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THE EVOLUTION OF THE LARA CROFT BIOGRAPHY
[ 9 November 2021 ]
The following is a guest article written by Laralicious from Tomb Raider Forums and Virtual Lara and documents the evolution of Lara Croft's official biography. This work is part of a series of guest-written articles exploring the myths and mysteries surrounding the Tomb Raider universe.
Lara Croft is a discoverer of myths, mysteries and treasures but when the world first saw the adventurer, Lara herself was a mystery that fans wanted to discover. Eidos Interactive heard this and they began to fill in the blanks that was her backstory, but also, so did fans when details were sparse. We first became interested in this aspect of Tomb Raider in around 2015, when we were digging through old fansites for research for our project, the Tomb Raider Encyclopedia. It was an origin to the ‘Duchess of St Bridget’ title, dating back to a 1997 fanfiction. This led on to further investigation of various details. In this article, we hope to delve into the many versions of Lara's biography and talk of the details that stuck and of the details which were dropped, using official sources, fansites, gaming websites and gaming magazines, but note that most information of Lara's biographies comes from material other than what is seen in the video games. Generally speaking, knowing of her biography does not impact the games and the players' enjoyment of them. Also note, this article isn't for us to add in our own personal thoughts, merely talk of the evolution of the biographies.
Let's Start at the Beginning...
Lara Croft first came into the world in 1996 with the most basic of backstory seen in the manual of the game; she is the daughter of Lord Henshingly Croft, part of an aristocratic family. She attended a finishing school, however at the age of 21, she was the sole survivor of a plane crash whilst returning from a skiing trip in the Himalayas. Her survival here encouraged a new way of life for her and she realised that upper-class British society was too stuffy for her, that she only felt truly alive when she was alone. In the 8 following years, she learnt of various ancient civilisations but this 'unruliness' caused her family to disown her. She then turned to writing travel books and detailed journals of her exploits to financially support herself, which gave her the chance to discover several ancient sites and uncover unbelievable myths. The game's first FMV then introduces the fact that Lara had recently discovered Bigfoot. This is further backed up on the official Tomb Raider 1 website, which adds this bit of story: "Lara Croft has just returned from a hunting trip in the Himalayas where, having bagged a 12-foot tall yeti, she's itching for a new challenge." However what many might not know is that the official Tomb Raider 1 website may have given a discovery date for the Lost Ark of the Covenant seen in Croft Manor, which was uncovered in 1993. Sadly this tidbit can only be seen on very early fansites such as TR Archives, which began in November 1996, and not surprisingly, it was also dropped by Tomb Raider 2. We believe that this is official as the fansite copied everything he could from official sources; as the website name suggests, he archived whatever Eidos gave out. The earliest web capture for the biography on his website is June 16th 1997, whilst the 'Croft Times' has question marks in place for the discovery of the Ark of the Covenant - their page says that it was last updated on June 6th 1997. Unless the webmaster of TR Archives made this information up himself, there is no other site that has this fact as early as he does. However, without seeing it for ourselves on the official website, it is a fact that fans can decide for themselves whether it is real or not. We do know that the developers liked to include Easter eggs and that the Ark of the Covenant was a nod to Indiana Jones. Lara's year of birth is also mentioned on TR Archives- written down as 1967. We know now that this isn't the commonly accepted year so maybe this was also fan speculation, made up by using the dates mentioned in the Tomb Raider 1 game manual. Lara's birth year however doesn't become a solid, official fact until later. Other details that also change later are Lara's weight and height.
In August 1996's 'Mean Machines Sega #46', the article author included a snippet of history from the Tomb Raider design document, version 1.8, adding that Lara enjoys working with underprivileged children and the mentally disabled. She has a degree in needle work, and loves to travel. Lara’s one wish is to ski down Everest with Brian Blessed strapped to her back. A few of these details do remain in a future version of the biography, such as aiding Brian Blessed with Everest, however it is altered a little. In an interview with Vicky Arnold on November 20th 1997, GameSpot UK were told that this fact was the thought of Toby Gard: "Lara’s chief ambition ought to be to carry Brian Blessed up Everest. If you remember he kept failing to do it himself.”
