Saturday, May 31, 2014

Spicy Suspense in Space!





In the futuristic world of 1935, Charles Lindbergh and Robert Goddard were the first men on the Moon; rockets are almost as common as dirigibles, and plucky girl reporter Ginger DuPree is given an assignment to do a story on a planned expedition to Mars.  But she discovers a sinister menace behind the mysterious accidents occurring at the Goddard Space Station, which eventually lead her to face the Cat-Men From Mars!



HANNIBAL TESLA ADVENTURE MAGAZINE is a pulp era adventure comic I've been drawing on my website for a while now.  The title character is a globe-trotting two-fisted scientist in the Doc Savage mold with a team of able assistants.  The current storyline features one of these, Ginger, and tells of her adventures before she met Hannibal, trying to thwart a Martian invasion.


Her adventures take her from the orbital space station where the Mars rocket is being built, to the surface of the Moon where she encounters the secrets of the Ancient Lunarians, to the Red Planet Mars itself where she must survive the intrigues of the Martian Imperial Court.



Can Ginger stop the Martian invasion?  What secret lies behind the ancient war between the Lunarians and the Old Ones of Mars?  And will Ginger ever finish her story?

For the answer to these and other gripping questions, tune into HANNIBAL TESLA ADVENTURE MAGAZINE at kurtoonsonline.com




Thursday, May 29, 2014

Three Hearts and Three Lions part 2: Quest for Cortana

Ever since he arrived in this strange magical world, Holger Carlsen, a practical-minded Danish engineer with perhaps a spark of adventure in him, has been mistaken for a legendary knight. The Faerie lord who has been trying to capture or kill him certainly believes he is someone significant; and the sorceress Morgan le Fay, allied with Faerie against the human realms, seems to have a history with him as well. And Holger is having strange stirrings of memory. Can it be that he truly has lived two lives? Who really is the Knight who bears the shield of the Three Hearts and the Three Lions?

Holger has gained two allies in the form of Hugi, an opinionated dwarf with an accent thick enough to make Peter Jackson blanch, and Alainora, a sweet young thing raised in the wild by some of the more benevolent creatures of magic and who has an enchanted garment that permits her to change into a swan. Together the three have been putting distance between themselves and the twilight curtain marking the boundary between the human-held lands of the Christian Empire and the surrounding Middle World, ruled by the forces of Chaos.

So far they have been traveling through wilderness, living off the hospitality of what peasant cottages they encounter and occasional gifts of prey offered by Alainora’s Woodland Friends. Now they have finally come to a town, where dwells a wizard whom Alainora hopes may be able to help Holger’s plight.

Martinus Trismegistus is a licensed practitioner, thank you very much, and in addition to practicing magic, serves as the town dentist, apothecary, scribe and horse doctor. After listening to Holger’s story, he hazards a guess as to the identity the Knight of the Hearts and Lions.
“Quite likely he was one of the Chosen, like [Charlemagne] or Arthur or their greatest paladins. I do not mean a saint, but a warrior whom God gave more than common gifts and then put under a more than common burden. The knights of the Round Table and of Carl’s court are long dead, but another champion may have taken their place. So before Chaos could hope to advance, this man had to be gotten out of the way.”
He goes on to speculate that the Forces of Chaos, perhaps Morgan herself, had attempted to do this by capturing this knight and exiling him to another world, perhaps taking his memories and changing him into a baby to hinder his return. This does fit with Holger’s remembered history. He was a foundling infant and never knew his true parents

But despite Morgan’s best efforts, this champion did return. Martinus doubts that there was any divine intervention involved; the way he describes it almost sounds like an electron returning to its appropriate energy state. “At the moment of greatest need, the champion had to return.”

Holger doesn’t particularly like the idea that he is being controlled by Destiny. But it’s not really Destiny that is his problem. The easiest thing for him to do would be to find a safe, secluded bolt hole and set up a little love nest with Alainora and let the whole war between Order and Chaos be someone else’s problem. But he couldn't in good conscience do that, any more than he could stay safe in America when the Nazis invaded his native Denmark. As Martinus said, along with the greater gifts of the Paladin, he has also been given a greater burden: a Paladin’s sense of honor and of obligation.

Martinus does have a suggestion. Holger has heard mention of a sword named Cortana, which the wizard recognizes. It is an exceptional sword, made of the same steel as Charlemagne’s sword Joyeuse, or King Arthur’s Excalibur. It bears the blessings of a holy saint and in the hands of its rightful owner would be a mighty bulwark for Christendom. This sword – if he could find it -- would undoubtedly protect Holger from his Faerie foes.

Another problem comes up. Holger has heard that a Saracen knight has been seen in the region seeking the Knight of the Three Hearts and Lions; he now discovers that the mysterious Moor is in this very town. At Holger’s urging, Martinus places a spell of disguise on him, and he adopts the nom de guerre “Sir Rupert of Graustark” after a fictional country from Ruritanian novels.

The Saracen is staying at the local inn and introduces himself as Carahue, once king of Mauretania. He seems to be a friendly, agreeable sort. He assures Holger that he too is a Christian.
“Once, true, I fought for the paynim, but the gentle and virtuous knight who overcame me also won me to the True Faith. Though even were I still a follower of Mahound, I would not be so discourteous as not to drink to your most beautiful lady’s health.”
He goes on to say that he seeks a man he once knew long, long ago. The man had vanished into realms unknown. In his searching for the man, Carahue had been cast ashore on the magical isle of Hy Braseal, where time flows strangely, as it does in Avalon or under Elf Hill. By the time Carahune was able to find a means to escape the isle, (and extract himself from the faerie damsel who had taken a liking to him), many centuries had passed. He heard that the man he sought would soon also be drawn back to the mortal world and so has been searching for him.

As wacky as this story sounds, Holger finds it believable. The Faerie he first encountered tried to trick him into spending a night under Elf Hill, so he’s had a bit of experience with variable time rates. This world follows the medieval romances of King Charlemagne and his knights, and by the standards of those, Carahue’s adventures seem pretty typical. But Holger’s not sure he can trust the affable African. He won’t say why he wants to find his missing knight; and as Holger muses, the fact that Carahue speaks well of the knight means little. Under the fantastic code of chivalry, men could sing each other’s praises while carving out each other’s livers.

But a word first about religion. The Empire in which Holger finds himself, which lies under siege by the Middle World, is a Christian one; but the world is definitely not Narnia.

The author, Poul Anderson, is not an apologist out to proselytize with his stories as C.S. Lewis does – I rather get the impression that, like Holger, Anderson is an agnostic with a Lutheran background – but neither is he particularly hostile to religion, as many of his contemporaries from the John W. Campbell school of science fiction were.

The first Anderson novel I ever read was The High Crusade, in which a group of medieval knights encounter an alien invasion’s advance scout ship and seize it to use in fighting the French. The narrator is a pious monk named Brother Parvus. Another writer might have portrayed a religious figure as either a cynical mountebank or a fool, but Anderson doesn’t do that. Although he frequently makes fun of Parvus’s medieval misconceptions about science, he never mocks the monk’s faith or questions his sincerity.

In Three Hearts and Three Lions, Anderson treats aspects of religion as integral parts of how the Laws of Nature work in this world. The Faerie are repelled by holiness, and certain types of ethically-dubious magic are dispelled by it. But Anderson does not set up a dualism where Christianity is Good and all other religions are Evil; his paradigm here is a conflict between Order and Chaos. Christianity happens to be the predominant faith in this region which lines up on the Lawful end of the struggle, but Islam is one too. And although Carahue is a Christian convert, his former religion is not portrayed as something Evil. (And although he may be a convert, old habits die hard; Anderson has a running gag in which Carahue will occasionally say something like “By the hand of the Prophet!” and then quickly correct himself to add “…the Prophet Jesus.”)

For that matter, Carahue observes that the heathen barbarian tribes to the north, where the sword of Cortana is to be found, were not always unlawful. They have since been corrupted by Chaos and now practice cannibalism and human sacrifice, but in Carahue’s day they were merely uncivilized, not evil.

Anderson’s Operation Chaos plays with this a bit more explicitly. The protagonists, a witch and her werewolf husband, harrow Hell in order to recover their stolen child. Heaven cannot directly aid them, other than to supply a little technical advice; so at the climax, Ginny calls upon those Powers in the world who served neither Heaven nor Hell but who in their own way fought against entropy. Much as he loved the ancient gods of the Greeks and the North, I doubt that C.S. Lewis would have been comfortable doing that.

