Thursday, June 28, 2012

New Kenfield Comic Worth Looking Into

Hi all, Josh Kenfield has begun posting a new webcomic written in collaboration with Alex Zalben.  I'm a big fan of Kenfield's work (and he is a friend of mine) so I'm excited to see where this will go.  So, if you want to see what happens when you throw a teddy bear into the land of Film Noir, just click the link.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Something, Dear Reader, Besides Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLXIII

So, what else shall we talk about?  Contrary to what my blog may lead you to believe, I don't sit around all day reading Terry brooks and trying to recover my lost childhood.  Life goes on and there are other things to be interested in.  Recently, my wife and I decided that it was time to go back and read Jane Eyre together.  Jane Eyre was the first book my wife and I read together after we were married and it was also my mother's favorite book for years and years.  I first encountered it in tenth grade at a time when most of my subsequent literary tastes were being formed (I'd already gotten to know Tolkien and Homer, and was just meeting Tennyson) and I've loved it ever since.  Subsequent readings always bring out some new treasure and here are a few of the things we've noticed thus far(we're about half way through):

1. Blanche Ingram shares many similarities of person and personality with Bertha Mason.  In selecting her to make Jane jealous, is Mr. Rochester also offering Jane a chance to see that she wins out over Bertha via proxy?

2. Bronte excels at writing witty, flirtatious dialog.  Look especially at the scene where she asks Mr. Rochester for leave to return to Gateshead.

3. Fire is a key image in Jane Eyre, but it is a bivalent symbol.  Sometimes, as with hearth fires, it's a positive thing, but then there's also the volcano imagery that's twice used of Rochester is a very dark and hellish sort of way.  Jane at one point remarks that she's drawn by this fiery undercurrent and is tempted to "stare into the abyss" without fear, an unnervingly diabolic image.

4. The three pictures in Bewick's British Birds seem to furnish the inspiration for Jane's three Miltonic paintings that she shows to Rochester later in the book.

5. Jane, as a character, really does act and think like a nineteen-year old.

6. Jane Eyre is a novel that has its heroine constantly seeking a via media between strong opposites.  There's Eliza and Georgiana, Brocklehurst and St. John, or St. John and Rochester, but who pairs off with Helen Burns?  Is it Miss Temple, Jane, or does she not have a pair?

7. The novel's more fantastic elements are held up by a strong vein of psychological realism.  There's a lot to read between the lines here, especially in terms of navigating abuse and dependency.

8. Why is Jane the only one of the household staff who doesn't know that there's an invalid at Thornfield.  Even the charwoman knows!  Is it because they don't know if she'll stay very long and might bring news of the scandal beyond the confines of Milcote?

9. Jane can't fix the "Byronic Hero" (Mr. Rochester), only God can do that.  This could have been a story about a good woman reforming a wayward man, but Bronte's too clever for that.  Both Jane and Rochester need to die to themselves and give up on one another, that God then chooses to bring them back together is seen as a mercy, not a necessity.

10. Re the "mistakes" in the book: are they all just a matter of Bronte's ignorance, or can we place them on Jane as an inexperienced narrator?  

To see earlier musings on Jane Eyre, look here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

8-Bit Imagination: Platypus Nostalgia

Evidently there are a series of concept drawings created by Katsuya Terada for the first few Legend of Zelda games that have been floating around the internet (for how long before I discovered them I'm not sure).  I have to echo what I hear wherever these pictures turn up: this is the game as I imagined it when I was a kid.  There's something haunting and spacious about Katsuya Terada's images that captures all the feelings of mystery and adventure that came with playing a Zelda game.  The art that was actually released with the booklets for the games is far more "cartoony" and "safe."  Of course, the original games were made with children in mind and it makes sense that the marketing team would prefer brighter and more cartoon-like images.  What interests me, however, is that if these pictures were in fact used as concept art for the games why was there one set of visuals (a much more mature and visually arresting set) for the programers and a very different set for the consumers.  Perhaps it just comes down to a matter of different artists working for different departments that don't talk to each other.  Whatever the case may be, I'm sure there are enough people like me out there for it to be worth Nintendo's while to put out a Zelda game that brings Katsuya Terada's version of Hyrule to life.

...or would that ruin it?  The monster that is seen is never as scary as the monster that is unseen.  The book is always better in the movie.  There's something about the power of the imagination that always eludes our powers of creation in space and time.  Katsuya Terada's drawings are snapshots that provoke the imagination, not replace it.  The genius of the images seems to be as much in their starkness as in their detail: as much in what they don't show as what they show.  Would we be as impressed if we knew what was around the corner?  Would the monster be as monstrous if we could see it clearly?  Maybe the great thing about the early Zelda games was that the low level of technology required so much from the gamer's imagination.  They were mere sketches; you had to fill in the rest.  There was room for the imagination to run riot.  I don't know.  For old gamers, the question of nostalgia has to be raised: how much of this is just pining for an idealized and simpler time?

None of these questions are very profound, but as the first generation of gamers reaches maturity, it makes sense that we'd want to look back and reflect upon these unique pastimes.  Have we learned anything from them?  Are we any better off for having had them?  Is there anything here that has relevance for our lives today?  Can we make them better?  What should we pass on to younger gamers?  I guess that's the real point of this post; the real point of this series of posts.  Now that I'm old enough to reflect, what have I learned upon reflection? 

More Druid of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLXII

Today's discussion of Terry Brooks' The Druid of Shannara brings us up to chapter 8.  As always, don't read on if you're worried about spoilers.

Once Quickening has done her requisite miracle in restoring the Meed Gardens, she then calls her disciples to her.  Three is a nice archetypal number, and it's much easier to handle three characters than twelve.  These guys aren't out to spread the good news, however, but to find relics and fight monsters.  Hellboy would be proud.  Anyhow, getting disciple number two means busting Morgan Leah out of jail.  It also means that we discover pretty quickly the Pe Ell (Pet Eel), has control issues.  As a pay-off, however, we get to see a nice flashback to a conversation with Rimmer Dal.  Once Morgan's out of the pen, we get a brief glimpse of Walker Boh trying to cure himself of the Asphinx's ("a sphinx," "not-sphinx," *anasphinxeus?) poison before we cut over to Coll Ohmsford and more Rimmer Dal.  Here again we have the question of just how much of the truth Rimmer Dal is telling.  That's the broad outline.  Now, let's take a more detailed look at what's going on.

Much of the Quickening thread of this book is told from the p.o.v. of Pe Ell, the assassin.  Naturally, it would be a mistake to tell it from Quickening's p.o.v. (Familiarity breeds contempt and the character's alterity will already almost certainly suffer the more time we spend in contact with her even if she's not the p.o.v. character).  Morgan would be a nice choice since we're familiar with him.  It's Walker's book, so I assume some of this will remain in his p.o.v. even after he joins the group (lv1 druid lfg?).  The question remains: why Pe Ell?  At a guess, I'd say that Brooks finds him interesting; he kills people, has a mysterious past, works for chief baddy Rimmer Dal, and his desire to kill Quickening places him fundamentally at odds with the rest of the team.  This should tell us something: Pe Ell is interesting while Quickening is boring.  Is that it?  We'll see.  

