Monday, 27 July 2009

Literary Section XIV - "You and the Land Are One". what Percival said to King Arthur after the completion of the Grail Quest, in the 1981 movie, "Excalibur", featuring a phenomenal cast of actors, such as Helen Mirren (Morgana!), Liam Neeson (Sir Gawain), Gabriel Byrne (Uther Pendragon), Patrick Stewart (Sir Leodegrance) and classic legendary actor Nicol Williamson (Merlin).

Today's post refers to this particular movie (which I watched when I was entirely too young to meet the age restrictions and my parents enitrely ignorant of its specific content, when I asked for it in VHS) only by association to the latest book I read and then only throught this particular phrase. The book is "Voice of the Fire", by Alan Moore (author of "Watchmen", "V for Vendetta", "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", "From Hell" and other such masterpieces) and I bought it several months (maybe even a year) before I entertained any thoughts of starting to read it. That's just how it is with me: I keep accumulating interesting things I mean to read, which I pile upon the previous bunch of such interesting things and so on and so forth. However, I eventually get there, especially when - by necessity of work deadlines and bad time management - I cloister myself at home: there is only so much one can do between 6-hour work intervlas of translating "hard science for the masses" (read the beginning of the article for more details).

At any rate, when the work-seclusion started, I needed something to relax my brain from all the science and yet keep my thought processes alert enough to get into the flow of work, to get used to seeing so many words fly by my eyes so quickly. Hence, I first picked up Neil Gaiman's and Michael Reaves's "Interworld", which will be covered in a different post: it flew by effortlessly and even with my limited available reading time, it was gone in a little less than a week and it had enough cosmological and scientific references which, though helpful to my necessary thought processes, prevented it from being as relaxing as it would otherwise have been. I needed something else...

Alan Moore's writing has come to be perceived, almost by definition, as very deep and hard to understand. I have personally received the comment: "What?! You're reading Alan Moore? No way dude, he's faaaar too complicated for me: I cannot stand him." That was a comment provoked by the author's graphic work, along with Eddie Campbell, entitled "A Disease of Language". Funny enough, I have not had the time to read that particular volume just yet, but I believe we are dealing with a genuine case of "deceiving appearances". Alan Moore IS deep and no question about it, since all of his works have been hailed as masterpieces, at least in the comic book domain, for which he has been rewarded with non-resolvable contract fine-print and a number of bad movie adaptations (I believe that, despite its stellar cast, "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" was by far the worst, tantamount to ridicule). As for being far too complex and hard to read, I would have to say that it's a rather inaccurate statement: I believe it would be more correct to say that Alan Moore's works, especially when not aided by the imagery of the comics medium, require that the reader becomes interlocutor, instead of passive (even though captive) audience.

It was something that I realized while reading this, his first work I have come across that is not in comic book form (I believe that "Alan Moore's Writing for Comics" does not really count in this instance). "Voice of the Fire" is many things: a novel in 12 chapters, 12 linked short stories, 12 iconic personalities and imagined characters from the area that is now Northampton. However and not presuming to understand the mindscape of Alan Moore (although I HAVE watched Dez Vylenz's documentary), I believe the point is a space/time testimony beginning with a half-wit neolithic boy, passing through Roman rule and decline, the time surrounding the arrest of Guy Fawkes, the Burning Times, the Victorian Era and reaching 1995, which sports the writer himself at the center-stage.

All 12 personalities, real, or assumed, or completely imagined, speak in the first person, through the lips of the author. Through their eyes we see how Hob's Hog and Bridge-in-Valley became Ham Town and in time Hampton, how the relics, both physical and metaphysical shifted, moved, were redistributed and yet remained with each people of the land, how the 2500 BC forge became Hammersmith Train Station, how - in the end - the land and the people and the tales, the blood, the violence, the sex are one: oh, they may change form but are never lost, a kind of "Conservation of Legacy", much like the indomitable Conservation of Energy. Each story is told in the appropriate way, whether half-witted neolithic thoughts, mad diary ramblings or last thoughts as the fire licks tender flesh. This is a book of themes and symbols pervading Alan Moore's hometown, as only an honest-to-(whatever) God Shaman can perceive and accept them.

There is no glossing over here: humanity has persevered through fear, murder and sex, as much as it has through imagination, ingenuity and creativity. Alan Moore not only presents a profound understanding of this, both instinctive and researched, but he doesn't try to put himself on the outside either: the last chapter may well have been an entry from his personal journal, where nothing is left unsaid, where he smirks ironically at his own reflection and that of his family and friends, all descendants in underlying nature, if not in fact, of the previous 11 protagonists, the whole lot of them, past, present and future, birthed from the fertile, wet nether regions of the Northampton land.

I cannot really say much more without referring the entirety of the book and there are even parts I had to reread in order to make sure the connections I saw were not imagined. Was it hard to read? Not really, not apart from the first chapter, which was no more difficult that a conversation with a retarded child would be: the language also changes from chapter to chapter, to reflect the era and is in itself a journey of discovery, as things unknown at first, start to gradually make sense. It also becomes clear that the historical research was arduous, what with the book being nearly 300 pages, having been written over a span of 5 years and first published in 1995.

Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie.

If I wanted to draw a general conclusion from this book, it would be this: however hard we may try to forget and strike from record what has come before, the land never forgets and it seeds our dreams, our fears and our superstitions with the clues to the truth. Whether we want to ignore them or not and what might the consequences of each action be, is a matter that we cannot hope to resolve - merely accept, if our mind is open enough.

Remember, for if memory is a river, the more debris you drop in, trying to stem its flow, the more disastrous the flood when the dams break,


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