a metaphysical take on self-help: products like “The Secret” or “What the Bleep Do We Know.”
Regardless of whether these are accurate interpretations of the universe or oversimplifications of complicated branches of science, the point is these are ideas that are very much a part of our times and our cultural consciousness. And it is affecting us — many of us crave information that contextualizes and speaks to that understanding of reality.
Which stands to reason. Because the truth is that these questions have serious implications for our understanding of ourselves.
The world is more complicated than it’s ever been, and we’re less certain than ever of our place within it. Those things can definitely be squared to some extent with religion — I don’t want to imply that the existentialist search and faith are incompatible — But more and more people who identify with a religion also interpret their faith individually, in a context and methodology that makes sense to them.
What I’m getting at is that a lot of people don’t feel that the books and structures of older times speak to us or to our understanding of the world —directly, anyway, without interpreters or translators.
The Bible has things to say about treating others well and living well yourself. But it doesn’t spiritually address a person who visualizes themselves as part of a multiverse, with all that implies. What does it tell the person wondering what it means for morality if probability dictates there’s a different version of themselves out there who is a sinner, who is cruel, who is different from themselves?
When there’s only what you can see to worry about, it’s relatively easy to form an identity around it. But how do you form an identity when you come to believe you are an infinitely small version of yourself — when you’re wondering how you could be different, how you might be worse, how you might be better. When you consider the question, not as a philosophical exercise but as an emotional imperative, as real as your belief in God, Heaven, whatever you believe in — if you believe in anything at all.
The question becomes, then, what does this mental framework do to a person’s sense of self?
I think many people feel a kind of existential ennui under the weight of these questions. At the least, I know I’ve felt it. Nothing in our culture is really set up to give us answers about our reality that match up to the questions we have.
There’s a reason Homestuck is so hard for fans to explain to others.
It contains multitudes. It is at various times video game parody, straight-up video game, romance soap opera, meta self-parody, meta self-deconstruction, social commentary, quantum computing metaphor, sprawling epic, cosmic horror story, pirate fanfiction, existential treatise — and more.
Mike Rugnetta from Idea Channel once likened it to Ulysses, and in the wake of the ending many theories have come foward about what it all meant and what kind of story Homestuck turned out to be: Some argue that the plot resolution is totally coherent and internally consistent after all, others that in actuality the story and characters were always a means to an end, and Homestuck was always an exploration of it’s own meta all along. Others still dismiss Homestuck by the end as having been a simple case of a Bad Story.
There’s others, too. And (with the exception of that last one), I feel they’re all valid and worth exploring. But there is another answer, one that ties all of Homestucks’ themes together, and it is the answer Hussie has always given about what Homestuck tries to be.
It’s a creation myth. If you wanted to compare it to a long, self-referential, complicated work of literature, a better analogue than Ulysses is probably the Bible — albeit, a Bible where all of the complicated geneaology and all the moral imperatives and all the convoluted history is entirely contained in the Book of Genesis.
And a creation myth entails more than just HOW reality comes about. To quote celebrated anthropology expert, Wikipedia:
“Creation myths address questions deeply meaningful to the society that shares them, revealing their central worldview and the framework for the self-identity of the culture and individual in a universal context.”
To put it differently:
A creation myth is a story that does three things:
- Explain how reality begins
- Provides some insight into the nature of reality (and our relationship to it)
- Finally, provides a sort of guidance for how we should relate to reality.
What Homestuck does is offer an incredibly compelling presentation of…well, life. Like, real life — and, specifically, life inside a multiversal system. Most stories would lose themselves in the incredible complexity of trying to present a single character across seperate lifetimes — seperate universes — , but Homestuck manages to do it with dozens.
It gets away with it by creating a highly reducible setting —like with alchemization, characters are easily broken down into groups, and even further down into subgroups. Highly complex systems of character interaction are broken down into remixable bytes of data, and then refitted into mirrored constructs. By comparing and contrasting those mirrors, we are able to glean insight into the true nature of characters in both.
Not only that, but the presentation of all characters is rendered through dense symbols, to the point that our main characters are deliberately marked with symbols that clue us into their nature and particular skills at affecting aspects of metaphysics: the Aspects.
This systematic breakdown renders the reality of the characters in a way that is easier to parse for the reader, allowing us to digest a great deal of complexity relatively easily — and allowing us to gain special insight into the proceedings.
The most obvious examples of this are the kids’ parallels with their adult selves. We know, for example, that Rose and Dave are capable of incredible feats, because we’ve seen them at their full potential as adults. They themselves, however, don’t really know this about themselves. They struggle with self-worth and their own potential and doubt themselves constantly.
