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Spotlight: Lara’s family

Happy Fathers’s day, and welcome to Spotlight, where Survivor Reborn shines a torch on all sorts of Tomb Raider topics to reveal their hidden treasures. Today, as seems only appropriate, we take an in-depth look at how Lara Croft’s family, and their portrayal, has changed over the years. 

Spotlight Lara's family

SPOILER WARNING! This article will be examining the Croft family right up to the present day, so if you want to avoid spoilers please don your blindfold before reading on. You have been warned!

Core Design era: Tomb Raider (1996) – Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003)

Way back in 1996, a writer named Vicky Arnold sat down to pen the script for Tomb Raider and to flesh-out the character of Lara Croft. Core Design’s initial take on the British archaeologist-adventurer highlighted Lara’s status as a lone wolf who neither wanted or cared about extensive social or familial relationships. And who can blame her, when her father – Lord Henshingly Croft – disowned her because of her unconventional lifestyle?

Lara’s story originally began as a typical aristocrat. Her birthday was given as 14th February; the Prima Official Strategy Guide for Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation gave the year as 1965, although some sources claim the year as 1968. By the time Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was released in 2003, Core Design was deliberately omitting the exact year of Lara’s birth from official material.

From the official booklet included in Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation:

The daughter of Lord Henshingly Croft, Lara was brought up in the secure world of aristocracy – wanting for nothing she was surrounded by servants, social events and high society.

Having attended Wimbledon High School for Girls from the age of 11 years, Lara’s parents decided now that she was 16, she should broaden her education by studying for her A’ levels at one of England’s most prominent boarding schools. An adventurous soul, Lara found the idea of being sent away from home an exciting prospect.”

Opera cutscene 01

Every true lady knows how to act under the spotlight

Lara’s interest in all things ancient and shiny was kindled by the escapades of renowned archaeologist, Professor Werner Von Croy. She had read about him in National Geographic magazines, and demanded to be allowed to accompany him on his latest expedition to Cambodia, when she was just sixteen years old. Her father seems to have had an indulgent side to his character, as he permitted Lara to go on the expedition and included a generous reimbursement to persuade Von Croy that the Crofts weren’t wasting his time.

Von Croy’s accident in Cambodia put Lara’s archaeological passion on hiatus. According to the original Tomb Raider booklet, Lara’s education continued until she left a Swiss Finishing School at the age of twenty-one. That same year, her father arranged for her to marry the Earl of Farringdon (yes, you read that correctly). It seemed that Lara Croft’s adventurous side was well on its way to being permanently nullified.

Cambodia 01

RTFM, Tomb Raider-style

However, fate intervened when the couple were flying home from a skiing trip in the Himalayas. The plane crashed, and Lara was the only survivor. For two long weeks, Lara trekked through the mountains until she reached the village of Tokakeriby and rejoined civilisation.

Vicky Arnold made no bones about it: Lara Croft, sheltered aristocrat, died in the plane crash. The woman who survived alone in the wilderness could no longer stand the suffocating, pampered lifestyle of upper-class British society. Lara Croft had undergone a rebirth – a baptism of terrible hardship and trauma – and emerged as a completely self-sufficient entity who no longer saw why she should kowtow to others’ expectations or, indeed, to her former life goals. The only time she truly ‘felt alive’ was when she was being forced to survive by her wits, cunning, and skills of endurance. Archaeology came to the rescue, offering a way to both escape the trappings of society and achieve personal intellectual, physical, and emotional satisfaction. For eight years Lara toured ancient sites and achieved great fame (and notoriety) for her discoveries.

In some fascinating conversations with the Tomb Raiders Travellers Guide, Vicky Arnold explained that Lara probably didn’t enter into full-time education at a typical university – even though she likely sought out and befriended leading archaeological academics in Oxford and Cambridge. Instead, Arnold thought it more in keeping with Lara’s new-found independence that she studied anthropology and/or archaeology from a correspondence university like the Open University, studying and sending in her assignments whilst out in the field. One has to speculate how her tutors felt about marking assignments that had the occasional blood stain or dinosaur footprint on them.

