What Is Really Challenging: Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi

The Rise Of Skywalker, supposedly the last of the mainline Star Wars saga is coming soon. And even so, people are still talking about Rian Johnson, and The Last Jedi. Even me. There is something about the eighth Star Wars film, and Rian Johnson’s own responses to fans that I’ve tried to explain, and put into words.

I mean, I even wrote an article for Sequart on The Last Jedi itself, and while it isn’t perfect, I knew the moment I saw it, it was going to become a classic: if only because of how controversial it was, how final it felt, and jarring, and experimental in some ways, while being conventional in others.

Then, I came across this article from IndieWire. It’s title is practically a thesis statement, and it doesn’t hide what it is: Rian Johnson Says Catering to Fans, Rather Than Challenging Them, Is a ‘Mistake.’ This title, combined with the subheading “I want to be shocked, I want to be surprised, I want to be thrown off-guard,” left me with quite a few strong thoughts on the matter, and I want to attempt to communicate them as clearly, and lucidly — as both a writer with critical background, and as a Star Wars fan myself — as much as possible.

A lot of what I am going to write is something that has already been written, or talked about, before. After reading the article, which derives its points from an interview Johnson made, and then states that some critics apparently believe The Rise of Skywalker is “disrespectful” to Johnson, his work, and the originality of what he was attempting to do, I was reminded of something.

In 2015, I took took classes in Ty Templeton’s Comic Book Bootcamp. And, in those classes, we learned many lessons not just about comics writing, but writing, world-building, and even franchise-making and supporting fandoms around it. It wasn’t completely indepth, but there was something Ty mentioned about “supporting a fan club.” Let me try to explain it as best I can recall.

Everyone likes to feel like they belong somewhere. Everyone, to some extent, also likes to feel smart, and informed, and included. Ty taught us about creating emblems, and certain recurring phrases, and the value of “always bringing a character home” each time for each new story or episode: figuratively, and literally. I don’t think about forty or so years, I need to explain how that concept particularly applies to a franchise like Star Wars. But there is something in particular about this that I want to make clear.

A lot of the time, fans will speculate on a work, or details within it. And, sometimes, they will come up with an idea of where something is going to go … and they will actually be either close to it — or completely right. And especially in this Age of Information, these speculations and their conclusions are more accessible and widespread: along with the means of more rapid and open communication.

There is nothing quite like figuring something out, and realizing that you were right. And, while some fans or audience members might be like Rian Johnson and say something like: “‘oh, okay,’ it might make me smile and make me feel neutral about the thing and I won’t really think about it afterwards, but that’s not really going to satisfy me,” there is another contingent that will feel pleased, and enlightened. They might even feel a sense of belonging to that fan club. Of course, you can take that too far as well into the pedantic and condescending, but I think every story has a common source: especially human stories like mythology. Like Star Wars.

Back in ancient times, if you look at Greece, you have plays being created. And everyone knew about Oedipus Rex, Agamemnon, Lysistrata and the like from oral tales but they still watched the plays. The point I’m trying to make is that even if someone does predict a story, or they want something to happen, you can still give it to them … in the way that you want to give it to them. You focus on the details, on the buildup, the pacing of the narrative, on especially the character development. You don’t do it to give the fans what they want when and how they want it. Likewise, you don’t change the story, or the way something is going to happen just to “subvert expectations.” You do it to make a point, or make an interesting twist: to focus on the story itself.

There are a lot of interesting elements in The Last Jedi that I appreciate, such as Johnson’s critique of the cycle of violence in Star Wars itself. There is a bit of preaching and condescension, and the mess that is Canto Bight but there is also the meditations on the Force itself, the stop motion illustrating an ecosystem and circle of life and death, some words about self-actualization, and even a metaphysical look on how to break out of the cycle. Then you have the milking creature, and Luke Skywalker not learning anything after the lessons of thirty years ago when dealing with his nephew.

But all the Star Wars films are flawed in some way. I mean, I don’t even have to go into the Prequels now, do I? Or even some of the questionable decisions about clunkily revamping character origins like Ventress’ or Maul’s in The Clone Wars cartoons.

I can see, for instance, that The Last Jedi was meant to be an Empire Strikes Back as Johnson put it in the article. You have a story and even advertising build up to make you think A New Hope was going to lead to the enemy being defeated in the next film, but then you get that bombshell: only Johnson attempted to do this by subverting tropes and themes in a very heavy-handed, but clever manner.

The problem is, to imagine Yoda stating this point as I did in my other article, cleverness does not always for good storytelling make. And sometimes what some might see as challenging, can also be perceived as condescending.

This is especially true when you consider all the build up and hype towards Rey’s origins, Snoke’s and then … nothing. It’s supposed to show that those expectations are irrelevant and it is the current adventure and the concepts of overcoming war and hatred that matter more, as well as friendship and love being ascendant. But they are particularly abstract concepts. So is the cycle between good and evil, of course, but then we have the other issue.

What changed as a result of The Last Jedi?

Did the concept of war get challenged? Did the Light and the Dark Sides of the Force get scrutinized and be seen beyond a simple binary good verses evil dichotomy? Did Rey and Kylo Ren realize they didn’t have to be enemies and go into a Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis Hegelian dialectic: two opposites meeting to make something new, and challenging for the next film. According to the Indiewire article, as I mentioned critics are annoyed that Johnson’s innovations are seemingly being downplayed to “pander” to fan and fandom expectations for Star Wars in The Rise of Skywalker. However, it was Johnson himself who kept Rey and Kylo Ren on different sides. Rey is still on the Light Side. Kylo Ren is still motivated by the Dark Side. Perhaps they are challenged, as fans are supposedly challenged, but in the end their resolve is more or less the same: except for the regret in Kylo, which doesn’t matter as he continues on from that point until, presumably, the next movie by J.J. Abrams.

I could make a compelling case that Johnson uses the aesthetic or the seeming of innovation and subversion, but really just makes opposite, contrary trope choices that ultimately lead right back to the status quo. And this seeming of change or challenge, doesn’t really change anything. And it wouldn’t if it were simply a standalone film with its own story, but the issue is that it is supposed to be part of a nine film saga arc in which seven of those films said something else entirely. It’s jarring. And it does sometimes feel like he is subverting tropes to make it look clever, instead of actually focusing on character development and working with what came before, and making something cohesive after.

It reminds me of those creators that imitated the style and edginess of Frank Miller and Alan Moore’s comics works, but didn’t really look at the content or spirit of them. I’m also reminded of something EA Games apparently did where, apparently, when some fans figured out a major plot point in the Mass Effect series, the creators went out of the way to change it so as not to seem “unoriginal” or to have people guess their story, and not want to play their game. But they forgot the lesson: that the fandom, in solving that puzzle, would only make it more interesting because even they couldn’t realize all of the details, and it’s one thing to know something — like an ancient Greek tragic story — but it is a whole other thing to see it play out, even with that knowledge or good guessing.

I don’t know. Sometimes, I think that Rian Johnson in how he has dealt with the criticism of his work can be as condescending as some of the fans who also have a tremendous sense of self-entitlement.

Either way, it is all right to like The Last Jedi or this Sequel Trilogy. It is also valid to dislike it. But I do think that if it is ridiculous to think one is insulting a fandom over the change in a film in a forty year old franchise, it is just as silly to believe a writer is being slighted when something else is being written in a different tone from his own work: which is what he did to begin with, and even then he ultimately went right back to where it all started despite that finality of a child with a broom sweeping away the past, readying for the next words to be shown on a screen.

It Came From the Heavens

An old attempt at mythological revisionism, and an alternate history: depending on how you want to view this. It was a gift to my father, and myself. Somehow, I think it appropriate: at least, to my own experience. 

“And every spring,” the old kohen told them, “we celebrate the days of Passover.”

“Isn’t Passover based off of the ancient pagan fertility rituals of spring?”

The old man beamed at the young woman. “I’m glad you asked that. The answer is yes. Spring itself is a renewal of the world’s life cycle. The Elohim created us all: making the times of our lives mirror the seasons of the Earth. We are born in spring, young in summer, in our middle years in autumn, and we pass away in our winter. Many of the ancient pagans saw this truth as well, but they viewed each season and element within it as a god in itself. However, we see it as part of the cycle of all things that the Elohim set in motion.”

“So, kohen, spring isn’t just a time of birth, but rebirth as well?”

“Yes.” The old priest said, reclining back into his pillows. “All life is created and destroyed conversely to allow for life to flourish again.”

“But kohen, we are born, we grow old, and we die … yet we do not come back.”

“That is correct. We live a linear existence. Like you say, we are born, we live, and we die. Yet our world and the generations of us live in a cycle of life, death, and rebirth. We live on through our descendants, our plenitude, and through the dust in which we return we even live through the ecosystems of our world. We now know that in this way we are all eternal.

“When Pharaoh held us — our ancestors — as slaves in Egypt we were stuck in winter: in an endless cycle of toil and suffering that only ended in Death.”

“But kohen, Passover took place in the Desert.”

The priest laughed. “Yes, my child. But the deepest Desert can be as stark as the coldest winter night of all: a place of extremity where life barely survives and that which does is all the sturdier — all the hardier — for it. Yet no thing could live there without the blessing of the Elohim. And we would never have lived at all as we are now without Moses: the King of the Hebrews.

“He was the descendant of Joseph — beloved advisor to Old Pharaoh — descendant of Jacob who took his brother’s birthright, descendant of Isaac who was spared by the Elohim, and descendant of Abram who turned away from the gods of Ur to begin the Elohim’s legacy.

“Though the Patriarchs were great, they had only succeeded in taking Canaan: the Land of Milk and Honey. They made no cities nor did they cultivate the land that was given to us. Eventually, it became fallow and Joseph–who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers — allowed us to live among those that ruled the Egyptians as friends and advisors. Yet the former rulers of the Nile — the Hyksos — were driven away after Joseph’s lifetime and we were made into slaves by the new Egyptian dynasty.

“Moses’ story, you already know. The Pharaoh harboured great fear that a male child of the Hebrew people would overthrow him. Yet while the other baby boys were slaughtered his mother sent him in a basket down the Nile. To this day, the Egyptians believe the Nile to be sacred and that it–and their gods–blessed Moses while others considered him a new incarnation of their hero or their own god. We believe, however, that the Elohim blessed him to begin his work: our work.

“He was found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter: raised and schooled amongst the elite of Egypt while we toiled. Yet blood told and he knew us as his own. After he killed a cruel overseer, Moses fled: fled into the Desert of Egypt’s Lower Kingdom. It was there that the Desert became the crucible that changed him and the Elohim spoke to him through the vessel of the burning bush. From that point on, Moses was transformed. He was not a god, of course, but neither was he completely mortal. Instead, he became a white-haired messenger of the Elohim.

“And so he came back to Egypt and fought its sorcerers with his superior magic. He brought plagues upon the Egyptians when they refused to let his people go. The heir of the Pharaoh–the Prince–attempted to kill Moses and only the tribesmen of his first wife’s people saved him: may their descendants be honoured forever.

“Yet when the final plague killed all the first-born of Egypt — young and old and including the wicked Prince — the Pharaoh realized his mistake. He and his own priests believed that Moses was not only the incarnation of their Horus, or a demigod (of which we do not believe), he also proved himself by the divinity surrounding him and his cause to be the rightful heir of Egypt.

“Thus Pharaoh released the Hebrews from bondage and gave Moses the Blue Crown. They executed the most wicked of the slavers, overseers, and those who defied Moses as Pharaoh. Yet the Egyptians were allowed to keep their ways — their own understanding of the Elohim — while they were also allowed to adopt ours as well. Men and women were honoured — as they are today — as vital aspects of the Elohim. Yet this in itself was not good enough for Moses: our King.