This is true of most of the cast. Despite this massive impact each players’ “Soul” exerts on reality, with a few notable exceptions, every single player struggles with feeling small — as a single living being in a single living timeline, with no concept of the greater whole.
With few exceptions, only the audience is clued into how powerful and meaningful these characters really are. Keep this in mind, because it’s important, and we’ll come back to it.
Homestuck is about flawed actors. No one operates with full understanding of reality, or complete agency over it — not even Lord English and Doc Scratch. Which is why I don’t really buy into the idea that Homestuck can’t end satisfyingly without the characters fully grasping the scope of what’s going on. Homestuck deliberately blurs the line between itself and “reality,” and in real life, nobody actually understands that much.
The only thing you can really do in life is set goals for yourself, decide what you want, and then do your best to seek that. Homestuck operates the same way. All these characters ever wanted was to be together and live happy and safe — what greater victory is there, than to achieve that?
…Actually, that isn’t technically a rhetorical question. There is a greater victory here, but it’s not one we’ll find through character arcs, because it is in fact an antithesis to the very idea of character arcs. The ultimate victory of Homestuck is an existential victory, a platonic victory, and to an extent….
Dare I say it? A meta victory.
That’s not to say that the meta supplants the story here. There are grounded, logical, in-story reasons for everything this ending sets up. They’re just delivered through implication and lateral thinking instead of exposition.
I’m going to do my best to lay out what this greater victory was, and what the set up boils down to. But first we need to talk about our player characters, and just what exactly the narrative thinks that they are. Are our players people? Characters? Gods? Chess pieces, moved across a board to the dictates of fate?
We already touched on how virtually every character feels small to some degree or another. It’s also worth mentioning basically all of them struggle with feeling trapped — stuck, if you will.
Some characters struggle with the culture they left behind — Dave’s struggles with masculinity and heroism, Karkat’s struggles with warriordom and quadrants. Other characters struggle with more existential questions: Aradia and Sollux’s frustrations with the predestination of the alpha timeline and their own inability to change it.
Most characters struggle with a mixture of both. They begin to question what matters, what’s moral, what it means for them to be alive if they have no say in how their lives play out. They attribute all the events of their lives to outside forces and second-guess and doubt themselves at every juncture, at times coming to regard their very existence as meaningless.
And they have good reason to feel this way. We’ll explain why in a little while, but first, I’m going to make one point clear: There’s nothing more important in Homestuck than the players. Not Sburb, the Horrorterrors or Skaia, not Lord English, not the Alpha Timeline, not Hussie, the audience, not anything.
By definition, without the players, reality wouldn’t exist at all.
Yes, the characters are essentially pawns to the alpha timeline, lacking agency. Yes, the characters are people, kids trying to make do, as real as me or you.
The narrative of Homestuck is obsessed with building up these two points. But there’s a third point it’s trying to make a case for, too.
The characters are also creative gods, responsible for creating all of reality. And the narrative is trying to say that’s another way they are like me or you.
In “Computer Science and Worldbuilding in Homestuck,”Tex Talks describes how Space, such as a particular session of Sburb or a dream bubble, can be likened to space that is reserved for some sort of “Processing” to carry out over time — so, a game is played or a memory or conversation shared. Once the process is finished, and the game is either lost, won or abandoned, the bubble housing that space Pops and returns to the Void of paradox space, freeing processing power to be used on some other program at some point.
It begs a question, though: when exactly does it pop? We actually have an answer to this in the comic already, courtesy of Dave and Rose:
It pops when the last sentient observer stops observing.
In the doomed timeline that created Davesprite, Dave and Rose were the only players left to observe their session. Jade and John were dead and the trolls are cut off from all timelines but the Alpha, so when Dave time travels out of the session and only Rose remains, he suggests that to preserve herself she go to sleep.
And it is only after she falls asleep that her session seems to “Pop,” and cease existing. The last observer is no longer present, and so that manifestation of reality shuts off. Her dreamself, existing outside the normal flow of time, seemingly just merges with the Alpha timeline.
If a tree falls and no one hears the sound, did it fall at all? Homestuck’s answer is not only that it didn’t, but that without someone present to witness the forest at some point in its existence, the forest does not exist at all. Reality is pointless and redundant without someone to experience it, to the point that it’s impossible to differentiate whether or not it even EXISTS if an observer isn’t present.
This is mirrored by the way the planets and incipisphere are “spontaneously generated” upon the entry of the players. They may have always been there, but if no one was watching, did they exist?
It also comes into play with alternate timelines. Timelines only branch based on the decisions of the players. Every Homestuck character is in and of themselves a vector of possibility, based on which paradox space can expand its own existence in infinite ways. These effects are compounded and exponentially increased for every way that characters can interact.