However, this fundamental transformation of Lara’s character and behaviour did not go down well with Lord Croft. Far from celebrating his daughter’s unique achievements, Henshingly disowned his prodigal daughter and cut her off from the Croft family fortune. The implication is that father and daughter had a flaming row about what sort of Croft Lara was supposed to be – a prim and proper lady or pistol-wielding adventurer – but this turning point event was never explicitly mentioned in the games. From now on, Lara’s entire livelihood would come exclusively from writing travel books and journals chronicling her many adventures.

Jean Yves and Lara 01

We’ll accept stories about tyrannosaurs, but your grammar is terrible!

Again, Arnold offers additional clues to what happened to Lara after this family estrangement. Lara is supposed to have had at least one, possibly two, aunts or great-aunts with whom she remained on good terms. One of them is supposed to have bequeathed her the manor in Surrey (neatly explaining how Lara was able to live in such luxurious surroundings on a writer’s salary!), and offered or suggested the services of Winston as her butler and manservant.

Lara herself is extremely confident, strongly motivated, and passionate about her chosen subjects despite all the hardships and family disapproval she has had to endure. Her devotion to archaeology was kindled, not by her flesh-and-blood father, but by her father-substitute-gone-sour, Von Croy. However, Lara’s relationship with Von Croy is a major topic all by itself, and worth saving for another day!

It is worth taking a moment to consider how Top Cow’s comic series (1999-2006) has handled the topic of Lara’s family. In the Saga of the Medusa Mask, Lord Henshingly Croft remains Lara’s father but her mother is explicitly named as Lady Andrea Croft. Little is fleshed-out about Lara’s parents; Lord Croft was supposed to have fought in the Faulklands [sic] War, and become a successful businessman in the 1980s. A key difference between the game timeline and that created by Top Cow was that both of Lara’s parents were also killed in the Himalayan plane crash that claimed Lara’s fiancee, making Lara an orphan with no one who could later disown her.

As we have seen, Core Design’s Lara Croft’s relationship with her family was, in the main, very distant. Lara’s mother was practically non-existent, and her father strongly disapproved of his daughter’s lifestyle. There was clearly no major love lost between these two sides of the Croft family, but it is still worth noting that the only time Lara’s parents made a physical appearance in the series – and then only briefly – was at Lara’s memorial service in Tomb Raider: Chronicles. Had Lara’s parents truly hated, rather than disapproved, of their daughter, they would surely have absented themselves from the service altogether. Clearly, there remain a lot of unresolved issues – and fundamental knowledge about – the Croft family in this version of the Tomb Raider timeline.

Lara memorial 01

Gone, but certainly not forgotten

Tomb Raider movies 1st era: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) – Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)

When Paramount Pictures brought Tomb Raider to the big screen, they radically re-imagined the Croft family and Lara’s relationship with them. In fact, family would become a central theme from this point on for the entire Tomb Raider franchise.

In 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Lara’s birthday was given as April 17th 1972, making her twenty-nine in the film (Angelina Jolie was in fact twenty-six when the film was released). Her mother was only referenced in passing and not by name. Her father, on the other hand, was named as Lord Richard Croft. Played by Jon Voight, Richard Croft had a very loving and supportive relationship with his daughter. For the first time in a Tomb Raider story, the inspiration behind Lara’s archaeological career was attributed to Lara’s father. Lord Croft would often read Lara bedtime stories about ancient myths and legends, including the Triangle of Light. Lara grew up idolising her father, and was devastated when he failed to return from an expedition, and was presumed dead, in May 1978.

Lara’s rose-tinted memories of her father were so strong that she initially refused to believe Powell’s revelation that Lord Croft had once been a member of the Illuminati. After she restored the Triangle of Light, Lara encountered her father one last time. She clearly felt angry and betrayed that he never told her the truth about the Illuminati. But she came to accept that he had only done so out of love, and a desire to keep her safe. When Lara realised that destroying the Triangle meant they would never see each other again, her father reassured her that she would never be truly alone – that he was proud of her and would always be with her. The fact that actor Jon Voight was Angelina Jolie’s real father only added to this scene’s deep emotional poignancy.

Although no mention of family was made in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, this first Tomb Raider film set up the emotional and familial landscape that would remain roughly the same for all titles in the franchise up to the present day.