Shifting over to Walker, he remains one of the more interesting characters around, but his pessimism and angst will eventually make him a pain.  Brooks needs to fix that quickly (or quickeningly), and I have a feeling that's what he has in mind.  Cogline needs more screen time too as this is his story in the way that the previous series was Allanon's story.  I expect to see more of him as we go on.  Everyone likes Rumor too, and that has to be one huge Chekhov's gun waiting to go off.

Finally, we have Coll and his inevitable escape attempt that we should be pretty sure is just what Rimmer Dal wants.  The big question is why?  Again, Brooks shows us clearly what he intends to do and leaves the why and how to vex and puzzle us.  Notice that we're also allowed enough information to be sure that Rimmer Dal is the bad guy, but not enough to know how much of what he says is true or how much of what he says he believes to be true.  This creates just enough doubt to keep things interesting while preserving the sense of a clear "moral up and down" that works like this need in order to function.

Those are my thoughts for today.  Best wishes until next time!

Friday, June 22, 2012

More Druid of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLXI

It's Friday morning, the piano (a hundred year old Hardman and Peck baby grand) is being tuned in the next room, I have my toast and tea and it's time to blog.  So... What shall we blog about?

Well, at the top of today's list is Terry Brooks' The Druid of Shannara.  Having advanced to somewhere around chapter 4 (the book is upstairs and I don't want to disturb the piano tuner to get it), let's continue our rambling discussion of this second book in the Heritage of Shannara Series.

After finding out that the King of the Silver River so loved the Eastland that he sent his one and only daughter that whosoever meets her will get warm eco-fuzzies, we move on to Morgan Leah (don't worry, I will get back to the warm eco-fuzzies).  Morgan has now firmly detatched from Par and Coll's orbit and seems to be spinning towards Walker Boh.  This is an interesting and probably wise choice since the Highlander doesn't seem to be able to develop much as a character while in the shadow of the Ohmsfords.  I'm not sure why that should be the case, but maybe it's because his role among them is established as the over-weening trickster.  Whatever the case may be, Morgan has definitely grown since we first met him pretending to be a mud-monster back in the Highlands.  He's starting to become a seasoned resistance fighter.  Ok, so did his attempt to save Auntie Jilt and Granny Elsie land him in prison?  Well at least it got the dwarf women free and that's almost as good a track record as Padishar Creel, resistance-movement leader extraordinaire.  The point is that he's no longer the shallow prankster of yore.  But what is Morgan turning into?  That's the real question.  Morgan's growth has been through experiencing loss.  In order for him to finish the growth process, he will need to find a new wholeness (symbolized, you will note, by the broken sword of Leah he still carries around with him).  Now this explains why he has to drift into Walker's orbit on the level of theme.  Walker is broken too, and not just physically.  As with Morgan's broken sword, Walker's severed and poisoned arm is a symbol of his inward brokenness.  Walker's been broken inside a lot longer than the Highlander and the effort to "re-grow" has warped him.  With a spirit like a miss-set bone, Walker Boh has to be broken again in order to be healed.

Enter Quickening and the theme of this volume.  Quickening is healing incarnate.  Her whole purpose is to give life back to the Four Lands.  Anyone who joins her is in need of healing and will ultimately need to either accept that and grow or reject it and die.  There you go, the book in four sentences.  Now, of course, if Quickening is a huge, flaming, neon, Christ-type, this healing will also necessitate her betrayal and death.  Enter Pe Ell (another character with an inexplicable fantasy name).  We know right off that he is the chosen Judas Escariot and that his whole purpose in the novel is to off the Chosen One.  Brooks waves it right in our face and doesn't bother to hide it.  Now that's interesting.  As with Teel on a small scale, so now with Quickening on a large scale, Brooks is openly telling us what he intends to do with his characters.  The interest now lies in seeing how he gets there.  That's an older writing technique: one more at home in the world of Beowulf, or The Iliad.  If Brooks can pull it off, then it will be yet another sign of his growing maturity as a writer.

One final thought.  I've talked a bit in the past about Brooks setting out to create a "thin" world that serves as a simple backdrop for the stories he wants to tell and being forced, by sheer accumulation of prose to create a "thick" world.  So far, Brooks has accepted this and used the "thickness" provided by the first Shannara series to enrich the narrative of the Heritage Series.  Right off the bat, however, in The Druid of Shannra the problem of "thickness" returns: the Four Lands have no religion; not even a lack of religion.  That's not really a problem, much of the religious aspect of Middle Earth is submerged in The Lord of the Rings.  The problem for Mr. Brooks is that he's introduced a blatantly messianic character and the only way that other characters can interact with her is to offer vague hopes for deliverance from oppression and thankfulness to the earth for being pretty and growing foodstuffs.  That's rather bland and unbelievable.  Since there are no "Pharisees" for Quickening to dispute with and no real religious sentiments to be communicated through parables, Brooks will need to get Quickening away from Culhaven, the Federation, and her disciples a.s.a.p.  Now, of course, that means that we'll have to enter some weird territory.  Brooks has established Quickening as a feminine earth-messiah with very explicit Christological parallels.  To have her suddenly break from following the life of Christ and instead follow the life of Frodo muddies things on a thematic level.  All that to say: I think Terry Brooks has painted himself into a corner this time and I'll love to see if he can get out of it.

Well, I'm out of tea and out of ideas so I guess it's time to stop.  The reading, of course, will continue and I should be back with a new post soon.  Keep well in the meantime!      

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Terry Brooks' Druid of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLX

My efforts to live blog my way through Terry Brooks' Heritage Series continues with The Druid of Shannara.  This is the book in the series that I remember least from my childhood readings: a few characters and a couple of plot points at most.  I'll be interested to see if I can determine why that's the case on this read through.  Before we begin, however, I thought it would be best to restate my reasons for writing this series of posts.  I haven't read anything by Terry Brooks since Jr. High with the exception of The Sword of Shannara (which I worked my way through on a plane trip back from Oxford).  Over the years, I kept meeting people who had read the books and liked them, but I was increasingly unable to remember anything.  I've also always been interested in writing and Terry Brooks is one of the real success stories of the Fantasy Genre over the last thirty years (I believe every book he has published has been a New York Times Bestseller).  So, last summer I decided it was time to re-read the seven core books with an eye on two things: situating Brooks in terms of the development of the Fantasy genre, and taking his writings as a case study in how an author develops his craft to appeal to a mass audience.  I also decided to review the Shannara books using a sort of "live blog" format where I would write down my thoughts (as much as possible) after each spate of reading.  The purpose of this was twofold: to offer room for a more careful dissection of the work than that offered by the typical blog post, and to try and capture as closely as possible the effect of each passage on the reader while working through the book (as opposed to looking back on it after finishing and being able to see the story as a whole).  I decided to do this as a series of blog posts in order to keep myself accountable for actually finishing the project and also on the chance that other Shannara readers might be interested (if not with every post, then at least with summary ones).  That said, let's get on with a look at the first two chapters of The Druid of Shannara.