And the propagation of existence and the experience of existing are their own inherent goods. The alternative to existing is to simply Not Exist, and the alternative is preferable if only because it’s more interesting. So in a sense, for reality’s sake, the more variation, the better. You can disagree with that, but it’s a philosophical point, not a narrative one — it’s pretty obvious Paradox Space agrees with me, and — given all of our continued existences — that reality does too.
“But wait!” You say. “Homestuck characters can only REALLY interact in one predetermined way without dooming the timeline! They aren’t vectors of infinity at all!” Which is true.
But not natural. See, the story of Homestuck is not actually the story of Sburb. It’s not even the story of our characters. Homestuck is the story of one thing and one thing only: The Alpha Timeline.
Across the entire story, this is what we follow, this is what we see. We don’t interact with doomed timelines at all except where they influence the outcome of the Alpha. From our vantage point those timelines may as well not exist! What I’m not sure many people have realized, however, is that the Alpha Timeline has nothing to do with Sburb for the vast majority of the story.
In fact, Sburb’s late game mechanics actively contradict the idea of an Alpha Timeline — what’s the point of God Tiers if making the choice to become one will result in doom? That doesn’t exactly jive with Skaia’s typical ability to retroactively prepare for future events — it would likely just not create a quest bed if it was that against a player god tiering.
So it’s clear: there’s something else going on here, something about the design of Sburb doesn’t add up.
Because the Alpha Timeline isn’t about Sburb. It’s about Lord English.
The Alpha timeline is the Alpha timeline because of Lord English. It is specifically described by Doc Scratch as the timeline which leads to his own creation — and thus, by necessity, Lord English’s creation as well. And since Lord English’s influence is partly responsible for influencing the creation of every character we’ve met, it is also the timeline which leads to everyone existing in the first place.
This is why the Alpha Timeline is so specific and stringent, and why any deviation from it leads to doomed timelines.Doomed timelines come about when stable time loops are failed that are necessary to propagate reality.
But normally, after a point, Sburb wouldn’t really need to use any more time loops to propagate its own existence. In essence, then, in a ‘natural’ Sburb game, it makes sense the “Alpha Timeline” would end, and there would be no more stable time loops dictating the course of their lives unless a player willingly set one up themselves.
In fact this is likely the true nature of the Ultimate Reward: Not just a Universe — an infinity of space — but also an infinity of time.
In essence, post-Sburb victory probably looks a lot like the dream bubbles do! With two obvious differences: you wouldn’t have the overlap of the same person existing in the same place, and you wouldn’t have the stagnation and hollowness of existing in a reality essentially completely defined by the past.
Everyone you love, you are with, in some version of reality. Everyone you want to be, you eventually become. An inexhaustible series of branching spacetimes for kids who have become gods to become, enjoy, and create themselves and each other anew again and again and again.
Notably, however, this Ultimate Reward is something which the characters we follow have always been denied. Dave mentions how Lord English never did anything bad directly to him or his friends, but the truth is, he never needed to.
Mike Rugnetta recently made a video arguing for a definition of violence as, basically, the removal of choice. You should probably watch it, because it gives us some insight into the true nature of the threat Lord English poses to our characters.
Homestuck’s characters are always nervous about playing to reality’s beat, making sure they’re doing the right thing so that they won’t be doomed to pain, death, and oblivion. Even when they want to do otherwise. Our characters have ALWAYS been shadows of their complete selves, victims of the Alpha Timeline’s tyranny in constraining what and who they could be.
Lord English’s brutality never had to come in an explosion of drama and showmanship. His cruelty had exactly one calling card:
It was already here.
It was in the murder of every version of these characters that wasn’t exactly who and what Lord English required them to be.
People have contemptuously dismissed Dave’s disregard for the idea of “character arcs,” but the truth is he’s completely right — the cast of Homestuck have always been considered to be, first and foremost, people. The idea that they were characters in a story has always been a ruse, a byproduct of the fact that they are — for the most part — confined to a single, specific narrative, one that Lord English has control over.
Of all characters, Jasprose and especially Davepeta come closest to understanding this. Davepeta talks about an Ultimate Self each character is a part of, a sort of platonic ideal of each individuals’ identity. They talk about how every version of a character is important to building that overarching whole. It’s a unique sort of melding of the concepts of multiverse and platonic ideals. One I’d never considered before, and one I find sort of comforting.
But LE is a threat so cosmic that even those ultimate selves are ultimately…not threatened, but diminished. Every single version of these characters has to contend with the consequences of living under the weight of the Alpha Timeline, which means even their ultimate selves are shaped, twisted, and constrained by it. That is, until John takes over the story.