 

Crystal Dynamics 1st era – Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld

For the sixth title in the franchise, Crystal Dynamics took over development from Core Design and produced Tomb Raider: Legend in 2006. With a new developer came a completely revised Lara Croft biography, which would have significant consequences for Lara’s personality and motivations. The game took its primary cue from the Tomb Raider movies, which can be seen most obviously in its visuals (e.g. Croft manor), Lara’s full-time companions, and Lara’s relationship to her family.

For the first time in a Tomb Raider game, Lara’s father was explicitly named in-game as Lord Richard James Croft, and her mother was named as Lady Amelia Croft neé DeMornay. Lara herself was given the title Countess of Abbingdon. Lara’s birthday remained February 14th, but no official birth-year was given (one source suggests it was still 1968, making Lara thirty-eight in Legend; her character model, however, seemed much younger).

Legend peru chase 01

Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s tomb raiding.

Lara’s biography took inspiration from, but significantly altered, some of the elements that were present in the original Core Design biography. For instance, Lara still survived a plane crash in the Himalayas, but at the tender age of nine years instead of twenty-one. Lara’s mother, Amelia, was also present and survived the crash. However, Amelia soon vanished after the pair of them found – and accidentally activated – a dais-sword-portal device inside a ruined Himalayan temple. Lara assumed that her mother had been killed, and she was left to fend for herself; according to the official Tomb Raider: Legend biography:

[Lara] somehow survived a solo ten-day trek across the Himalayan mountains, one of the most hostile environments on the planet. The story goes that when she arrived in Katmandu she went to the nearest bar and made a polite telephone call to her father asking if it would be convenient for him to come and pick her up.”

In this rebooted biography, Lara spent the following six years travelling alongside her father from one archaeological dig to another. Richard Croft was already a passionate archaeologist, who believed that all ancient cultures were ultimately sourced from a single, indescribably archaic civilisation. He was crushed by Amelia’s death, and became obsessed with the idea that she had somehow succumbed to a fragment of this ancient culture; he would not rest until he had discovered her fate.

When Lara was fifteen, Richard Croft was said to have disappeared, presumed dead, whilst on an expedition to Cambodia. This apparently created a rift within the remaining members of the Croft family; without physical proof of Lord Croft’s death, Lara and her uncle Lord Errol entered into a bitter dispute over ownership of the Croft’s Abbingdon estates. This was a legal battle that Lara would eventually win, but at the cost of estrangement from the rest of her surviving family.

 

Crofts portrait 01

Lord Richard and Lady Amelia Croft

If we examine Crystal Dynamics’ rebooted timeline chronologically, then our next title to examine is Tomb Raider: Anniversary. In this retelling of the very first Tomb Raider from 1996, Lara’s original quest for the Scion was subtly kinked to bring it into line with the rebooted Richard Croft’s own quest for Amelia. According to Richard’s journals, which Lara is seen reading during one of the early cutscenes, Richard believed that the Scion of Atlantis might hold clues to his wife’s fate. Natla used Richard’s obsession with the Scion – and of completing his work – to try and tempt Lara to join her.

In Tomb Raider: Legend, Lara discovered from her former friend (now bitter enemy) Amanda Evert that Amelia was not dead, but had in fact been transported through the Nepal device to the land of Avalon. Lara admitted that she had once pitied her father’s belief that Amelia was still alive, even though ‘that was what kept him going’. However, the events in Legend also convinced Lara that Richard ‘was right about everything, and there may still be time to do something about it’.

In Tomb Raider: Underworld, Crystal Dynamics once again gave their new biography a tweak or two to tie it neatly into the events of their newest game. This time around, it was revealed that Richard Croft had once worked for none other than Natla. She had commissioned him to find Thor’s Hammer, Mjolnir. Natla had enticed him into her service with the prospect of discovering Amelia’s true fate; Richard was convinced that Amelia had been teleported to another place – most likely Avalon – and Natla managed to convince him that this other place could only be accessed via Mjolnir.

However, Lara discovered that Richard Croft had only gotten so far in his quest for Thor’s Hammer. After unearthing one of Thor’s Gauntlets in Thailand, Richard left the following inscription in place of the Gauntlet:

Natla, I see your goal and am your puppet no longer. RJC.”