*Spoilers and Such*

The Druid of Shannara opens with the King of the Silver River, a sort of Tom Bombadil analog that has taken on a life of its own as the series progressed.  We might take this a central metaphor for the whole series: something that began as a mere pastiche of Tolkien and has over time evolved into its own separate universe.  I wonder if the mention of "The Word" caught my eye when I was in Jr. High.  I was studying the Gospel of John for Quiz Team at the time.  If it did, I don't remember it.  of course, Terry Brooks' word is a rather different thing than the Son of Man or even Marcus Aurelius' Logos.  Still, the Christian resonances in this passage are unmistakable: a servant of The Word in imitation of its creator draws up earth into itself and begets a child that will go into the world and redeem it (of course this is only a creature doing this so there is no question of eternal procession, distinct persons, substances, etc.).  The markedly mythic language that Brooks employs to describe the whole scene is a welcome change adding the richness of an implied mythology to the imagined world of the Four Lands.  There are some similarities here to what Ursula K. LeGuin was doing at the same time in her Earthsea novels with the "daughter of god" character, Tehanu and I wonder if there is any connection or correlation.  Looking back at the function that Quickening will serve, I see shades of God Emperor of Dune, and of course the name implies a connection with the Highlander Series.  Who knows what was in the water or in the leaf-mold of the mind when this opening was devised.  In this opening chapter I also encountered my first reminder of how little I remember about this book: I couldn't remember a thing about the story's villain, Uhl Belk.

Once the story moves on to Walker Boh, my memory revives a little (but not much).  I do enjoy that Walker is a little more cerebral than the other heroes.  It's interesting to have a main character in these novels who's closer to thirty than to fifteen.  Maybe that's a clue as to why I this book evidently didn't make much impression on me all those years ago.  Whatever may be the case, Walker definitely has a more philosophical (I use the term loosely) and emotional journey than the other characters thus far.  The reappearance of Cogline in this section is also welcome.  We sense that Walker's success on the quest will be proportional to his relationship with the old man.  This is a nice little added complexity: Walker isn't just going on a quest to save the Four Lands, he's also going on a quest to find peace with himself and his adopted father.  Again, I find that Brooks' skill as a writer has grown leaps and bounds since the writing of The Wishsong of Shannra even if this is all still very much in the realm of light fiction.

Well, times wasting and that's all I've really got for today.  As always, we'll see how it goes.  Best wishes all!      

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Thus Spoke the Platypus: Fragment

Utnapishtim sat upon his rock and his disciple stood at his feet and was listening to all the words that Utnapishtim was saying from out of his wisdom.  Now the time of afternoon meal came upon them and Utnapishtim bid his disciple to be seated on the grass.  Then he drew forth a fish and divided it with his disciple and bade him eat saying:

"Eat of this fish, oh my disciple, for Utnapishtim would be as this fish and would you not be as Utnapishtim?  Now learn from this fish for it has its beginnings here in the waters of my Lake but when its youthly-vigor and its power come upon it then it follows the Great River to the Sea and becomes a creature of the Sea, but when the time comes it returns from the Sea even to the waters of the Lake where it was born.  Does it not know the Lake because it knows the Sea; does it not know the Sea because it knows the Lake; does it not know the Great River from striving against it?"

Then the disciple of Utnapishtim was silent and pondered much the words that came from the mouth of Utnapishtim.  At last, the spirit within him moved and he opened his mouth and spoke to Utnapishtim thus:

"Oh my teacher, Utnapishtim, wisest of men, what can these things mean?  I am in great perplexity; save me.  I am in confusion; hasten to my aid.  Do not the Sons of Arius think this way: by cutting and making division.  Do they not say "know Light by Darkness, and Darkness by Light?"

Then Utnapishtim drew forth from his belt a knife and cut the fish and gave again a piece of the fish to his disciple and said:

"Take this oh my disciple and eat; eat and be refreshed.  Did I not tell you that Wisdom has a knife?  Did I not tell you that it is sharper than all the blades of the Sons of Arius, yea greater than the sword of the Prophet of the Sons of Arius?  But you are in error, for you do not discern the words that I have said to you.  Did not Wisdom divide Light from Dark, did not Wisdom divide the Land from the Waters, and the Waters Above from the Waters Below?  But the error of the sons of Arius consists in this: that they divide Man from Himself; and their folly is this; that they divide Man from Wisdom.  Know the Mountain from the Valley, know the Lake from the Sea, but do not know Man apart from Himself; do not know Man apart from Wisdom.  Cut the fish to pieces; you will not find it.  Cut it into a thousand pieces; it is not there.  Part the fish from the waters and it dies; part the man from Wisdom and he is no more."

Thus Spoke Utnapishtim

Final Thoughts on the Scions of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLIX

This review of Terry Brooks' The Scions of Shannara will take us up to the end of the book.  I intend to continue these reviews with the next book in the series The Druid of Shannara.

*Spoiler Alert*

I want to start with plot structure because it is such a fundamental test of an author's ability.  Watching Brooks grow as a writer over more than a decade reveals just how much work the man was willing to put into his craft and how much he was able to grow through practice, guidance, and determination.  Great writers may be born, but good writers can certainly be made.  If they choose to write light fiction for entertainment, that's their choice.  Anyhow, I think it's only fit to start out this final review of The Scions of Shannara by saying that it reaches a new level.  No longer is Brooks writing "Hardy Boys meets Tolkien," this novel stands, modestly, on its own two legs.  So, that said, let's talk plot structure.

In the end, we move from a story of three threads to a story of five (Par/Coll/Damson, Wren, Walker, Padishar/Morgan, Cogline).  All are interlaced with skill in a way that brings the first volume of the Heritage Series to a masterful and satisfying conclusion.  I might quibble that Wren's screen time is a bit arbitrary and seems only to be there to keep her at the front of the reader's mind, but there's nothing in the episode or the way Brooks interlaces it to gripe about.  The nice symmetry of beginning and ending with Cogline should atone for any minor deficiencies anyway.  Just comparing this with the two interlacing plots of the previous novel, The Wishsong of Shannara, should demonstrate how much Terry Brooks has grown as a writer.