The first game has been released for a few months now and interest in the protagonist is growing, so much so that Eidos Interactive release interviews, answered by the woman herself. In its online magazine 'Hyper-world'[5,6], dated at some point in 1997 but before any announcements of TR2, Lara invites players to learn more about her and Tomb Raider 1. She reveals some interesting facts in her FAQ and post-workout interview: she went to a boarding school at the age of 5, attended Cheltenham Ladies College and then was sent to a Swiss finishing school until she was 21; her family owns a stately home in Hampshire with a holiday villa in the south of France; she hates cigarettes but likes to smoke a fine cigar and she has smoked a joint with a tribal settlement in the Amazon basin, which caused some trouble for her as she was sick all of the next day. It was understandable why they removed that final point but you can clearly see that Lara's expansive personal life and history was just starting to take shape, but nothing is added in the games or the games manual. You could take this as an early draft of a biography since the fact about the Swiss finishing school is one of the details that later makes it into the first full-statistic biography. This is the first and last time that Hyper World updated for anything Tomb Raider.
Early 1997, and on the official Tomb Raider website, monthly calendars were given out to fans with upcoming plans and news jotted down beside an image of Lara. February 1997 is important here; on the 14th, Lara's birthday (though not the year) was officially recognised for the first time. These calendar pages also appeared on the official Tomb Raider 1 website.
It was in this year that a fan called Richard J. Pugh wrote two fan fictions about Tomb Raider. His first story, titled 'The Duchess of St. Bridget' was initially released October 10th 1997, and to accompany it, he wrote his own Tomb Raider biography, adding in details such as Lara's Duchess of St. Bridget title, how she made her fortune, that she was born in 'Timmonshire', and her mother's first name being 'Angeline Lodge-Croft'. Strangely, these facts were adopted by some fans of different nationalities and reproduced on fansites, and eventually believed to be official. The October 1999 book 'Lara Croft Les Carnets Secrets', an official book for French fans, printed the mother's name, written as 'Engeline Lodge-Croft', as if it was a fact. This was never included in official sources on the Eidos, Tomb Raider or Lara Croft websites.
Other interviews with Lara provided different facts about her life that were later added to an official biography. In an interview on GameSpot UK in November 1997, Lara says "I enjoy the company of anyone interesting so long as they can keep up with me - although as I have said before, Brian Blessed's determination to climb Everest intrigues me. I would happily spend a day piggy-backing him up there in return for a chat." She also adds that "anytime my path has crossed with my Aunty's Corgi" was the most dangerous situation that she has been in. We do see these in a later biography, and we can also assume that it was Vicky Arnold who answered these questions as Lara as she had worked on the scripts for the games.
It is not until the following year that we get an updated official biography from Core Design.
The discovery of the Ark of the Covenant is mentioned again in 'Extreme PlayStation Magazine' #1, dated to December 1997 /January 1998. It include the backstory of Lara as seen in the Tomb Raider 1 manual, so no vital statistics, and at the end, it lists Lara's discoveries, dating the ark to 1994. This is one of the last known publications of this detail.
1998 is the year where Lara Croft's biography becomes more familiar. In a special collector’s magazine by Electronic Gaming Monthly, 'The Ultimate Guide to Tomb Raider II', dated to April 1998, the author was able to view the Tomb Raider II Style Sheet, which laid down the basic facts that we know of Classic Lara today: family, education, favourite food, bands and films, blood group, height and weight, and marital status. Titles of Lara's travel books are named, which were nods to Tomb Raider 1: 'Slaying Bigfoot' and 'A Tyrannosaurus is Jawing at My Head'. There are a few questionable stats such as Lara's date of birth, written down as 1965 but otherwise, you could say that this 'Style Sheet' is the very first official full stats biography of Lara Croft. 'Lara's Book', by Douglas Coupland, dated to July 1st 1998, contains almost the same information but lacks a year of birth. The height and weight is different to what is printed in 'The Ultimate Guide to Tomb Raider II', but they are the facts that remain for the rest of the Classic Lara biography. Also included in 'Lara's Book' is 'Heroes', which gives the information of "Anyone who takes the time to build a nice, luxurious burial tomb; nobody goes to trouble like that anymore." This appears to be the first time that this is publically seen. Some different facts included by Douglas are favourite cities (Atlantis, Venice, London) and favourite weapons (Uzis - one for each hand, M-16 Fully Automatic Assault Rifle). These two facts are later dropped.
Issue #7 of 'Gamer's Republic Magazine', dated to December 1998, features an interview with Lara. She says that she inherited the mansion and the family heirlooms from an aunt, and that Winston came with the house. This appears to be the first time this fact is mentioned but it is seen in the classic biography mentioned below. In later correspondence with Brian Chew, the editor of the fansite ‘Traveler’s Guide’, script writer Vicky Arnold confirms that one of Lara’s aunts (great aunt) leaves her the mansion but Lara has a second aunt who ‘helps expands her mind... but her vicious little Corgi doesn't like Lara's company’.