Back to the story. Carahue offers to join “Sir Rupert’” quest to seek the sword Cortana. It may be, after all, that he will find the one he seeks in this quest. Does he suspect Holger’s true identity? If he does, he says nothing. Holger is unsure whether to let Carahue accompany them; but he really has no good reason to forbid it. And the generous Moor has been good enough to cover the groups food and lodging expenses – something Holger had worried about because he has no cash -- so it would be churlish to spurn his aid. For the time being, though, Holger still harbors suspicions about Carahue and hesitates about revealing his true name

In the character of Carahue, Anderson might be seen as anticipating the cliché of the Black Buddy/Sidekick, similar to the role of Azeem in the movie Robin Hood Prince of Thieves; but really, the medieval romances invented the cliché first. Although the Victorian bowdlerizers tended to whitewash them out of King Arthur’s Round Table, there were heroic black knights in the medieval tales. Years after I first discovered Three Hearts and Three Lions, I read Bullfinch’s Mythology and found Carahue the King of Mauretania mentioned, along with Holger, under the name by which he was known at Charlemagne’s court.

Holger’s relationship with Alainora is becoming more complicated. She’s young, affectionate, and has the distracting habit of going about naked except for her enchanted swan-may garment which more resembles a very skimpy poncho than a gown. But she is so sweet that Holger doesn’t feel comfortable reciprocating her affection; especially since his goal is to leave this world and return home to Denmark. He’s been keeping her at arm’s length, and this has been making her unhappy.

But now Carahue has joined the party and he is far from blind to her charms. He is courteous enough to ask Holger if Alainora is his leman, or lover, before he starts flirting with her; but once he's certain that the way is clear, he sets out to focus his not-inconsiderable charm on her. Yes, Holger has no one to blame but himself for his situation, but he’s still not happy about it.

Stewing in jealousy and self-pity, Holger is vulnerable to another Faerie attack. A nixie grabs him and drags him down to her underwater boudoir. Again, Holger uses scientific knowledge, and a bit of luck to escape.

Intelligence from Marius’s spirit familiars has told them that Cortana is hidden in an old shrine that had been overrun and desecrated by human allies of Chaos. The sword’s sanctity is such that the Faeries cannot touch it, but Morgan used human minions to steal it and hide it in the chapel Approaching the shrine, Alainora reports that a huge army of barbarian fighters have gathered around it. Chaos is massing its armies for a huge push against Christendom.

Holger also again meets Morgan le Fay, who offers to restore his memories if he will abandon his quest and come with her. By this time, Holger has come to realize that he is a man of two worlds, and that this world is his original home. The previous time he encountered Morgan, she very nearly succeeded in seducing him. This time, it’s not even close.

The party finds an underground tunnel which can bring them to the shrine without having to fight their way through the army; but it takes them directly into a troll’s lair. The depiction of the fearsome creature which regenerates after every sword-stroke and which can only be destroyed by fire became the basis for the archetypical Troll from Dungeons & Dragons.

Finally they reach the chapel and find the holy sword. As he grasps it, Holger’s memories return. He turns to Alainora. “Whatever comes… whatever happens to me, know that you will return safe, and that you will always bear my love.”

Carahue recognizes and names him. “I sought you, comrade… I sought you, Ogier.”
Holger Danske whom the old French chronicles know as Ogier le Danois mounted into the saddle. And this was the prince of Denmark who in his cradle was given strength and luck and love by such of Faerie as wish men well. He it was who came to serve Carl the Great and rose to be among the finest of his knights, the defender of Christendie and mankind. He it was who smote Carahue of Mauretania in battle, and became his friend, and wandered far with him. He it was whom Morgan le Fay held dear; and when he grew old, she bore him to Avalon and gave him back his youth. There he dwelt until the paynim again menaced France, a hundred years later, and thence he sallied forth to conquer them anew. Then in the hour of his triumph he was carried away from mortal men.
Now in the hour of need he has come again, and wielding the holy sword Cortana, with Carahue at his side, he charges into the armies of Chaos.

And what then?

In an epilogue, the narrator describes meeting Holger some years after the war and how Holger told him the whole story. “And how did you get back?” he asks, when Holger gets to about that point.

“Suddenly I was back,” Holger says. One moment he was riding forth scattering the forces of Chaos before him; the next he was back on the Danish beach in the middle of the firefight between his Resistance group and the Germans. Stark naked and full of adrenaline, he charged the Germans like one of his berserker ancestors, grabbed a machine gun and finished them.
He grimaced at an unpleasant recollection, but said doggedly, “Those two worlds – and many more, for all I know – are in some way the same. The same fight was being waged, here the Nazis and there the Middle World; but in both places, Chaos against Law, something old and wild and blind at war with man and the works of man. In both worlds it was the time of need for Denmark and France. So Ogier came forth in both of them, as he must.”
He had accomplished his task in the world of Charlemagne; but he was still needed in our world. Like the inexorable logic of a physics equation, he was brought back.

But now he knows where he belongs. He has come back to America to haunt old book stores for grimoires and treatises on magic. With luck, he hopes to find a way back

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Three Hearts and Three Lions part 1: Into the Faerie Realm

Poul Anderson is perhaps not one of the legendary titans of science fiction, but he has long been a favorite of mine. A writer with a background in physics, he came from the John W. Campbell school of Hard Science Fiction, but he also had a strong interest in the Middle Ages and was one of the founding members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. He is perhaps best-known for his Hoka stories, written with Gordon Dickson, but he wrote a wide range of tales from space opera to time travel to historical fiction to fantasy. He was one of the core contributors to Robert Aspirin’s Thieves’ World anthologies and his essay “On Thud and Blunder” is a must-read for writers of heroic fantasy.

Three Hearts and Three Lions is an earlier work of his which displays both his love of the medieval period and his background in physics, approaching magic from a hard science point of view.

Holger Carlsen must have had some spark of heroism in him, otherwise why would he feel compelled to leave a good engineering job in America to return home to Denmark when the Nazis invaded, and go on to join the Resistance? Holger himself didn't know. It was something he felt he needed to do.
It was on a mission with the Danish Resistance, helping to smuggle an important person out of the country, that his team was surprised by a German ambush on the beach. Struck by a bullet, Holger loses consciousness.

Then things get weird.

He awakens, naked, in a forest, the kind of densely-wooded forest that hasn’t existed in Denmark in centuries. He finds a large war-horse tethered to a tree, along with clothes and armor which fit him perfectly -- all the stranger because Holger is not a small man -- and a shield bearing the device of three hearts alternating with three lions.

At first he wonders if his friends have carried him off to another country; then he wonders if he’s in another time. Finally he comes to the realization that he is in another world.

In this world, the legends of Charlemagne and his knights, like the Song of Roland, are historical. This seems to work both ways; one character Holger meets muses that their legends of Frederick Barbarossa and the Emperor Napoleon’s champions might be similar echoes from our world. This world is locked in a millennia's-old conflict between the forces of Order, represented mostly by Christendom, and of Chaos, represented by the Faerie of the Middle World.

If that theme of Order vs. Chaos sounds familiar, it might be because you've played Dungeons & Dragons. Gary Gygax and Dave Arnesson borrowed a number of elements from Three Hearts and Three Lions, including the Paladin character class, based largely on Holger, the depiction of the Classic D&D Troll, and most importantly, the Alignment System based on Order vs. Chaos.

Holger muses that the situation here is analogous to the one he left in Europe with two diametrically-opposed world-views facing off against each other; (or the one existing at the time Anderson wrote the book, when the Iron Curtain had descended across Europe).

Since the 1960s I think we've gotten used to identifying “Order” with totalitarianism and “Chaos” with freedom, but Anderson has a science background. He associates Chaos with Entropy and the Heat Death of the Universe. The theme of heroes fighting against Chaos and Entropy comes up in more than one of his stories. In addition, Anderson was a Kipling fan, and I suspect was thinking of the line from the poem “Recessional” which speaks of the “lesser breeds without the law” – not primitive, uncivilized tribes, but nations like the Prussians of Kipling's day and the Nazis a generation later, governed by Might rather than by moral codes.

Although in the Carolingian world of Three Hearts, Christendom, as represented by the remnants of Charlemagne’s Empire, stands as the champions of Order, we are told that the Mohammedans are also of Lawful Alignment, and it’s strongly suggested that the wars between Christians and Muslims are greatly to blame for the weakening of Order and a big reason why the Faerie realms of the Middle World have been encroaching in the past millennium.