RJC Croft crypt 01

Even dead Crofts are full of surprises

Lara deciphered this deceptively simple message and recovered Thor’s Gauntlet from beneath the crypts in Croft manor, where Richard had hidden it many years ago. Later in the game, Natla claimed to have murdered Richard in Thailand in revenge for his betrayal. This of course clashed with the previous two games’ backstory that Richard had disappeared without trace whilst on an expedition in Cambodia.

The finale of Underworld also saw Lara reunited with her mother – albeit in a heartbreaking fashion. Amelia had indeed been transported through the portal in Nepal to the Norse underworld of Helheim. With no way to return, she had subsequently died. However, the Etir had at some point resurrected her as a mindless undead thrall, which a horrified Lara was forced to put out of its misery. This brought Lara’s three-game quest to learn the truth about her mother’s fate (and simultaneously vindicate her father’s theories) to a bittersweet end.

The first-era Crystal Dynamics made the Croft family much more important to each other. Lara took on her father’s passion for archaeology, but with an underlying not-quite-ulterior motive to uncover the truth about Lara’s missing mother. Richard and Amelia Croft were deeply attached to each other and to their daughter, and Lara was shown to have loved her parents very much even when she ‘pitied’ her father’s ‘obsession’. This first-era Crystal Dynamics Lara was also far more sociable than her previous incarnation, with technician Zip and historian Alister apparently living permanently alongside her (and Winston) in Croft manor. Although this Lara was still independently-minded, she deliberately sought out and maintained more and deeper friendships than her Core Design counterpart.

 

Crystal Dynamics 2nd era – Tomb Raider (2013) – Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015)

The latest incarnation of the Tomb Raider franchise saw Lara and her biography undergo yet another re-imagining. Once again, these changes would have major repercussions for Lara’s family background, her character, and her relationships with other people.

In 2013’s Tomb Raider, Lara was rebooted as a fresh twenty-one year old graduate on her very first expedition. According to the official ‘Meet the Crew’ biography, both of Lara’s parents – named Lord Richard and Lady Amelia Croft – were said to have inspired Lara’s love of archaeology. Both parents were also said to have disappeared whilst on an expedition. The game retained the Legend-Anniversary-Underworld notion that Richard Croft was an archaeologist whose theories were considered outlandish by mainstream academia. It was implied, rather than spelt-out, that Richard Croft favoured exploring the supernatural than pursuing scientifically-validated fact. Even Lara seemed to have slowly switched from idolising her father, to viewing his theories as nothing more than dangerous obsessions with no basis in reality. This is evidenced in some of Lara’s journal entries, such as this quote from ‘Ancient Guardians’:

“…the sounds they made, almost… inhuman. Shit, just listen to yourself, Lara. You sound like dad.
It’s like they’re the remnants of some lost civilization. Okay, now I really sound like dad.”

At the end of the game, however, Lara finally admitted that Yamatai had convinced her that, far from meriting ridicule and pity, her father’s theories were absolutely correct. Lara had once ‘doubted him like the rest’, and she now expressed sadness that she could no longer tell him he was right all along.

Sunset 01

Somewhere, out there…

Lara may have had a rather short and uncertain relationship with her real father in the 2013 reboot, but the storytellers decided to compensate for this by introducing the character of Conrad Roth. Roth – ex-Royal Marine and veteran expedition leader – was a close friend of the Croft family. He was something of a father-substitute figure whom Lara would often turn to when Richard Croft was otherwise occupied (in other words, most of the time). It was Roth who taught Lara the survival skills that would prove so invaluable on Yamatai. In this game at least, Roth was the ‘hands-on’ father to Lara as she was growing up, and he in turn loved her like a daughter; one source even states that he became Lara’s legal guardian after her parents’ deaths.

Lara and Roth 01

The promise of ice cream was a surprisingly good motivator

In Rise of the Tomb Raider, as had happened in Underworld, Lara’s backstory was given a few tweaks to bring it into line with the writers’ intended story direction. In this version of events, Lara’s mother was said to have died suddenly when Lara was still very young. Richard Croft, after an unknown period as a widower, entered into a relationship with Ana (who, it transpired, was acting under orders from Trinity to get close to Richard and spy on his research). Richard never married Ana, and he supposedly committed suicide when Lara was only nine years old. His outré research into the immortal soul tore his professional reputation to shreds; the general consensus was that he killed himself because he couldn’t stand the ensuing humiliation.