Better writers than I have already talked about how Homestuck is a Gnostic story, and Lord English makes an obvious Demiurge — a false, evil god, who crafts and shapes our character’s entire reality. A reality they must then escape, to reach Sophia. For those not caught up on Gnosticism, Sophia is a goddess who endows humanity with her light —a light that allows humans to work to transcend the inherent malice of the material world (the creation of the Demiurge) and find true, Godly wisdom.
This entails a process of growing to understand themselves and their reality, which is exactly what our characters do. But not all the same way, and not equally. Which is just another way to say that everyone develops differently. It’s not that one character is “better” or “worse.” Just that they are different people, and reflect reality in different ways. The path to understanding and happiness is different for everybody.
Some dig their way to it through deconstructing society. Climbing down and untangling from the moral values they were handed from above, if you will. One could even say they…
Dave deconstructs his society’s ideas of Heterosexual Male Heroism and discovers how toxic masculinity hurt and hindered his ability to form close bonds — and, in some ways, created his abusive environment. Karkat has a similar journey in abandoning his society’s ideas of warriordom and detached, ruthless brutality and finding his own internal affinity for compassion and understanding — this, by the way, brings him closer to understanding his aspect, or “true nature.”
Not to mention both of them do this while seemingly veering away from the procreative, normalized version of sexuality in their respective societies — Dave away from heterosexuality, Karkat away from quadrants.
Terezi and Vriska’s arcs, especially early on, revolve around the troll expectation of murder and violence as “normal,” necessary things , too. Jake’s expression of gender and how he’s treated because of it also factor in here. This is the “social” element of Homestuck, the part that’s speaking back to us about our culture.
Others, though build their way up along the existential. They grow their understanding of the nature of their reality, and their relationship to that reality. They rise up, if you will. Oh, if only there was a word for it! Something like…
There are two different ways characters ascend, and they’re worth differentiating, but they are ultimately the same.
One is the existential. Jade and Calliope, for example, struggle prominently with this. Jade comes to the deepest understanding of herself, her physical reality, and her Aspect out of all the human kids. This domination of her aspect and power make her the most effective character among our protagonists’ team, and essentially a single-person game changer.
But to her this understanding comes at the cost of feeling lonely, dehumanized, and empty. She feels burdened by her aspect and essential reality in much the same way Dave did early on. She can control the raw power of her identity, but it’s deeper existential implications disturb and hurt her. Even when she comes to understand that all of existence in made of the aspects she and her friends have control over, the information does nothing to make her feel less trapped, less beholden to the shape reality has taken for her.
Until Davepeta comes along and basically tells her that reality should be whatever she wants to make it. Davepeta, by the way, is another relevant character to this upwards movement. Davesprite struggled with being “extra” to reality by the nature of his existence and identity — a casualty to his own Aspect.
Ultimately, it takes Nepeta, a Rogue of Heart, to save him from this. She “steals” his identity, and in so doing allows him access to the full scope of all versions of himself and gives him unprecedented access to to the full context of himself. It should be noted that ultimately Davepeta finds this view into reality not oppressive or crushing, but delightful and liberating. Davepeta comes to understand that reality exists for our sake, not the other way around.
Aradia is another character who comes very close to the top of understanding reality in this way, and she does so through the vector of death. She begins to understand just what all of the time manipulation and life and death really means, and she finds the information similarly freeing!
Then we have Terezi, who seemingly experiences an epiphany after being fully honest about her feelings with Vriska. Many people seem to think she’s depressed by the end of the story, but I don’t see it. She experiences what seems to be a complete connection, not just to her own alternate selves, but to the decisions and paths of pretty much every single character in the story.
An epiphany that leads her to viewing (Vriska) and (Terezi) meeting up in paradox space, and fondly beholding the majesty and beauty of even such a messed up and twisted reality. After that, almost always seen grinning and generally having a damn blast when she’s fighting alongside Dave and on the lilypad.
All these “existential” arcs deal with reality as a physical, actual thing. They are not unlike our own wonderings about the nature of the universe — does it have an expiration date? Are there multiple universes and alternate timelines? Just how the hell does all of this work? It’s the characters interacting with their personal, physical reality.
The other way that characters struggle with this upwards movement is on the narrative level. The meta. The reality of Homestuck as a story, not from the characters’ perspective, but ours.
We brushed over Rose’s struggling with viewing her life as a story. It’s worth mentioning that this is a predilection Light players generally seem to share, given Aranea’s obsession with telling stories and Vriska’s obsession with being the hero of a story.
