8 Things About Jerusalem, Part 2

This is about Mansoul, the second book of Alan Moore’s Jerusalem. If you missed part 1, you can read it here. There might be spoilers for Book 1, but I won’t spoil Book 3.

  1. Unlike Part 1, this section has a single linear narrative, albeit with multiple voices. Little Mick Warren, choking on a cough sweet, finds himself in a kind of afterlife. However, it’s not linear from our perspective of time; the characters jump around from era to era of Northampton’s history. This includes interactions with many of the characters from Part 1, sometimes during the chapters from Part 1.
  2. This section really needs an editor. It’s rather repetitive in places, with several whole sections repeated in their entirety. Not only that, but there are a bunch of chapters which don’t seem to serve any narrative purpose at all. Like going to see Oliver Cromwell for like 50 pages. I was flicking forward to see how long I had to go on several occasions, and that’s a shame because when the book is good, it’s great, but there are definitely bits that are hard work.
  3. It is very literary, in the sense that it reads like a book, a fantasy story, maybe for kids. And just as Mansoul is a bigger, brighter, more mythical version of the Boroughs, this is a bigger, brighter and more mythical version of a children’s book. In fact, it later emerges that it is, in fact, a book, albeit one being written by one of the characters in it. Because all time exists at the same time, the events unfolding are already recorded in a book written by one of the characters which is well-known to the other denizens of Mansoul. This theme will recur later, but I can reveal no more for risk of spoilers.
  4. I was right about there being a present-day plot emerging in the early chapters, revolving around Marla, the young meth addict and prostitute who appeared in chapter 2. Her story left off on a cliffhanger, and she reappears here in quite horrifying fashion.
  5. I’m pretty sure that the bird-man from the ‘In the Drownings’ chapter of Voice of the Fire makes a cameo appearance here. Which means Jerusalem is a crossover. And if we consider that Showpieces takes place in a mythical Northampton, mostly in Jimmy’s End, mentioned here in Jerusalem… are we looking at the emergence of a Mooreverse? Or more accurately, a Moorehampton?
  6. The Dead Dead Gang, our central characters for this section, are an archetype. The Bow Street Irregulars spring immediately to mind, or Oliver Twist’s gang or the orphans from Annie…. At the same time, though, another striking parallel is with Little Nemo in Slumberland. In fact, this would be Moore’s third time riffing on it, after Promethea’s ‘Little Margie’ sections, and Big Nemo from last year’s Electrocomics project. This is particularly clear in the An Asmodeus Flight chapter, and Moore’s own illustration on the cover. And in fact, Windsor McCay makes an appearance later on.
  7. At the same time, there are hints of further connections between the Dead Dead Gang and the cast of Book 1 – John’s secret about Alma’s uncle Jack’s death; Bill’s relationship with Alma and Warry; the nature of the relationship between rabbit-garlanded Phyllis Painter and young Bill, who we suppose to be her little brother.
  8. For all they supposedly don’t get on, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison sure do have some similar ideas. The magic thing, for one. The motif of seeing time from outside happens often (Superman Beyond, Promethea), and that from that angle human lives look like worms thing that comes up multiple times here was part of the climax of Morrison’s The Invisibles. More than that, though, the motif of being uncertain which is reality and which is the dream, and discovering that one is unwittingly at the centre of world-shattering events, was the set-up for Moore’s recent Joe the Barbarian series, one of his better recent miniseries.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.

Part Three, Vernall’s Inquest, coming soon. And boy, is there a lot to talk about…

8 Thoughts about Alan Moore’s Jerusalem – Part 1

Alan Moore’s second novel, Jerusalem, was published in September 2016. It was ten years in the writing and weighs in at 1100 pages (allegedly making it the 10th longest English-language novel). Like his debut, The Voice of the Fire (highly recommended, by the way), Jerusalem again focuses on Moore’s hometown of Northampton, although this time the focus is tightened even further to the area in which he grew up, known as The Boroughs. The historical detail is all factual, and it would seem that many of the characters are drawn from Moore’s own family.

There is so much in this to talk about that I am going to follow the book’s tripartite structure, and write a post for each of Jerusalem’s three sections (it is actually available as a three-volume slipcase edition). This post is on Book 1, titled The Boroughs, and so probably won’t spoil much, as I haven’t read further yet myself.