Moving from plot structure to the crafting of individual episodes, I am again very much satisfied with the book.  The fall of the Jut is well handled with an ending that strikes a good balance: there's still hope, but winning will be much harder, and much more costly, than we first were led to believe.  The betrayal of Teel is allowed to be predictable from the first, a more advanced story-telling choice, and tension instead derives from wondering if the characters will put two and two together in time.  This also allows some real character growth for Morgan and keeps him from being a redundant character (a real danger for a time in the middle of the novel).  While I believe the Jut to be the best-crafted of the threads in the end, I do have to praise the way Brooks uses Walker Boh relatively static and unopposed journey as a foil for the more outwardly strenuous efforts of the other characters.  Par and Coll may not interest me as much, and I may still hold that Damson is an ill fit, but their story works quite well on the level of adventure and the conversation with Rimmer Dall is a wonderful twist.

Considering characters, I think Rimmer Dall needs to take pride of place.  All along, Brooks has had a love of monsters that can only be rivaled by Frank Peretti.  Indeed, like Peretti, he seems also to have figured out that demons make some of the best monsters.  This means that we've never really had much of a compelling villain before, just big scary monsters and mysterious boss-monsters.  First Seeker Rimmer Dall, however, is a new thing; a monster who wants to rationally propound why he is not a monster.  Now, of course, Dall is mostly lying, so that can't put him on a level with the Operative from Serenity, but it's a genuine development and sign of growth as an author.  Real villains don't think that they're villains.  As William DeFoe said in an interview when asked what the difference was between portraying heroes and villains on screen: "No difference: everyone thinks their righteous."  Brooks effort to have a more complex psychology for his foes raises the level of his world.  Next in line comes Padishar Creel who wins the "Best Supporting Character" award.  He's some sort of weird cross between Erol Flynn and Clint Eastwood, but it works.  He's also a much needed mentor figure for our particularly young ensemble.  Speaking of mentors, I've also been impressed with the metamorphosis of Cogline from throw-away character flesh and blood.  Though he doesn't get much screen time, he is the thread that holds The Scions of Shannara together.  If he believes that the shade of Allanon is real, we believe it, if he believes that the shad is manipulative and holding something back, we believe it, if he believes that the Shannara children should still take up the quest, we believe it, and if he assures us that the Shannara children can survive in the end, we believe it.  All of this should bring up the question: "what about the main characters?"  They're ok, and they can hold some weight, but they haven't grown enough yet to do so without a strong supporting cast.  Maybe that's ok for the opening novel.  Presumably, they'll grow over the next three volumes.  The real master-stroke would have been to leave them room for growth while still making them interesting enough to hold our attention un-aided, but Brooks still gets us through and keeps our interest.

So what's my final estimation?  I really admire Terry Brooks' dedication to his craft and I love watching how far he's able to come.  Given the level of quality he's been able to achieve in The Scions of Shannara, I might suggest that anyone interested in the series start there and skip the first three books as background material.  Now, would I recommend the series?  That's a problem.  There's so much else out there that's worth reading.  However, recommending the Heritage Series is on a level with recommending Tom Clancy or Michael Chriton.  Do you want an airport book?  There are a couple of nagging reservations as well.  I still am a bit disturbed by the Shadowen on Toffer Ridge and the Mole.  I don't know if I want to recommend an author that treats things like demon possession, undertones of rape, and psychosis, as matters for light fiction.  Some things shouldn't be toyed with just to flavor an episode (I might add vivid descriptions of violence as well).  Maybe those are just things that caught me wrong.  I'm open to dialog.  Anyhow, take that for what it's worth.  I've already begun The Druid of Shannara and will begin posting about it a.s.a.p.  Thanks to any of you have been reading this.  I hope there have been gems in all this stream-of-consciousness that have been worth your time.  Best wishes all!           

Saturday, June 16, 2012

More Scions of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLVIII

Today's post brings us from chapter 24 to the beginning of chapter 28.  These books have been out for around twenty years, but I still feel obliged to say:

*Spoiler Warning*

In this section, Brooks ups the narritive ante by moving from two interlacing stories (Walker Boh and the Ohmsford Brothers) to three (Walker Boh, The Ohmsford Brothers, Morgan Leah).  So far, the cord of three strands is holding.  This increased narrative complexity comes as The Scions of Shannara moves towards its climax.  As this is the first book in a series of four, that climax is bound to be a cliff-hanger; indeed, three cliff-hangers.  If Brooks can pull it off that will be a great beginning for the series.  Meantime, lets take a brief look at each thread.

The Ohmsford thread, given the age of its protagonists, is bound to be the mature.  I wish I could remember as a Jr. Higher which thread interested me the most.  I'd wager it was watching the 18-22ish Ohmsford bros.  Now, they feel a little less interesting, though that may be the writing and not the age of the characters.  Whatever the truth may be, the story itself still flows along smoothly and carries enough interest to cover for the main characters.  In Brooks' defense, I did find Par and Coll's meditations in a tool shed to be true to the sort of brotherly conversation that occurs when you both share a room.  This conversation should also clue us in as to what Brooks intends to do to these characters: split them up and somehow force a role reversal with Par having to save Coll.  Beyond that, Tyrsis remains and interesting place, and Brooks continues to lavish loving authorial attention to it the course of these chapters.  The meeting with Mole in his den beneath the city streets adds color and richness to the setting and keeps the third attempt on the pit from feeling like mere repetition.  Something about that episode disturbed me again, but I'm not quite sure what it is.  Maybe I don't like the depiction of psychosis for mere entertainment value (as with the Shadowen on Toffer Ridge).  I don't know.

Morgan's thread follows the Highlander and Padishar Creel back to the Jut where evidenced of a traitor within the movement are on the rise and a Federation army shows up to avenge the two attempts on the Pit.  This is a nicely drawn stock episode by a writer who's by now mastered this sort of thing.  We have the scene complicated by the hunt for the traitor, the appearance of the unstoppable weapon (the Creeper) which our heroes stop once and may stop again.  We also have the arrival of unexpected help in the Rock Trolls which Brooks nicely complicates by making them ambassadors seeking an alliance. This nice little twist introduces the possibility that they will become a plot element after the siege is over, thus making them more than mere window-dressing to the audience, increasing the overall believability of the scene, and enhancing our sense of the larger world of the story.  Telling the story through Morgan's p.o.v. gives the hobbit highlander some much needed screen time and preserves our sense of being an outsider at the Jut, thus increasing the outlaw's mystique and removing any assurances that they will succeed by virtue of being "main characters."  In turn, the character of Padishar Creel is by now well enough established to keep our interest in the outlaw band high and give us a real stake in their future.  So, all-in-all, I can't find anything to deduct points from here.  Nicely done Mr. Brooks!