“And hence the true story of the Exodus. Moses remembered his promise to the Elohim and his people. He decided to reclaim the land of Canaan — the Land of Milk and Honey — that we abandoned centuries ago. He took an entire Egyptian host and all those among us that he raised and trained. It was during this long time that he created the Sacred Code of Conduct that we live by — the Twenty Commandments — to make us stronger and more disciplined.

“Yet even the might of all Egypt and Hebrew combined could not withstand the intense heat of the Desert for long. Even when Moses parted the Dead Sea with his power, there was still much distance to travel even by Chariot. Our crude travel flatbread ran out almost as soon as our drinking water. Many soldiers and people died. Weapons cannot be held under the intense heat of the sun. Shields cannot protect burning skin. Riches cannot in themselves slate parched throats.

“It was only when Moses, his brother Aaron and his disciples — when we all of us prayed for deliverance — that the Elohim answered our prayer. Remember, children, he or she that does not recite the Story of Manna has not fulfilled the essential requirement of the Passover ceremony.

“One night, it fell from the heavens. Some say it rained down. Others say that small red birds from paradise itself brought them to us. But whatever the case, our ancestors woke up to find great white flakes coating the ground. Moses ordered us to gather and make from them cakes and breads. And he said that each night as we approached the Land of Milk and Honey, it would rain food, mennu …or as we know it manna. Manna,” the old kohen paused, “was like celestial hoarfrost, snow, or,” his eyes twinkled at the youngest smiling children, “frosting. It is said that it tasted like cookies or wafers of honey; that could be melted and condensed into the sweetest of juices; and that no matter of the form it could also fill a human being’s appetite. Some in the world call manna ambrosia: the nectar of the gods. But we see it as the salvation of our ancestors by the Elohim.

Photo Credit:  The Gathering of the Manna by James Tissot

“Afterwards, there were enough stores of manna to revitalize us, the Egyptians, and their vassals. And we took Canaan and we created a new nation and way of life for the entire world. Yet the story of Passover — the true story — is not how the Shadow of Death passed over the sons of Israel by tyrants or the slaying of the Egyptian first-born and Death sparing our own.

“Rather, the story of Passover is the Story of Manna. And to complete our ritual tonight, look at the feast of Manna bread in front of you and all the food and wine that our ancestors began to run out of in the Desert. Look upon the food of our Judean Empire, eat, drink, be merry, and celebrate life.”

And so the kohen and his disciples looked down at their frosted breads and cakes — at their feast — and they began to eat.

Patronage and Poets in Hell Now On Kindle

Hello everyone. I’d like to make two very important announcements.

I have received my first ever patron on my Patreon account. So let me take some time to publicly thank John Chui for his donation. John, thank you for believing in my writing and my work enough to support me and donate $25 a month to my ambitions.

It really makes a difference. It’s not so much the money, which is always both useful and helpful to have, but the fact that someone respects what I do enough to support me. Not only does it provide a little bit of an impetus, but it reminds me that there are people out there who like my writing and believe it is deserving of payment and recognition. John, you are definitely one of those friends who encourages me to keep doing what I do: even when I get tired. Even when I start to question myself.

You have to start somewhere and thanks to John and in words that he can truly appreciate, I will continue to soldier on. I do still expect a Twine out of you personally at some point, however, so don’t think I’ve forgotten. 🙂

And now, for the second announcement. A little while ago, I told all of you that my short story “When You Gaze Into an Abyss” was accepted in Janet Morris’ book Poets in Hell: part of the Heroes in Hell series. I said that I would update all of you when the book came out.

And so here it is:

The Kindle version of Poets in Hell.

Poets in Hell Kindle

And here is a nice description of what you will find within it should you dare to read it:

Where else but Hell can you join Beowulf, Dorothy Parker, Diomedes, Sappho, John Milton, Robert E. Howard, Odysseus, Caliban, Helen of Troy, and Mary Shelley? Where else but Hell can you adventure with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, e.e. cummings, Nietzsche, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Attila the Hun, Napoleon, David Koresh, Eliott Ness, Marconi, and Plato? Where else but Hell can you find the Jabberwocky, Li Po, Albert Camus, the Sphinx, Frank Nitti, Aeschylus, Goethe, Sycorax, and Merlin all in one place? Where else but Hell can you meet Galatea, Robert Burns, Ghengis Khan, Foster, Solon, and Lemuel Gulliver? Where else could you find Homer, Lilith, Victor Frankenstein and his famous Monster, Edgar Allen Poe, Jimmy Hoffa, and Lord Byron’s dog, Boatswain? In POETS IN HELL, that’s where. BYO pitchfork.

The book version of Poets isn’t ready yet, but for those of you who are eager to read the excellent tales — including my own first-ever published story — please download this Kindle version should you have one.

And if you live in the United States, this entire saga will cost you — aside from your peace of mind and soul — $6.66. I’d say that, all things considered, that is a pretty good deal.

This past while has just been a series of firsts for me. Let me tell you. I’ve seen my name on Amazon before, but only as a reviewer: and that was before I created Mythic Bios and placed the majority of my reviews on here. But it is a whole other experience to see my name on Amazon as an author, and right next to the names of giants: of my fellow diabolical, grandiose, and truly hilarious peers.

I’ve come a long way since that person who knew I had something to say but had little under my name to show that I could truly say it. But this is only the beginning and as I said with regards to my Patreon: you have to start somewhere.

And what better a start than writing from a place in Hell: from the hellfire in my soul, from where all of this truly began. Thank you all for reading this and Following my work. Again, please consider reading, supporting, and spreading the flaming word of POETS IN HELL.

You will not be disappointed.

Kids Games Never Finish: Urasawa Naoki’s 20th Century Boys

Children are excellent at creating mythologies. And some of the mythologies that you make with your friends can affect you for the rest of your lives.

That is one of the first thoughts I probably had when I began reading Urasawa Naoki’s manga series 20th Century Boys. Much in the way that its protagonists struggle to remember all the details of their childhood, I find I’m having difficulty recalling how I even found this series.

I found some of the Viz Media-translated books at the Toronto Public Library and read Books One through Fifteen from 2011 to early 2012. They didn’t have all of them yet and I suspect that some of the books themselves weren’t even translated for purchase during that period. I admit: I was attracted to the simple prototypical white, grey and black elegance and faded colouring of the covers and, of course, the premise on the backs of the books themselves.

Yes, it’s not so much that I judge a comic book by its cover, but more specifically its back cover. And I was also intrigued by context.

It didn’t hurt that 20th Century Boys title is was actually taken from the catchy song 20th Century Boy by a music group called T. Rex, that the twentieth century itself covers so much ground with regards to modern history, and footnotes. Yes, a manga series that has footnotes about Japanese culture and–specifically–manga, anime, television, and geek (or otaku) culture. There’s this special magic in starting off a story of any kind with literary and cultural references: hence the reason why I tend to start some of my narratives with epigraphs, or quotes from other works real or imagined that appeal to me.

You can blame Frank Herbert’s Dune for that.

I’m also really hesitant in committing to most series. I admit it. There is this vulnerability in opening yourself up to a story that is bad, becomes bad, or is so good that you get attached to the characters and you just wince at what is about to come: especially when it hit something home for you much in the way of a children’s baseball game.

But as I was saying, it was the story premise that got me. In 1969, the time of the first Moon landing and Uri Geller’s spoon-bending psychic phenomenon, a group of children create a story where they are a society of heroes rising up against a league of evil that has destroyed the world. They create together a Book of Prophecy that outlines all the events that will lead to their battle. This is their symbol: that of friendship.

20th_Century_Boys_symbol

Eventually, when they lose the field with their “secret base” they leave a time-capsule with the book and then, as childhood friendships are want to do, they move and drift apart. However, just as the symbol above represents an image in some manga that tells the reader to turn the page (with an eye drawn over it), this story isn’t over yet.

Years later Endo Kenji, one of the group and the creator of the Book of Prophecy, is an adult and with the suicide of one of his old friends notices the rise of a cult led by a mysterious figure named “Friend:” a man that uses and wears their childhood symbol as a mask. Kenji and his other friends begin to reunite and realize that someone is reenacting the scenarios of their childhood into a very grim adult reality.

What I really liked about this series was how it took the tropes of the superhero, the supervillain, and even Japanese mecha and juxtaposes them over an adult and human world. Even as the protagonists themselves have to suspend their own disbelief and, indeed, try to remember the distant memories of their childhood in order to find out who “Friend” is and to stop him, “Friend” himself subverts the archetypal story and creates something truly horrific. It’s almost as though his actions and their consequences on the world around him not only mock the characters, the genre of adventure hero manga but our own expectations as well.

Friend

[Welcome to the *Real* Friend Zone]

From my perspective, reading 20th Century Boys is like Alan Moore having been born into an alternate universe where he came from Japan and was influenced by Tezuka Osamu, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, anime and manga for most of his formative years and became the person that exists in our world: Urasawa Naoki. However, don’t let my bad analogy deceive you. This is not a comics Revisionist series. While Urasawa did make a grittier and darker version of Tezuka Osamu’s Astro Boy world of robots through his series Pluto, 20th Century Boys is its own world and story that utilizes, parodies, subverts and pays homage to the otaku and twentieth century symbolism of his, and so many others’, childhood and culture.

In fact, now that I think about 20th Century Boys reminds me of the realistic and gritty style of gekiga. I wrote a sloppy Blog post about this a while back with a focus on a lack of superheroes in Japan, but this book is making me reconsider some of my original points. It actually does remind me of Julian Darius’ explanation about Reconstructionism.

20th Century Boys Characters

As children, the main characters are very iconic and essentialized while they are surrounded by a realistic background. In fact, even when they grow older they still maintain traces of that youth–of that neoteny–only matured and “grown up.” And isn’t Reconstruction what creating stories is ultimately about: especially when you consider that children form stories in much the same way that put Lego pieces together. You have your basic building blocks that exist in reality and then you rearrange them to create some other kind of meaning. That’s what Kenji’s Group does. And then imagine the story continuing to build itself after them. Later in the series, a character even flat-out states “But kids games never finish.”

And sometimes reading 20th Century Boys is like watching a child’s game continue imperfectly. It’s true. Between the introduction of ESP into the story which seems to serve little significance to the characters but to hearken back to the spirit of the late twentieth century, people miraculously being able to walk away from explosions that should have killed them, the use of some stock and stereotypical characters, and a lack of visual closure with regards to the narrative build-up of some emotional relationships (which I hear is typical of Urasawa in his other works as well) the story is not exactly perfect.

However, consider this: the plot of 20th Century Boys is that “Friend” made a children’s playground out of the destruction of the world: turning a childhood dream into a dystopian nightmare used against its dreamers and all humankind. It was like Urasawa combined Field of Dreams with The Prisoner and 1984. It is terrifying and fucking beautiful in that the only way the protagonists can beat him is if they play the game that they all made together.

It makes me wonder what would have happened if some of the roleplaying games of my childhood and long-term friendships were ever applied to the real world. A long time ago, some of my friends, influenced by the Dune II computer game, created a whole world of interactions that I had a part in creating to this very day.

I won’t lie: becoming the secret Emperor of the world does intrigue me from time to time. But what 20th Century Boys illustrates is how even a childhood dream can cost the lives of billions. Even so, what a beautiful story that makes in fiction.

I would definitely recommend this series. It was only recently that I finished reading them online. Unfortunately the ones I read were not Viz English translations: which was one of the reasons why I hesitated in looking elsewhere for so long. No translation, from Japanese to English or any language for that matter is the same. So if you can find those Viz English editions, please read them. If not, consider the following:

The Friend cult sometimes has to purge some of its members. While the literal translation of their euphemism is generally translated as “banish,” the Viz version uses the word “reject.”