Holger seems to be an important person in this world, although at first he thinks he’s being mistaken for somebody else. The name Holger seems to be a famous one, and he hears rumors that a Moorish knight has been seen in the area asking after a knight bearing the three hearts and the three lions.

On the questionable advice of a suspiciously-friendly witch, Holger seeks counsel from a Faerie lord, but this proves to be a mistake. The Faeries try first to kill him outright; then to capture him through trickery. The fairy lord summons Morgan le Fay, the powerful sorceress, who seems to have a history with Holger. She tries to seduce him and comes close to succeeding.

Fortunately, Holger is not alone in his quest. He has gained the friendship of Hugi the dwarf; a race allied with neither human nor Faerie, who has an accent even thicker than Peter Jackson’s dwarves; and of Alianora, a human girl raised in the wild by some of the more friendly of the magical creatures, who has the ability to transform herself into a swan. Alianora is an affectionate girl, and Holger finds himself attracted to her, but he doesn't want to take advantage of her, especially since he chiefly wants to get home, and so he keeps her at arm’s length.

Through their various encounters with magical creatures, Holger uses his engineering experience and his scientific background to good advantage. When challenged by a giant to a riddle contest, he manages to stall the brute until dawn when daylight would turn him into stone. Holger is able to identify the smell of ozone in the air and realizes just in time that such a huge mass of carbon transmuted into silicon would result in an unstable isotope, and he quickly leads his friends away before the radiation from the giant’s stone form can harm them.

In another chapter, he comes to a village being troubled by a werewolf. The wolf is trailed to the home of a local lord. Holger uses deduction, process of elimination, and a knowledge of germ theory to identify which member of the knight’s household is the true werewolf, and then arrives at a humane solution to deal with the threat.

Holger is more and more certain that he is someone significant here; and he has nagging echoes of memories about things. Who is the Knight of the Three Hearts and the Three Lions?


NEXT: Advice from a Wizard; the Mysterious Moor; the Quest for Cortana and the Knight’s Identity Revealed!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy: That Hideous Strength (conclusion)

“If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family – anything you like – at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point where there was more elbow room and contrasts weren't quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder. Like the poem about Heaven and Hell eating into merry Middle Earth from opposite sides…”
It probably seemed that way to C.S. Lewis, writing in the latter days of World War II. I think here he succumbs to the same mistake he finds in Modernists, that they see all history as a seamless progression from point A to and anticipated point B.

But whether Dr. Dimble is mistaken or not, Mark and Jane Studdock have found themselves on opposite sides of a cosmic war and there is little neutral ground to stand on. The age-old conflict between Good and Evil is about to enter a startling new phase.

We are not told how Mr. Bultitude first came to St. Anne’s. He seems to have just shown up one day. Very likely, MacPhee’s guess that he was a trained bear who wandered away from a carnival is correct; but if Mr. Bultitude was ever a wild animal, the peaceful environment of St. Anne’s has tamed him. The manor is like a second Eden, where man and animals co-exist in harmony, and even the mice are welcome to eat the crumbs which fall from the Master’s table. This is largely due to Ransom’s influence. The Director’s brief sojourn on the unfallen world of Perelandra has given him the rapport with animals which is Adam’s neglected birthright.

Mr. Bultitude is largely contend to live in the garden, occasionally wandering into the manor house to startle unwary guests, like Jane, or to sit by the fireside and receive affectionate scratches from Ransom. He is vaguely aware that he is not supposed to stray from the garden, but being a bear of little brain, his thought processes get a bit fuzzy. When he finds the garden gate accidentally left unlatched, his curiosity gets the better of him. This passage, told from the bear’s point of view, is one of my favorites in the book.

A couple of workers from the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments happen to drive by. They have been assigned to acquire animals for the N.I.C.E. laboratories and are a bit behind quota. Coming across a stray bear wandering loose is quite a stroke of luck for them – one might almost say a Godsend – and they easily lure Mr. Bultitude into their truck.

What they don’t realize is that Mr. Bultitude is not your average bear. Merlin has identified him as one of the Seven Bears of Logres, and in one of the strange oracular moments that seem to strike him occasionally has prophesied “…that before Christmas this bear would do the best deed that any bear had done in Britain except for other bear that none of us had ever heard of.”

The Director has asked Jane and some of the other women to put the Lodge, a small cottage on the manor grounds, in order. Household chores at St.Anne’s are done on a rotating basis; the men do them one day, the women the next. Jane doesn't see how this democratic division of labor fits in with the Ransom’s insistence that wives need to submit to their husbands, but the system seems to work; at last so long as the women don’t look too closely at the dishes on the guy’s day to wash.

Previously I've said that in Lewis’s world the gods and goddesses of classical myth are something like racial memories of the actual cosmic beings which rule the planets. This is not strictly true. There are echoes of those cosmic entities here on earth; reflections like the shadows in Plato’s cave of the actual planetary beings. “That is why there was an Italian Saturn as well as a Heavenly one,” Ransom explains, “and a Cretan Jove as well as an Olympian.”

Jane comes across such an avatar in the lodge: a tall, intimidating goddess in a flame-colored robe. Were she a pagan, Jane might worship her; were she a Christian, like Mother Dimble, she could trust in God’s protection. Lacking the spirituality of the former and the faith of the latter, Jane finds herself overwhelmed by the terrifying apparition.

Later Ransom offers another suggestion why the goddess seemed so terrifying, reflecting again Lewis’s orthodox views of gender. Jane is neither matron nor maid. She has renounced her role as a virgin – which is not by itself a bad thing – but has refused to take on the role of a mother. Are these the only two roles permitted a woman? I think Lewis over-simplifies things; and once again, I have to wonder how Dorothy L. Sayers would have written such a scene; but I have to admit, it makes sense that a fertility goddess would have strong opinions on this subject.

Ivy Maggs and Mrs. Dimble do not see the apparition. They lack Jane’s psychic sensitivity. But the goddess’s appearance probably has a good deal to do with the presence of Merlin. “We are not living exactly in the Twentieth Century as long as he’s here,” Ransom explains. “We overlap a bit; the focus is blurred.”

And what of Merlin? Merlin has been wondering about that himself. He’s been taken out of time for 1500 years and brought back in the present day to combat the Forces of Darkness; but what is he to do?
Ransom has been trying to bring him up to speed on the 20th Century, and he’s managed to wrap his brain around the idea that the present king is what he’d call a Saxon; but he doesn't understand why this king doesn't just send an army against Belbury and crush the N.I.C.E., or why the Ransom, the Pendragon, doesn't try to raise the populace against the tyrants. “They have an engine called the Press whereby the people are deceived,” Ransom tells him.

Merlin offers to summon magical forces to come to their aid, but Ransom forbids it. The spirits Merlin once commanded are long since gone, dormant under centuries of industrialization. Times have changed, and the kind of meddling with natural forces Merlin used to do is no longer permitted by the cosmic forces Ransom serves. “It was never very lawful even in your day.” Merlin is not sure that the forces of nature he knew are completely dormant, and from Jane’s experience in the lodge we see he may be right. Nevertheless, he concedes to Ransom’s other point.

But the question remains: what is Merlin here for and what is the Director’s plan? Ransom’s answer is the same as the one he earlier gave MacPhee. He is waiting on his Masters, the Oyarésu.

But surely they will not intervene directly, Merlin protests. The cosmic planetary powers are forbidden by divine edict from crossing the Lunar orbit, as part of the cease-fire decreed following the rebellion of Earth’s own Dark Archon.

Ah, but that’s just the thing. The treaty has already been broken. The cosmic entities were forbidden to cross the orbital embargo, but nobody ever said that humans using their own intelligence and science couldn't. By travelling to Mars, Weston has already crossed the line; and when the Enemy possessed Weston on his trip to Venus the decree was broken. The Oyarésu are now free to come to earth; but they too are waiting for something.

Jane’s husband Mark, meanwhile, is still a prisoner at the N.I.C.E. headquarters in Belbury, where Wither and Frost wish to initiate him into their Inner Circle. Mark wants nothing to do with the Institute. He has finally realized how they've been manipulating him all this time; but since he is a captive, he sees no choice but to play along while Frost subjects him to bizarre rituals which seem to be intended to desensitize him to societal taboos and, by extension, to ethical norms and conventional notions of Good and Evil in order to inculcate “Objectivity”.