1. Short Story Structure

As with Voice of the Fire, the first section of Jerusalem is essentially a collection of short stories. These are apparently self-contained – at least at first. The historical sweep is not so grand; Voice of the Fire starts in 10,000 BCE whereas Jerusalem only goes back to the early Medieval period, with a pilgrim arriving at the centre of England carrying a cross from Jerusalem. Here, the characters are more recent: we meet an 18th-century painter restoring the roof of St. Paul’s; a drug-addicted teenage prostitute; a black American immigrant with a bicycle with rope for tyres; and hinting at things to come, a ghost. As it progresses, it becomes clear that many of the characters are members of two families, the Warrens and the Vernalls.

2. Stylistic Experimentation

This first section is relatively free of the kind of stylistic experimentation which was a part of Voice of the FireThe Black Dossier and the latter parts of Promethea. There are clearly different voices, but on the whole, the prose is very accessible. If anything, the progression is from a very plain, contemporary mode towards more stylised chapters like Snowy Vernall’s rooftop soliloquy, but nowhere do we have the dense ‘adventures in style’ that punctuated The Black Dossier.

3. Alan is Alma

It seems that much of the historical material in Jerusalem are drawn from Moore’s family, and indeed the central events of the overall narrative – four-year-old Michael Warren’s several minutes of lifelessness after choking on a cough sweet – happened to Moore’s brother Michael. But in Jerusalem, Michael’s elder sibling is a girl named Alma. Nevertheless, Alma is clearly Alan (and the caption on the photograph on the dust jacket tells you so), and he paints quite a coruscating portrait of himself, downplaying his success, and frequently mocking his physical appearance.

Ironically, gender-swapping characters has become a feature of the mainstream comics and superhero movies of which Moore is famously ‘less than keen’.

4. Leitmotif

There are the usual vocal tics (think of Rorschach’s “hurm” or William Gull’s “I just made a little sound”), the most obvious being the drunk’s “Ah ha ha ha ha!” There is also a sort of meta-language mentioned several places, described as “unfolding” in the brain once heard (ironically, something which Grant Morrison also played with in The Invisibles). But here the most obvious use of leitmotif is visual. The image of the arms being raised, the various uses of “corner”, the repeating circular pattern of the Bedlam Jennies, and so on. This reminds us that Moore was an artist first – and drew the book’s cover – and despite the lack of illustration here, Jerusalem is still a very visual piece.

5. Leave it to the Prose

Moore’s comics of the 1980s were famed for their long captions of purple prose, and while this feature disappeared from his comics in the 1990s, his descriptive skill is very much in evidence here. As with the previous point, these are often visual, but there is also a playful and sometimes course sense of humour at play. A couple of random examples… “She’d loitered, liminal, in libraries, skulked spectrally in sitting rooms and crept, crepuscular, through classes”; “the grat majority of men found Alma to be ‘generally alarming’ in the words of one aquaintance, or ‘a fucking menopausal nightmare’ in the blunter phrasing of another, although even this was said in what seemed almost an admiring tone”; “all the world with its shining marble hours, its lichen centuries and fanny-sucking moments all at once, his every waking second constantly exploded to a thousand years of incident and fanfare, an eternal conflagration of the senses where stood Snowy Vernall, wide-eyed and unflinching at the bright carnival heart of his own endless fire”.

6. Time is a Dimension

As suggested by that last quote, Moore is again playing with the idea of time as a dimension. Characters like Snowy Vernall and the Deathmonger seem aware of past and future, and the chronological sprawl of the chapters seems to link all times together with hints of some grander narrative. As with Watchmen‘s wonderful Dr Manhattan sequence, Moore suggests that all of time is as set as space, completely demolishing the idea of Free Will. This will become even more apparent in the second book, however.

7. When Narratives Collide

Despite the numerous narrators across several centuries, there are nevertheless hints that those set in the present day will come together in some event. Indeed, it seems that they all take place on the evening of Alma’s exhibition, anticipated in the prologue, and which is also mentioned by other characters. For example, Marla, a teenage prostitute and addict is mentioned at least three times in later chapters, being seen by other characters and being mentioned in a conversation between four angels. It seems likely that these characters will come back into play in the third and final book.