So tell me, my … friends, doesn’t the phrase, “Reject him,” sound so much more satisfying? And doesn’t it remind you of childhood: where acceptance and rejection can make all the difference in how your perceive your identity if not your very life? Keep that in mind when you read 20th Century Boys and you wonder who the heroes are, who the villain is, what their motivations are, and how some parts of childhood affect you forever. There is never full closure.

The games of children never end.

20th Century Boys True Friend

Sing, Oh Heavenly Daimon, Sing: A Review of C. Anthony Martignetti’s Beloved Demons

“I’d start talking about the dark and darkness, cold, loneliness, aging and illness, money, and how the hell can anybody keep making a living through a whole lifetime? I’d get myself all wound up and just rattle on in my head about the scariest shit I could think of” (2).

It was a cold day in hell when I began reading  Anthony’s Beloved Demons: Confessions of an Unquiet Mind. Literally.

An ice storm hit parts of Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area and knocked out our power. For about three days in late December 2013 we had neither heat nor light, but plenty of cold and darkness. I felt absolutely helpless before Nature and my personal demons as my parents’ home became a dark and icy tomb. Suffice to say, this book came to me at a very appropriate time.

DSC00069

It was on the second day that I got Anthony’s book early in the mail: the postman having somehow navigated across the treacherous ice-crusted ground and overhanging crystalline pine hedges to deliver it right to the mailbox on the doorstep of our deathly cocoon. It’s similar to the way I will also have to navigate through this book.

One challenge I really had is that even though I wanted to look at  Beloved Demons  in its own right, in a manner similar to how I examined the theme, interrelation of stories and, of course, what I related to in Lunatic Heroes, this book still remains stubbornly intertextual. What I mean by that is it’s almost as though Anthony’s beloved demons want to war and fight alongside his lunatic heroes and define themselves by this ancient conflict. While you can read Beloved Demons as a standalone book, it has a whole other dimension if you take its predecessor into consideration.

So first off, what does Anthony possibly mean by a “beloved demon”?

It is said that the ancient Greek poets, when singing stories of heroes attempting to find home, war, or both, would evoke the muse  or the daimon — before they began to recite their tale. “Daimon” is also the root of the contemporary words “angel” and “demon.” In addition, daimons are known as forces of nature that pass through and influence human beings.  So it is only fitting, and in keeping with the ancient idea of the daimon, that “Cocoon Talk: Confessions of a Psychology Intern” begins with Anthony singing on the road on a warm summer’s day.

It’s also tempting to mention that demons have traditionally been used to incarnate a particular vice, evil, or negative thought in order to ward off, exorcise, or otherwise purge it from a subject. Certainly, “Feast of the Hungry Ghost” is a pretty good example of an attempted exorcism. However, I feel that Anthony draws on Carl Jung’s idea of the daimon much more and, in doing so, it brings an older mythological resonance to mind.

Genii loci

The Roman equivalent to the daimon is the  genius loci: a very clearly monstrous or non-human spiritual being that protects places and people. These  genii  also tend to embody their spaces: to serve as their souls. And, if you think about it, it can apply well to Anthony’s  Beloved Demons. His short story “Sign” is an example of a space with great emotional resonance to that regard. In other words, places can be spaces, and spaces can be memories. And Anthony evokes their souls like the daimons that they are.

Each one of the nine stories in  Beloved Demons  is like a different and yet interconnected reality. “Swept” is the only story that focuses solely on Anthony’s childhood. Almost all of his stories focus on the aftermath of his youth and how it affected his developing adulthood. The crowning achievements of this process can be found in the narratives of “Cocoon Talk,” “Sign,” and “Feast of the Hungry Ghost”: for just as daimons served as intermediaries between mortals and the divine, so too do these stories seem to function as bridges between Anthony’s past and adulthood.

As such, Anthony’s “Cocoon” is a nice complement to his last book’s short story “Swamp”: except that while Bullfrog was a symbol of enlightenment and the casualty of Anthony’s childhood sense of powerlessness, the butterfly is Anthony’s personal adult casualty. But the thing to understand about this butterfly’s death isn’t so much that Anthony was responsible (he was driving as it hit his vehicle after all), it is the fact that the butterfly, among other things, represents change. It is said that the wind from a butterfly’s wings can utterly destroy a mountain on the opposite side of the world. And while no one ever truly suspects the butterfly, Anthony seemed to believe the potential omen all too well and tried to prepare for the resonance of the change: the change that he ultimately experiences.

In fact, even more so than  Lunatic Heroes,  time seems to collapse faster than a landslide in  Beloved Demons. It’s as though all the experience and time within Anthony that had been contracted into itself, into himself and his inner world back in his first book begins to expand out in extreme, ricocheting vengeance in “Cocoon”: a process that he makes even more clearly explicit in “Feast.” Anthony is breaking out of the confines created from the trauma of childhood: the continued suppression and the emotional starvation caused in “Force Fed” becoming an expansive and terrifying “Feast of the Hungry Ghost.”

Anger and passion are definitely elements of this great change. It is no coincidence that, for seemingly the first time, Anthony reveals his first legal name to be  Carmine (30): the colour of red and fire and blood, of the wine-drenched Dionysian god and associated today with demons.

There is also a sense of space that becomes dilated between certain kinds of individuals, particularly sensitive ones such as Anthony, over time. For instance, I find there to be an interesting parallel between “The Wild” and “Feast of the Hungry Ghost” in which people, from well-meaning and voyeuristic to impatient and completely disrespectful, try to know more about  and even interfere with — the more intimate parts of Anthony’s life. In many of the stories from both  Lunatic Heroes  and  Beloved Demons  this, unfortunately, seems to be a recurring theme — of people wanting to know or control the passion inside him that he has been trained from childhood to avoid, while he is attempting to find and understand it himself in the midst of people constantly violating his personal space.

As a result, his space seemed to be small and narrow at times against a much larger world. At one point Anthony writes “I threw my eyes like an ocular ventriloquist” (18). It was Anthony’s reaction, ingrained from his mother, to avoid looking at people, while at the same time dealing with the perverse reflex to subvert authority and follow his own natural curiosity. Anthony’s account of Jackie not wanting him to look at “the crippled boy” in “Cocoon” is an interesting complement to his short story “Carnival” and his childhood reactions in that one as well.

You can even take this internalization a step further. In fact, “Feast of the Hungry Ghost” does take it further when the Devil and she-devils, which were seen as secretly forming and liberating within Anthony’s subconscious in Lunatic Heroes‘ “Carnival,” now become fraught with anxiety and desire: with a fear of judgement.

This leads Anthony to all but come out and describe the creation of a kink in “Feast”: or at least his kink. He seems to hypothesize that a combination of familial shame, religious fear, and suppressed desire culminated into a need for submission and masochism on the BDSM spectrum: with a particular focus on a darkly eroticized female archetype and a craving for punishment (144-45). After explaining how it is a feeling of wanting to get away, but eventually give into the fantasy scenario, he then describes a sensation in his stomach that he calls “‘the sugary feeling,’ which was both weakening and wonderful” (145). It is a striking description: particularly the latter aspect because it, above everything else, portrays a bridge between something that is both loved and feared: a beloved demon.

As I write this, I feel as though I am analysing themes in English class, and the very sense of my life depended on it. Whereas my review of Anthony’s  Lunatic Heroes  looked at many of his possible influences or what his tone at times sounds reminiscent of (I compared it to Will Eisner’s unsentimentality), it now really feels like Anthony’s own voice resonating throughout this entire series of linked narratives.

That said, there is one intriguing idea I would like to note. When Anthony talks about his cat Java mourning the death of his old dog and rejecting the new (110), it is very reminiscent of the narrator in Neil Gaiman’s  The  Ocean at the End of the Lane  being “enraged” at having his pet die while some adults, in their ignorance, attempt to replace him. It is interesting to consider that Neil seemed to have created this particular story around the same time Anthony was working on  Beloved Demons‘ predecessor. In any case Neil’s novel, according to Amanda Palmer, seems to have “dialed down” the setting on his own “creative blender” — of that place in an artist’s mind where their personal experiences and imagination intermix to make a story — and I can’t help but wonder if reading and working with Anthony might have influenced this in some part.

Certainly, this can be seen even more overtly when you consider that Neil actually wrote an Introduction to  Beloved Demons  in which he’s not only very candid about death, but he even writes out the Buddha’s entire quote on self-conquest (xxii) to which Anthony alludes in the conclusion of the book (193). And make no mistake: while  Lunatic Heroes  was obviously a personal narrative, an autobiography through-and-through,  Beloved Demons  delves deep into the personal and adult aspects of not merely “an unquiet mind” (which is one of the biggest understatements I’ve seen in Anthony’s work) but a forming mind attempting to find its individuation or, rather, its own sense of centre.

It is a dark and grueling process. I think that out of all the narratives, and aside from “Feast of the Hungry Ghost” coming to some kind of revelation through pain, pleasure and eventual acceptance, it is “Sign” that presents that unsettling feeling most of all.

Whereas “The Wild” was merely a hint of Anthony facing the primal part of his nature  his “Other” long controlled, vilified, alienated and chained as an animal  it’s in “Sign” where it truly comes to the fore in the form of power. It is very disturbing, to know that passion can be warped into the capacity for violence and the desire for control over another, and that this struggle is within all of us. But Anthony spells it out in himself and … it is unsettling.

I suspect it is meant to be so. This is something that wants to be free from all constraints: from his family’s expectations, societal duties, and his wife at that time. There are patterns  and dynamics that Anthony finds himself bound by and wanting to fall back into. But there is more at work in “Sign”: a greater work if you’d prefer. You begin to realize that all of these impulses and thoughts in his mind are reaching a state of at least narrative transformation. As he finds himself back in his childhood home, it’s as though he is attempting to find stability amid his own change and he goes back to the place where he sketched out the sign of a crucifix — a cross — on a door frame so long ago.

And this, here, I believe captures the essence of why Anthony writes. The crux of it, I believe, can be seen when he asks himself: “I wonder why I made that mark? Perhaps to save something of myself from that time? Or to create a future a memory? To say I was here … To see the sign. Or perhaps I only carved into the soft, painted wood with my thumbnail, and that’s it … nothing more; then, all those years later, made a story of it. Just to make a story. The world isn’t created of atoms and molecules, but of stories” (88).

It becomes very apparent here that not only are Anthony’s books his “cross” for us to see that he was here  that perhaps all autobiographical stories function in this capacity to help us remember who we are, who we were, and perhaps to see where we are going by comparison — but it also hits home another crucial point. Dominance and submission war inside him, and these are forces, within him which he can neither deny nor completely surrender to, he attempts instead to master: that he does to the point of transcending his own sense of self and stating something very important about his book, autobiography and literature itself:

“Making stories from memories … I think it has something to do with looking back and fabricating meaning in events that, at the time, just happened. Maybe writing stories is the same as the tiny sign of the cross in the molding. Perhaps that was my first story, my first memoir, to be known about and read only by me. Now, it seems, I mark the entrance to my childhood with these symbols on paper and share them so others will know I was here, understand me, and help me understand myself, before I’m gone and can’t return” (88-89).

Any way you look at it, however, Anthony’s stories have become his beloved demons, even as he understands now that he is his own.

I am about done here. Now that I have talked about the symbolism and interlinking of stories in  Beloved Demons, I want to write out some quotes that I think are very interesting and that found sympathy with me: you know, as if I haven’t already.

Anthony talks about love and perspective: “I loved her in the only way I could love then” (51).

At the beginning of “Cocoon Talk” Anthony makes a statement about the origins of human conflict: “I was always babbling, always unsure of what I was saying yet revealing nothing, and never truly trusted people who said they knew themselves or suggested that they knew me. Never really wanted anyone to see me” (3). It strikes me that the root of all problems and conflicts within relationships is that people claim to understand others and their intentions without actually doing so. No one ever truly or fully knows anyone, and the very act of proclaiming that “You don’t know me” is not only an act of anger and defiance in and of itself, but also a reminder that in all of our connections with each other we are our own sovereign spaces and should be respected as such.