Mark has an unexpected ally in the form of a nameless tramp, picked up by the N.I.C.E., whom Wither and Frost have mistaken for Merlin. The tramp has neglected to undeceive them, partially because they keep speaking to him in Latin; (they think he’s a 5th Century wizard who wouldn't understand Modern English) and so he assumes they are foreigners; and partially, I think, because he’s been arrested enough times to know that you never volunteer information to the cops. As far as the tramp is concerned, he’s been given a warm place to sleep, and good food. His confinement is undoubtedly better than many jails he’s been in. The tramp comes from a culture so alien to Mark that he has trouble understanding him; and yet Mark feels an affinity to him based on their shared captivity.

Every now and then, Wither and Frost come in with an expert in old Celtic languages hoping to find someone who can communicate with “Merlin”. They've been unsuccessful so far. The philologist Elwin Ransom would be an obvious choice, but their people have had difficulty in finding him; (undoubtedly one of the reasons why Ransom has changed his name to Fisher-King). Finally, Wither resorts to putting an ad in the newspaper for linguists.

When he sees this ad, Ransom knows that their opportunity has arrived.

That night, Ransom tells his household to remain downstairs. He and Merlin are going to entertain visitors in his upstairs study. The Oryarés are going to descend in person. In this memorable passage, Lewis describes parallel scenes how the presence of the gods affects the people in the manor house. Their conversation becomes lively and witty, almost giddy, as Vilitrilbia, whom men call Mercury, arrives; a sweet peacefulness descends upon them and the couples begin to snuggle as upstairs Perelandra, the personification of Venus appears. The men become more aggressive and impatient for action with the arrival of Mars. One by one, the great planetary powers manifest in Ransom’s study, and one by one, they infuse some of their power into Merlin.

These entities are mind-bogglingly powerful, and here I’m reminded of something from The Simarillion, by Lewis’s friend J.R.R. Tolkien. Although the Simarillion was not published in its finished form until after Tolkien’s death, he had read portions of the unfinished stories from it to his friends. Lewis might have borrowed this idea from his friend, or it is just as possible that they were both drawing off a shared Christian Cosmology.

In The Simarillion, the Valar, god-like beings subordinate to the Creator-God, are also barred from interfering in the affairs of Middle-Earth. They remain on the sidelines throughout Melkor’s age-long war against the elves until one of the elves makes the arduous voyage to return the last of the Simarils to Valinor. Only then do the Valar come to personally kick Melkor’s butt. The powers they unleash to do it, however, obliterates half of the continent.

Likewise, the Oyarsés could easily leave all of England a giant hole in the North Sea if they unleashed their full powers. Instead they are going to channel their powers through a mortal. This is why Merlin was important. Using their power thus is going to be hard on the vessel receiving it. The Oyarsés refuse to subject even a volunteer to this. But Merlin is no stranger to powerful spirits. He he has never met any of the Oyarsés scale before, but he has channeled supernatural forces. Metaphorically speaking, he is not a virgin. Merlin realizes he is not likely to survive this experience and it frankly terrifies him; but he understands that this is the purpose for which he has been brought here and so he resolves to go through with it.

The next day another visitor comes to the N.I.C.E; a Basque priest who understands not a word of English but who somehow has come in answer to Wither’s newspaper ad. When he is brought before the supposed “Merlin”, he is actually able to converse with him. This is because the priest is the real Merlin, using his Jedi Mind Tricks to control the tramp. We have a comical situation where Merlin is making the tramp give orders in ancient Celtic, which he then translates into Latin for Wither’s benefit.

Wither is perplexed by this situation. It certainly looks as if the priest is controlling the wizard instead of merely interpreting for him, but that couldn't possibly be the case. At Merlin’s orders, he gives the supposed wizard and his interpreter a tour of the Institute. Adding to his confusion, he realizes that a dinner has been scheduled for that evening with several important backers of the Institute in attendance. Of course, Merlin will have to attend, but how will Wither explain the wizard to all these big-wigs who think that the N.I.C.E. is all about Science?

As Wither goes off with the two Merlins, Frost takes Mark back to the Objective Room for another training session. A large table in the room has been moved aside to reveal an ornate carving on the floor depicting Christ nailed to the cross. Frost tells Mark to trample on the image.

Mark hesitates. He is not a Christian; unlike Jane he has never been one; but this seems so pointless. “This is all surely a pure superstition. … Well, if so, what is there objective about stamping on the face? Isn't it just as subjective to spit on a thing like this as to worship it? I mean – damn it all – if it’s only a bit of wood, why do anything about it?”

Frost insists. “Of course, it is a superstition; but it is that particular superstition which has pressed upon our society for a great many centuries.” But Mark looks at it another way.

Mark has never had a really firm grip on the notion of Good vs. Evil, but for the past few days, he has come to regard everything about Belbury as an affront to everything that he saw as Straight or Normal or Wholesome. Looking on the suffering man on the cross, he does not see it as a religious icon or an image of worship; he sees it as what happens when the Straight meets the Crooked; what the N.I.C.E. would do to him if he refused to warp himself in their demented image.

Frost prods him. “Do you intend to go on with the training or not?”
Mark made no reply. He was thinking, and thinking hard because he knew, that if he stopped even for a moment, mere terror of death would take the decision out of his hands. Christianity was a fable. It would be ridiculous to die for a religion one did not believe. This Man himself, on that very cross, had discovered it to be a fable, and had died complaining that the God in whom he trusted had forsaken him – had, in fact, found the universe a cheat. But this raised a question that Mark had never thought of before. Was that the moment at which to turn against the Man? If the universe was a cheat, was that a good reason for joining its side? Supposing the Straight was utterly powerless, always and everywhere certain to be mocked, tortured, and finally killed by the Crooked, what then? Why not go down with the ship? He began to be frightened by the very fact that his fears seemed to have momentarily vanished. They had been a safeguard … they had prevented him, all his life, from making mad decisions like that which he was now making as he turned to Frost and said, 
“It’s all bloody nonsense, and I’m damned if I do any such thing.”
And here things start to get really surreal.

The session is interrupted by the simultaneous arrival of Wither’s little tour group, and the dinner guests, including Jules, the self-important public face of the N.I.C.E. Most critics regard him as a particularly unkind caricature of H.G. Wells, and they are probably correct. Jules knows nothing about the Macrobes, the diabolical cosmic entities who control the Institute through the severed head of the executed murderer Alcasan; he knows nothing about the severed head. He thinks that he’s in charge of the Institute, and part of Wither’s job is to keep him thinking that. Jules does not understand what the old man in the robes and the foreign priest are doing here, and it takes all of Wither’s powers of diplomacy and double-talk to soothe him.
Mark is allowed to change into dinner clothes. This is England after all, and there are some societal norms which even Objectivists like Frost must follow.

The dinner is a peculiar one. The tramp seems to be enjoying himself, accepting the bizarre things that are happening to him with a cheerful fatalism. During the dinner, several things happen, and Lewis show them unfolding as they occur to several individuals.

Wither first notices something wrong when in the middle of his after dinner speech, Jules makes a remark about something being “as gross an anachronism as to trust to Calvary for salvation in modern war.” Of course, he means “cavalry”; “Calvary” is the name of the hill upon which Christ was crucified; and Jules’s significant slip has always stuck in my mind to keep me from confusing the two words. But the next sentence out of his mouth is utter gibberish, and not the type of gobbledygook platitudes he usually uttered.
Wither tries to prevent Jules from embarrassing himself further by taking the podium himself, but finds the guests staring at him as if he were speaking gibberish too. Actually, everyone in the room has suddenly lost the ability to communicate intelligibly.

Frost attempts to pass a note to Fairy Hardcastle, but the note reads “Blunt frippers intantly to pointed bdeluroid. Purgent. Cost.”. So she takes a wild guess as to what her boss wants. She discreetly gets up from the table, locks all the doors leading out of the dining room, pulls out a pistol, and shoots Jules dead.
That’s when the real panic starts. And that’s when the ferocious man-eating tiger comes out of the kitchen. Tiger? What’s going on here?