The release of Tomb Raider III later in the year doesn't add anything more.
A more rounded version of the biography appeared on the 'Lara' pages on the Eidos website and later on the official Lara Croft website, which merges the backstory as seen in the Tomb Raider 1 manual with the added details seen in the Tomb Raider II Style Sheet. This is what most fans will know as the Classic Lara Croft biography before the integration of the 'Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation' story; the staple Core Design biography for Lara that future entries will be built on. Here, the facts became more fleshed out, so fans could learn more about Lara's family, her interest in sports and her various achievements. Lara's birth year is finally solidified as 1968 too. This version could've existed in 1998 but the earliest web capture for it is on the Eidos website dated to January 1999. What is interesting about this version is that it only seems to reference the first two Tomb Raider games. Lara's discoveries were the Atlantean pyramid, the Dagger of Xian and Bigfoot. New information included Lara's revoked Guinness World Record of driving down the Alaskan Highway from Tierra del Fuego in South America in record time.
The biggest update to Lara's history and biography comes when her first expedition is explored in 'Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation'. A 'Young Lara' biography was written up and given to press on October 14th 1999, and could later be officially seen on the 'Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation' website. It is solely based on the youth of Lara and included new details about Lara's family and the activities she enjoyed during the summer of 1984. We learnt that her school term reports from Wimbledon High School for Girls recognised Lara's impulsive nature, that she enjoyed horse riding, swimming, building treehouses and exploring the full extent of the Croft estate and beyond, and that her mother would worry about her when she only returned home at nightfall. We also learn that Lara's aunt was a local school teacher who could teach her about European history by travelling, and that her father had a keen interest in archaeology and that he had "made a point of attending the lecture [that Von Croy did at Gordonstoun] since he had often visited archaeological digs in places such as Jordan, Egypt and South America in his youth". This young Lara biography goes into more detail about how Lara chose to travel with Von Croy than the upcoming, updated biography, and in some way, it added more substance behind her parents disowning her at a later date; they had struggled to control Lara's restless nature whilst she was young and then when she chose to turn her back on the aristocracy when she was 21, they had gotten fed up with convincing her to live life their way.
At some point, a more complete biography was unveiled, which mixed together the previous full version with details of how young Lara joined Professor Werner Von Croy on the expedition in Cambodia. However it doesn't seem to appear on the official website. It can be seen however in the 'Lara Croft Style Guide'.
There is another odd fact that seems to appear in this year: the family dog, a Yorkshire, who would inherit the Croft family fortune. We believe that this weird fact may have originated from an early version of the biography on the fansite 'Captain-Alban'. The webmaster admits to copying from other sites as well as making up their own information: "Lara's biography is still a mystery. As much as certain facts are certain and official (such as her date of birth), others remain uncertain: vagueness and contradiction on the part of Eidos-Core, inventions of journalists or fans, etc. The following lines are based on the information contained in the TR1 game booklet, supplemented by others from The Tomb Raider Archive (noted in blue), Lara's Scrapbook (noted in red) and finally by personal inventions. More recently, her official site offers her biography , but the facts seem to be copied from personal sites!" Their page colour coded different facts to show where they had seen them: the year of the discovery of the Ark and Lara's vital stats came from TR Archives, the city that Lara was born in, Timmonshire, and Lara's mother's name, Angeline Lodge-Croft, came from Richard J Pugh's website 'Lara's Scrapbook', but the fact about Lord Brighton, the Yorkshire, was in black. You have to bear in mind two things: this fact doesn't ever appear on the official websites prior or thereafter so it can’t be taken as a definite detail, even though the book 'Lara Croft Les Carnet Secrets' mentions it: "rumour has it that my mother, Lady Engeline Lodge-Croft, has disinherited me in favour of Lord Brighton, her Yorkie" (translated with Google). Les Carnet Secrets credit Eidos France in the back, as well as Core Design, but despite the crediting, the French official Lara Croft website doesn't include this fact. The second point is that even in 1999, Captain-Alban was probably the most well known TR fansite for French fans, so it could be possible that if Captain-Alban made this fact up, the author of 'Lara Croft Les Carnet Secrets' used his information, especially since they also included the fan made name of 'Lady Angeline Lodge-Croft'.