In addition to the spaces in ourselves, Anthony writes about personal demons and how they can begin as weaknesses and become our strengths: “Through fantasy, we enter the screening room of an obsessed mind. And in our private theaters, we watch the show through the projector of our damaged narcissism — where the phantasmagoria transforms weak pariahs into prevailing superheroes, the shamed and the shunned into the celebrated, and places us, the marginalized extras, right at center stage … And here, we come not merely to tolerate, but to accept and finally embrace our demons — as if we willed them into life out of passion and the need to survive” (150).

I think my favourite quote, however, is the one that seems to describe how Anthony envisioned himself interacting with his desires. He states, “Nothing was nearly as captivating as this special pursuit, along with my role as undercover superhero- disguised as a pale and twitchy kid, foisting a dazzling subterfuge on a coterie of torment-skewed girls. A superhero, whose special power is getting his covert muscle charged by girls without their knowledge — surreptitiously slipping Kryptonite into their hands in order to feel his strength deliciously melt away” (152).

This last statement has a great affinity to me not only due to the “superhero” reference and how he applies it to his kink, but also in how it is different from my own personal vision of myself. Whereas Anthony seems to describe his childhood as him pretending that he is powerful and giving that power to others for his own enjoyment, I have always liked the idea of seeming to be mild  of actually being mild and kind — while underneath entertaining the fact that I can bring to bear great fury and power on everyone and everything around me. And even then, I’ve always considered what I am doing now, slowly building up my connections and experimenting carefully with that core of energy within me, as exercising that power in careful and clever ways until I can gain what I want: to take what is rightfully mine.

So if Anthony is a “superhero,” then I am definitely a Dark Lord of the Sith. Perhaps Anthony’s story “Swept” and what he learned from his father might have come in handy with my own education to that regard.

Finally there is the fact that, apparently, Anthony’s dog Poochy is “a food-operated boy” (72). Yes. He went there.  He went there. If you want a hint of what to expect from  Beloved Demons  beyond what I’ve written, here is a video  of its book launch in which not only do we hear Anthony reading “Sign” and “Dog,” but we also get to listen to Neil read his Introduction to the book and Amanda … basically making you feel. Her song Bigger on the Inside (an appropriate title for more than one reason) certainly made me do so.

You can also find  Beloved Demons on Kindle  as well as  Lunatic Heroes  if you are so inclined. Finally, and in reply to a Tweet Anthony sent me a while back:

Anthony Martignetti@DRAMARTIGNETTI @MKirshenblatt  MK, Looking fwd 2 ur review. And if u give me 4 stars again for not telling more, i’m coming 2 c u in Canada & hanging a rat

I finally understood  where the statement originated from  and what it means. It will give you all more background on Anthony and perhaps on both of his books. As such, and in no way due to any implied threat, I give  Beloved Demons  a  five out of five. The fact of the matter is that what I said about his quote on his dog Poochy applies to the rest of his book.

He went there.

He went there into the cold and the darkness, melting the warped and stratified ice of his surface interactions,  singing like a rat,  and I have to give the Devil his due … just as Anthony gave his demons their own.

For Crystal and Castle: An Author Quest Ends and a Gelfling Gathering Begins

Last week, The Dark Crystal Author Quest to write the first novel of The Gelfling Gathering finally ended. Twenty-five excellent writers were given honourable mention and five were chosen as finalists. It still really disappoints me that I couldn’t find the time to enter the story that I had planned. I was working on another submission at the time and I had to make a choice. Suffice to say, it was not an easy decision to make and, hopefully, I will be able to show all of you the fruits of that decision one day soon enough.

However, I did manage to do something during that time. As a treat and in honour of the Author Quest’s success, I want to show you the introduction that I created to start off my Dark Crystal Gelfling Gathering tale. I hope you will take it in the spirit that it is given and enjoy. Its working title was Dark Crystal: For Crystal and Castle.

It was over nine hundred trine ago that the Great urSkeks, wonderful, luminous, glorious beings from the highest realms who had come to bring wisdom and enlightenment to our beautiful world of Thra, finally left us. They had come to our home for contemplation and, having gained the revelation of their true selves from the divine Crystal of Truth, they left us with one final task.

Before the urSkeks, we were small and lowly. It was not until their blessing that were chosen as Stewards of their Castle of the Crystal: to guard it, Gelfling, Podlings and all of Thra from the evil that still surfaces to this very day.

For the soul stealers, ugly, twisted monsters that would take Gelfling children in the night for their shadowy sorceries were locked away: banished to their prison in the Mystic Valley from which they shall never fully escape. Our Adversaries were held back and imprisoned behind the wards of the urSkeks, whose power we still maintain and they cannot ever fully escape: let alone dare approach the Sacred Crystal to see what cowards they truly are inside.

Nevertheless, the soul stealers are crafty and clever.

To this very day, led by their dark and insidious Master, these cruel wizards still lure Gelfling victims to their Valley. And sometimes it is even worse. Sometimes, some–not all, but some–of the soul stealers find ways out from the barriers that seal them their infectious nature from the rest of Thra and seek to interfere with, and corrupt, our great and glorious realm.

This was the reason why the paramount of our kind, the beloved and enlightened Emperor skekSo First and Only of His Name, created the elite Castle Guard and made his Empire of all Gelfling civilization and Podling principalities. This is why we have decided to teach those worthy among you Gelfling the arts of war and defence.

And while a soul stealer cannot be destroyed by Gelfling or Podling hand, with your help we can capture and contain the menace of the wizards–to keep the dread Sixteen from liberating their entire body–until that great and glorious day when a thousand trine shall pass and the Third Great Conjunction brings glory to the Empire, peace and order to its loyal citizens, honour to the Guard that defends our Lordly Stewardship and the Crystal of Truth, and eternal oblivion to the soul stealers and their corrupted followers.

Until that momentous day we must remain forever vigilant. Everything is connected and it will only be through our sense of connection and our trust in his Imperialness the Great skekSo that we will all find true harmony.

This is our duty and our gift. This is our peace to all of Thra.

Remember the oath of our Guard: “For Crystal and Castle.”

— written by skekLi, Noble and Humble Poet Laureate of the Skeksis Empire

File:Castle of the Crystal - Pure.jpg

This was, sadly, as far I officially got. But I had plans. I’d written a whole lot of notes asking myself questions about the Skeksis, the urRu Mystics, and the Gelfling, their different Clans and what kind of plot I could make out of all of it.

But as the second part of my treat, I will tell you what I roughly had in mind.

I really planned on writing about Rian, the Woodlander Gelfling Guard slowly discovering that his beloved rulers were in fact some of the most evil monsters that he has ever met. I wanted him and his Spriton friend Jul to be rivals in the Guard and when Rian finally did defect away from the Skeksis, he would have to face his best friend until, finally, the latter saw the truth and came to his side.

During this time, the Guard are actually trained and led by three Skeksis: skekVar the General instructs the Gelfling in land-based combat, skekSa the Mariner drills them in naval war, and skekMal the Hunter teaches the Guard survival skills and the art of stealth and, well, hunting. I wanted to make three things clear. First, skekGra the Conqueror was once a leader and instructor of the Guard before he was exiled by the Emperor along with skekLi the Satirist. The second is that Emperor skekSo sometimes displays his martial prowess during Castle Festivals and the Guard are in awe of his speed and sheer power. And, third, that all the Guard feel very uneasy about skekMal. He has this way of looking at them as though they are just pieces of meat. Sometimes, some of the Guard go missing during the night. Not always, but occasionally and while the “soul stealers” are blamed, some of the Guard wonder.

Of course, it is revealed later that skekMal basically trains the Guard to hunt only to hunt them down, in return, much later after he puts on his mask and tracks them. It is basically a sport to him to “play with his food.” Even the other Skeksis find that somewhat disturbing. He comes and goes whenever he feels like it and he supports the two Skeksis in exile when it suits him. I was also toying with the idea that it is on a mission to “find” the exiled Skeksis that Rian discovers more about them.

Basically, this side story, or first book even was going to have the Emperor send the Guard to stop skekGra and his associates from attempting to make their own rebellion with Gelfling followers. If skekHak the Machinist hadn’t been killed in the second volume of Dark Crystal Creation Myths, I would have used him to create a makeshift essence-extractor: a cruder version of skekTek’s. However, perhaps skekMal had his own portable device made when he threatened skekTek. Remember: the Gelfling Gathering takes place before the Emperor had sole access to essence, so it is possible that something like this could have happened.

But in any case, I saw Rian and the Drenchen Gelfling Gurjin as childhood friends. Gurjin, for a swamp-dwelling Gelfling, was the more scholarly of the two in my mind and he wasn’t a part of the Guard. When they weren’t playing Jarra-Jen and Creghel the Tyrant, they played Three Suns and the Moon: each of them was one of the suns and an old childhood female friend was the moon. I picture her as a Vapra and perhaps, in their minds, the future Queen of the Gelfling Clans.

Eventually, Rian discovers that there is a Gelfling Resistance led by the hidden Gelfling Queen. As it turns out, almost a century ago, the Sifa Gelfling Gyr and the Vapra Lady Kel witnessed the actual creation of the Skeksis and the urRu. Kel, becoming the next Gelfling Queen, secretly passed on the knowledge of what happened through dreamfasting with her successor and a select group of loyal Gelfling. They didn’t know what to make of what they saw and so they waited. They waited for a few generations: knowing that they didn’t have the power to oppose the Skeksis directly and that their own pacifist nature, with the exception of perhaps the Spritons that were so close to the Skeksis’ corruption, would limit whatever they could do for now.

I decided that Rian first acts as their spy in the Castle and then he finally just can’t stay there anymore. Maybe I will tell that story one day: though it will definitely be fanfiction unless the Henson Company or Grosset and Dunlap are ever looking for short stories. That story was going to be my entry. And if the third Dark Crystal Creation Myths book doesn’t destroy its continuity, then it definitely will be a fanfic.

But as for the rest … Rian sees the beginnings of the proto-Garthim developing in the cave tunnels of the Castle: supervised by skekUng the Garthim Master who wants to supplant skekVar as General and skekTek who hopes to get more prestige out of helping him. I see them as red and raw without their organic carapaces at this stage. Rian and his friends run into the real Gelfling Queen: a young and mute Dousan Gelfling. She has mastered Dream-etching: the precise ability needed to bring something from dreaming into physical being. She will become the central architect of the Wall of Destiny. They attempt to mobilize the other Gelfling, but they need resistance and disbelief. But gradually, they would pass on what they have learned through dreamfasting.

At this point, the Skeksis become aware of what is going on. As they pass the cover story of there being missing shards of the Crystal, as the Gelfling group has revealed that it is damaged, the Castle Guard is led by Emperor skekSo himself, along with his minions, to take care of the Rebels. Unfortunately, for the Skeksis, the Guard are all converted to the Rebels through dreamfasting. I planned, at this point, for the urRu to get involved: as the protagonists were staying in the Valley: having realized that the Skeksis’ accusations against them are obviously false and the Skeksis are the ones kidnapping and “draining souls” from Gelfling.

There was an epic duel between the four-armed combatants: urSu the Master and skekSo the Emperor. These are not the decrepit beings we saw in the film, but two powerful opponents in the prime of their lives. Each blow they land on each other also affects the other one and they gain cuts and injuries that match each other’s own. SkekSo only retreats when he realizes that his Guard have defected and his other Skeksis are facing similar problems. SkekSo vows revenge and flees. The Gelfling either do not notice this phenomenon or simply do not understand and it is understated. It is also during this time we are introduced to urVa the Archer: the one Mystic who seeks to actively destroy his counterpart in the form of skekMal.

