What follows is a very rough transcript of the video referred to here and embedded below. Sorry, folks. It’s late and it’s lazy.
This is Loose Canon, where we examine different version of the same character in various pop culture iterations. So, last time we started with a character that is very linearly owned by a single carefully controlled corporate entity and not very old. I put the second episode up to a vote—and here [referring to clips of The Phantom of the Opera, Hades, and Mystique from X-Men] were your three choices—and you went with the obvious one. So, Hades! The Greek God of the dead!
Why Hades, of all the Greek gods? Well, first off, he’s one of the most common in pop culture adaptations, but he also often has the most liberties taken. If you took a middle school English class in the Western world, you probably have at least a passing knowledge of Greek mythology, but let’s run through a quick refresher where Mr. Hades is concerned.
[Trumpet music plays over title card: A Quick, Super-Informal Greek Mythology Refresher course!]
Okay, so the three Lord God Patriarchs of the Greek pantheon are the brothers three: Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Zeus rules the heaven and the earth, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the underworld and the dead people. Now, Zeus and Poseidon are massive pricks. Hades, by comparison, is the nice one. Aside from the occasional kidnapping, he mostly keeps to himself. In the mythology, his role was usually the bearer of some kind of quest object or dead love interest of the hero. His name, Hades, also became synonymous with the underworld itself. So, it’s like if my apartment was called Lindsay. “Hi, I’m Lindsay! Welcome to Lindsay!”
The most famous story of Hades from the mythology—hell, one of the most famous stories from Greek mythology, period—is the abduction of Persephone. In the Homeric version, he makes a deal with brother Zeus for him to abduct Zeus daughter [and his niece] Persephone. They’re gods, so that makes it okay. Persephone’s mother, Demeter, is the goddess of harvest and fertility, and basically goes on a strike and blights the earth until Hades gives her her daughter back—which he does, but only after she eats the fruit of the underworld, which for some reason means she has to spend half the year in the underworld, during which time Demeter gets sad. And that’s why we have winter!
So, yeah, kidnapping a young girl and forcing her to marry you is kind of a dick thing to do but again compared to his bros he’s still less shitty.
So, yes. There is our mythological Hades crash course!
But since he’s been around for so long, he has had a good thousand or so years to incorporate a lot of fanon that later made its way into pop culture portrayals. You know fanon? It’s like… ideas that get accepted by fans based on conjecture, or…nothing. And sometimes, even gets incorporated into the thing itself.
Stuff like…Irene Adler being this big, important thing is Sherlock’s life; or where the Klingon head bumps came from; or the fact that Starscream’s repaint models are called Seekers—or basically every My Little Pony meme. So, while Hades is far from the only Greek god to show up in pop culture a lot, his portrayal over the years is among the most fanon-influenced, we’ll say.
So today, we’re going to look at how Hades, at one point revered as one of the most powerful of the gods, got fanon’d.
[Loose Canon theme plays over title card. Loose Canon: Lord of the dead.]
So, let’s get started with one of my favorites. The Disney version!
[Clip of “The Goddess of Spring” (1934)]
What? What Disney version did you think I was talking about?
So, here, in the adolescence of both film and animation as medium, we have our fabulous red riverpants opera-singing Hades.
This one has some more obvious influences than the Greek God himself.
[Clip of ??
Church Lady: (as she slides a paper cutout N up near its fellow cutouts SATA) Could it be…Satan?]
Well, yes, Church Lady, but some perhaps less obvious than that.
The Satan-ified version of Hades is highly influenced a Greek god, just not the one for which he is named. In this case, we’re talking about Pan. The little horns, the pointy goatee…this are elements associated with Pan, whose aesthetic later got rolled up into Christian artistic depictions of Satan. But ,a solid popularization for this look comes from Mephistopheles, who is not Satan, but close enough. One need look no further than Gounod’s Faust, by which this cartoon is probably more heavily influenced than by anything.
The god Hades also isn’t really associated with fire, like he is here. He is associated with wealth, metals, minerals, precious gems…which we kind of see here?
[Clip from “The Goddess of Spring”
King of the Underworld: I give you this diamond! Behold its size.]
I guess this counts.
I already did an episode about The Goddess of Spring a couple years ago, so we won’t go into too much depth on this one other than besides its aesthetics. It’s pretty much a strangely Demeter-less version of the abduction of Persephone by way of Faust. So, minus one eating the fruit of the underworld, plus one Satan-Hades lets her go because she asks.