What has happened is that Merlin has unleashed the Curse of Babel on the crowd. You may recall that the novel’s title, “That Hideous Strength”, comes from a medieval poem about the Tower of Babel, that dreadful stronghold. Merlin now possesses the power of Mercury, the god of Language, to take away their ability to communicate. I recently read another critic who observed that the curse doesn't end with language; With the power of Mars, he removed from the N.I.C.E. the martial discipline they once had and with the power of Venus the camaraderie and co-operation they once enjoyed. Well, to be honest, the crew at Belbury despised all those things; their organization was based on fear, not discipline; on ambition, not comradeship; and they used language as a tool to deceive, not to communicate. So, in a way, Merlin is merely taking away from them virtues which they weren't using anyway.

Merlin leaves the banquet hall quietly without being observed and takes the tramp with him. No one sees the tramp again, although I like to think he made off with some of the N.I.C.E.’s silverware and got many a drink at the local pub telling of his adventures. Merlin goes to the labs where the animals are kept for vivisection experiments and frees them, sending them to the dining room. To dine. Here he finds Mr. Bultitude, and gives him a special blessing, temporarily freeing him from the tameness Ransom had imposed upon him and reminding the bear that he is a carnivore.

Merlin also releases other captives, prisoners who have been transferred from the local jails to the N.I.C.E. as part of the Institute’s takeover of local civil government. One of these prisoners is Ivy Maggs’s husband, and Merlin gives the man a note from his wife instructing him to come to St. Anne’s, but to avoid Edgestow.
Belbury is now utter chaos, which is only intensified when the Macrobes, seeing that their plans have been upended, decide to destroy their tools. Wither along with Filostrato and Straik flee to lab where Alcasan’s severed head is kept.. The men find themselves compelled to worship the head as if it were some kind of scientific Lord of the Flies. Then the head commands them to get it a new one, and Filostrato finds himself dragged off to the lab’s mini-guillotine. They kill Filostrato and are in the process of trying to kill each other when Mr. Bultitude comes in to finish the job.

Frost finds himself compelled, as if his body was controlled by superior forces, to gather all the flammables in the lab and immolate himself.

Lord Feverstone, ever the opportunist, manages to slip out of the banquet before everything goes pear-shaped; but when he heads towards Edgestow, he finds an exodus of people leaving it. He presses onward, and so is swallowed up by the unexpected earthquake which destroys the town.

As it happens, very few people die in the destruction of Edgestow. Many had already been displaced. Many more providentially left town for seemingly coincidental reasons. But in any case, the only people left in Edgestow when it was destroyed were the Very Good, who were ready for Heaven anyway, and the Very Bad, who were getting what they deserved. George Orwell disliked this eldila ex machina ending, feeling that it detracted from a perfectly good cautionary dystopia; but Lewis re-wrote Paradise Lost so that the Snake loses; he’s not about to end the novel with a boot on humanity’s face forever.

The next morning, many of the animals freed from the N.I.C.E. turn up at St. Anne’s. Mr. Bultitude returns, in the company of a friendly she-bear. Many of the other animals also have arrived two-by-two and celebrate their new freedom under the blessing and sanction of the goddess Venus. “This is becoming indecent,” MacPhee complains as the elephants begin copulating in the garden. “On the contrary,” Ransom replies, “decent in the old sense, decens, fitting is just what it is.”

Lord Byron once said that every tragedy is ended with a death, and every comedy with a marriage. This comedy ends with couples united. Ivy is reunited with her husband. And then there’s Jane.

The Director is bidding all his friends good-bye. Ransom’s task here is finished. He is ready to go. Like Frodo, he has suffered wounds which cannot be healed in this world; but the eldila are going to come and take him to Perelandra, where he will wait with Arthur and a handful of others until the End of Days.
Jane would like to stay with the Director until he leaves, but Ransom tells her that she is being waited for. “Your husband is waiting for you in the Lodge. It was your own marriage chamber that you prepared. Should you not go to him?”

Since Ransom requests it, she accedes to his will. “But – but – am I a bear or a hedgehog?” Is she just another female to be paired off at the end?

“More. But not less,” Ransom says. “You will have no more dreams. Have children instead.”

Mark too has escaped the chaos at Belbury. Merlin also found him and gave him a letter from his one-time friend Dennison, telling him that his wife was waiting for him at St. Anne’s-on-the-Hill.

When he was a prisoner at Belbury, he flattered himself in thinking himself heroically resisting the N.I.C.E. He doesn't feel so heroic now, and can only think of how badly he’s treated Jane and how unworthy he is of her. What he’s feeling is the flip side of Paul’s admonition for wives to obey their husbands; the husbands need to strive to be deserving of that deference. As he approaches the small cottage on the manor property he encounters a gigantic woman in a flame-colored robe with a beautiful but sternly enigmatic face who opens the door for him and wordlessly commands him to enter.

Jane does not see the goddess this time. But she sees through the window that Mark has left his shirt lying draped over a chair. How like the man. She goes in to him.

And do Mark and Jane really reunite and re-establish their relationship? Lord Byron would say yes. And so would every Happily Ever After. But for all his theoretical musings on the proper relation between the sexes, C.S. Lewis never shows the two actually together and trying to make things work.


So maybe it’s best to leave it as a Happy Ending. Jack has his Jill, and the Forces of Darkness have for a time been forestalled. The darkness will gather again, but for the time being Venus presides over St. Anne’s and elephants are dancing in the rose garden.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Ones You Didn't Hear in Sunday School

Shameless Self-Promotion Time again, folks.

Our Peerless Leader, Alex, suggested that I plug one of my other blogs here.  The name of it is The Ones You Didn't Hear in Sunday School, and it's sort of like the pieces I've been posting on Poplitiko about science fiction novels and applying the same treatment to some of the more obscure stories of the Bible.

Here's how I introduce it in the blog:

Some Bible stories are better-known than others.  Even people without a strong religious background have probably heard of David and Goliath, or Jonah and the Whale, or the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  They’re part of our Western Cultural Heritage, like Cinderella or Snow White or Star Wars: The New Hope. 
But how many people have heard about Dinah and the Shechemites?  Or Abigail and her Really Stupid Husband?  Or the Parable of the Sleazy Embezzler? 
There are some stories in the Bible that are not widely known. They don't often come up in Sunday School; sometimes because they are too violent, sometimes because they have sex in them; sometimes because they are disturbing and have no easy morals to apply; and sometimes they're just plain weird. Sometimes these stories present challenges to the Christian Faith because they seem to contradict what we want to believe.
Whether difficult or disturbing, confusing or confounding, lewd or just plain ludicrous; all these stories are a part of our religious heritage.  Whether we like it or not. 

One of the things I'm trying to do with this blog is show some of the ways these oddball stories of Scripture turn up in our popular culture.  Like when Hamlet puzzles Polonius by remarking that Jephthah had a daughter -- what did he mean by that?  Or when a TV pundit refers to a political shibboleth, what's he talking about?

Perhaps you did hear these stories in Sunday School; perhaps you might have forgotten them; but if you have a curiosity about what happens when Holy Writ gets weird, stop by and give my blog a look.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Clallam Bay Comicon 2014

Sticker art - only a dollar - and
panel moderators and table bosses get one for free!
You don't HAVE to buy one, but it proves you
attended. We still got 2012-13 tshirts, too.

"A WORD FROM DONNA BARR

The third annual Clallam Bay Comicon on the way

The third annual Clallam Bay Comicon will take place July 13-14 in the Lion's Club building in Clallam Bay, featuring artists, discussion panels, music and more. Once again, there will be no admission fee, and sales table rates are kept very low. All creatives are welcome to show. The unusual schedule (Sunday-Monday) allows comic shops to attend.

The show organizer, Donna Barr, says this may be the last year for the show, but she only put it on to prove she could do it.

"If I can do it 'way out here, anybody can do it. The largest nearby town, Port Angeles, has many facilities - space and hotel accommodations, eateries, excellent inexpensive bus service, local attractions and accessible wilderness - that would make a comicon a success, and once a town has a comicon, the opportunities for all businesses just grow. The whole entertainment industry and trees - can you beat it?"

For full information on attending the show, or to see how to an admission-free comicon, follow the links at http://www.donnabarr.com
"

Hi, folks! And we're off and running for the 3rd year!

Promote your attendance or your shop with the 2014 flyer mini-poster (download link), featuring our logo, Kelpie! If you want to use logo/mascot "Kelpie" for tshirts, buttons, etc., and make some money, contact me.

First, links to the 2nd annual con:

The 2013 ComiconRecord Page/Con Report Link 

The 2013 Comicon Facebook Page

Now - the 2014 information: 

FACEBOOK LINK (If you want to keep up with ongoing discussions, ask questions, organize a sales rep or living space or panels).