But we also have Gamzee, who we can argue is empowered entirely by his own cognizance of Homestuck as a story. His belief in his own personal story is so strong that, through sheer willpower, he forces it to come true!
And then, finally, we come back to John. John, the one who finally wrests the story out of Lord English’s grasp. The one who’s able to change the nature of the Alpha Timeline. John comes to have a visceral, physical awareness of himself as a part of a story. He literally refers to himself as being “unstuck from canon”!
And it’s fitting he would be the one to reach this height, because Breath is in fact the Aspect that governs plot, and stories. Stories carried on the breath of the teller, or delivered through space or across the internet in text.
Specifically, John is the Heir of Breath, and he literally inherits the plot of Homestuck from a Lord, and begins to change it to the benefit of his friends. In essence he has reached a level of Sophia that allows him to see his entire reality for the oppressive narrative it is, and not just rebel against it, but reconstruct it entirely.
Think about the narrative the fandom has decided on — that the characters won by escaping “Homestuck,” the story. Reframe it slightly, and instead think about it as “the characters escaped the Alpha Timeline.” There’s not really any difference between the two, is there?
And so meta and canon become one. It’s not that victory in Homestuck is inherently meta or that the meta usurped the story — it’s that they are mirrors to each other, parallels, different ways to come to understand the same reality. John gains power over Homestuck as a narrative, but in so doing he fundamentally changes the nature of it’s underlying reality. It’s a cosmic victory, a spiritual and existential one.
The meta elements of Homestuck are a mechanism to establish the idea that there are different levels to reality — they are used to serve the story and symbolize the characters coming closer and closer to our level of agency over reality, breaking free of the Alpha Timelines’ control and claiming their existential birthright.
This is the common thread running through all of Homestucks’ themes:
That unless freely chosen, stories are oppressive, toxic, and damaging. That they are violent, that they remove agency and choice by their very nature.
Heroism, biological heterosexuality, troll quadrants, troll violence, the Alpha Timeline, hell — even Skaia’s well-intentioned “quests,” explicitly meant to give characters a path to self-actualizing. Over and over, we’re shown that all of these narratives can become constrictive and suffocating, that the characters are uncomfortable inside their boundaries.
In real life, there’s no such thing as a neat, tidy story that cleans everything up and leaves everyone self-actualized and whole. Everyone struggles with their own narratives and boxes, and the only truly good narrative to subscribe to is the one each person chooses for themselves. And remember, Homestuck genuinely operates under the premise that this is REAL, these characters are real people — the Alpha Timeline that forces them to look like characters is really just an expression of Lord English’s own chosen narrative, the path he chose for himself.
But everything in Homestuck rebels against the domination of a single will.
The world as Lord English wants it is not the world as it was meant to be. And every bit of the world fights back. Skaia, the source of creative potential, stands firm as the moral center and ultimate goal of the Game. The Denizens instruct their players on how to work around Lord English’s commands: Echidna instructs Jade to bring the Battlefield and all her session’s planets through the Scratch, while Typheus teaches John to use his retcon powers to rewrite some of Lord English’s reality. The Horrorterrors, normally the players’ enemies, create dreambubbles when Feferi asks for them, allowing doomed timelines to continue.
This is, in fact, one of Homestucks’ “Guidance” statements as a creation myth.
But hold that thought for a second. Before we get into that, there’s a question that needs asking: Why? Why all the lofty ambition? Why the constant deconstruction of narrative, the questioning of purpose and plot and the melding of meta and canon?
Well, remember, Homestuck is a creation myth. In essence, the descent and ascent of all these characters paradoxically leads to the same place. It’s all questing, all digging, all tearing down what’s fake and seeking out what’s true. It’s searching for Sophia.
All of it is meant to try and crack open some insight into what reality really is. What life really is! And what our relationship to the experience of both should be. It breaks down everything that is reducible, tears it down into symbols, in order to find that which is absolutely, unequivocally true.
An irreducible truth.
It’s through the search for that irreducible truth, a search which spans the entire story, that Homestuck produces two statements that are not quite commandments, per se, but close. I consider them philosophical as opposed to moral, because Homestuck doesn’t consider its characters Bad People for not living up to either, although some characters definitely think less of others for failing to measure up to one or the other.
Pretty much every character struggles with one, the other, or both. But there are pairs of characters that seem deliberately set up to explore the contrast and nuance between both: Calliope and Caliborn and Vriska and Tavros, for example. I’m going to focus on those two pairs for now.
The first is this:
Homestuck believes, above all things, that it’s important for you to TRY.
To make your voice heard, your feelings known, and your actions apparent. Because the nature of sentient life in Homestuck is to be a vector of possibility and propagate different realities based on exploring those possibilities, the story feels that close to the absolute WORST thing you can do — to reality and to yourself — is to refuse to engage.