[Clip from “The Goddess of Spring”
King of the Underworld: Tell me, what can I do?
Goddess of Spring: Let me return to my world up above.
King of the Underworld: Very well! I’ll let you go!]
Quite reasonable of you, Satan-Hades. Next!
[Clip from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995)
Voiceover: This is the story of a time long ago, a time of myth and legend when the ancient gods were petty and cruel—]
And when CGI just…wasn’t…there…yet.
It was the mid-90s and there was a big resurgence of interest in the whole Greek thing. Hades was a recurring character on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and its vastly superior spinoff, Xena: Warrior Princess. There’s an episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys that takes on the Persephone story and actually does feature both Persephone and Demeter.
So, it starts out familiar enough. Hades pops out of the underworld and—
[Zoom in on Persephone’s face as she screams.
Your head is ridiculous!
[Hercules: He took Persephone? But why?
Demeter: Because he hates me!]
[Persephone: (To Hades) You know I can’t eat the fruit of the other side. I’ll be stuck here forever.
Hades: Would that be so bad?]
Nope! Turns out, Demeter was wrong and this was actually a semi-consensual kidnapping!
[Persephone: That was a pretty wow chariot ride…Why does it have to be like this?]
Stupid, sexy Hades! Stupid, irresistible sexy Hades!
[Persephone: (To Hades, a they watch Hercules rolling around in bed with Demeter in a magic mirror) Hades, don’t be a voyeur.]
What the? Ew. Why? No, no, never mind. This is not Stupid Sexy Hades.
Oh, but don’t worry! He’s in Xena, too!
[Clip of Xena: Warrior Princess (1995)]
I feel like at some point this actor saw and really liked James Woods’ interpretation of Hades from the Disney movie.
[Xena: Where is she?
Hades: Gabrielle? Well, if she’s dead, she didn’t come to me.
Xena: I saw her die! She had to come to you!
Hades: Why would I lie to ya?]
“Hey, come on! Xena, babe, let’s cut a deal!”
But towards the end of the series, Xena starts pulling a God of War and starts killing gods because she can, and because motherhood. No, seriously. The name of this episode is Motherhood.
[Athena: If we wish to kill Eve, we’ll have to go through Xena. And as a mother, she’ll be more dangerous than ever.]
[Lindsay exhales meaningfully]
Oh, but it gets better. Here’s why we’re killing off gods!
[Xena: It was sent by the archangel Michael
Xena: He said that Eve would prepare the way for the rule of the God of love.]
[Clip of Xena breathing fire at Hades, who catches fire and is consumed by it.
Bye, Hades! Well, shit. Now who’s going to run the underworld? [Beat.] Next!
[Clip from Hercules (1997)]
So, while John Musker and Ron Clements were developing this studio mandate of a film, they arbitrarily decided that Hades was going to be the villain in this story because death equals scary, despite Hercules rarely interacting with the Lord of the Dead in the mythology, and certainly never in an arch nemesis sort of way. So, despite Hades as your villain making no sense in a Hercules story, because that’s usually Hera, who is doting mother in this movie, Hades is our antagonist because he wants to be in charge of Olympus. And originally he was going to be this dark, slow-moving, broody like Chernobog-y type. And then James Woods showed up.
[Clip of interview with James Woods.
James Woods: For some weird reason—I came in and he was Hades, the Lord of the Underwood, and I guess everybody came in going, “Hello! I am Hades!” And I came in going “Hey, Hades. How’re you doing? Nice to see ya. Nice face!” For some reason, I just was feeling kind of silly that day.]
And his Hades manifests as this sort of huckster, used car salesman type. And the subsequent interpretation of this character, while yes, I know—not “accurate”—is still, honestly, way too good for this movie!
As a character, this version of Hades is great. But as a plot device, he was not very strong. So, all that is good about the character is pretty much directly attributable to Woods and lead animator Nick
And this, in large part, and by Woods’ own admission, is because almost every line he does in the film is ad libbed.
Speaking of hell yes, did I mention that this had an animated series spinoff?
[truncated because this transcriptionist is tired but promises these clips/commentaries were so much fun]
Disney Hades! You can find a more accurate Hades, but you will be loathe to find a more fun one.