8. A Plot!

Only in the final chapter of this part does the de facto plot begin, although it was discussed in the prologue – Michael Warren’s choking on a cough sweet, aged four, his subsequent several minutes of apparent death, and the memories of where he went during those minutes, newly recovered following a bump on the head in his 50s. And so we move into Book 2…

Work in Progress

From the roof of the University of the Sorbonne, the gargoyles heard the insistent, contented sound that drifted up from the cafés and restaurants. They had watched the city destroyed and rebuilt, time and again; the bloodshed of the Terror, the anarchy of the Commune, the industrial destruction of the Great War. The streets changed, but the spirit of the city remained, the noise a consistent background. They kept their own stony, silent council.

But tonight, among the frozen poses of the statuary, a figure is moving. As the bright full moon grinned indulgently down, it approaches a stained glass window which, at a casual glance, looks firmly closed. Yet there is just enough of a gap to get a finger in, and he swings it slowly, carefully, open, and enters. From the window, the top of a bookshelf is just reachable. With his back against the wall, gripping the mounting of an inoperative gas-lamp, he leans out across the gap, straining with his left foot towards the shelf. He knows that, if he stumbles, the guards will be on him like lightning. There is a brief moment of panic as he releases his weight from the lamp, but then his foot found purchase on the shelf. Releasing a breath he doesn’t even know he was holding in, he shimmies easily down the shelves like climbing a ladder, to the floor.

“Fortune and glory, Rene,” it whispers.

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Dreamscapes into Darkness

Enter at your Own Risk: Dreamscapes into Darkness will be published on April 25th by Firbolg Publishing. It’s an anthology of classic and modern Gothic tales, and my The Story of Alfred Maus is included.

Here’s how it begins:

On the morning of his fifty-third birthday, Frances Maus gave her husband a sincere kiss and a subscription to the world’s five oldest literary magazines, as was their custom. Alfred surprised her by beginning to sob quietly into his tea. Mediocre tears of timid desperation rolled down his face and sploshed onto the Times crossword.

“Alfred, what’s wrong? This is not like you.”

“I’ve left it too long,” he said, sniffing loudly.

“What do you mean, Alfred?”

“My writing. It’s too late. I’m never going to be able to write anything.”

Mrs. Maus, having been in love with a Post Office Assistant for almost thirty years now and never with a writer at all, sighed and rubbed his quivering back. “You just have to start getting it down, Alfred. Get some practice in.”

He peered up at her through steamed, circular lenses. “There’s no point writing anything if it’s not going to be good enough. There’s so much dross out there already. So much vacuous verbiage, echoing emptily in the earhole of eternity.” His voice was like wet gravel.

“Do you think that whoever it was that painted the Mona Lisa did it the first time they picked up a brush?” she asked. “Are any of your favorite books the first thing that the author ever wrote?”

“What do you know of literature, Frances?”

“Maybe nothing,” his wife replied, and looked across the breakfast table, the spotless crockery, the tea and toast and marmalade made just the way he liked them. “But I know a damn site more than you do about life, and about getting things done.”

A multitude of paths lead off from these words in every direction

I know that Christmas etc is supposed to be a time for relaxing and enjoying the company of the family, but I don’t enjoy relaxing and, being to a large degree a house-husband, I have a surplus of family time already. Which is to say that I was happy to get back into my work routine. So much so that I had a hugely productive week of ticking off immanent and overdue projects.

As well as doing a fair bit to prepare the Religious Studies Project for the coming year, I had a lot to do to bring two editorial projects into line – my co-edited book with Chris Cotter, “After World Religions”, and a special edited volume of Nova Religio (the journal of New and Emergent Religions) on “conspiracy theories and alternative religion”, which it occurs to me I haven’t yet blogged on. But I shall, as both must be finished by Feb 28th. I also made significant progress on two newer projects, which I shall announce as and when I have a contract, for fear of jinxing.

In terms of fiction, I wrote a fair bit on my YA novella, set in Paris and Iraq in 1919. It’s currently sitting at 18.5k, with a target of 35k-ish. But I deleted quite a bit too, so I actually wrote more than it seems… But still, I am determined to get the draft finished so I can move onto something else.