The third thread follows Walker Boh and resumes at the beginning of book 28 with Walker's decision to leave Hearthstone and look for the Black Elfstone.  Walker's a self-righteous whiner, but I have a soft spot for him.  He may still be young, but he's definitely the oldest of the main characters and thus provides a little more weight to the story.  His thread couldn't stand on its own without the interruption and action provided by the others, but it also provides a nice counterpoint to all their rushing about.

Missing, of course, in all this is Wren.  Brooks has made an interesting choice in giving the third scion a fully sketched and likable character while allowing her almost no screen time in the book.  We'll have to see how he recovers her and works her back into the grand narrative over the next few books.  Indeed, with one book going mostly to Par, and books two and three going to Walker and Wren, it will be interesting to see how Brooks holds our interest in characters he must largely abandon for four to eight hundred pages and with the plot as a whole.

That's all I've got for today.  The Scions of Shannara should be wrapped up soon and I am planning on beginning The Druid of Shannara immediately after that.    

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wrap it in Nintendo(myth): Platypus Nostalgia

C.S. Lewis talks about the effect myth has on ordinary things: it hands us back a sense of wonder.  As an example, he takes a child at play pretending that lunch is actually buffalo meat that he, as a Native American warrior, has killed while hunting out on the plains.  Lewis calls the child "wise" because his make-believe recaptures the truth that all of us once only knew the joys of food through the thrill of the hunt.  The ordinary is seen to be extra-ordinary, the food is seen to be more than mere calories.

I was looking at a stump the other day that several friends were endeavoring to dislodge from the box in the church parking lot.  As the strange and spiky roots peeped through the surface I couldn't help thinking that it was like a little creature that might scuttle off at any moment muttering imprecations at the humans who so had so rudely grabbed it by the head.  The thought, of course, should be familiar to anyone who played "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past," where some bushes did just that when you tried to pick them up.  One of my students happened to be nearby watching the same spectacle and I asked him if he could picture the stump running away and dropping ruppies behind it.  He got the joke an laughed.

As I said, it's been a few days since the stump incident (they did get it out without mishap) and I've been revolving it around in my head.  The conclusion I've come to is that video or computer games serve as modern myths.  Because, in the game, pulling on a stump might reveal it to be a treasure-hording creature, the player never looks at stumps quite the same way again.  Because the forest may contain a lost temple or an enchanted flute player, all woods are forever changed.  Because there might be a fairy in the fountain or a fish man in the river, water is never "just water."  Now no one expects the stump to get up, and lost temples are getting decidedly rarer as archeology advances, but the potential for wonder remains: the ability to see that the thing, whatever it is, is something more than our daily experience of it.

Lewis tries this idea out in his fiction.  We can see it in many places, but perhaps the best place is in the encounter with the star in The Voyage of the Dawntreader.  Confronted with a living star, the mundane-minded Eustace blurts out that a star is merely a great, burning ball of gas.  The star doesn't object to Eustace's definition, he only adds that "even in your world, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of."

There's a final post-script to be made.  For Lewis, the lunch meat doesn't become more in the child's mind because he has wrapped it in a myth while it remains objectively mere meat.  He also doesn't mean, following Sartre, that there is no such thing as meat independent of our experience of something as meat-for-the-self.  What Lewis is saying is a bit more provocative in this day and age.  He is saying that Meat is objectively more than "meat" but that familiarity has robbed us of this awareness.  The function of myth is to bring that awareness back by taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

More Scions of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLVII

Today's musings bring us up to the end of chapter 24.

*Spoilers Ahead*

As Par and Damson set out to rescue the others from the Federation guardhouse, we enter into a nice, protracted interlacement with Walker Boh's narrative.  The switching back and forth between the two plots in this section of the book is deftly handled right down to meteorological details and emphasizes the unity of the overarching story while also ratcheting up the suspense in each of the sub-plots.  This is a mature writing technique and Brooks is to be commended for pulling it off.

Beyond that, however, I'm thinking of deducting a few points for Walker's encounter with the Grimpond during this sequence.  I already cried foul over this aquatic oracle as too much like the Hadeshorn in my reviews of The Wishsong of Shannara.  The scenes only saving graces in this context are that it is well-written and that with the Grimpond as an established character the scene feels organic instead of forced.  It's still a blatant repeat of an earlier episode, however, without any symbolic value or subtle commentary to justify it (for an example of an author properly repeating episodes for thematic and narrative effect see Edoras/Merry/Theoden and Minas Tirith/Pippin/Denethor).  That aside, Walker's psychological battle over whether to take up the quest or not is believable, as is the technique Cogline uses to push him in the right direction (giving the volume of the Druid histories that records the spell for banishing Paranor and tells how the Black Elfstone could be used to bring it back).

Moving back to Par's quest, the two attempts to break into the Pit are fun and well written.  The Pit "zombies" are especially chilling and something I still remember vividly from Jr. High.  Padishar is quite a fun and well-rounded character; good enough to cover for the non-entities that are Stasis, Drutt, and Ciba Blue.  Damson Rhee, however, drags the novel back towards the level of Jr. High light reading.  Her romance with par seems more than a bit forced and her character lacks weight (we need a marine here, not the captain of the cheer squad).  This does, of course, beg the question of who the book's intended audience is.  I've been puzzling a bit over this.  The Wishsong of Shannara seemed pretty plainly intended for young teenagers.  With The Scions of Shannara, the only clue I can find is that the main characters seem to be in their teens or early twenties.  That suggests that this series is aimed at middle and older teens.  There's a strong sense, though, that the qualifier should be added "and really anyone who's interested in Fantasy."  That's probably true, in a broad sense, of any book, but I think its intentionally so here.  Something about the way it's written really seems to suggest that this volume is intended for a wider audience than heretofore.  Maybe it's earned one.  We'll see. 

Friday, June 08, 2012

More Scions of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLVI

For today, we're moving things up to chapter 20.

*Ph33r teh Sp0173rz*

Ok, so Brooks first decides to follow Par's attempts to recover the Sword of Shannara after the three scions each receive their charge from Allanon.  Since we adopt Par's p.o.v. more or less throughout the first part of this volume, it's a wise place to start.  Chekov's gun #1 can now go off: we find out who Par and Coll's daring rescuer was by using the hawk ring and asking for the "the Archer."  The whole scene has shades of Robin Hood floating all around it, but Brooks has gotten better at disguising his source material and working it seamlessly into his sub-created world.

Par, Coll, Morgan, Steff, and Teel sneak into the occupied city of Varfleet and locate "the Movement" in the person of the large, but good-natured Hirehone (a guy who'd fit right in with the Merry Men).  He takes them to the outlaw fortress known as "The Jut" and introduces them to the Movement leader, Padishar Creel.  Creel is a flamboyant, Robin-Hood or a character, but well-drawn enough to feel real and organic.  He, at least, being a flaming romantic, has an easily discernible (and hinted at in prior scenes) reason for taking Par and Co. at their word and organizing the search for the sword.  While waiting to set out on the quest, we get a good look at The Jut and Padishar Creel.  Both hold up well under examination; indeed this whole section flows pretty well.  Creel eventually determines a possible resting place for the sword based on a hunch he's already had for some time (again, giving his romantic steak, we can believe that he's the sort of guy who's calculated this sort of thing and been dying for an excuse to see if he's right).  That leads us to our next location, Tyrsis.