[Clip of Justice League (2001)]
Ugh! Man, I’d feel bad for any Hades that follows James Woods, but this guy is among the lamest, which is a shame, because it’s John Rhys Davis, and he’s cool! Hades, from Justice League and Justice League Unlimited—in case you’ve ever wondered what would happen if Mephistopheles was crossed with Fabio. And also, this.
You know, let’s dig a little deeper with the whole Satan thing. Of all the underworld gods that were pre-Christian, why did the Satan thing stick to Hades the most? I mean, Osiris was another well-known God of the dead, and he doesn’t have the Satan connotation. So, why Hades?
At its core, it really is a translation issue. The Bible, written in Hebrew, used the word [fumbles, then points to the text alongside on the screen] this, to refer to the abode of the dead. In practice, this is divorced from the Greek idea of Hades, but, when it was translated into ancient Greek, this word was translated into this word, meaning Hades. And remember, God’s name, same as the place—“Welcome to Lindsay!” All of this would eventually be wrapped up into this unified idea of the Christian hell through a series of translations. The modern English word Hades popped up around when the modern English did and specifically to refer to the place where Jesus went after the crucifixion. In the King James version, the Greek word Hades is translated into hell, death and, well, Hades—depending on which verse we’re talking about and which book we’re talking about. Despite a resurgence in interest in classical mythology around the enlightenment era that has lasted all the way up to now, I think we can safely say now that this conflation of Bible!Hades the place and God!Hades the guy has more or less stuck.
Anyway, Justice League? This version was always kind of the exemplar for lame, lazy Devil-Hades. And once again, he’s trying to overthrow Zeus because reasons, and also—
[Clip of Justice League.
Hades: I’m tormenting Faust’s pathetic soul.]
You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.
So, Hades intends to give Olympus to the Titans. Where have we heard this before? And Hippolyta had a thing with him at one point, and he is possibly Diana’s maybe dad.
[Hippolyta: He’s gone?
Diana: What did you ever see in him?]
Well, did you see his tongue?
Just think. This is the kind of boring bad guy the Disney version would have been if James Woods hadn’t made one of the best decisions of his, or anyone’s career.
[Clip of Wonder Woman (2009)
Hades: You are here for a favor.
Ares: I am.]
Hmm. Hades, you look different. This version’s aesthetic is such an outlier, I’m not really sure what to say about it. But obviously, more than anything, it looks more like Bacchus than Hades. And believe it or not, Hades, who is voiced by and appears to be modeled on Oliver Platt, is not the central antagonist, but Areas. Weirdly voiced by Alfred Molina. You know… Doc Oct? Hades, here is basically just a glorified cameo, and well, points for different?
[Clip of Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)]
So, now we make it to the film version of Percy Jackson and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I mean, the Lightning Thief.
This interpretation being sort of aging rock star and accompanied by an extremely bitter and confusing Persephone who is played by Rosario Dawson.
Hades almost does the “I’m going to take over Olympus thing, but then—”
Okay. Like I said, glorified cameo. Next.
[Clip of Clash of the Titans (2010)]
Ah, we saved the very worst for last! So, unlike the 1981 film for which this remake is presumably named, in which the antagonist was mostly Poseidon, which makes sense, seeing as Poseidon is a god of the sea and a kraken is a sea beast…
[Ellis gibbers with exasperation and resignment]
Here, Hades is played by Ralph Fiennes as a sort of Voldemort by way of Turl from Battlefield Earth. Oh, are you going to give Draco an awkward hug, now? This version of Hades is also a touch derivative.
Hmm. Where have we seen this before?
It also basically has the same ending as the Disney movie. Hades is…banished? Inconvenienced? It’s not clear, but it does involve being thrown down a hole.
He’s in the sequel, too, but he’s less bad in that one. I don’t know. Moving on.
The interesting contrast with Hades, the character, the idea, whatever, is how much changes from iteration to iteration while at the same time still being borrowed—that Satan-y undertone that keeps popping up, for instance, despite the fact that it’s never really there in the mythology, or even up to the fact that after the Disney movie came out, pop culture Hades has just kept wanting to take over Olympus. There is no official Hades handbook, but those intertwined influences are still there, and I think the older your character is, the more of that you’re going to see, even if people do get sort of butthurt about it being inaccurate—which, let me remind you, is not a barometer for enjoyability. Again, this one was among the least accurate.
[Clip from Disney’s Hercules (1997)]
[truncated preview of possible next episode]