The 'Tomb Raider: The Angel Of Darkness' Style Guide and the official Tomb Raider website show the next big iteration of Lara's biography; this is the last entry of Core Design's version of the biography. It does a great job of summarising Lara's history, in fact it is very much shorter, and it also makes a point of removing Lara's birth year, perhaps suggesting that Lara is ageless, but nonetheless, Lara has scribbled it out and tells the reader to never ask a lady of her age. Whilst a lot of the information from the earlier biographies have been reduced, there are a few new details added in, such as: a new addition to Lara's favourite vehicles, which lists her favourite mode of transport as “anything on two wheels over 650 cc’s is considered acceptable, specifically the Triumph Speed Triple and the Harley V-Rod” and Lara using her charm on the Swiss Armed Forces to gain access to their weapon training range, proving herself to being a natural and qualified marksman class. These details add nothing to gameplay but do well in linking her proficiency in shooting and her ability to ride a motorbike (as seen in TR1) as well as her time in the Swiss Finishing school (as seen in TR1 manual). To tie the biography into the game, there is a new section added: 'And Now...', which mentions the incident at the end of Tomb 4 - of how she was presumed dead and in the years following, she spent some time with a North African tribe but the experience had changed her into the recluse that you see in ‘Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness’. Interestingly, the North African tribes would have linked to Putai, who would have guided Lara in the game, although this content was cut.
2005 / 2006 - 2008
A new Lara meant a new biography, one that is very loosely based on Core Design's biography, as it uses some information and disregards others. Interestingly, Crystal Dynamics made Lara more posh, added more aristocracy to her background and even exaggerated her position in aristocracy, possibly to explain where Lara's wealth had come from and how she was able to live the life that she does. At a first glance, fans could see that there are no vital statistics, no measurements, no favourites or fears. These details may have been left out so that there wasn't the emphasis on Lara's physical attributes nor does it suit the Lara Croft that they were trying to create. Notable differences from the classic biography include a change to Lara's father's name, from Henshingly to Richard; for the first time, there is an inclusion of a mother's name, Amelia; the birth place of Wimbledon is changed to Abbingdon, and that Lara’s family history dates back to 1547. Lara has a new title too, as Countess of Abbingdon, and is classified as an "Olympic-standard gymnast". This new biography seems to alter the character of Lara to the point that she is further out of reach of the ordinary people, and more super human than the previous iteration. There are very few similarities to the old biography - one of them is the event of the plane crash, however it doesn't seem to have the same impact on Lara as it did previously. Previously it changed Lara's view on life and the world she lived in but for Legend Lara, it only appears to have only made her closer to her father. Another thing to note about this new biography is the influences from the first Tomb Raider movie, the use of Hatfield House as one of Lara’s homes and the disappearance of Richard Croft in Cambodia.
Towards the end of the biography, there is a section that snubs aspects of the previous Tomb Raider games: "Predictably there have been a number of unofficial biographies printed about the young Countess, that attribute wild and fantastic feats to her exploits, ranging from the discovery of living dinosaurs in the Congo to infiltrating the infamous Area 51 in Nevada. The official line from the Croft Estate to these works is simply that ‘...these books are utter rot: disgraceful, trashy works of total fiction’". This may have been added to draw a line under the older games and to start anew, but one does have to question what the purpose of this truly was. Perhaps it is due to marketing, to try and cut ties from Core Design and 'Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness', and give this era a fresh start with a clean background and no past in-game history.
For the first time in Lara’s history, she is classed as an archaeologist, but this is only seen in the character information in the Extras menu in the game. Prior to ‘Tomb Raider Legend’, Lara was only ever an explorer and adventurer with no official qualification in history; it was her experience of the plane crash and after that made Lara want to explore more of the world and she thereafter gained a love of history. Core Design’s early script writer, Vicky Arnold told Brian Chew, of the fansite ‘Traveler’s Guide’ that “Seeing as Lara was trying to escape the fusty upper-class society she was brought up in and was enjoying her new found freedom, I have always reckoned it's more in keeping that she didn't actually enter full time [university] education at Oxford... I know a lot of people in magazines have labelled her as a genuine 'archaeologist' and somehow think she would've undertaken heavy studying at Oxford/Cambridge, but that's never been the idea." The previous Lara taught herself the cultures of the world. Legend Lara’s education is never fully mentioned in her biography, only that she attended the Abbingdon Girls School between the ages of three and six, where she excelled and later she was given a standard education from private tutors, but she learnt more from her archaeologist father, acting more as an apprentice but one can assume that Lara had studied an archaeology course at a prestigious university in order to gain the qualification.
The next game, ‘Tomb Raider Anniversary’ adds very little to Lara’s history but does include the point that “she has since then made it her mission to uncover the world's secrets, and at the same time, also hopes to understand how her parents died”. ‘Tomb Raider Underworld’ uses the exact same information in its game manual to the previous game but adds in the details of her mysterious reputation from Tomb Raider Legend.