Tyrsis, like Varfleet and The Jut, has a well-developed feel to it.  Part of this is probably because the city has built up a significant history over the last three books that can be tapped into and developed.  There's something about Brook's description of the place that makes it more than merely a perfunctory setting, but a real imagined world with hints at its own economy, politics, social norms, etc.  Of course at this point the demands of pulp intrude and we catch sight of the strong, vivacious, Omni-compitent, yet also richly emotional, and perfunctory red-headed Damson Rhee, a.k.a "the love interest" if you didn't see that from a mile off.  Don't get me wrong, she functions well as a character and is deftly introduced into the plot; full marks for the author there.  It's just another place, however, where I (notice the emphasis on "I") feel that Brook's commitment to pulp grates against his genuine potential for high fantasy.  Damson Rhee, as we have her thus far, is a good character but definitely belongs in the world of A Princess of Mars and not The Lord of the Ring.  The problem is that the more Brooks' world takes on a life of its own through the accumulation of events it hedges more and more towards The Lord of the Rings.  That issue aside, there's only one real mistake in this section and that's the forced p.o.v. shift when Mennion notices Hirehone in the crowd.  Noticing Hirehone is fine, but shifting p.o.v. for two lines to do it is unnecessary and adds flaming, dancing Yodas to highlights and arrows.  Putting these things aside, the whole Tyrsis episode is well drawn, like the Jut it mostly subsumes its pedigree as a "caper" stock scene beneath the overall world that Brooks has created with the action ending at just the right point to keep us in suspense.  Tyrsis and it environs is what I remember most from my readings as a kid, and looking at the overall quality of this section I can see why.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

St. Patrick's Breastplate: Strange Platypus(es)

This past Sunday was Trinity Sunday, or the feast day devoted to celebrating the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  This meant that hymn-singing churches were forced to shuffle through the ecclesiastical cabinet for anything that emphasizes and lauds the Holy Trinity.  Holy, Holy, Holy, one of my all-time favorites, was probably at the top of a lot of music director's lists, but I imagine St. Patrick's Breastplate was up there as well.  We sang it at my church.

The Breastplate is an odd song with an odd tune and it comes from an odd people.  Chesterton talks about the Gaels of Ireland as the men that God made mad, for all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.  Growing up among the Irish in America, I'd say that's about right.  There's a fierceness, an a mystic tenacity about St. Patrick's Breastplate that's quintessentially Irish.  It's a hymn for those who see the supernatural as a plain fact, as plain as potatoes.  The hymn claims the doctrines of the Church and the events of the life of Christ for the singer as a performative speech act: to say the thing is to make it so. Saying the doctrines is to put on real armor.  It was written for a people who believed in demons, feys, and sorcerers, and that survival meant invoking heavenly power against dark magic.  It's a fighting man's hymn, for those who know that there are things that go bump in the night.  None of that's particularly comfortable to say outside of Pentecostal circles or maybe when you're hanging out with M.K.s who've seen "stuff." 

So where am I going with all this?  The Trinity is often pointed out as a useless or confusing doctrine; something to be believed because you're required to and useful for calculating who's in and who's out. To St. Patrick it wasn't though.  To him it was a revelation of the nature of God, and a powerful protection against all the works of the devil; things real and immediate, not vague and allegorical.  Singing the Breastplate brings us back to a dark time when news that God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, himself had entered the ring in the struggle against darkness and night broke like morning after a storm, or light on drawn swords.  It reminds us of a time when the servants of the Triune God saw themselves as come to drive out serpents, and believed that they had been given power to do so. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

More Scions of Shannara The Platypus Reads Part CLV

I read through chapters 16 and 17 last night which takes us (finally) to the meeting with Allanon and the Shannara childrens' decisions.

*All That Spoiler Warning Boilerplate*

In case you've forgotten, just a little recap on what Cogline and Allanon said.  The Shadowen are bits of magic that have evolved consciousness and are possessing people around the Four Lands.  There ultimate goal, whatever it is, will have the effect of turning the world into a wasteland where what life remains serves as the play-things of the Shadowen.  To put a stop to them, it will require the retrieval of the old Shannara magic.  Par will need to find the Sword of Shannara.  Wren will need to bring back the missing elves.  Walker Boh will need to return Paranor to the world of men and revive the Druid Order.  Of course, we can all guess by now what each scion will choose.  Walker throws up his hands in disgust, Wren says "that's nice, but where do I even start," and Par and Coll deliberate a sort time before embracing the quest.

Points to notice:

1.) The fact that each character's choice seems natural and that it take the amount of time appropriate to the character to make that choice shows us that Brooks has done a good job overall in taking us to this point.

2.) The interesting twist that it's Coll, not Par, who serves as the catalyst for deciding to go after the sword shows us that he is a necessary character for the plot, not just padding.  Par and Coll may be pretty easily discerned analogs for Frodo and Sam, but the fact that they are brothers and not master and servant shifts the relationship just enough to make it interesting.  However, like The Lord of the Rings, I think we should expect Coll, and not Par, to end up being the real hero of the story.  We'll see.

3.)  After that, the characters who don't have anything directly to do with Allanon or one of the scions begin to feel a bit unnecessary.  What do Mennion, Steff, and Teel really contribute to the story?  Why would Steff and Teel even agree to go after a legendary sword?  What convinced them?  Mennion's also a little too close to Steff to really stand out as a character. Something needs to be done to keep these guys from becoming window-dressing post Hadeshorn.

4.) The actual scene with Allanon's shade is appropriately gripping and gives away just the right amount of information to move the plot while not defeating the sense of mystery that makes us want to read on.  Brooks is at his strongest in scenes like these, and the fact that this scene has had a long build-up adds to its strength in a way that throw-away episodes, like the Shadowen on Toffer Ridge, lack.  If all of Brooks' episodes could have this tight, organic unity, it would improve the story overall.  Even a random encounter has to fit in with the overall logic of the story.  After all, running into a gang member in Central Park doesn't need much explanation, but running into a mummy does.  Even if you've got an explanation, mummies are beginning to awake and emerge from their tombs, unless you establish that its the middle of the mummy apocalypse, it's going to feel a little forced if the heroes keep encountering the walking dead every time they turn a corner.  If it is the mummy apocalypse, then that's cool, but at some point the author needs to realize that constant exposure to creepy bag guys will lessen their creep factor with the audience.  Familiarity breeds contempt, even of the undead.