July 13-14-15: During and after Clallam Bay/Sekiu Fun Days 9am to 5 pm SUNDAY AND MONDAY for trade show (setup, show, breakdown). (You heard us - Sunday and Monday). SATURDAY is optional, for getting here, enjoying Fun Days, Parade, and Fireworks party night; but highly recommended.

ADMISSION
 for public: free. "We don't need no stinkin' badges." You're all
special guests to us. And don't have to prove you're pros or amateurs.


BOOTH FEES: $25 ($27.00 Paypal).  CONTACT for payment instructions.

The newly renovated building - nice job, Lions!
WHERE: Clallam Bay/Seiku Lion's Club

90 Bogachiel Street Clallam Bay, Olympic  Peninsula, Washington State, United States (Take Highway 112 through Clallam Bay. After the hard left, look for liqour store on the right;
Bogachiel Street is the next left).


LINK TO PHOTOS OF MORE SPACES


ACCOMADATIONS AND HOUSING Get your ass in gear - rooms fill up FAST! And also Neah Bay AND the Couchsurfers Event Link! Stay with fascinating local people - or if you are a FLP - sponsor a comics/media/art/writer in your own home.

EVERYONE WELCOME. If you do comics, poetry, gallery art, jewelry, paint cars, bake pies, sing, do stand-up, sculpture, hip-hop, light shows, whatever - bring it. Cosplay wanted for the parade. AND HORSES!

HOW TO GET HERE: Take a flight to Port Angeles on Kenmore Air, then take the Forks bus to the the Clallam Bay connection at Sappho.  Yes, Sappho. Bus details at Clallam Transit. Or take Olympic Bus Lines from Seattle. Coming from Portland, or other points south? Take the WEST side of the Olympic Peninsula, Highway 101: Good roads, scenic, food and fuel - and MUCH less traffic, even in July.

GETTING to Neah Bay and back, if you'd prefer not to drive every day - contact Olympic Peninsula Errand Service, for Janet or Adam: (360) 640-4583 NOTE: Neah Bay is a First Nations town, and DRY. And you don't want to drive THAT road after enjoying some wind-down juice.

AWARDS: Who are we to judge? If your fans love you and buy stuff, you win.

PROVIDED: space, electricity (PROBABLY wi-fi). More Wi-fi is 24/7 at the library, right around the corner. LOTS of table space!

SPACE: Dealer's Room: main club building. Gaming and music: outside covered porch. Panels: outside covered porch. Parking: around Lion's Club, Old Fire Hall and Clinic parking lot. LINK TO PHOTOS OF MORE SPACES

PANELS and EVENTS Link: Includes audio-visual details.

GAMES: You want games? Find a Gamesmaster and contact us to be put in the Panel schedule.

CATERING: We have a NICE kitchen available, so if you want to bring and sell food, take care of your own licensing or whatever. 

CHARITY: Comicon needs a charity. Contact us.

BEST, safest, most scenic route if driving: Highway 101 around Lake Crescent, then Highway 113-112 to  Clallam Bay (slightly longer, but recommended).


FIRE DISPLAYS: If you want to play Burning Man, contact the District Five Fire Department.


FOOD AROUND TOWN


LAST-MINUTE PRINTING: Already on the peninsula and forgot something? Need a large
print order at the last minute? Olympic Printers are the guys.


T-SHIRTS: Don't want to drag a million t-shirts along, especially if you have a new design? Get 'em done in Port Angeles and pick 'em up at SickTees.
 

CHILDREN: watch your own.
 

TRASH: Container in Lion's Club kitchen. SEPARATE THE CANS.

FACILITY CARE: No tape of any sort on the wall. Respect the Lion's Club's wall displays. We all chip in to clean up at the end of the show. It don't take long. 

 
Don't set yourself on fire.


EXHIBITORS: 

1: Donna Barr's A Fine Line Press AND Clallam Bay Comicon Central (Official convention t-shirts!). 
2: Catalyst Studios

Thursday, May 8, 2014

C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy: That Hideous Strength (part 4)

There has always been two Englands: a nation of shopkeepers and a nation of poets; behind every Arthur a Mordred and behind every Milton a Cromwell. The secular land of Britain ruled by the King, and Logres, the spiritual core, ruled by the Pendragon. There have been eras, as in the time of Arthur, when the King and the Pendragon were one and the same. Currently, Logres consists of about maybe a dozen people and a trained bear living in a commune at the Manor of St. Anne’s-on-the-Hill near the university town of Edgestow, and it’s director, the current Pendragon, is Mr. Fisher-King, formerly the philologist Elwin Ransom.

St. Anne’s stands in opposition to the National Institue of Co-ordinated Experiments at Belbury, or the N.I.C.E., a think-tank ostensibly dedicated to improving society through scientific means but actually to imposing a totalitarian regime on the world. The Director has done very little to actually combat this threat, though, apart from raising vegetables and taking in the occasional stray, like Mr. Bultitude, the tame bear; or the Dimbles and Ivy Maggs, evicted from their homes by the N.I.C.E., or Jane Studdock, seeking answers to her disturbing dreams. MacPhee, the group’s resident skeptic, finds this lack of action infuriating, but Ransom says he is waiting for instructions from his Masters, the cosmic entities he calls the eldila.


This wait is about to end.

Jane’s clairvoyant dreams have revealed that the forces behind the N.I.C.E. seek to revive the wizard Merlin, who like sleeping under Bragdon Wood, a piece of property formerly owned by nearby Bracton college but recently acquired by the Institute. They've been delayed in their search because the ground of the wood is marshy and needs to be drained before they can perform major excavations.

This makes me wonder: why was Merlin buried in such an unsuitable location? Well, from a plot point of view, it’s an excuse to delay the N.I.C.E. while they much about diverting the river flowing through Edgestow to drain the marsh and displace half the population in the process. But there is another peculiar parallel.

In his History of the Kings of Britain, medieval historian Geoffrey of Monmouth tells of how King Vortigern tried to build a tower but the foundation kept collapsing. His seers advised him to sprinkle the foundation with the blood of a fatherless boy. They find such a child, the son of no mortal man, but the boy is himself a seer who reveals that there is a lake under the tower with two dragons, symbolizing the Saxons and the Britons.

Which doesn't actually have anything to do with the story, except for the swamp and the legend that Merlin, the boy in Geoffrey’s tale, was rumored to have an inhuman father. This is why the N.I.C.E. thinks they can recruit him for their side.

Ransom is not entirely sure about that. He notes that the magic of Merlin, as portrayed in legend, seems of a different sort than that of the wannabe sorcerers and alchemists of the Renaissance.
“What common measure is there,” [Dimble] would ask, ‘between ceremonial occultists like Faustus and Prospero and Archimago with their midnight studies, their forbidden books, their attendant fiends or elementals, and a figure like Merlin who seems to produce his results simply by being Merlin?” And Ransom agreed. He thought that Merlin’s art was the last survival of something older and different – something brought to Western Europe after the fall of Numinor and going back to an era in which the general relations of mind and matter on this planet had been other than those we know.
(And yes, C.S. Lewis is giving a shout-out here to his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, who at the time Lewis wrote this was still struggling to finish The Lord of the Rings. The tribute bugged Tolkien, because Lewis misspelled “Numenor.”)

Jane’s latest dream has shown her a tunnel leading to Merlin’s resting place. The entrance, an ancient and forgotten cairn, lies outside of Bragdon Wood and the property under the N.I.C.E.’s control. This is the opportunity Ransom has been waiting for. He sends a small team, guided by Jane, to the site; but when they get there, they find that the sealed tunnel entrance has been broken open – from the inside. The stones have been rolled away and the tomb is empty.

Jane’s husband, Mark, meanwhile, has been arrested for the murder of William Hingset. He’s pretty sure that the N.I.C.E. really killed Hingset and framed him for it; but he has finally come to realize that the management philosophy of the Institute greatly resembles the aphorism of Nixon’s: Once you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow. Not that I think Lewis was familiar with the wit and wisdom of Richard Nixon, but he undoubtedly knew the sentiment.

Mark is not actually being held by the police; he’s in N.I.C.E. custody. Wither and Frost, the chief administrators of the N.I.C.E. have decided to let Mark sit in a holding cell overnight, believing that marinating in apprehension and fear for a few hours will make him more compliant. And it might have too, except that Mark has been dwelling on the royal chewing out that Dr. Dimble gave him on his visit to Edgestow.