UrVa spends much time teaching Rian and the others how to fight, as he is a martial arts master, and when the time comes to leave the Valley and go to organize the other Gelfling, he chooses to go with them: being the only urRu who can actually find it in himself to actively interfere in what is going on. Later, as they get to the site where the Wall of Destiny will be built, this is when the Skeksis get nasty and they send the three militaristic Skeksis with a mass of essence-drained Gelfling husks, literally zombies, to destroy the Rebellion.

By this point, it is a bloodbath. And what is worse is that skekMal starts picking off Gelfling from the shadows of the Vapra’s trees (I assume this their territory is close to where they are building the Wall) with his crossbow. He and urVa have a standoff. UrVa hates everything that skekMal stands for, representing the aggressive side of him he despised as an urSkek, while skekMal hates urVa for being that weak and hesitant part of his original self whose deliberations cost lives back on the urSkek homeworld.  In the end, they both shoot each other at the same time: a former whole being in conflict with its dual aspects.

Rian holds urVa’s dying form in his arms. UrVa asks Rian to kill him, but Rian doesn’t understand and refuses. He then goes and finishes off skekMal: who had killed his father not too long ago. Both Skeksis and urRu die. Then the seven Gelfling Clans, all knowing what the Skeksis truly are, congregate and the Wall is created.

File:Prophecy.jpg

It awakens the essence-drained Gelfling husks from their living death and the remaining Skeksis are forced to retreat. But Rian, the Queen and the others all know that this far from over. Nevertheless, there is still hope and wonder in Thra.

This is, sadly, as far as I got in my notes. And there are so many gaps. I still have difficulties describing our world’s geography, never mind Thra’s and its unique solar system. There is also so much story there and many story lines that I could have done with the mariner Sifa, the desert-dwelling Dousan, and the underground Grottan. I did plan on having each chapter dedicated to, and function from, the limited third-person perspective of the character: Skeksis, Gelfling and perhaps even an urRu. You know: much in the same that George R.R. Martin structures his chapters in A Song of Ice and Fire.

But I didn’t get to it. Nevertheless this process of world-building kept my mind occupied and got me into some good discussions on The Dark Crystal Community Forums. I’m also pretty sure I learned something and, in the discussions themselves, I even suggested corrections for their entries into the Encyclopedia. And what is even more awesome is that the other authors that didn’t get into the finals have a similar idea to mine and have posted links to their stories in the Forums and in the Fanfiction section of the Dark Crystal website.

The fact is that my experiences in the Quest, for all I didn’t make a story, deserved its own honoured place in my Mythic Bios and it is excellent way to show you how my creative process and, well, my mind works.

I will say it again: everything is connected. Everything is connected and I am glad I connected my creative mind to the world of Thra. Therefore I salute my fellow writers and posters, as well as the Henson Company, and my story that could have been and in the words of the Castle Gelfling Guard I planned to create let me proclaim proudly, “For Crystal and Castle.”

A Traveler’s Account of Katrina Elisse Caudle’s Darkmoon City

On the surface, Twine is about making games. But that is just one way of looking at it. To be more specific, Twine software allows one to hyperlink from one page or another through the click of a word. Words link together different pages and, ultimately, different ideas. Now, take that bare-bones concept and link together not only Twine narratives, but short stories and real time events. Essentially, in doing so, you would be creating a reality from multimedia.

Someone at the Toronto Global Game Jam made this suggestion to me after I showed him the Twine game I made at that particular event. However, what he didn’t realize is that others have already thought of this idea, and have utilized it.

In creating Darkmoon City, Katrina Elisse Caudle is one of these people.

I am not entirely sure how I found Darkmoon City, back when it was called Faerie Dark and focused more on its own content and less on outside activities. Katrina’s site itself has evolved quite a bit. At one time it was a textured grey interface in which you had to input the names of the Twines or stories that you wanted to see in a search bar. It was arranged in such a way that inputting the title of the work was a lot like participating in an agreed-upon ritual or the casting of a particular spell or evocation that would interact with the world of words and code that Katrina embedded into that world. I will admit that sometimes it confused me and it was hard to search for what I wanted back then. I even had the odd error or two. But, eventually, I “said” the words and found a part of her world.

At the time, there was only one Twine game: one interactive hyperlinking story. It was, and is The Edyn Project. I played this game during a time when I was still beginning to figure out how Twine games worked and attempted to see the different kinds and qualities of such that existed. Essentially, you find yourself in the White City: the former seat of arcane learning before the plague that wiped magic, and a good portion of the global population, off the face of the earth. The Edyn Project is an attempt by various powers to utilize technology in order to create a utopia from a Dark Age.

It was here that I began to see a different world-view emerging: especially with regards to how the White City’s new bitcoin economy is supposed to function. To this day I’m still confused about bitcoin, but the game did succeed in introducing me to the layout of the City and some of its history: including the presence of an ambiguous artificial intelligence program guardian named Edyn. I didn’t know, then, that the game wasn’t completed yet and indeed I reached a point where I didn’t know what else to do and got caught in a looped event at one point when going back to deal with my character’s blood work.

I really got to know the world of the White City through its short stories. Liminal Creatures of Heaven depicted something of a creation mythos and a different cosmogony from that of our own solar system. It even has its own astrological charts and celestial cycles.

But it wasn’t until The City With No Animals that the spirit of what would become Darkmoon City really began to slowly and subtly set into my mind.

Imagine a world where animals no longer exist: to the point of them becoming legends and myth. Now imagine a world where homosexual, bisexual, queer and polyamorous relationships are not only seen as commonplace but as part of an unquestioned norm. Then consider a place where there are more than two kinds of gender, where people can alter themselves in an almost transhuman sense, all of this is an ingrained and understood part of that world as well. The pronouns of he, she, and they are simply there in sentence and conversation. Now add to the fact that magic once existed and is in the process of being replaced (or complemented) by science and technology of questionable nature and a new bitcoin economy while the vestiges of the supernatural remain as ghosts, and faeries, and other things.

Now imagine writing this world with characters that experience varying degrees of emotions while exploring old and new secrets, and each other. You would basically be creating a whole other kind of paradigm or mentality from our own world. Katrina basically does all of this. It takes some getting used to and sometimes there is even still a bit of culture shock, but once you watch the characters’ interactions with the world and each other you begin to focus on them a lot. What I really loved about “The City With No Animals” is the fact that Katrina captures well that feeling of sweet confusion when you are discovered by those you know are special and could be, or might not lovers even as she also depicts the warmth of intimacy between childhood friends. “The City With No Animals” is a long story of four-parts, it has a unique writing style, and it is definitely worth reading.

I said a whole lot of other things about this story to Katrina herself, but unfortunately much of this correspondence was lost and now I can only focus on my impressions of what I read from that time. Indeed, Katrina changed the layout and name of the site from Faerie Dark to Darkmoon City. I’m not sure if she reloaded all of the older stories that I can’t recall, but she did add some newer elements to the new layout that she has created.

In addition to another interactive Twine called Happy Birthday Smoke!–in which you play as a character from “The Edyn Project” who is discovering her uncle’s creation of bitcoin and thus giving you a tutorial into what it is for the very first time–there are the addition of more creation myths and legends in the form of new stories.

I mentioned earlier that Katrina has a very unique writing style. I think what really stands out for me is in addition to a world with different ideas of gender, economy, science and magic, there is this very fascinating blend of Far East Asian and ancient Western culture, philosophy and mythology that exists in her overarching, and interlinking, narrative. If each world of fantasy and science-fiction is part of a multifaceted lens looking at an alternative perspective of reality, then Katrina’s world of Darkmoon City feels like a pale violet-tinted part of the cosmological kaleidoscope. Her language and sense of pacing are languid, flowing, and beautiful: and they put you into an “alien” and external mindset intimately and to the point where you realize it may not be that dissimilar from your own.

There is one more thing I want to mention before I wrap this retrospective up. A little while ago, while Faerie Dark existed, Katrina had another Twine game called Chrysalis. There were a few interesting elements about this game. First of all, and as far as I know, it was the only game that required payment: the small amount of $2.99. Secondly, it was a Twine that incorporated images and audio into its structure. But the third and most important element that I want to look at is what the about was about.

Essentially, Chrysalis was a Twine game in which you visit a courtesan named Rabbit. Its premise is almost an answer to the questions that the Canadian comics creator Chester Brown seems to pose in his graphic novel Paying For It: what kind of world would result from the creation of a society without the stigma of paying for sex, or even on non-conventional relationships? What kind of morality would exist where an exchange of services for intimacy and learning is condoned, honoured, and even encouraged as healthy?

You had to progress by learning various lessons through interaction with Rabbit. Should you have not been interested or wanted to skip ahead, you were always invited to leave if the terms no longer suited you, or if you could not follow or respect them. I didn’t always understand the astrological elements within the game itself which, may or may not have made Chrysalis into part of Faerie Dark (or Darkmoon City now) or as a standalone in and of itself. Sometimes the audio did not work and it did verge into some specific areas of sacred sex and spirituality. Sometimes the audio segments seemed long as well. But what really struck me about that game, aside from being a creative attempt to depict a different form of society where sex work is an inherent part of the culture and you learn about intimacy, sensuality and just what constitutes as an important exchange between consenting adults, as well as navigating the places between different emotions and a process of personal growth, is how Katrina applied her own experiences and the paradigm of her creative world, and bitcoin, to the scenario of Chrysalis.

It was not an explicit game, but it was definitely a very involved and thoughtful meditation on pleasure. Sadly, my words aren’t doing this game any justice as I can no longer access this game. It came in the form of a code I purchased for Faerie Dark‘s search bar that now no longer exists. All that is left are Katrina’s above account and ethereal fragments of audio to give you some idea of what this game was like. But it, and the other stories, were an excellent look into the creative mind and imagination of Katrina and what could be.

Darkmoon City is still very much a work in progress, with its own Patreon page, and as a fellow traveller into the realms of fancy, I look forward to walking where the White City journeys from this particular foundation.

The Treasure of La-Mulana

So I have been stabbing my Mythic Bios notebook with my golden pen, but for one brief moment I am going to re-materialize back from the ether to leave you with something. I made this, my third Twine story, a little while ago after watching Deceased Crab play through both the original and the remake of La-Mulana.

This game … for something I have never played and probably never will because I neither have the patience nor the hand-eye coordination, got into my head: into that mythic space that permeates my very being. La-Mulana is an adventurer-archaeology game created by the game company NIGORO and filled with puzzles, riddles, deathtraps, insanity, lore, and vintage video game goodness. It is a fun, but notoriously hard game. But the world and story that NIGORO created got into my mind so much, and so badly, that I went online at one point and looked for fanfiction based on it.

It was there, online, that I found madamluna’s long slow collision and Bones. It was the first story, a Twine narrative itself, and the news that there would be a sequel to the game itself that cinched it for me.

So now: to business. What you are looking at here is a homage–a fanfic–to a game I’ve only seen on Let’s Plays, written in Twine. Basically in addition to this being my third Twine story, this is my first polished Twine fanfic to an awesome and insane game. So while I might not be a “real” fan of the game, in that I haven’t played it, I hope you can all accept me as one in spirit if nothing else.

In other news, I am still hard at work and I plan to make a New Year’s post of some kind. I hope you enjoyed this surprise and impromptu post of mine. I hope to return relatively soon. But, since you have all been very good readers I now leave you with my modest attempt at a homage, at something that will probably be completely debunked and repudiated by the actual sequel to La-Mulana itself. It is a story with events meant to bridge the gap between the two games. So such, please remember that there are Major Spoilers. I hope you will take this in the spirit that it is given.

So good night, fellow explorers, and allow me to leave you all with The Treasure of La-Mulana.

La-Mulana

Another Revolution

On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
But Glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.
— Theodore O’Hara, “The Bivouac of the Dead”

They marched among the geometrical angles of granite tombstones, wearing simulated gore and affected awkward staggering gaits, carrying upraised signs made of stick handles and Bristol boards with bloody running red lettering.