This era of the biography seems to be the most consistent, never really changing or adding conflicting information. It is interesting to note that a biography of 'who Lara is' in terms of personal facts appears to become less important now, and that future descriptions of her are less of the tiny details (such as favourite things and vital stats) and more about how Lara got to where she is at the point of the game. Maybe this reflects the changing demographics in video games but that is a topic bigger than this article.
2013 - 2018
The next and final biography comes with a new version of Lara Croft, given out on the official Tomb Raider Tumblr and Facebook accounts during the 'Endurance Week: Meet the Crew' promotions. It can also be seen in the 2013 'Tomb Raider: The Art of Survival' art book. Almost everything about the previous versions of Lara and her biographies are changed but very little of it features in game. It doesn't list statistics about Lara, just like the LAU era biography, but it does include a short list of hobbies (archery, rock climbing, hiking, reading and research) and a little bit about her past jobs (several part-time jobs including bar work). There are some loose similarities to the past biographies that refer to previous versions of Lara, such as: how Lara had a privileged upbringing, how she enjoys rock climbing and archery and how she went travelling with her parents on archaeological expeditions. Her 2013 biography starts with how Lara had lost her parents and how it shaped her future. The next paragraph talks of the premise of the first game of the reboot, 'Tomb Raider' and the company that Lara will be travelling with. Once again, Lara is officially classed as an archaeologist, both in game and in biography, however in the graphic novel 'Tomb Raider: The Beginning', it is stated that she studied Asian archaeology, which suits 'Tomb Raider' (2013) but wouldn't suit the history of non-Asian countries for future adventures.
It seems that, for fans who want to know the finer details about this version of Lara, you can learn more from the games than what the biography tells you. In Tomb Raider (2013) in particular, you learn that Conrad Roth is a father figure to Lara, that she attended a university college (UCL) and that she worked in a pub called Nine Bells. In 'Rise of the Tomb Raider', you learn that her mother died when she was young and that her father remarried but was killed when she was also young. Rise's DLC 'Blood Ties' does a good job at adding in more details, including the reintroduction of Winston, the family butler but it is the comics that add in the little detail that Lara is a fan of Jaffa Cakes and earl grey tea. In ‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider’, in Cozumel, Lara spots a motorbike and reminisces of a memory of owning a similar bike but stopped riding because of her expedition to Yamatai and she says of how she isn’t fond of crowds. Of course, there is a certain chapter in the game that expands on Lara’s early life.
It is worth noting that there are two disputable stats about Lara that fans want to know but are yet to get solid dates for. The first is Lara’s age. When Tomb Raider (2013) came out, Lara was given the age of 21, however in the next two games, her exact age has not been mentioned again; art books vaguely say that she is in her early or mid 20s. It is also difficult to age Lara by using the games as we are also not given a solid date as to when these games take place, but developers during interviews are still asked about how old Lara really is. Brian Horton once said that Rise of the Tomb Raider takes place a year after Tomb Raider, which would then make Lara 22 in Rise, but this has never been made official. It seems that as fans, we still want an age for Lara. Lara's height is also a point of dispute; in game, Lara is clearly shorter than nearly every male character for the reason that the enemies will underestimate her but officially, there is no solid stat. In an interview with Brian and Karl Stewart, dated around 2013[16, 16a], when Brian asked Toby Gard of her height, he gave her the measurement of 5"4. Brian then added that Lara should be 5"6, but these are only internal discussions; it was never officially given. By not giving her a height or an age, perhaps Lara is more relatable than ever; she could be whatever fans wanted her to be.
2019 and beyond
Since the 25th anniversary teaser in February, we've learnt that Crystal Dynamics wants to begin unifying timelines. What this means at this current stage is anybody's guess but we'll soon find out. There may be a new biography given out to set out the order of events in Lara's life, but perhaps, with the modern Tomb Raider games being more story driven, a biography might not be needed anymore.
For further reading and to see the biographies that we have referred to, see https://www.virtuallara.com/lara-croft.html
Source #1 - tombraider.com
Source #2 - homepages.enterprise.net
Source #3 - cubeit.com
Source #4 - gamespot.co.uk
Source #5 - tombraider.de
Source #6 - tombraider.de
Source #7 - homepages.enterprise.net
Source #8 - virtuallara.com
Source #9 - virtuallara.com
Source #10 - gamespot.co.uk
Source #11 - trinity.whsites.net
Source #12 - eidos.co.uk
Source #13 - ign.com
Source #14 - captain-alban.com
Source #15 - trinity.whsites.net
Source #16 - womenwriteaboutcomics.com
Source #16a - womenwriteaboutcomics.com