In Lewis’s stories, the most important action always seems to occur in the protagonists’ heads, which is possibly why they are so infrequently adapted. Here Mark looks back on his own life and takes stock of what a mess he’s made of it. He should have seen immediately that Wither, with his alternating vague flattery and vague threats, was playing mind games with him. Except that Dick Devine, Lord Feverstone, had vouched for him. And why did he ever trust Feverstone, with his flashy, cynical manner and his insincere grin? Because Feverstone seemed so wise and knowing compared to puppets like his old colleague Curry. But he didn’t always think Curry was a puppet…

Mark comes to the disquieting realization that all his life he’s been trying to get into the “in crowd” and he has nothing to show for it. Even when he was a boy in school, he ditched his best friend in order to get into a popular clique. And for what? The only real joy he’s gotten out of life has been from people outside his ambition track, like his sister, like his boyhood pal, like his friend Denniston from his undergraduate days, and like Jane. He realizes with horror that in his deepest fantasies about his career, he pictured Jane as serving as a kind of Perfect Hostess whose beauty and charm would reflect credit on her husband; not an individual in her own right, but merely an extension of himself. Mark recoils at this thought and realizes glumly that perhaps his being hanged for murder might be the best thing that could happen to Jane.

He now realizes that he has somehow wound up on the wrong side. He doesn't think of it as a matter of Good and Evil, or even of Right and Wrong, because, as Lewis frequently tells us, his upbringing and education have provided him with no sort of ethical grounding. All he knows is that he wants to be on Jane’s side, and that he doesn't want to be on Belbury’s.

It is while he is in this state of mind that Frost comes to visit him. Frost and Wither have decided to accelerate their “treatment” of him. Frost believes that initiating him into the innermost circle of the Institute will be the impetus to bring him completely on their side.

Frost is a pure Materialist; he believes that all emotions, all morals and all social interactions are at their root merely chemical reactions in the brain. But this does not mean he does not believe in a Higher Power. He explains to Mark the existence of beings he calls “Macrobes”. Not microbes, mind you – “The formation of the word explains itself.” -- but beings as far above human reasoning and intelligence as humans are above the bacteria.
“These organisms, then,” said Mark, “are friendly to humanity?” 
“If you reflect for a moment,” said Frost, “you will see that your question has no meaning except on the level of the crudest popular thought.”
It occurs to me that Lewis is playing here with the toys of H.P. Lovecraft; although being Christian, Lewis uses them for different ends.

It is these macrobes who are the true force behind the organization at Belbury. Filostrato, the Italian transhumanist, is deluded. Although he has doubtless scored a great scientific achievement in keeping the severed head of the scientist Alcasan functional, it is not Alcasan who commands the N.I.C.E. but rather the macrobes using the Head as a conduit. Frost coolly explains the goal to cull humanity until only the intellectual and technological elite remain. The previous two wars, he says, are merely the first of a series of sixteen wars scheduled for the 20th Century as part of this plan.

Mark finds these revelations abhorrent; yet at the same time enticing. Now he is on the verge of becoming the ultimate insider, one of the handful of mortals who really know what is going on.

But the interview is cut short. Frost is summoned away. Merlin has been found.

The workmen excavating Bragdon Wood uncovered the empty burial chamber, and followed the tunnel to the surface. After a search on the dark and rainy moor, they came across a bearded old man, weathered and gnarled, lying naked in some sort of a trance. They immediately brought him back to the Institute.

He is nothing like what Wither and Frost expected. When the stranger awakens, Wither addresses him in Latin, for of course a 5th Century wizard would not know modern English; but the man does not seem to understand. He happily accepts the food and drink Wither provides, although he seems more interested in the beer than in the bottle of port; but he says nothing; he doesn't even seem to pay attention to Wither at all. Most of all, Wither is disturbed by the man’s face; it shows none of the signs he associates with a “Master”, or even one who could be made into a “Master.” Still, Merlin is a man from the 5th Century. One must make allowances for these things.

Except this man is not Merlin.

The real Merlin appears at the door of St. Anne’s, dressed in the raggedy clothes of a tramp. He at first mistakes Ransom and MacPhee for servants, and he puts MacPhee to sleep using something the narration describes as hypnotism but which seems more akin to Jedi Mind Tricks. He does not believe Ransom’s claim to be the Master of the House and challenges him to answer three questions of Ancient Lore. Ransom can answer him from the knowledge he gained in his trips through the Heavens and his conversations with the eldila. Merlin acknowledges him as Pendragon.

When the party sent out to look for Merlin returns, they find the two men in conversation. Merlin shocks the party by calling Jane “the falsest lady of any at this time alive” and suggests that it would be a charity for the Pendragon to order her head chopped off.

And here we run up against another of Lewis’s bêtes noires; one which is frustrating because it seems so irrelevant to his story. Merlin’s condemnation of Jane comes because she uses birth control. Now what does that have to do with anything?

A couple reasons. The first one, which Merlin gives, is that if Jane and her husband had conceived a child, he would have grown up to be a great champion in the struggle against Evil. They didn't, and the opportunity has passed. This doesn't mean that Evil will win; but it means that a good which could have happened now won’t, and something else will happen instead.

Another reason is that Lewis wants to emphasize for us that Merlin is a man from another century. Like the old saying goes, the Past is a another country; they do things differently there. Lewis gives us a couple of vignettes in the next chapter or two to illustrate how different in manner and psychology Merlin is from a 20th Century man. He just whacks us in the skull with this first instance.

But deeper than that, it resonates with Lewis’s greater theme of marriage and the relationship between the sexes. We've seen that Mark and Jane are in an unhappy marriage. Throughout the book, Lewis introduces other relationships with which to compare them. We have the Dennisons, a happily-married couple; we have the Dimbles, an old established marriage, which like the Studdocks’ is childless, but unlike theirs is not childless by choice. Mrs. Dimble is a loving, maternal woman, who over the years has become a surrogate mother for her husband’s many students. Ivy Maggs has a difficult marriage in that her husband has had trouble with the law, but was mostly reformed since marrying her. This hasn't ended his problems with the law, but she deeply loves him despite his fallibility. Neither the argumentative MacPhee nor the intimidating Miss Ironwood are married, although Ransom at one point jokes that if they continue fighting he might be forced to marry them. One gets the strong sense that Miss Ironwood is in love with Ransom, but it is a chaste love which she understands will never be consummated.

On the Belbury side, we have no married couples. Fairy Hardcastle is portrayed as an unnatural woman with mannish habits. She likes her subordinates to be fluffy girly girls; she is less Pussy Galore than Rosa Klebb. The scientist Filostrato is described as a eunuch. But then there are the natives of Sulva, which we call the Moon. Filostrato earlier described how the inhabitants of the Moon had almost succeeded in purging their sphere of biological life forms. In Merlin’s riddle challenge with Ransom, we learn that the people of Sulva practice “cold marriages”, where couples mate not with each other, but with artificial surrogates; and that children are incubated in artificial wombs. Merlin lumps birth control in with these other “practices of Sulva”; as being unnatural.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel that both Merlin and Lewis are being needlessly dogmatic here, and if Dorothy Sayers were writing the book she would have done things much differently. This section never fails to take me completely out of the story.

Merlin grudgingly allows that Jane will not be decapitated; one of the many aspects of the 20th Century he has difficulty grasping. But despite his bloodthirsty impulses, he is not on the Enemy’s side. The tale of his being the offspring of a demon he calls a lie. He has always been on the side of Heaven, and he is willing to serve the present Pendragon.

Mark continues grappling with his conscience. He is more convinced than ever that wants no part of the N.I.C.E., but he keeps finding his thoughts slipping back into old habits and familiar patterns. In this Lewis is a little more realistic than some of his latter-day admirers, who claim that once you have your Moment of Conversion you are Heaven Bound. Lewis had enough difficulty with his own conversion to know it isn't that easy. Mark has a vague sense that it ought to be, though, and that he ought to be rewarded for finally resolving to Do The Right Thing. It seems unfair of the Universe that he keeps sliding back.