5.) Chapters 16 and 17 remind us how pulp authors stay in business even when they struggle with sloppy writing: fast-pacing, and epic awesomeness.  A lot can be forgiven if the pacing is fast enough to get the audience not to mind that-man-behind-the-curtain, and if there's frequent yum-yums (like the Hadeshorn scene) to reward continued reading.

6.) Building on point 5, another reason that Brooks stays in business is that audiences like some notion of objective good and evil.  Sure, Allanon is an ambiguous character, but we always get the sense that he's trying to serve an objective right, even if his methods aren't always ideal.  We know the Shadowen are bad, we know saving the world is good.  Whatever mistakes our characters now make, we know that they're the good guys.  I think this is one reason Brooks' books turn out to always be New York Times bestsellers.  I've been reading quite a bit of Fritz Leiber lately (a pulp author from the mid-twentieth century) and he's clearly a superior writer.  The trouble is, not very many people read his books.  I don't think the problem is that his era has passed (look at how many people still read Lewis or Tolkien) or that his style is too lofty (again, see Lewis or Tolkien), but I think it's that Leiber's heroes are moral reprobates; after a while, we can't call them "good" any more, just not as bad as the "bad guys."  I'm deliberately ignoring issues of art or the true-to-life right now.  What I am observing is that there's a certain sort of story people like and will turn out in droves to pay money for.  One reason for Brooks' phenomenal success, and it is a bit of a mystery to me at times, is that he's writing that type of story.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Hellboy's The Sleeping and the Dead: The Platypus Reads Part CLIV

This story gave me nightmares.  That's rare.  I don't usually even dream; at least that I remember.  Now here's what I learned staring at the ceiling at four-in-the-morning.

The Sleeping and the Dead is a two part story collected in Hellboy Volume 11: The Bride of Hell and others.  It features Hellboy doing a little free lance work for the B.P.R.D. in England back in the 60s.  It's also one of the few vampire pieces Mignola has done.  Over the course of the story we find out why there are so few vampires in Hellboy's world, but the main plot line is how an ancient European vampire takes over a Victorian English family and uses them to pray on the village of Hoxne.  At least that's what it appears at first...  In reality, it's really about what evil does and how, in the end, evil is undone by its own hubris.  The real terror in the story is not the vampire, nor his English mistress, nor his subverted manservant, but Mary, the youngest daughter in the house.  With a servant and a mistress, the vampire has no use for little Mary but, rather than kill her or send her away, he chooses to torture her for spite.  Almost a hundred years have passed when Hellboy discovers the horror the little girl has become, locked undying in the basement.  When their fight, carefully orchestrated by Mary, breaks down a wall into the family crypt, the tormented soul unleashes her fury on her former tormentor before turning to dust.

So here's what disturbed me: of all the Hellboy comics I've read, this one somehow came closest to portraying supernatural evil as it is; the sheer spite, the delight in horror, the pettiness.  Ever since Blake, Satan has been portrayed as some sort of tragic hero, suffering for the sake of free will and self-realization.  At the most noble, a patron saint of those who fight authority and go their own way, at worst as a sort dissipated bon-vivant luring people into "having a good time" when they really should be doing something else.  Lost is any notion of gas chambers, torture cells, sexual assault, years of petty cruelty, or even just pulling the legs off a spider for the pleasure of watching it squirm.  That's the real face of evil; delighting in other creatures' terror, petty, relentless, cruel.  Sure, there are "jocund" evils of excess and later-regretted indulgences, but they're just the edge of the pit.  Follow it down long enough, and Hell at bottom is frozen over, not dancing with flame.  That's a frightful thought.

Now here's the good news: it's in the very nature of evil to be self-defeating.  The very excess, the lack of cool reason in deference to petty-spite ultimately destroys evil in the end.  The Church Fathers believed that it was Satan's very eagerness to torture and humiliate God that led him to miss the divine purpose of the cross and ultimately lose his claim to the earth and so many of its inhabitants.  That's what Lewis and Tolkien spent so much time trying to say in their works and that's what plays out time and again in Hellboy's universe; not the least in The Sleeping and the Dead.  Contemplating that might just be worth losing a little sleep over.

More Scions of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLIII

We ended off the last post at book 10 of The Scions of Shannara, the first book in Terry Brooks' Heritage of Shannara series.  This post will bring us up to the end of book 15.  If you want to remain spoiler free, don't read on.


Chapters 10-15 bring all the scions of the house of Shannara to their meeting with the shade of Allanon at the Hadeshorn.  Par has the worst time of it (Shadowen and Spoder Gnomes at every turn), but that's fitting as he seems to be the main character (for this book at least).  Walker Boh has a few challenges to face, mostly due to Par (and them Spider Gnomes), and Wren gets a cake walk.  The moral of the story seems to be that when the shade of a long dead druid summons you its in your best interest to go immediately.  Wren goes immediately and she's fine.  Walker stays put and has a bit of trouble, Par hikes in the complete opposite direction and has one mischance after another.  Ironically, I thought the chapters with Wren were the best written, the passages with Walker the next best, and the passages with Par the most forced and lacking.  However, all of it is better than Mr. Brooks' previous efforts in The Elfstones of Shannara and The Wishsong of Shannara, so points there for improvement.  With that as an overview, let me jot down a few notes:

1. Wren Ohmsford is an engaging and well-written character thus far.  Perhaps Mr. Brooks has finally learned how to handle female characters?  Bravo if he has.

2. Brooks likes gentle giants.  Garth is a good follow-up to The Wishsong of Shannara's Helt, and the fact that he's deaf is an interesting touch.  We sense that there's a lot to be told here; more importantly, that it may never be told.  His interactions with Wren are genuine and interesting and, as Wren's competent protector, he gives us a trust-worthy character that we can look to for how we're supposed to feel about the rest of the cast.

3. Walker has about the right mix of "sturm und drang" and knowledgeable competence for someone in their late twenties to early thirties.  As Brooks has grown up so have his characters.  Aging seems to have allowed him to write a variety of ages more credibly (young authors take note!).

4.  Teenagers still equal hobbits for Terry Brooks (why!?!).

5. Coll is a good foil for Par.  Though their dialog is sometimes a bit stilted, the emotional tenor of their relationship seems true and it adds interest to the story.  I'd compare them to Shea and Flick, but it's been years since I last read The Sword of Shannara.

6. Speaking of dialog, Brooks seems to have trouble finding the right "voice" for his main characters.  They all speak in a stilted, formal American English with no contractions.  It makes them all feel a bit like Lieutenant-Commander Data at times.

7. The episode with the Shadowen on Toffer ridge is rather creepy but undercut on two fronts.  First, we've had too many run-ins with the Shadowen in too short a time for the episode to have its full dramatic force.  Second, there's a bit too much of an awkward sexual angle on that scene.  It really disturbed me, and I thought the scene's implications were a bit too heavy to be used as flavoring in a throw-away episode.  Stuff like that needs to be handled responsibly; especially in light fiction.