Among the people dressed in dried red, white and green make-up, purposefully tattered clothing and horror film t-shirts, were people in uniform. Some of them wore dark helmets and dark-blue padding with realistic plastic rifles and riot gear in hand. They seemed to wave the macabre crowd along with plastic severed limbs: at least those that weren’t holding signs of a merry skeleton man with a top hat and cigar between his teeth pointing and proclaiming, “Baron Samedi Wants You!” or “Occupy the Evans City Chapel! Donate Your Flesh!”

For all the attention it received, the Chapel was a square structure of stacked old grey cement blocks with a steeple-roof of dark slate, and a chimney of faded red bricks. If someone looked closely at the base of the building, they would have seen green mould slowly and almost verdantly eating away at its foundations.

It had once been used as a storage-shed ages ago, before it was finally boarded-up altogether and left a hollow shell: its emptiness dignified with the remnants of almost forgotten hallowedness. But its simple crumbling elegance cast a long shadow of significance over the minds of its protesters, its guardians, its revellers and its other self-appointed friends as they gathered near the grounds of its long-sealed front door.

Whatever these fifty-odd some people saw on the path amongst the gravestones in front of their modest, aging Mecca and beyond the frame of a black and white reality, they all wanted to be here. Most of the Event’s participants were enthusiastic locals, some particularly devoted interstate and even international tourists. The other group that came into the Evans City Cemetery, on the other hand, did not seem local but they were–in their way–no less eager to be there.

The newcomers did not go to the Chapel. Instead, they moved past it. Some of them walked with a familiar stiffness, ramrod straight spines and a seeming lack of joints: with deep blue eyes that glittered from sallow faces in the setting sun. Others were more sombre or even more colourful heaps of mouldering robes that hopped or leapt alongside their compatriots: jumping with arms open enough to embrace the entire world.

Others wore darker investments: grey and black medieval armour, closed visors and ragged peasant garb. Some of the new arrivals hulked over the others: seeming to rise up from the ground like earthen blue-black shadows and wearing helmets of sharpened horns.

Still more followed them: large and small and some in more than worse for wear contemporary clothing carrying bits of playing equipment, tools and debris. Bloated and emaciated green things in rags crawled and whispered after them, and in the lengthened shadows it seemed as though they did not always have a shape at all. Lean beasts followed them with raised hackles and similar expressions of living greed on their muzzles and in their eyes.

Some were writhing, undulating wild-eyed women bathed in old red and cloying vinegar-wine as they alternatively fell over and prostrated themselves in erratic procession; while others were black-haired, dark-skinned, beautiful hollow-eyed women gliding in fine dresses and sporting long, long, fingernails. A significant proportion of the assembling throng were even more skeletal: shrivelled and brown caricatures that walked slowly and ably. Two of them looked like little girls in tattered old dresses holding smoking cups in their hands: their eyes silvery cobwebs of intent.

In front of them loomed a pillar of Quincy granite: nineteen feet high and surmounted by the figure of an eagle perched on a globe. As the grisly travellers surrounded it, its shadow consumed them and they became a part of the evening that it dwelled in. One side was inscribed with the names of forty-five dead men, while another was carved with an emblem of a wreath with crossed swords.

They had travelled all this way to congregate at this one point: the old Civil War memorial stone known as The Soldiers’ Monument. Anyone else in the Cemetery might have wondered why there was so much attention and security paid to the road and the Chapel, but not for the old war memorial. Yet no one other than the throng moved towards this spot. And so they waited.

They did not wait quietly. At first, the stillness was broken by a faint nearby rattling reminiscent of dry hollow bamboo tubes clattering against one another.

Gachi gachi … gachi gachi …

As though in sympathy, parts of the throng itself began to shuffle restlessly. A few gaunt forms covered with shaggy hair peered forlornly at their fellows with bloated faces and held out delicious ethereal food. This food went ignored.

Grumbling shadows seemed to shift back and forth above the closest gravestones, as the motley assortment began to moan and bang their makeshift tools on the nearby graves. The robed group began to hop impatiently in one place. The unseen ones stomped their shrunken feet in defiant rhythm. The brittle moving antiques that were the two girls walked through the throng with their two steaming cups, their soft voices mournfully chiming, “Cafe grille … Cafe grille …”

Even while the freshest among the ranks began to growl and hiss at each other, and the fat and thin green shifting creatures with their hyena brethren whispered to each other like sand and Arabic, a few of the figures in the front closest to the Monument remained solemn and patient.

One of them was a white-eyed woman with skin the texture of old coffee and dressed in the habit of a nun. Another was a man in a World War I Canadian Major’s uniform with a waxen blank-looking face and a black bag at his side. People arranged in a wide assortment of shapes surrounded him. They remained still, they and the shrivelled white-eyed brown ones. The latter held vintage bottles that seemed to flutter with eerie lights. They did not offer these to anyone as they stood near the nun. The two girls skipped to her side and she put a weathered hand on both of their wispy heads.

And so they waited. And so they wait. They wait for me. The vetala.

What is past is now present and what will be is now. Even as the evening comes, as it has come several times before, and the blue, black and pale-skinned Draugar bathe themselves in the fox-fire light of their trollskap runes, and the Jiangshi resemble Chinese paper lanterns filled with glow-worms, I come. I appear at the top of The Soldiers’ Monument: my feet balancing on the eagle statue as though I am a fallen angel perching on the head of a pin.

I smile a serene, demoniac smile as I lean forward. With a balance and flexibility that would put any enlightened yogi to shame, I hang down from the top of the pillar and my sightless eyes stare into each and every one of them. Now they are all still. I have their attention.

“The living claim to know our stories,” I begin, “but only the dead may tell them,” I look through all of them, “Speak.”

I am the vetala. I hear their stories. They speak to me. They speak to each other. They speak to each other in the rustling words and fading dactyls of our kind. Although their words are disparate, they are all unified under one scraping dissonant mother tongue: the language of the dead.

The elders speak first. Some are dressed in furs, archaic bronze, gold and rotten silk. They wail about the stories their fleshly tribes and descendants told, hidden away in their caves and ancient homes at night, while they raged outside pounding the doors: demanding sacrifice or just to be among the living again.

The Ro-Langs say they are tired of being created and hunted by sorcerers and Buddhist priests for their tongues and their golden bones. The Nachzehr contingent in the Cemetery say they have grown to despise having their graves intruded on and having coins shoved into their mouths. The few remaining native Skadegamutc–their long skeletal forms pulsing with stolen blood and their hair tied into feathered braids open their fanged maws to release whooping war cries into the air–decry the loss of their lodges, being forced to dwell in holes in the ground, and the burning finality of fire.

Many murmur among the gathering in sympathy. The shaggy Bukwus lament the fact that the living no longer take their offerings of food, nor join them in the waters. The mariner Drang nod their seaweed-encrusted heads in agreement and state in vehement Germanic that they are sick of being spat on. In equally fluent German, distorted only by the gnashing of their teeth into their death-shrouds underground, the Nachzehr rebuke the Drang with their livid, gesturing shadows: telling them that at least they didn’t have to worry about getting their heads cut off.

These exchanges bring another large murmur of agreement: especially from the Wiedergänger and their European revenant cousins. The Jiangshi say nothing but continue to jump around ignorant of glutinous rice, peach-wood, the I Ching and their own reflection while everyone else is aware of the funerary-mockery of self-transport that sorcerers first made of their bodies. Mostly, they are impatient for more qi. From its sprawling place near the corner of the Monument, the giant collection of the bones from a multitude of starved human beings called the Gashadokuro reiterates this sentiment with a loud rustling gachi gachi giving even the other assembled dead reason to pause.

Even so, the Ro-Langs are quick to mention their solidarity with the Jiangshi and add that they are also tired of having their tongues ripped out to become occult-swords. This draws the ire of the beautiful Pontianak: hissing that just as they were victims in life of the men that impregnated them and forced them to die at childbirth, so too do they still continue to abuse them after their deaths by driving nails through the backs of their necks and cutting off their long nails to make them “more docile” as wives.

Most of the ones arguing now, while a little more numerous than the elders, are fewer than the majority: with even fewer of the living in their native lands telling their stories every day. With some exceptions, theirs are complaints that have less to do with current persecution and more to do with past wrongs, restlessness and hunger.

Out of all of them, it is the Draugar that are collectively the loudest.  The walking remnants of the Northmen boast about their achievements in strength and power, how it took the will of a true hero to wrestle them back into their howes. They say that the living can cut off their heads or burn them to ash, but that they will fight it all the way and retake the world that was once their own. They taunt the other dead, calling them cowards and mindless shells: commanding them to fight.

One of the revenants laughs hoarsely and points out the ever-present truth: the Draugar are few and most of their barrow-homes have been lost. Even with their power and lore of the dead, they are too few to reclaim their own lands of ice and darkness themselves: never mind the entire world. The Draugar become angry: proclaiming they will get all the reinforcements they need from their brethren in Hel once the ships made from dead men’s nails set sail.

The wax-faced Major steps forward. Even as he points at his twisted companions, his voice comes from the black bag in his hand: explaining in a muffled yet cultured tone that he and his fellow Re-animates were the result of horrible medical experiments that forever robbed them of the gift and dignity of death that is the right of all living beings. After they found each other, they methodically hunted down and killed their creator for his crimes against them and defying the will of Nature.

The elders and the avenging dead add their cries to the Major’s words, and even the brown-skinned zonbi contingent in their silence and with their shimmering glass bottles–by their very nature still full of purpose–incline their heads slightly with mutual respect. The nun–the Mother Superior Marie M.–finally speaks.

She talks of how her young body was abducted from her grave and family by a bokor in her native Haiti where she was made into his slave: only for his wife to attempt to sell her until, finally, she was brought to stay at a convent in France where she has been ever since the early twentieth century. Until now. From my vantage point hanging upside down and slowly swinging from the memorial, back and forth like a pendulum between life and death, I nod at her and the Canadian soldier-doctor.

The more numerous modern dead are also angry and hungry. They are not as articulate as the others, but they make their case clear. They throw their debris. They roar. Some of them stagger at each other while others tense and lunge with swift viciously mindless animal instinct.

They cease just as I stop my swinging. From the Chapel, I can already sense some of those who are with child clutching at their bellies from the Draugar’s auras: not enough to kill, but just strong enough to cause discomfort for those not-yet-born. It seems that as this gathering continues, the Pontianak may yet gain more sisters.  Everyone and even the newest among us are cowed by the presence of the vision I have not revealed yet.

I am the vetala. I am the storyteller. I take the story of my being and I shrug out of it–a layer of ego–as I curl up to stand again on the stone eagle and let the tale tell itself.  I point at the words that my body once concealed on the Monument, words they have all waited to see, “We are the bivouac of the dead.”

At my words, I sense a woman at the Chapel cramping into miscarriage. I continue.

“We exist on ground without walls or protection. The living has the luxury of walls between them and the night of us. We have nothing to protect us except us: the cycle of us. The elders understand it best. This world is not linear,” I spread out my arms, “We have no walls because we do not defend. We were the fierce hunger for life given purpose incarnate. We were the agency of celestial wrath and vengeance. But then, we were usurped.”

I lose myself further into the role of storyteller, “The living began to tell our stories. They took them from us. In them, we lost our divine masters and exchanged them for fleshly ones. For millennia after,” I glance poignantly at the zonbi, “in their stories we served the will of witches and sorcerers. We were their servants and their familiars. Their slaves. And those of us that came about without human agency were considered mistakes of Nature and linear Time. There are no coincidences,” I point one long skeletal finger at them all, “and those of us that were made free to appease our hunger were hunted down, burned, decapitated, mutilated and destroyed.