Frost now institutes a new phase of Mark’s initiation; one designed to break down his preconceptions. He is taken to a special room, called the “Objective Room” where everything, by design, is just a little bit off. Mark quickly realizes the point of all this; Frost wants to break him of preconceived notions of Good and Bad by immersing him in an environment where nothing is regular and everything is just slightly crooked. He puts Mark through exercises where he is made to perform pointless, silly, but non-normative actions. Mark plays along with Frost’s little games because he sees little else he can do, but the whole farce does the exact opposite of what Frost intends: it helps solidify Mark's idea that there is Normal and there is Abnormal and he wants to be on the side of Normality.

He is aided in this by an unexpected ally. The mysterious stranger whom Wither mistook for Merlin has been put in the same sleeping quarters as Mark. It turns out that the man is a tramp. He hasn't spoken to Wither and Frost, because they keep talking to him in Latin so he assumes that they’re foreigners. The man seems a cheerful fatalist, who takes being a prisoner in stride. It seems that the night before a fellow came across the tramp and somehow commanded him to give him his clothing -- the real Merlin. Mark has difficulty understanding what the man says, and the man understands as little of Mark; but Mark comes to regard him as an ally against Wither and Frost. And in a way, Mark has finally become the Ultimate Insider. After all, he now possesses a secret that both Wither and Frost would dearly love to have, and he has become friends with a man whose intimacy they desire.


NEXT:  The Gods Descend; Dinner at Belbury, and Venus Comes to St. Anne’s

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Milwauke Nexus Game Fair

Summer Game Convention Returns to Milwaukee
Nexus Game Fair Event Registration Begins May 12th, 8:00pm CST

MILWAUKEE, WIThis Sunday is Mother’s Day and Nexus Game Fair is encouraging everyone to spend the day showing their love, respect and appreciation for all mothers. But on Monday, May 12th, Nexus wants you back thinking about summer convention gaming, and to be ready for the start of Event Registration!

Nexus Game Fair has over 400 individual events on their schedule, with a great variety of events spanning across the entire show. From role-playing games to miniatures and collectible card games to board games, there is certain to be something for everyone to enjoy. All events at Nexus are free, once you have registered for a badge, and there will even be tournaments for Magic the Gathering and Netrunner that offer great prizes!

Nexus Game Fair has an impressive list of industry special guests attending, who will be hosting panels and special events throughout the show. The complete list includes:
  • Jolly Blackburn (Knights of the Dinner Table)
  • Mike Carr (Dawn Patrol)
  • Chris Clark (Inner City Games Designs)
  • Dave “Zeb” Cook (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition)
  • Jeff Easley (Staff Artist, TSR, Inc.)
  • Todd Fisher (Revolution & Empire)
  • Matt Forbeck (Deadlands)
  • Kenneth Hite (Trail of Cthulhu)
  • Tim Kask (Dragon Magazine)
  • Dave Kenzer (Hackmaster)
  • James Lowder (Author, Prince of Lies)
  • Matt McElroy (Drive Thru RPG)
  • Frank Mentzer (Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set)
  • Merle Rasmussen (Top Secret)
  • Lester Smith (Dark Conspiracy)
  • Monica Valentinelli (Firefly RPG)
  • James M. Ward (Gamma World)
  • Rob Wieland (Line Developer, Firefly RPG)
  • Skip Williams (Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition)

Nexus Game Fair will be hosting a massive board games library, which consists of nearly 1,100 unique titles. The library, free to attendees, is being provided and run by the Milwaukee Company of Gamers (MilCoG), an association of gamers located throughout Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

“We’re excited to bring summer convention gaming back to Milwaukee,” says Event Manager Harold Johnson, the former director of Gen Con in Milwaukee. “It’s been 12 years since Gen Con left the city and Milwaukee is eager to become a summer destination for gamers once again.”

Nexus Game Fair runs Thursday, June 19th, through Sunday, June 22nd. A 4-day badge for the convention is $45, and the convention hotel, the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center, is offering a special rate of $99 per night for show attendees. Only a few rooms remain, so be sure to make your reservation soon!

For more information and to register for the show, please visit http://www.nexusgamefair.com

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

THE DEMON from DC Comics

Yarva Demonicus Etrigan.
Muta immutat accidens.
Liberum autem princeps illis in aeternum damnati sint.
Libera est a carne, ut in luto.
Fervescere faciet sanguinem in medio ignis.
Et egressus abiit in forma hominis est,
Surge, et dæmonium Etrigan!


DC Comics has a character created by Jack Kirby called the Demon.  Etrigan was a demon from Hell, bound to Earth through alliances and blood from Merlyn, and Jason Blood, humans who were cursed to be his human partners.

The comics are fabulous and have only been partially reprinted from the single issues.  And I hope that my offering them here will inspire you to seek them out, or to suggest to DC to reprint the various series that have yet to be reprinted.

Matt Wagner's 1987 4 issue series of the Demon is beautiful and self contained.  It should be reprinted, simply for the beauty and historicity of the work.



Strangely, while other people rave over the work of Wagner in Grendel, and Mage, and various other works, to me his excellence shown brightest in Demon.

Alan Grant and Val Semeiks wrote dark comedy with Demon in a very wonderful series in the 1990s.  That it has not been reprinted is criminal, diabolical, even, say, demonic.  Oh that was not even funny.   I firmly recommend finding the series, it is good in every way.


DC could make a lot of money by mining the good materials it has, instead of regurgitating the properties it has that it obviously believes people want more of.  But does anyone need more Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman saving the planet?  To whatever extent they are good or not, they've been done.

But that is just my opinion.


Change! Change, O form of man!
Release the might from fleshy mire!
Boil the blood in heart of fire!
Gone! Gone! — the form of man —
Rise, the Demon Etrigan!!

Monday, May 5, 2014

MALTA COMIC CON 2014


For Immediate Release
A lot of people have commented that the Malta Comic Convention 2013 was one of the best shows they have ever been to. If you were there, chances are we’re quoting you! And if you missed it you can be part of the awesomeness this time round. Following the fun filled success that was the Malta Comic Con 2013, Wicked Comics are proud to announce that the 6th edition of the annual Malta Comic Con will be held on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th November! The show will once again be held at St. James Cavalier in Valletta, the capital city of Malta. The venue was originally a bastion (part of the fortifications of the City) constructed by the Knights Hospitallers which was later converted to a wicked Art’s and Creativity Centre.

Way back in 2009 when we gave Malta its first ever comic convention our goal was that in 5 years we establish the show as one of the biggest, awesome and genuinely anticipated festivals on the Island. The amazing response we received last year (were we almost doubled the attendees of the previous year, amongst which was the Honourable Dr. Joseph Muscat the Prime Minister of Malta) confirmed that we achieved this goal. Consequently, we are proud to say that the Malta Comic Convention is now a credible destination for both professionals working in the industry and for those who have the comic culture at heart. We would like to thank all the many people who have helped us make this possible and promise to deliver another explosive family oriented event this year” said Chris Le Galle co-founder of Wicked Comics.

So keep the dates free for 2 more days of fun for everyone! Fans can look forward to feeling that amazing rush of meeting with their favourite creators who are always happy to chat, sign and sketch for their fans. Complementing the killer roster of guests will be a number of up and coming creators from abroad as well as the best local creators on the Island promoting work. The official Malta Comic Con Cosplay competition is being revamped so people can once again look forward to meeting all those lovely people in a plethora of different shiny costumes. The video game area will once again be buzzing with activity and the fan favourite competitions will also be returning. There will also be more table top gaming that there has ever been before. Free movies and animations will be running in the in house cinema for the duration of the show. Fans can also look forward to much more exciting activities such as work shops, informative and entertaining talks, Q&As and discussion panels! And rounding all of will be a number of mind blowing exhibitions. There will be something for everyone!


As customary Wicked Comics have designed a number of packages for fans wishing to travel to the Malta Comic Con from abroad, which include heavily discounted accommodation rates and local transport from hotel to convention centre. Similarly Wicked Comics have a number of packages tailored for foreign creators who whish to exhibit at the Malta Comic Con including heavily discounted tables.

Anyone wishing to know more about these packages, and local creators/retailers wishing to exhibit at the Malta Comic Con 2014 are kindly requested to email us for more details on info@maltacomic-con.com

For more details kindly visit: http://www.maltacomic-con.com

Testimonial from the much acclaimed comic writer and Malta Comic Con 2013 guest Ales Kot:
"I enjoyed my stay at the Malta Comic Con. It's a show that is finding itself -- and observing the process, and being able to help with it a little, has been an adventure in itself. The enthusiasm and focus of the organizers is inspiring. I believe in the Malta Comic Con, and I wish them my best." (Ales Kot, 2014).