Recent reading:

  • The Mystery of Farholt – I enjoyed this quite a bit, even though I’m not much of a Fantasy fan. It seems very ‘genre’ at first, with a motley group of ‘types’ travelling across country, but don’t be fooled. It’s actually a pretty subtle character piece, and none of the characters are exactly the ‘type’ you think. There are a series of well-constructed reveals towards the end which made me want to read the next in the series, and one in particular which is a pretty clever deconstruction of the conventions of the genre. Recommended.
  • Rivers of London, David Aaronovich – I enjoyed this too, although I found the tone odd. It is a police procedural with a Potteresue supernatural angle, but told in a somewhat comedic style which reminded me of Sue Townsend. So, I suppose it’s closest to Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently novels – and that is a compliment – or Gaiman’s American Gods, which is less so. The writing is impressively effortless, and frequently funny, but punctuated with some horrific moments. But the strongest moments are character beats, and less so the plot, so I’m not sure if I’ll proceed to the other volumes in the series.

 

The Blackford Folly, Part 5

Something I recognised crouched by the Treasure. The powerful reptilian legs and clawed arms. The thick black spidery hairs sprouting from farthing-sized pores. The dead gaze from full-moon eyes.

Willie fell dead on the cold stone floor. MacGregor fell to his knees and began to babble fearfully. Elias just stared at the profane creature, mouth gaping, feet glued to the floor.

The Treasure was a gate between worlds, I realised suddenly. The creature had travelled through it and was dazed by the journey. But it was going to wake up, and it probably wouldn’t be friendly.

On the night the Laird read to us from The Clavicle of Moses, hose many years ageo, the book I held tightly to my chest, he had given one passage particular emphasis. “If ever you go too far,” he’d said, and we’d laughed heartily at the idea. “I know what intelligent, curious young men are like,” he insisted. “If ever you summon, by accident, that which you cannot put down, then remember this.” He held up his right hand: the index finger extended up, the middle finger pointed forward, and the thumb was out to the left, making three right angles. His comically portentous seriousness burned the image onto my impressionable mind. “The sign of the N’beros. If you remember only one thing, then remember this. If it doesn’t work, nothing will.”

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The Blackford Folly, Part 4

An hour later, Elias, MacGregor and I stood before the Folly in silent awe, the terrier Willie snuffling blindly around our feet. Its south and east faces were lit brightly by the moon, their opposites cast in shadows of purest pitch. All but the sharpest lines of the imposing structure were black, as though no light was reflected off the rock, but rather absorbed; perhaps providing some sort of power to the interior, current for ancient circuits.

What was this building? What were we to find within? The moon was stark and bright, and I shuddered as I recalled that hideous eye I had glimpsed through the gloom. All at once, the absolute terror of the situation struck me like a hurricane, and I wished to be back in my study.

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The Blackford Folly, Part 3

We both knew the basic story, as does everyone in Scotland with a taste for history or mystery: the First Laird, Jacques Lindsay, returned from the Fourth Crusade in 1205, to take up the lands bequeathed to him by the King. He was, it seems, suddenly enormously wealthy, and began to spend like a pope. The original Blackford House was an example of his flamboyance; an elaborate, pinnacled Gothic construction that was to collapse three centuries later. There, he threw lavish parties, and soon became well-known in society. Through his contacts, he even gained some political influence in Hollyrood. Finally, in 1221, King William made him his Lord Chancellor.

Inevitably, dark mutterings began to circulate; Jacques Lindsay had some secret that gave him his power and wealth. The most stubborn of these was that he had uncovered a treasure of some kind, a relic of a famous saint, perhaps, in Constantinople. Others have suggested that it was a secret document that he uncovered, one that would give him political or religious leverage, perhaps even blackmail. Jacques joked to his friends about a fabulous treasure hidden in the Lindsay estate, but none has ever been found.

Whatever the truth, Jacques Lindsay died in 1243, and took his secret to the grave with him. Title, house, money, estate; all were passed down through the generations, from father to son. Except for that one thing: the nature of the Treasure.

The study of George Lindsay, Laird of Blackford, was situated at the very apex of the tower in the southwest end of the House, where it commanded a spectacular panoramic view of the estate. The valley crept around the House from the west, cutting a swathe through the land. Due north, just visible through yellow-flowered gorse bushes, lay the Folly. The weather had grown belligerent, and heavy clouds were sharply outlined as they hurried across the sky. The dramatic vista was curtailed as Elias hastily drew the heavy curtains.

The walls of the circular room were lined with towering bookshelves piled high with antique books. Somewhere among them was a black cloth-bound copy of The Key Mosaic, also known as The Clavicle of Moses, a book so rare that many take it to be a mere legend. The Laird had once even gone so far as to give us a surreptitious look at his centuries-old copy. I had a sudden pang of regret that I would no longer know the eccentric old man with his smiling, piercing eyes, who had indulged my hungry mind over the years.