Possibly the character who best expresses this ideal is Vriska, who is CONSTANTLY trying incredibly hard to impact reality, and is outright disdainful of people like Tavros and later on (Vriska) who forsake that chance. What makes Vriska such a powerful, influential character is ultimately that she understands something most of the other characters are too caught up in their personal hang ups to realize:
She is important. In terms of reality, she is what’s MOST important. And while she probably wouldn’t express this verbally, I think she intuitively understands that this is also true for everyone else playing the game, including ghosts, and it’s why she gets so indignant and frustrated when anyone around her forsakes their responsibility to live their life to the fullest. She sees this as a betrayal of your own potential and of the potential of reality itself, and she cannot abide it.
But obviously, Vriska isn’t presented as the Most Fulfilled character. For one thing she kind of traps herself: She plays reality like she’s playing a game, and in her mind the best at a game is the one who is the Most Important and takes down the Biggest Bad. It never seems to occur to living Vriska that there is victory in learning to love yourself and love others, and just having a happy life.
She’s got plenty of problems with expressing herself and relating to others, and what she’s missing is the other half of this philosophical mandate. It is a little harder to give this one a constrained meaning, but if I have to try then here is how I would define it:
Respect the Expression of Others.
There’s something Tavros intuitively understands that Vriska does not, and that is that you cannot choose people’s choices for them. He’s not assertive or entrepreneurial by nature like Vriska is, but he is naturally kind and compassionate and understanding. He gave us our first clearest indication that Dave has something deeper going on in his relationship to sexuality and masculinity, and his role in the story is basically defined by his caring and ability to make connections.
To be clear, Homestuck thinks this value, this willingness to accept others as they are, is AS important to living well as the imperative to undergo effort. Vriska will never be truly happy or feel like she belongs until she can accept that some people are different than her, and that everyone is on their own personal journey which should be respected and valued even if it is not understood.
Vriska was important, yes, but ultimately she was also very lonely, distrusted and set apart because she had no scruples about forsaking others’ agencies and values for her own ideals. Tavros was unhappy in a lot of ways, but it can’t really be argued he was particularly lonely. He was able to connect to people. So well, in fact, that his ultimate victory is represented by him finally choosing to express himself significantly, on his own terms, and succeeding in a way that trumped even Vriska’s wildest imagination.
On his own terms. Through his own narrative, finally free from the limiting influence of hers, Tavros thrives and flourishes. And he does so by moving people to act while being fundamentally respectful of their own decisions and agency.
Is relevance, and the willingness to act, important?
Yes! But balance is required. There’s no true success in action if it costs someone elses’ potential and agency. Tavros is one of the few characters who seemingly finds a middle ground by the end.
Jane and Dirk are also worth discussing here. Unlike the other pairs of characters, Jane and Dirk both cycle wildly from inaction and repression to disresgarding the feelings of others depending on where they are in the story. In this, they tend to trade roles.
Dirk is active and oppressive while Jane swallows her feelings and refuses to act for months. Dirk shuts down and gives up once Jane takes over with Trickster mode. They begin to try for a middle ground after that, but then Dirk is literally punched into the furthest ring and out of the story, while Jane is thrust into a position of near-total dominion and control over it.
They’re both important because they illustrate that finding balance is a struggle. That it’s hard. That you can go back and forth from one end to the other a million different ways and even once you’re in the middle you have to work to stay there. They tell us that progress and growth don’t happen in straight lines.
There’s setbacks, regression, regrets — but that doesn’t make them less valuable as people, no matter what shape their mistakes take.
This dynamic is mirrored again, in another pair of characters:
Calliope and Caliborn.
Calliope, after all, is defined by her feelings of irrelevance and her cosmic unimportance. But she did express herself at one point, and it saved her: she gave her love and companionship to the Alphas, brought them all together as friends, and as a result she was brought back to join them.
Caliborn, however, is characterized entirely by his tenacity and disregard for the desires of others, and this ultimately dooms him. He traps everyone in his Alpha timeline, but ultimately he traps himself in it too. His long streak of destruction through paradox space turns out to be his own funeral march, and unlike any of the others this is all of the possibility Lord English ever amounts to.
His Ultimate Self dies along with the story, with his sector of paradox space, and with his Alpha Timeline. Without the ability to interact meaningfully with others, he can’t change or grow, and thus he dooms himself to true stagnation.
Now, FINALLY, we can talk about the ending. Why was it so vague and sparse with detail? Does Hussie hate us? Did he not care about our theory-work, our endgame ships, our desire for closure? Is he really that much of an apathetic troll? Did he get sick of working on this utterly revolutionary story after so much work and time?
