Wednesday 2 December 2009

stray thoughts while re-reading The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1

A forum I post at is having a sort of Alan Moore Book Club discussion, starting with LOEG. Here are my comments about the first few pages of this fine graphic narrative:

'The British Empire has always had difficulty distinguishing its monsters and its heroes,' says Campion Bond right at the outset of this series (or words very like), and Moore proceeds to explore the heroic ideals of an era (of several eras once you come to the appendices to Volume 2 or the timeframe of Volume 3) and humanise the heroes and monsters of English imaginative literature of the last few centuries.

The opening chapters of Volume 1 are very interesting in the way they introduce different members of the League. The very first member we meet is Mina, whom we do not at once identify as Mina Murray from Dracula. She simply seems like a young woman, a rather slight young woman and an odd choice for this role, despite a certain icy strength to her demeanor. A woman who has no powers of her own (unlike the vampiric femme fatale of the film version), it seems Mina has been chosen for a role of power unusual for a woman in her times because she may be the only somewhat biddable person at hand who has past experience in dealing with monsters - whether they truly be heroes or not. As we shall see, the Empire and in particular Bond and M (names that should be ringing bells by now) have vastly underestimated how biddable this woman can be.

The attention to detail in this series is incredible and seen right from the first page, from Bond's cigarette case with its harlequin motif and the incomplete construction they are standing on with its dedication plaque.

Next, we encounter the archetypal British adventure-story hero but in a deeply untypical context - he is a broken man, an opium addict who forswears all allegiance to the Crown. Yet, he is drawn in by the heat of the moment as Mina is imperilled and he rises to her defense. She claims she could handle herself, but the fact is that no true adventure hero can resist a damsel-in-distress. It is interesting to note that Moore's portrayal of Quatermain is no mere postmodern subversion - the character of this other Alan is given a depth and maturity over the course of the series that both re-affirms many of the English values of valour and fortitude the character stood for, along with the self-sufficient stoicism Haggard gave him while enlarging the character beyond stereotypes that may have attached to him in the eyes of those whose main knowledge of the character was a high-school reading of King Solomon's Mines. Moore treats his original respectfully, I think, enlarging the tradition rather than simply upending it or appropriating it for his own use. This is a key factor in producing successful pastiche that goes beyond mere pastiche to become a vital addition to the narrative it draws from.

The next member recruited runs counter to the typical 'British adventure-story hero' stereotype of the day, being an Asiatic submariner from a French novel. Nemo's role and character in the first two volumes of this series is of a great complexity and significance, allowing Moore to work in some comment on the British Empire from an outside perspective - but I shall stop short on this point for fear of being accused, as elsewhere in these fora, of indulging in anti-Imperialist diatribes.


priya said...

wow! wel read and precisely comprehended the matter..i liked the way u presented this material..

banzai cat said...

have you ever tried to use that part of history in your fiction? i.e. post-colonial writing?

*pardon if i ever asked this of you before. my brain, it fails as i grow older. :(

JP said...

Not consciously, but perhaps it creeps in. Certainly some parts of 'Aranya's Last Voyage' can be read in that light, but I think most of my other stories are either vapid and fluffy (the children's fiction) or alienated and nihilistic (everything else). (Or is it the other way around?)