My eyes wandered around the room, taking in the objects d’art dotted about on the shelves. They betrayed the exquisite taste of their absent owner – a carving in pinkish, almost translucent soapstone of a reclining Buddha, an intricate brass sextant, the Golden Spiral of a nautilus’ shell. However, a coarse bust of the cheapest plaster of Paris caught my eye. It was of a grinning fat man’s face, painted in gaudy colours with no subtlety or care. It simply did not belong.

I beckoned Elias over to the desk, and opened the topmost of a stack of notebooks. Scraps of paper marked the important pages. The page open before us was a hand-drawn map of the valley, shown in meticulous detail.

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The Blackford Folly, Part 2

I awoke late in the morning, with a terrible headache. Holding my head against the pain that the sharp light of day brought, streaming in through tiny leaded windows set in walls two feet deep, I rose and began to dress. At first I took the curious images which were beginning to return to my mind as no more than a nightmare. How likely was it that no one else would respond to the piercing howls of the dogs? Perhaps, I mused, I had suffered a bout of somnambulism, brought on by the unusually fine whiskey.

As I stooped to comb my hair in the mirror, Mrs. MacGregor knocked upon the bedroom door. At my beck she entered, bearing a tray of porridge, crumpets, marmalade and rich-smelling coffee. Her decrepit terrier Willie trotted in behind, and began to snuffle blindly around. I bid her good morning, and thanked her profusely, not having noticed until that moment the cramps of hunger that gripped my stomach.

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The Blackford Folly, Part 1

[A seasonal gift for you. I remembered about this story I published in Dark Tales, back in 2006. But it’s kind of long, so I thought I could break it up, as a serial. But it’s also a little… old-fashioned – it’s kind of my version of Lovecraft crossed with Walter Scott. Perfect for the holidays! One part every day until the 30th. Enjoy.]

I write this account because I know that soon, when the police knock on my door, with pale faces and many questions, I will not be able to explain clearly what happened. They will have put all the facts together, but will refuse to believe what is laid bare before them, as at first I did. Sooner or later, the terrifying elegance of the truth will be clear and they will call on me to explain it away, that they might return home to their wives and children without that blackness that by then lies so heavily upon their hearts. I won’t be able to, but perhaps by setting down this account while the events are clear in my mind I may be able to clarify a few of the finer details of the case.

But I will not be able to locate George or Elias Lindsay.

It began a little over a week ago. George Lindsay, Laird of Blackford, had disappeared: he retired late after a nightcap of whiskey, as was his custom, and had not been seen since. Nothing apparently was amiss in his chambers; his clothes, excepting those he had been wearing and an Inverness cape, were all hung in his wardrobes as normal, and his papers lay spread out on his desk as though he had been interrupted at his work. There was no sign of a break-in, nor did the staff hear anything curious during the night. Constables from the local constabulary had made as thorough a search as the frequently inaccessible environs would permit, but no body, footprints, nor any other clues were turned up. It seemed as though the Laird had simply melted into the ether.

George Lindsay had been a towering figure to me all of my life. He was my Mother’s Uncle, though due to some odd gaps between generations they were roughly the same age. He was a charming and engaging man, most popular amongst the villagers of Blackford. Furthermore, he was the father of my best friend through all my childhood, Elias Lindsay.

Four days ago, a telegram from Elias arrived. It was rambling and vague, and I became concerned for his well-being. But one thing that was manifest was that he needed me in Blackford. The telegram was a summons. If my friend needed me, I would go.

Listen well as I tell you now – if I had got the merest inkling from my friend’s missive of what I was shortly to be drawn into I should have never left the comfort of my home. Instead I should have urged Elias to board up the House for good and never return. Instead, in my innocence, I sent a telegram to the University, informing them of my absence, and booked a cab for the morning.

From my carriage I watched lambs gambolling in the springtime sun. The pink cherry blossoms and cloudless sky brought to mind the paintings of Constable, and I began to forget the distressing reason for my journey. This pleasant sensation evaporated as we entered Blackford itself. It is said that it was built where two lay-lines cross, and that this is the reason for the distinctive physical and emotional sensations one experiences. The chest becomes tight and the breathing shallow, and it is closely allied with the panic that has been observed to settle over men and beasts alike in the darkest depths of woodland. The carriage slowed as we passed over the crossroads and headed down the hill towards Blackford House.

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