8.  Overall: pushing two-hundred pages in and it's a bit of a mixed-bag; some of it works and some falls flat.  Though there is an overall improvement in quality from previous volumes, I'm not ready to go out and recommend it yet.  We'll see if that changes.   

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Reviewing "The Storm and the Fury":The Platypus Reads Part CLII

So, when I was in college I spent a semester studying abroad at Oxford.  When I wasn't studying like mad or taking in the English culture, I turned to writing light fiction to pass the time.  On rainy evenings, I would sit down at the keyboard and tap out a few pages to send back to the folks at home.  Now in the midst of the writing, and the studying, and the rain, an idea came to me: what ever did happen to Vivian after she stole Merlin's spell and bound him in tree for all eternity.  Neither Mallory nor Tennyson have anything to say.  What if she was biding her time all those years until Arthur's kingdom fell and she could emerge as a power.  With her magic, the Saxons would worship her as a goddess and she would bring ruin on the isle of Britain.  Of course, she'd have to get her comeuppance in the end and be undone by the very powers she'd summoned.  That was my idea and it went exactly nowhere.  I couldn't write something like that and make it interesting enough to gain an audience; certainly not in today's market.  And that is why Mike Mignola is genius.  He looked at the same material, saw the same possibilities, and turned it into a mind-blowing story that average Americans will actually buy.  So without further ado, let's get on to talking about Mignola's latest triumph: Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury.

*Loads of Spoilers*

The Storm and the Fury brings to a close the second chapter of Hellboy's story.  We've followed Hellboy from his miraculous advent through his early years of working for the B.P.R.D.  We've seen him receive his odd call to be either the savior or destroyer of his world and spend a year being baptized in the sea.  After that, we've had Hellboy "reborn" upon the coast of England where the creatures of magic try to make him their king.  Hellboy refuses in typically bluff American style and faces a series of trials and torments.  During this time, the magical creatures of England turn to Nimue (Vivian) to lead them.  She assembles an army to crush the world of men.  Hellboy, meantime, is revealed as Arthur's heir and given the mystic sword Excalibur to destroy Nimue's armies.  That's the story thus far.

With that as the background, The Storm and the Fury opens.  Here, we see Hellboy and Alice investigating what seems to be a robbery.  The bodies of the noble dead of Britain are missing from their graves.  During the course of the investigation, Hellboy and Alice are attacked by a monster which reveals, before being sliced open with Excalibur, that Nimue is getting more than she bargained for.  The Ogdru Jahad, which she has served, are using her body as a channel through which they can be born into the world.  As it begins to rain, our two heroes stumble into a pub, the Grail, and find themselves suddenly surrounded by the noble dead of Britain who are ready to claim Hellboy for their king.  Hellboy refuses and, leaving Excalibur with Alice, sets out to defeat Nimue in his own way.  This leads to a run-in with Moloch, who tries to tempt Hellboy by offering the use of the army in Hell to defeat Nimue's hordes.  Hellboy punches the demon and again refuses the power offered to him (noticing a theme here).  After rejecting Moloch, however, the Baba Yaga appears and offers to transport Hellboy into Nimue's keep if he will give her his eye in payment for the eye he shot out years ago.  The bargain made, our hero briefly exits the stage and we turn back to Alice.  Confused and miserable, Alice is informed by the innkeeper that Arthur gave her the sword to do with as she chose.  She then relates the strange tale of the owner of the pub who was saved in the trenches of World War I by an appearance of the Holy Grail.  That man, though aged, is still here and when Alice presents him with the sword, he is revealed as Arthur reborn and, with the power of Excalibur and the Grail, leads the noble dead of Britain in one last charge to save the world and buy Hellboy the time he needs to defeat Nimue.  Nimue has, of course begun her transformation into the dragon (Ogdru Jahad) at this point.  After defeating her guards, our now one-eyed champion gets to fight the dragon itself.   This is a battle we're told he cannot win.  However, just when all seems lost, Vasilisa appears with the third raven from Nimue's crown, the part that represents her humanity.  When Hellboy's blood touches the bird it becomes a golden knife and with this tool Hellboy fells the dragon.  There's general rejoicing, but right as the battle seems won, Nimue's ghost snatches Hellboy's heart and carries him down to Hell.  The issue ends with a epilogue featuring the Brotherhood of Osiris speculating on the meaning of what has just transpired. 

As the twelfth issue of Hellboy, The Storm and the Fury had to be significant.  Mignola likes his symbols, and twelve is a very important number.  Beyond the twelfth issue concluding part two of Hellboy's life, symbolism abounds in this volume and a careful eye is needed to unpack all the little clues author and illustrator have left for us.  The apocalyptic imagery should be clear: Ragnarok, the return of Arthur at England's greatest need, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Nimue as the Whore of Babylon (Rasputin has already served as the false prophet: he even talks like the Lamb), and the Dragon (who now has suffered a deadly wound to one of its heads).  There's also an unmistakably Christological layer, Hellboy is mistaken for Odin who hung on the tree with a spear in his side, mistaken again for Thor who strives against the dragon, Hellboy's heart is surmounted by a flame like the Sacred Heart of Christ, and most importantly, Hellboy dies crushing the Dragon to save mankind and then descends into Hell (on the third day... anyone?).  We might also add the final image of the lily, a symbol of resurrection and holiness.  A little less obvious is the theme of grace that haunts the second half of the work.  We see in Arthur and Nimue's third raven that humanity still retains some desire for the good (what Christians call the imago deo or common grace), but this desire for good is powerless on its own, overwhelmed by evil.  It takes an act of divine grace to become fruitful; the appearance of the Grail in Arthur's case and Hellboy's sacrificed blood in the raven's case (btw. did you catch the foreshadowing when the apple from Nimue's tapestry becomes a halo over the third raven?).  Through the application of unmerited grace, then, both Arthur and the raven are transformed into the very means by which evil is defeated (think: the offspring of the woman crushes the serpent's head).  There's probably more in there, but that's what I picked up on a first read.

All of this leads to the interesting issue of how to interpret The Storm and the Fury.  I'll be frank, I think the fellow they got to write the intro has it all wrong; still a merely humanist reading is possible.  I suppose it all comes down to what sort of story Mr. Mignola is intending to tell and what sort of story his material requires him to tell.  Since Mignola himself is returning to draw the third chapter of Hellboy's life, I can hope that it will become even clearer.  It's taken years to get the story this far and I would never have guessed where it was headed when I first read Seed of Destruction.  Since then, Mike Mignola has shown himself to be a rare and superior story-teller.  Wherever he takes us in the next few years, I'm sure it will be amazing.