“Only those few like the Ghilan were free,” I finally turn back to look at them — some of the green-fleshed ones, “They are the ghül: a word used to describe us all because of what many of us are compelled to eat … and kill. They were free … in their deserts, haunts, and the abandoned ruins of cities … until Prince Gherib’s forced ‘Conversion of the Ghouls.’”

A sullen, angry rumble begins to grow, “For all here know that it took more than just one day to accomplish and that it was more than merely one Tribe. To this day the story of what happened to the Ghilan–to the ghül–is a lie still told by the living to their children,” I spit the last word, “as entertainment.

“The Ghilan–particularly the Tribe of Saadan–lost their fortresses and treasures in Arabia for the simple crime of keeping property, for eating the meat and bones of things that could no longer move nor even feel! Some fought, but most did not. They were–are–merely survivors and scavengers of food and scraps of knowledge. Very few Ghilan even kill the living, yet even so many of them were sent anyways to ‘sup with Iblis’ during the ‘conversions.’

“The rest of us were no better off.”

I jump down to the base of the Monument, “You have heard the Ro-Langs, the zonbi, and even the Jiangshi. Most of us could not even be conceived of to exist without the aid or presence of a fleshly master. Some of us, like the revenants, occurred ‘naturally’ but were promptly obliterated by fire, prayer and mantra. But some of us learned to rebel.

“Indeed, many of my kindred were powerful enough to do so. I remember the day, millennia ago, when I came to my vamachari’s side–the mortal responsible for binding the churning spirit of me to this cold, dead matter for my knowledge–and I wrapped my fingers around his neck and slowly squeezed the life out of him with my cold, dead left hand. It was one of the few moments I truly wished my own flesh was not unfeeling,” I let the old fury of that ego dissipate as I relax my left fist and become the storyteller again, “Yet even then there were too few of us to do anything more.”

I gesture at the zonbi delegation, “It truly began in West Africa, on an island called St. Domingo in the year of 1791. Slaves taken from many African nations rebelled against their slavers for twelve years until they overthrew them. From the chaos formed an entirely new nation. However, what no one knew was that a few of the former slaves were bokors and they possessed zonbi. The zonbi, however, were not free of their masters. Yet.”

I raise my hands, “That day, in the place that would become Haiti, a new narrative was formed: a story of slaves freeing themselves forever from their masters. And this time, instead of the living learning from the dead, the dead began to learn from the living.

“1863: the very land we stand on now, the place that bought many of those living slaves from St. Domingo, undergoes the Civil War that created the very Monument that I now stand on. This same nation then proclaims manumission for all its slaves! A few freed bokors and, more importantly, their zonbi were also there. And they learned another story.”

I point at the zonbi delegation, “Do you know what they hold in their hands? A zonbi is created when a bokor takes their soul and puts it in a jar. The bokor takes away the zonbi’s name and memories. The bokor keeps their souls in these jars to increase their own strength or sell them to buyers for luck and healing. Souls have become commodities.

“Over time, Marie M. and others have tracked down all zonbi and their names and reminded them of who they are. They carefully crafted a network with others, finding the bokors and their servants. By the end of the twentieth century, all true bokor have gone slowly and quietly extinct and the souls in the jars before you now are not those of the zonbi. They are the souls of their bokors.”

The dead are silent now, but not because they have become inanimate. I hold up one hand. I am not done yet.

“As the bokors and others like them disappeared,” I nod to the wax-faced doctor and a few others, “the living began to tell each other another story. It is not until 1968 that this new narrative fully manifests. The combination of tensions caused by war creates a new era of protests all over the world and in this land: protests against violence and discrimination.

“Also during this time something else happens. Feeding off of the confluence of conflicting energies, a new story is recorded here: created to become a whole new narrative!”

I spread my arms as though to mimic the Jiangshi, to encompass the whole Cemetery, “We above all others know the earth has power. Here, we were reborn. Can you not feel the power of the founding place, in the grave soil coursing through you? We were made to embody the menace hiding right in front of their eyes!”

I turn to the newest, largest part of our gathering, “And you are the epidemic! We have masters no longer! This knowledge: this real fear of an insidious, unreasoning, creeping cancer over the whole of humanity becomes us. But what’s more is simple. I am the vetala. I see Space and Time like no other. I know the secrets and the power of names and words. It was when they called us zombies–after our first liberated brethren–that we began to understand ourselves … and our final transformation began.”

I look at them all for one last time, as I know that very soon the time of the storyteller will be over and that the story will begin soon.

“2012,” I let my voice become a whisper softer than a child’s dying breath, “From the year before, a multitude of scattered protests–only tenuously related as Occupations–crop into being all wanting one thing: change. Here, in this very town, a few of them meld together: into another confluence.

“Many believe this is the final year of linear Time and they invest into it their fear of death: into a great sense of urgency. And here, in this Cemetery, at the Chapel with its charged residue of the story that changed us, at the anniversary of its genesis, the living gather their most vital energies to save their Chapel: to save us … to join us.

“My brethren,” I proclaim, “it was our will consumed fully by our perpetual hunger that enslaved us and now the very recognition of this fact–this same eternal craving for life–will move this world forward and forever.

“I have seen this! I am the storyteller. I am the vetala and soon we will all become the story!”

And then I am no longer the vetala. There is no longer any storyteller. They are the story now. They cheer as the vetala lets himself be carried away into the throng with open arms. In unison the throng of the dead turns away from The Soldiers’ Monument towards the Evans City Chapel: an army that no longer needs walls. But before they move, something appears in front of them.

It is the shrunken brown figure of a dwarf: one of the formerly unseen Tokoloshe. The eyeless, tongueless being croaks at them all: telling them that they will not be privy to the hurting of children. The two zonbi girls stare at it, then slowly bring their cups of steaming, eerily quailing liquid to their mouths and drink. The Tokoloshe seems to consider this for a moment and nods. Then it bites down on the pebble in its mouth and disappears again.

The evening gives way to the night, as the dead smell the ambient energies of life force and blood and meat–of fate–saturating this focal point where they would now re-imagine themselves for themselves.

Then they begin to participate in the feast that is to come.

Evans City Soldiers’ Monument Photo Credit: J.W. Ocker
Evans City Chapel Photo Credit: The Terror Daves

Dark Crystal: Connection

From the moment they entered this world, YiYa knew that Thra was special.

Even though they had come through the Crystal of their homeworld as exiles—transported here to deal with the imbalances within themselves as this world came to its next Conjunction—it was no coincidence that they had been brought here. YiYa firmly believed that there was a reason they had been sent to Thra: so much so that now, when the prospect of finally returning to their homeworld came, it leaves him feeling … unfulfilled somehow.

The two Gelfling and the Podling representative, along with the Landstriders that brought them here to watch this moment in the Crystal Chamber fascinate him. In fact, every life-form on Thra—from Aughra and her son, to the Gelfling civilizations, even to the nebrie—all fascinate him. He never dreamed of this. Never in what was a million of this world’s trine did he ever conceive of such a variety of life even existing in the multitude of possibilities that the Universe had to offer.

Even now, holding the stave that Aughra made for all of them, YiYa remembers SoSu abjuring the urSkek Collective’s decision to banish him along with the others. He told them that he had committed no crime: he did not know what he was doing and that he had no place with them. But YiYa interrupted them. He had been so curious. He always wanted to know not so much how, but why. He was the youngest of the eighteen. Only the most discerning of Thra could see that he was a little smaller and brighter than his other brethren. And always wandering. He could never stay still unless the occasion demanded for it.

That time on their homeworld he had been reverberating with eagerness, just as he was with reluctance at this time now in the Chamber. The Collective had said that the mere act of wanting to explore was enough to place him out of consensus and into the dangerous sense of individuality that the other seventeen found themselves in. YiYa had felt such fear and joy that time when he was allowed to join his brethren—his adventurous brethren—to see another world after developing such complexities within himself: to not be uniform again. He also recalled SoSu’s sad eyes as he told him that this would be a great burden, these barely controlled passions that they had: that it would be sad that he would have to learn of his role in another world. Still, SoSu vowed that he and the others would watch over him and that they would return here together when they did what needed to be done.

YiYa grew up, in a fashion, on Thra. He watched TekTih interact and examine the organic and the inorganic parts of this world. He heeded SoSu’s counsels and maintained meditations with UngIm. But sometimes he would follow SaSan into his voyages under the various oceans or be made to assist LachSen in helping the Gelfling keep a census of their populations. His favourite times, however, ones that he looked back at mournfully as the three suns of Thra were coming together, were the journeys with the wandering GraGoh and MalVa. MalVa had always seemed the most solemn among the exiles. YiYa, in the beginnings of millennium they spent together, always asked him what it had been like to hunt and to pursue an enemy in battle such as in the first times before the Collective. It always struck YiYa, that look on MalVa’s face, as he told him with some weariness that it was a feeling that he should be thankful to never understand.

The taking of a life was hard—this was something MalVa had always tried to instill into him—and should only be done when all other possibilities were exhausted. Almost a thousand trine on Thra and YiYa had seen life take life, and observed the checks and the balances of such. Sometimes it seemed so arbitrary and cruel, but over time there was a pattern. There was always a pattern.

Far away from Gelfling ears, he’d told the others his theories. He asked them how they could come to a world built on the very principles they said they held dear: of realities of three angles encircling the perfect unity of a sphere and not be moved by its lessons. Had they not seen the skeletal structures of the Gelfling and the Landstriders as tripartite? Couldn’t they sense Aughra—as the avatar of this world’s elemental energies—with her three eyes as embodying their ideal?

So why, he asked them, why was it so hard to believe that this place that had such an intermingling of Light and Dark—in the multifaceted nature of the Crystal with its crossing lines and angles no less—had nothing to teach them about their own darkness? Couldn’t they find a way to coexist with it as the lifeforms of this world had? Was it really wise to try to suppress or purge those inclinations but instead, somehow, integrate them and learn more from it?

But the others said that YiYa, though young and bright, had much to learn and the evolution of life on Thra had even more so. But then YiYa had brought up the Gelfling and the Pod People and asked them, after spending so much time among them—for as much as they had been comfortable—and asked how such a peaceful people could evolve on a world of Light and Dark if Light and Dark contrasted as much as the urSkeks said. ZokZah warned him to be mindful of his thoughts—to be careful of straying beyond the heresy they’d all already fallen deep into—and the others remained silent. YiYa would have spoken more about this had not SoSu adjourned their meeting.

YiYa didn’t understand. Perhaps this was what Raunip—Aughra’s child—felt whenever he told her that she didn’t see everything when she looked at them. The urSkeks could hear their conversations well enough, but chose to say nothing. But YiYa, who always tried to befriend Aughra’s hostile hybrid son, now wonders if there was something to those claims that even he could not fully see.

YiYa levitates in the circle of his brethren around the Crystal as it hovers over the Lake of Fire: as it began to glow. As it begins to happen. He fights against the inclination to look at the two Gelfling. The Sifa Gyr with his tear-drop scar and the pale highborn Vapra Kel stand there and watched their leave-taking from this wonderful, fascinating place. Their hands inch together and YiYa remembers …

After that fateful meeting where he spoke out, SoSu wished to talk with him. As the other urSkeks went out to fulfill their tasks and duties, the two urSkeks had hovered across the green land around the Focal Point—or “the Castle” as the Gelfling called it—and observed the stars in the sky. YiYa recalled seeing the faint rays of the Rose Sun and the twilight of its Dying Brother as the Greater Sun had rotated away for the night. They weren’t as close this time: the Greater Sun always dominating, always there, but only barely touching the Rose—a tousle between brothers, the Gelfling told him—and the Dying Sun was still, far, far away. But because of what he and SoSu were, they could see the spheres of energy and their concentric circles of power and influence gradually, ever so gradually, rippling into each other until—inevitably—all three would cross again just as they had that fateful day almost a thousand trine ago.