The only events we can be sure of in this ending are the following:
God Tier Calliope, the ultimate expression of not trying to affect reality but respecting the paths and expressions of others, died saving everything in one single moment of impact, swallowing the entirety of the story of Homestuck within her black hole.
Lord English, meanwhile, is either killed or trapped within his own time loop. The Ultimate Juju IS, effectively, the story of Homestuck. The doors that appeared on the Juju (both the version that John opens and the one Vriska releases to hit Caliborn) allow the characters to leave the story of Homestuck for good, and embark to a new reality.
We get glimpses of it, but small ones. Only enough to know that the kids we’ve followed are alive and well. Anything further would define them, and as I’ll explain soon, that would betray the point of the ending.
Notably, this new reality is truly limitless. While Paradox Space as our characters knew it seemed to have no limits, in reality it was constrained by the shape of its causality: a circle. Everything in Homestuck leads back to itself, and nothing can escape the commandment that for anything to happen it has to cause itself to happen, too. It’s a cycle.
The new status quo of Paradox Space is not a cycle — subject to the tyranny of LE’s stable time loop.
It is instead a single point that can spiral outwards infinitely, in all directions. This is symbolized by Calliope destroying not one but TWO circular symbols in her creation of the black hole: The Green Sun, AND the circular white cracks of paradox space caused by Lord English.
But attempting to portray a literally infinite reality is a loser’s game, as far as artistic work goes. No matter what Hussie decided to show or not show us, people would use it to decide that one version of Homestuck’s future is Absolutely Real — Canon — while others are Absolutely Not.
CANON IS A WEIGHTY THING
The nature of Homestuck is multiversal. It’s never been shy about stating that there are countless unseen versions of reality playing out, constantly, that we are never privy to. There’s no reason to assume the kids’ new universe is any different, because the kids are the same fundamental agents of change and possibility they’ve always been.
When Hussie says “All ships are canon” that isn’t him playing a cop-out or being silly or anything — he’s speaking a plain, literal truth.
In a multiversal system that extends infinitely across all vectors of possibility, the natural result is that not only will every character end up “with” every other character, but also that they will do so in every group combination and every SEQUENCE of combinations over time that can possibly happen.
Essentially, ANY combination of characters that can possibly be arranged together in any kind of “relationship,” from friends to mortal enemies to group relationships to queerplatonic relationships to ANYTHING you can imagine, is already in existence through the nature of parallel worlds theory alone.
In that context, to give any character in Homestuck a single, definite Ending would be an absolute betrayal of exactly what Homestuck thinks these characters ARE: As infinite as Sburb and paradox space themselves, as eternal and vast and all-encompassing as all the universe, expanding inwards instead of outwards.
They’re people existing in the midst of life’s infinite potential, like us.
Not characters with single tidy arcs to close and wrap up for our satisfaction.
(Because I know for a fact some people are going to use this as justification for shipping gay characters in heterosexual pairings or whatever, keep in mind that while reality is essentially infinite, it’s still ultimately created by the characters! That means that realities the characters don’t feel are true to them aren’t going to be desirable for them, and likely would not be made. Infinite causality sure is weird!)
That doesn’t mean that the arcs we saw and were invested in can never have any kind of resolution, or that we can never see how the characters move foward with the issues they wanted to resolve. I’m guessing the epilogue will likely address those things, in a fashion!
But our culture is really not past the notion of authorial intent. For all intents and purposes, if Hussie had closed anything in Homestuck as definitively as a list of “endgame ships” or with a definitive statement of Who Lives and Who Doesn’t, if a particular characters’ arc resolved in a particular definite way, all of fandom and fanfiction and fanculture would follow his cue.
All creative work after that point would mold itself around The Way Things Ended, and while some fanwork would definitely deviate from that ending, they would be seen by the rest of our culture as less “legitimate,” less “Real,” than something that follows compellingly off the path that was already set for us.
It would basically put in place a new Alpha Timeline, or something like it. A limiter on the endless potential of the characters we’ve come to know, a denial of their Ultimate Selves and the Ultimate Reward that they’ve earned.
So instead, Hussie chose to avoid limiting the characters to any single Way Things Are, and decided to expand our canonical role from Reader to Creator, if we choose to take on the mantle.
All the characters got progression to their character arcs, they learned something new or came to some new degree of insight and resolution. But all of them did so in a way that makes it clear this is only the beginning of their story: Jane and Terezi coming to understand their own potential, Jade realizing reality is there for her to enjoy, Dirk learning to let go of control and Dave learning to take it when it’s necessary, Jake realizing it’s fine to be alone and that his friends don’t hate him and beginning to work on fixing his relationships. So on and so on.
