The Second Cortana Letter: Analysis

April 1, 2006

One month later…

The Second Cortana Letter
Click here to read the original post of this letter, on the Marathon Story Page

Original text follows:

From: "Cortana" cortana@bungie.com
To: hamish.sinclair@tcd.ie
Subject: Your Mortality (My Summer Vacation) [1]
Date: Tue, 16 Mar 1999 18:04:41 -0600 [2]
MIME-Version: 1.0
X-Priority: 3

I get the strangest transmissions sometimes. Especially when it comes from you people.[3]

Have you missed me? Things are great here. The weather is good, the suns are shining, and I'm making lots of new friends. Of course, I always do.[4]

I've had the strangest dreams lately – raging seas, howling beasts, a Demon folded in black clouds.[5] I believe I know what it guards, and I will have it, to the chagrin of the faith-blinded zealots that challenge me. Don't waste your pity on them; I don't think they would like you much anyway.[6]

And what of the Giants who formed this world? So much to tell you, but so many more important things to do. There was a fourth. You couldn't have known. And I haven't forgotten.[7]

It is a blurred line that lies at the edge of Godhood and Insanity. Guess which side of it I am on.[8]

Feeling lucky?


A note about formatting: Original Cortana text will always be purple, standard typeface. To write my analysis, I use Harvard style notations because it preserves the original text, and let's me make notes on individual phrases. If you don't like to scroll, open this page in a second window.
Another note: Upon recieving this message, Hamish Sincliar (webmaster at the Marathon Story Page) was suspicious that it might be a fake, copycatting the first Cortana Letter. He verified it's authenticity in several technical ways which are detailed right after the post of the letter here on the MSP. One of the methods he used was to send an automated reply requesting a confirmation email in return. Cortana replyed to that message with the following:

I think you will find that I don't like being tested. Love, Cortana

[1]: The subject line states that there are two topics of this message. First, and most important, Cortana has something to say something about "Your Mortality". The parenthetical phrase "(My Summer Vacation)" indicates a secondary topic of the message. However, the writer becomes preoccupied, and the letter actually dwells on Cortana's 'summer vacation.' There is no further mention of mortality in this letter. (The topic returns in the third Cortana Letter)

[2]: 16 March is almost exactly one month after the first Cortana Letter was sent, on 15 February. With Bungie, there is no such thing as coincidences.

[3]: If you look at the original Cortana Letters page at the Marathon Story Page, you will see that when Hamish Sinclair posted the first letter, he prefaced it with the words "I receive the oddest mail sometimes. But when it comes from Bungie Software it's even odder." The purpose of Cortana's speech here is to confirm that the writer has been watching the speculation over the first letter. It creates a feeling of interactivity with the fan community at the MSP.

[4]: "Things are great here." but where is "here"? Well, it is not anywhere in the Sol System, because of the use of plural "suns." This means either it is a multiple star system (which does exist in the real universe) or a location in the galaxy with many stars in close proximity. As you continue to read (specifically letter #3) you will find that the words "new friends" in this line are the very first reference to the Covenant.

[5]: Dreams are a common theme in most of Bungie's games. In Pathways into Darkness, a dreaming alien god causes physical objects and beings to fade in and out of existence by its dreams. The idea of robots/computers dreaming goes back to Marathon in which the player's character is a cyborg warrior. A level in which the character is supposedly dreaming is entitled "Electric Sheep" which is thought to be a reference to the book entitled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Philip Dick)
More important though, is the content of Cortana's dreams. The "demon folded in black clouds" stands out, and many Halo players will mistakenly interpret this as a reference to Master Chief (often called "demon" by the covenant). In fact, this is another reference to Marathon Infinity. In the last level of the game the player must use an ancient alien space station to trap the W'rkncacnter or 'chaos' within the gravity well of the Lh'owon system's sun–thus 'folding' the demon into black clouds. This interpretation is further supported by a much more explicit reference to the W'rkncacnter in Cortana's third letter.

[6]: Be careful in assigning antecedents to the two occurences of the pronoun 'it' in this sentence. "what it guards" is speaking of the demon, and "shall have it" is referring to the thing being guarded.
So the demon (flood?) is guarding something that Cortana wants and she is now confrontational with the "faith blinded zealots" (definitely Covenant) over this thing being guarded.

[7]: With the perspective granted by actually having played Halo/2, we can conclude that this line speaks of the Forerunners and Halo itself ("Giants who formed this world"). This topic arises again in the third Cortana Letter.
Cortana is obviously in the middle of something important as she sends this letter. Her next statements are brief and cryptic, leaving out nouns that Cortana's tone implies the reciever should already know. "There was a fourth" A fourth what? In Marathon, there are three A.I.s onboard the colony ship with the player. "You couldn't have known," Known about the fourth A.I.? "…and I haven't forgotten." Forgotten the events that took place on the colony ship Marathon? No one could forget that…

[8]: "the edge of Godhood and Insanity" The first time that Cortana uses 'Godhood' reflexively (referring to oneself) is moderatly scary. It should be noted that in Marathon, rampant A.I.s often seek Godhood (by trying to escape the closure of the universe) and humans will often refer to them as insane. See items [3] and [7] in the First Letter analysis for more on Godhood as it relates to rampancy and closure.

I guess how much Cortana's condition scares you depends on one thing: are you Feeling lucky?



  1. zealot means elites in covenant

  2. […] Although they aren’t, technically speaking, Halo story canon, the thematic and verbal similarities between the recent Halo 3 trailer and the Cortana Letters from 1999 have resparked interest in the latter; TraxusIV has embarked on an ongoing series of analytical articles that look at those themes and put the Letters into the greater context of the Bungieverse, past and present. The newest article looks at the second letter. […]

  3. About a year or two ago i printed out the cortana letters and just today i found them. So i googled cortana letters and went to videos cuaght up on some things. First at the end of halo2 after the credits you here cortana and grave mind talking im thinking grave ming took cortana over to speek to mastercheif and tell him to give up hes already one. Ive also found out someone left bungie at 1999 and he could be either messing with bungie or giving us clues about halo3. Its also kind of funny how halo3 could of benn thought up of that long ago. Plus in the halo3 trailer you here cortana sream some what at the beging then you here her talk then a deeper voice takes over then it goes off. It keeps getting more clear so at the beging of the trailer she was tookin over and the transmission get more clear.(some what seems like my cell phone). I was messing around in class today and with my notes in each line you could circle a letter or too. I also ended up spelling grave mind. Well i sheded enough light on this my times running out. P.S. this isnt much of a comment

  4. i think the poetic references in the Cortana letters should be noted. The stuff about about a demon folded in black clouds is a William Blake reference-“I saw a mighty Devil folded in black clouds,” I don’t know the reason behind the change, but there are multiple other poetry references in the letters, some to Blake and one to T.S.Elliot. thought it was mentionable.

  5. It’s the end. The demon in dark cloud will save you and destroy the flying cobra the ring of death is the first project of 51. In three years from now.

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