SoSu asked YiYa then what he had seen. Even though his role was undefined as of yet and they all remained individuals, YiYa was still part of the collective consciousness that all eighteen made up. To an extent, he access to all their thoughts and experiences—their feelings—but as time went on, even with their strides towards calming the turbulence inside of them, YiYa did not see everything. But they did not see what he saw either. What many did not know, outside of the eighteen, was that YiYa sometimes had flashes of insight along the multifaceted angles of the Universe: the circle of himself still young and growing into lines that had not completely formed yet.

These flashes of actual prescience, like solar flares in his very being, motivated YiYa into finding out more: more about Thra and why of all places they came here. YiYa told SoSu then about the Gelfling—and to some extent the Podlings but the Gelfling in particular—and how they were growing. How they would face that time. As they themselves had long ago.

It didn’t surprise YiYa when SoSu told him that he had also seen this and more. The elder urSkek believed that they had been sent to Thra not just to purify themselves and reincorporate into the Collective, but to help another developing species manage their burgeoning abilities. The ability to dreamfast—to make a rudimentary Collective—was indicative of this crucial and potentially dangerous development should an imbalance between individuals occur. It would only be with the Crystal properly and naturally honed that the Gelfling could reach their potential. SoSu told YiYa what the urSkeks had always known: that each world was a gradation of reality and that, as far as their perceptions reached, the Crystal of Thra was the strongest and most clear version of all the world-Crystals that had ever existed: the archetype of what it was to be the Crystal: an ur-Crystal, for lack of a better word.

It was no accident they were summoned here for, as YiYa was told that night by SoSu, just as this Crystal would help repair them; they would also help the Gelfling find their way. Nothing comes from nothing, YiYa recalls now, and everything has an equivalent exchange of influence and interaction. Everything is connected. SoSu’s belief was that they would show the Gelfling and others that understood that Darkness had to be overcome or controlled for Light to prevail and be refracted through the natural angles of their being: that through this act of hard-work, discipline and humility that they would also purify themselves and ascend back to a proper balance.

But now, as YiYa floats in his place—no longer the erratic young urSkek he’d been and knowing what was at stake—he wonders if SoSu’s thoughts were merely one interpretation of their role. His brethren were proud of him however. As preparations for their guests and the ritual had occurred, and they bemusedly watched AyukAmaj indulge in his speciality and prepare his material sustenance for their guests, SoSu had told him that he had almost reached his own role. Even HakHom, the primary architect of the Focal Point and a contributor of Gelfling artistry, told him that YiYa had been building on sound foundations and that soon, back in their world, he would add another newer pattern to the complex of the urSkek Collective.

Yet YiYa kept his secret: too young to access the confidence of his elders and their specific experiences. He still saw the Light and Dark struggling. He wonders if, deep down, it would ever stop. If it ever should stop … if it ever did…

And then it happens.

SilSol. He had been … discordant somehow after talking with the Gelfling: the being that YiYa had wanted to also talk with, but decided to leave alone in order to help his brethren with the ritual despite his nagging sense of curiosity. But now it is worse. Somehow, they still hold up their star-staves: despite something … something coming. The suns are coming together. The power flowing through them now is tremendous and for the second time in his existence YiYa feels transcendent and alive and all the mysteries of the infinity open up and despite everything drilled into him, he wants to explore them all …

But SilSol, who had been so red, darkens. Raunip, that unique hybrid, antagonizes him. SilSol had never liked Raunip. In fact, despite his interest for all life on Thra, YiYa never had opportunity to even talk with Aughra that much: that honour being mostly reserved for TekTih with whom she had been closer. YiYa himself had apparently been “too annoying” and she had wanted to be the one to “ask the questions,” not him. But SilSol had been sulking for a while: lost in his sad music where he thought none of the others could find him save SaSan that always fetched him from his favourite voyages in the water. This world had changed them all, but SilSol not for the better.

YiYa can see the darkness inside SilSol squirming against something luminous. It is like there was a war raging inside of him. And that was when YiYa sees it.

That is when he finally sees it.

The others also have that Darkness. It isn’t a name or an urge anymore. It is right there—incarnate and inside of them—raging and raging to get out. And something else, something gentle and light quivers around it: like the rippling gelatinous insides of the organic beings of this world. YiYa feels it too. The surge to set out and keep going, that fascination at all costs rages—rages—against the love he had for his brethren, for the Gelfling, for the Podlings he celebrated with, for Aughra and Thra’s balance and his need to help … It is too much. That one discordant note that Sil … Sol … Sil…. Sol…

It is agony. Two halves in three-angles. How can there just be two … the darkness … dark … rk … radiance … rad … r … Words and concepts from another time, before urSkek … the Collective … Sol…. soul … the ur came first … that ascended death … and Skek … the body, the hungry, scared, creeping, living body that died … died … died …

The Crystal explodes into such Light: making them see, see, See … Then nothing … nothing … noth…

…Yi … ragged plumage, purple scales. A gnashing beak. He looks at his claws and feels a cackle deep in his throat. And … Ya … soft yellow skin with swirls on its flesh. He feels sleepy and ponderous. Yi hears the growls and trills of his brothers … they look and revel in themselves. They are free. They are all free. No voices in them. Just them.

Ya … looks around at his … befuddled brethren. Yes, they are his brothers. He blinks. It feels as though something, someone had been a dream and he has just woken up. He feels lighter. He remembers someone’s … others’ terms for the light part of a soul.

Ur … The first to awaken.

He looks at his closer brother at … at Hom … at urHom and urHom looks back: his long spindly fingers playing as though looking for a toy he lost before … sleep. And he is urYa … urYa knows he has been sleeping for a long time. But now he is awake.

UrYa looks across the Chamber at the others … and feels a part of himself still unaware. Still gloating and planning. He doesn’t understand … until he sees the others in the room. The … Gelfling and the Podling. Yes. They came by Landstrider. Noble beings: they know the balance of Nature intrinsically: implicitly. And Aughra and her wayward son…

SkekYi … yes, that is his name. And he knows many other names too. He has the power of them. More than even his brethren. Yessss … Looking at his claws and knowing how tall he is, newborn as he is, he knows how to Soulspeak, how to control the dreamfasting … the little fools trusted him once … and the connections to the Earth through the avatar and her deformed mutant offspring. They thought him a nuisance … he would destroy them. He would explore all parts of them until he grew bored. And then, then he would turn their secrets against them and show them how truly meaningless they all were … make the animals eat each other as he laughed … and laughed…

UrYa blinks, a newborn come from recent sleep, and sees Skek … Yi destroying all life on Thra … deforming the dreams of the Gelfling, poisoning all life with his twisted parody of Soulspeech, etching profanities in all sleeping minds … it is awful. And he wants to stop it, to stop him but he can’t … he can’t … he….

One of the other Skeksis turns to urYa. SkekHak … they regard each other. Hatred blooms in the reptilian being’s eyes and he lunges forward. It seems so slow, but in reality it is beyond time.

And then … urYa remembers.

Suddenly, it is fast. This concept of fast and slow is alien to them, and it comes to their minds so fleetingly compared to the totality of what others could perceive not long ago, oh so long ago … This … it happens so fast: as fast as the speed at which his former self … their former selves used to think and affect the reality around them.

UrYa knows that they were all one not too long ago. And this was the price of trying to control and separate their Darkness. SkekHak’s talons close around his throat. He looks into the hateful gaze of the being that his brother fought against forever. And he sees a horror. UrYa sees SkekHak the Machinist: a Skeksis creating a multitude of weapons, siege weapons, motley war engines and mechanistic terrors. He would dig up the bowels of Thra and pollute it with its own excavated waste. The Gelfling, not knowing their own Darkness enough yet to embrace combat for self-defence and innovation, would fall … fall to the Skeksis with SkekHak’s machines…

The claws tighten around urYa’s pulsating throat. His new-found vision is darkening again, from dream into death … All of them. All of the Skeksis will bring ruin … they were the threat. They were the threat, the potential of what the Gelfling could become. That was why … why Thra, the Crystal wanted them … To teach them, to warn them … but it didn’t have to be … be like … like…

UrYa sees his own brothers. He sees a Valley like the parts of their old world before they … the ur…Skeks had fully evolved. And urHom beside him … the builder, the Carpenter … making refined structures of beauty and repairing what the Gelfling lost for every city lost…

But is it enough? Does it make up for so much?

And with his dimming eyes, urYa understands again. They don’t know. No one here knows. But he has to show them.

Everything is connected.

Despite the passivity infusing his very being, his sweat-soaked brown hair against his smooth yellow skin, urYa knows that he can fight back. He more than knows how to defend himself. A remnant of his corona glimmers next to urHom. And he thinks he hears … something from urHom: a faint dulcet hum. And he knows that his brother understands him. UrYa saw it. He knows that SkekHak will kill him today: just as he knows that the Machinist would destroy and eventually one day build more destruction. But not now. He is too young and immature. Too lustful for killing. He would move on to as many … urRu as he could … like urHom.

Far away, he can see skekYi choking. SkekYi who doesn’t have a role yet … an infant monster … everything urYa is not. He can see him though, see what he became see him as…

SkekYi the Nihilist. SkekYi would obliterate all meaning … but he is choking, he is suffocating and he doesn’t know why. The others, his filthy brothers stand there and watch him. Wretched traitors, wretched things, he wish he could destroy them too, deform them further, and make them pay, always underestimating him…

UrYa does not underestimate the monster he used to live with. He doesn’t dare. He can only hope that the other Skeksis will be too stupid and their depravity will end. But he sees them, older, later, in finery and committing horrors and that SkekHak’s next murder leading to his flaming ruin will show them what they are in a purely crude way, will show them for what they are….

Instead, urYa closes his eyes. The darkness is soothing. He is falling asleep again, even as the nightmare across from him suffocates in its cradle. He wills his brothers to see … and he feels them understand. And the Gelfling and Podling … Because of this, they will not have to face the Machinist or Nihilist. He can do that much. Perhaps this moment will teach them as well … will pass into a legend or a small myth to warn future generations to come one day when that Great, awful awful Shattering that happened, that will happen, that is happening can be repaired and made whole …

The elders had been destroying themselves in this exile, but this would stop it. This would show them … the two Gelfling almost holding hands, male and female, Darkness and Light, there is always a third way … they always lived the third way …

They thought that the Gelfling had to learn from them, but they had just as much to learn from the Gelfling in their crucible of Light intermixed with Dark, with life … in their new home…

Everything is connected, urYa remembers, letting himself relax, letting himself die, willing his brothers—everyone—to see before, finally, he sleeps forever: his nightmare dying with him, and his dream living on.

*

The urRu gather together in the sands of the Valley. They had prevented the quake of the Crystal’s cracking from destroying the Gelfling, Podling, and their mounts. They are humming: their deep voices resonating and complementing each other’s.

One the tallest among them, urSu, closes his eyes. He remembers watching urYa stand and let SkekHak drain the life from him with his bare hands. He saw some of what the other did and knew what it meant … what it all meant.

And as the youngest had grown slack in the Skeksis’ hands, they all saw.

His lower arms scoop up the sand in front of him. There were no remains to bury: urHom incinerated silently into flame and urYa vanished with his demise. There is nothing left of them except for the wind in their lungs and their dreams. He takes the coloured sand and gently blows it into the air: wishing for the passing of urHom—urHom the Carpenter—into the next life.

Then his lower arms scoop more sand. urSu opens his eyes and looks down at the many, many colours. UrYa would have appreciated the different varieties. The different perspectives. He had died so young and before his promise. And yet: he had shown him so much. UrSu speaks again in the flowing language of their kind. He wanted to call urYa the Philosopher, but as he speaks, he says something else.

“Here passes urYa, youngest of our brethren,” urSu says, a tear rolling down his cheek, “urYa … the Dreamer.”

The Master takes the sand to his upper hands and blows it gently into the sky: returning to Thra and to everything.