This Mortal Coyle
The Lyktgubbe from Bramble: The Mountain King, holding a glowing lantern, stoops to talk to a small figure in a dense forest awash with flowers.

The Lyktgubbe from Bramble: The Mountain King

The cover of Unwinnable #174 features a black-and-white double-exposed photo of a ghoulish person holding their hands up to their screaming mouth. "Every time I write, things only get worse," is written across the image in shaky red lettering.

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #174. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Fictional companions and goth concerns.


When I was eight or nine, I looked into the woods behind my house and saw a tiny bright light flitting from one tree to another. It was twilight in the dead of winter. Excited, I asked my mother, “Are the fireflies back?” She said, “Not yet, it’s too cold.” I continued staring at the light behind the trees and decided to keep it to myself. In retrospect, I wish I had run out the door and followed the light into the forest. In folklore, this is not what you’re supposed to do. My adult brain feels desperate to chase after lights in the forest, lights I haven’t seen in some time. As a child, I knew better.

Will-o’-the-wisps, or ignis fatuus (“foolish flame”), show up in many folkloric traditions, sometimes called friar’s lanterns, jack-o’-lanterns, ghost-lights, orbs, or, my personal favorite, hinkypunks. These lights move erratically at night, and humans attempting to follow them can never quite catch up. Sometimes the humans are led to their doom, but often they just get lost and ramble the moors or the woodlands all night. (Modern science attributes these phenomena to bio- or chemiluminescence, or marsh gas combustion, to which I say: boring.)

In Nordic mythology, the lyktgubbe (“lantern man”), also known as irrbloss, behaves similarly to will-o’-the-wisps: the light of his lantern moves erratically in the night. According to Swedish Wikipedia (this is per Google Translate, for which I deeply apologize to all Swedish-speakers), “Irrbloss has been reported from cemeteries and gallows hills, and the lantern man could then be a ghost who has not rested in his grave. In some parts of Sweden, this being was the apparition of a person with a lantern in hand guarding wrongly buried money or someone who had moved raw marks without legal permission.”

Now, at last, we arrive at videogames.

Bramble: The Mountain King is a 2023 adventure from Sweden’s Dimfrost Studio. The story follows a boy named Olle who witnesses a troll kidnapping his sister. Olle enters a dark forest to find and save her, encountering folkloric monsters like the Näcken (a malevolent violinist water spirit), the Skogsrå (a malevolent forest nymph), and the Kärrhäxan (a malevolent swamp witch). Some of these scenes genuinely disturbed me, as the game includes depiction of infanticide and child abuse, but the game is beautiful in addition to its horrors. Olle traverses lush Scandinavian landscapes, and not every NPC is trying to kill him.

Olle stands in an old library, books and papers scattered about the antique furniture. The Lyktgubbe from another side of the room.

After a particularly brutal marshland chapter, Olle discovers a library. In the library, he meets the Lyktgubbe, who in the Bramble universe not only carries a lantern but also serves as a mystical, immortal archivist. (The concept art rules.) The Lyktgubbe leads Olle to discover the story of the Mountain King, whose despotic regime has led to many of the forest’s evils, including the abduction of Olle’s sister.

The library scene serves as a respite for Olle, and while it isn’t the game’s only oasis, it is my favorite. Of course, will-o’-the-wisps are magical, but archivists and librarians are also magical. As a former librarian, I am biased, but I believed in this magic before graduate school. Helping seekers on their journey is part of archivist and librarians’ raison d’être. And unlike a traditional hinkypunk, an archivist is less likely to lead you astray.

We should all be so lucky as to benefit from the wisdom of an erratic flame burning across a marshland. Dare I say, maybe the folkloric travelers of old simply didn’t follow the will-o’-the-wisps long enough? Maybe, if they had persisted, they would have eventually reached a mystical library, a library that would provide the exact narrative information to help them on their journey. Maybe if I’d followed that “firefly” in childhood, I would have found the information that would help me know, now, how best to move forward in life.

Most folklore would disagree with this extrapolation. Most folklore would say that I did make the right decision not to follow that “firefly” into the woods. But as an adult, the potential to spend a night wandering the woodlands might be worth the possibility of acquiring ancient knowledge from a lantern-wielding librarian.


Deirdre Coyle is a goth living in the woods. Find her at or on Twitter @deirdrekoala.


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