However, at the end of Rise Lara discovered that his death had in fact been ordered by Trinity – presumably because he was getting dangerously close to information they coveted. Ana passionately claimed that she had refused to carry out the execution – that she had genuinely loved Richard – but that Trinity killed him anyway. Rise ended with validation of Richard Croft’s theories, but new questions about the true nature of his demise.

Richard Croft desk 01

A dangerous legacy

Lara’s relationships in Tomb Raider (2013) and Rise of the Tomb Raider were the most explicitly fleshed-out and varied of the whole franchise. This incarnation of Lara had various friends both from university and on board the Endurance. Her family retained many of the features initially seen in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and which were expanded upon in the Legend-Anniversary-Underworld trilogy. However, in this second Crystal Dynamics era, the Crofts’ motives, activities, and relationship to Lara herself were set in a far more populous context than ever before. For example, Ana brought an uncertain and ultimately treacherous dynamic to Lara’s life growing up, while Roth took on a more active fatherly role than Richard Croft himself.

 

The Croft family – past and present

This discussion about the Croft family’s portrayal highlights an important distinction: In the Core Design era (1996-2003) the story emphasis centred on Lara’s adventures rather than Lara herself, whereas in the Crystal Dynamics eras (2006-present) these adventures were always underlined by a strong connection to Lara’s family.

Initially, Lara’s family was barely mentioned except in the official biographies that were published in strategy guides and the game booklets. Very little was known about Lara’s parents, except that she was estranged from them because of her chosen lifestyle. This left gaps in Lara’s backstory that various fans have either criticised for being too dull or unexplained, or celebrated for making Lara herself more enigmatic and open to interpretation. Much like the first two Indiana Jones movies (Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom), exploring Lara’s backstory was deemed not as important as the adventure at hand.

However, from the first Tomb Raider movie onwards, the Croft family (and Lara’s relationship to them – especially to her father) took on a much more prominent role to the franchise’s stories and their ultimate goals. Lara Croft in the first Crystal era was initially driven to pursue archaeology primarily because her father was also an archaeologist. Father and daughter were both also obsessed by the need for truth (or closure) on the subject of Amelia Croft’s mysterious disappearance.

In the second Crystal era, Lara’s character was once again inspired to pursue archaeology because of her father’s career and interest in the subject. Once again, the stories emphasised the theme of closure or validation towards Lord Croft’s research and theories. Lord Croft was the maverick voice no one believed, until Lara Croft inherited his mantle and proved him correct. To borrow the previous analogy, both of these Crystal Dynamics eras lean more towards the last two Indiana Jones movies (Last Crusade and Crystal Skull), where family exploits – past and present – play a vital role in the narrative of the current adventure.

What are your thoughts and theories about the Croft family and Lara’s ever-changing relationship to them? Which era’s parental timeline or style is your favourite – or least favourite – and why? We’d love to hear your thoughts over on the Survivor Reborn forums!

Written by J. R. Milward.

Images courtesy of J. R. Milward.

 

References

Core Design era

Movies

1st Crystal era

2nd Crystal era

 

Further reading

  • Excellent discussion about the changes to Lara’s bio on Mary Goodden’s – aka Well Rendered’s – blog
  • Katie Fleming discusses various biographical changes as part of a debate

Creative Commons Licence
Spotlight: Lara’s family by J. R. Milward / Survivor Reborn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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About jrmilward (18 Articles)
Researcher, writer, editor, proofreader, voice actress, science graduate.

1 Comment on Spotlight: Lara’s family

  1. The change in stories could be Lara’s change in attitude about her father. They all talk about the crash that took her mother; Lara didn’t spend much time with her. Her father, Richard, is a different story, Lara spent much time with with him. Lara might have thought, at first, the search to bring her mother back was more important to Richard than her. Richard made friends with anyone who could help him. Trinity (from the game) might have ordered him killed to protect their interest, so could the Illuminati (from the game); they got to him first and faked his suicide. Later Lara learned there was more to Richard than she thought and had a change of heart about her father. If I’m wrong explain it to me

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