A History of the Forbidden Land
Emon suggests at the end of Shadow that if Wander somehow lives on in the Forbidden Land, that he may some day be able to atone for what he has done. This meshes well with the possible subtext of atonement I discussed in Atonement in the Ico analysis. While Ico obviously cannot atone for someone else’s action, one of the central points of that section is that it is not anything of his own doing that he is atoning for - rather it is something he inherits that he is paying for. What it is that he inherits is quite a general thing in Atonement, it is simply that he is marked by something undesirable, however Shadow can add a very specific slant if we accept that Ico is Wander's descendant, which is very possible. So let us accept it as true for now, and examine the result.
Atonement discussed the idea that while the people with horns did nothing in particular wrong, they represented something dangerous and were thus seen as necessary sacrifices by the Ancients, essentially people who must be punished for simply being what they are. Wander's actions add a very significant element to this as he actually did do something wrong. Releasing Dormin, a being the Ancients sealed, in order to use its power to bring back someone from the dead would not only have been a crime in the Ancient's eyes, but was also directly responsible for his descendants bearing the taint of Dark Magic and the horns. This turns the general concept of inheriting an undeserved burden into the far more specific inheritance of one man's sin. The mark they bear no longer just marks what they are, but also that they are a descendant of the one who freed Dormin and are themselves a consequence of that action. While they have still done nothing wrong themselves, the fact that they are a result of and are marked by their ancestor's crime makes it that much more personal.
Ico's role in this remains much the same as before. The original view of this 'atonement' in the original atonement section still holds true. Regardless of Wander's action, the people with horns are marked by Dark Magic, and they were treated and viewed as they were because of that. Furthermore, the fact that the Fortress references people with horns suggests such people existed long before Wander's time. The Fortress was probably built by the same race as that which inhabited the Forbidden Land, and the Forbidden Land is long since abandoned in Wander's time. So the defining aspect of the people with horns was the taint of Dark Magic, not the actions of an ancestor. This new detail added by Shadow adds to what was already established in Atonement, providing another level on which this subtext works, rather than replacing the original. Ico atones for something he did not do, both in terms of the mark he bears and in terms of the act carried out by an ancestor.
One slightly ironic note when examining this new level is that Ico atones by doing exactly what Wander did. Both disregarded the consequences of their actions and sought to save the girl without knowing the details of what was going on or what the result would be. Only circumstances meant that the challenge Ico faced was to defeat evil, where Wander's challenge was to release it. Of course, Ico sought to protect a life, where as Wander sought to disregard nature and restore one, just another way in which Ico unintentionally and unwittingly achieved redemption.
Written by Crumplecorn