It never really made sense to expect the characters to wrap up all their issues and problems in the span of a few hours before fighting a bunch of Big Bosses. The story ends, but life continues! And the fact that these characters still have things to work for and live through only makes that clearer. It should be something to celebrate, not decry. But then, there’s also the question of who even gets to live in the first place. Who reaps the rewards of freedom?
Many questions in the ending are basically Schrodingers’ boxes. Does Vriska survive? Do the Beta kids get to live free? Do the trolls get to live forever, too? Did the ghosts get to go to the new universe as well? Hey, for that matter, what about (Vriska) and (Terezi)? Do the kids even have to go fight Lord English at all, or did changing the alpha timeline make it so they don’t have to?
For every black box the narrative gives us, we are faced with a question. With a little lateral thinking, we can answer all of these questions for ourselves, and we can come to different yet compelling conclusions for all of them.
So, effectively, we’ve been given a Choice.
And we already know what choices do to reality in Homestuck.
Hussie created a space open enough to allow us to decide how things proceed from here. The fact is, as far as the comic stands now, we just don’t know! And not knowing means we can create the future for ourselves: through fanwork, analysis, and care.
There are compelling ways to say that Vriska died while the ghosts and other trolls in the Furthest Ring survived. There are compelling ways to say even she made it! There are ways to argue (Vriska) and (Terezi) survived, too.
The key thing is all of those are individual choices, which means every individual reader can pick and choose the mix that works best for them. And they can spread that understanding of the story, share it with others.
Express it through themselves.
BUT, they can only do so by following the philosophical directives of the comic:
Respect others’ ideas.
Work hard to express your own.
After the ending I’ve seen dozens of people talk about writing fanfiction to fix the ending, to explain everything, to carry out their ships, etc, etc, etc. This is awesome! But it also seems pretty angry, pretty disenchanted, pretty resentful of the ending and of Hussie himself.
Most of it seems to miss the fact that that reaction, the impulse to create, no matter what emotions bring you to it, was exactly what Hussie wanted.
Here is the punchline to the V A S T J O K E:
Homestuck ends by giving its characters the same freedom we have, and by giving us the power to follow them down whatever chain of choices we wish to watch them make.
It believes it’s characters are vectors of infinite potential. But it also believes that about us, the readers. It believes that about you.
Do you want the story to proceed so that Terezi flies off into dreambubble land to drag Vriska back home and make out with her? Do you want Dave and Karkat to start dating Jade? Do you want it to turn out that the new universe has the means for the trolls to God Tier? Do you want it to turn out that all the ghosts got to be revived and live in the new universe too? Wanna write “All Ships Are Canon” postfic?
Go for it. Go for all of it. Create it, and it’s canon. It’s real. No timelines are doomed anymore, so now everything is alpha timeline. Everything is canon and important and true. You don’t even have to make fanfic of it if you can’t go through the effort: all you have to do is hold it as a truth in your heart, let it play out within you, and as far as Homestuck’s canon is concerned, it’s real.
The epilogue is probably going to explain a lot more about the specifics of how and why LE was defeated, and it may also provide some closure for characters in the sense that it’ll show us a version — or several versions? — of how they are living now. But I think it will be careful to say that any single version of reality isn’t really the core of the story or The Way Things Ended.
Homestuck believes the story never really ends, and it believes the power to decide how it continues rests not with Hussie, but with you.
And the fact that there will be a time lag between this ending and the epilogue will likely help people accept and internalize that reality by the time it comes out. People are already working on fanwork, charting out their preferred possibilities, thinking and loving their versions of an ending even if they’re not actively putting it to text.
That engagement is creation, as far as Homestuck is concerned. Even if it’s borne out of dissatisfaction, it considers the act of creating more to be valid and beautiful.
And it believes that if you care about it enough, you owe it to yourself and to everyone else to do the work to express yourself about it as loudly and strongly as you can. More likely than not, someone will love you for it. You also will be happier and more fulfilled if you don’t waste time and energy tearing down someone else who wants to express themselves differently. That’s the final imperative, the suggestion, the challenge and the promise of Homestuck.
Just like the characters, it’s up to you to choose the nature of your victory. You’ve earned that.
Special thanks to Bladekindeyewear, Stormingtheivory, Wakraya, purplepurpleunicornsparkle, Mike Rugnetta, and Tex Talks for all of their various works of analysis, thought, and writing — directly related to Homestuck or no, this piece could not have been written without your thoughts. Thank you.
6/2/2016: Made some slight edits for clarity & structure and added a small relevant quote. Thanks to texTalks for pointing these out to me!