This is an experiment, you understand. I haven’t written for Sequart in quite some time and in addition to other articles I want to write, I’ve decided I wanted to try something I haven’t really done in a long time. I wanted to do something new or, rather, approach something old in a different way.
Just to get it out of the way, I am an Alan Moore fan. I enjoy his writing and creations. From 2008 to 2012 I wrote my Master’s Thesis on “The Spirit of Herodotus in Gaiman and Moore: Narrative Spaces and their Relationships in Mythic World-Building.” I read through Voice of the Fire before that, and even the infamous first chapter “Hob’s Hog – 4000 BC” written from the perspective of a prehistoric young man with a mental disability and referenced it extensively in my thesis.
Yet even though I’ve had the background and the interest, I’m not an expert. I’m certainly not an Alan Moore scholar and I’m not going to pretend to be one. Even now, as I’m writing this, others are creating heavier readings of Alan Moore’s second and more recent novel Jerusalem. If you are looking for more thorough scholarship, seek out places such as Annotations for Jerusalem by Alan Moore created by dateline Northampton, and other more qualified sites and scholars.
What you will find here is a challenge I’ve set for myself. I knew that reading Alan Moore’s Jerusalem would be a daunting task. It’s not so much the page length that is the challenge. Certainly, George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords rivals it to that regard. No, rather it’s the sheer density of Alan Moore’s writing itself – with its layers of language and meaning and wordplay – that create its own world: a vast internal world threatening to suck you in and infect you with something like “A Disease of Language,” magic itself, and the spirit of Northampton as a living, breathing, and ancient character in England.
When I was at University, I took a class that read the entirety of Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of Genji. However, instead of merely summarizing each chapter, our instructor gave us a challenge. He told us to take the impressions that we got from each chapter, think on them, and write a journal – perhaps even “a Commonplace Book” – about the parts that particularly resonated with us: expanding on them with our own thoughts.
My last attempt, from what I recall, was almost poetic. I’m not sure what I will create this time around, after so long, with Jerusalem as my raw material here. I want to see if I can at least write a thousand words on each chapter of Jerusalem, to say something about it and relate it to the other works and ideas of Alan Moore and possibly others to which I’ve been exposed. I already feel like there is a lot of nuance I’ve missed in this first reading and there is a certain amount of gall involved in thinking I have something add to this work and everything I don’t know about it yet. But I’m going to operate from the assumption that I have to say about another world that is our world. I’m going to say something about this. And now without further procrastination, I want to get into the Prelude of Jerusalem: into what is aptly called a “Work in Progress.”
When I first read about Jerusalem, I was sure that it would somehow be the continuation to Voice of the Fire from right where it left off: right after the last chapter “Phipps’ Fire Escape – AD 1995.” Suffice to say, it wasn’t. We don’t see Alan Moore, his friends, or his family written in “Work in Progress” as third-person perspectives. Or perhaps we actually do.
Alan Moore has gone on record stating that one of the impetuses or central images that starts Jerusalem off is a story about his brother Mike choked on a cough drop when he was younger and had clinically died before being revived. When Moore wondered about what his brother could have seen during that time of virtual death, this along with the rest of his work spurred the path to Jerusalem onward: or so is my understanding of the matter. In any case, at the beginning of “Work in Progress” we see three characters: Alma Warren, her mother Doreen Warren and her younger brother Michael or “Mick.” Their paternal ancestor’s name was Ernest Vernall and his own father was called Snowy.
Alan Moore’s mother’s name was Sylvia Doreen, his brother’s name Mike, his father’s Ernest Moore, and his ancestor’s Ginger Vernon. He may well have also had an ancestor that rejected a business venture that could have made their family rich, though I’m not sure: as the details in my mind have grown fuzzy over where that thought might have come from. Mick’s wife and children also have similar sounding names to Mike’s wife and children as well.
This isn’t the first time Alan Moore has used thinly veiled literary analogues as characters to tell a story from a different perspective about something that already exists. I have been reading his and Jacen Burrows’ series Providence for some time now: a comic with the premise that all the terrifying non-Euclidean forces H.P. Lovecraft wrote about actually exist and that they are influencing him to create – or recreate – the true world. It feels so strange talking about what little I know or have read about Alan Moore’s life and viewing it through the possible lens of these analogues being a way of creating an alternate history of a place, instead of a person, but always a mythos that is also true.
Providence also creates analogues, with differences not unlike Jerusalem‘s, that mimic the development of ideas taken from life and used and arranged by a writer to say something about their subject. Providence‘s protagonist is a fictional Jewish gay man would-be-writer in 1919 named Robert Black who will encounter underlying Lovecraftian reality before the historical Lovecraft, while Jerusalem introduces us to the character of Alma Warren who is a hashish-smoking painter with a strong sixth sense. It is an interesting parallel and contrast: the fictional meeting the historical and becoming the fictional, and then the historical meeting the fictional and becoming the historical: while both being works in progress: both being myth. I’m not sure, even now, why Alan Moore created something of a fictional female analogue to himself but her perspective does affect the continued narrative of “Work in Progress.”
“Work in Progress” begins as Alma’s dream where she remembers a dream that could also be a memory. It is like looking at panels within panels, or the layers of existence that you can see on the novel’s cover within a humanoid being whose cloak and body are a city in multiple dimensions.
Alma is a child in the dream where she, her mother, and her younger brother go to Porthimoth di Norhan: a possibly ancient version of and metaphysical or archetypal structure representative of Northampton being constantly worked on for over countless years being robed carpenters with diamond tools and their robed leader known as the Third Borough. There is also some mention about the Vernall ancestry of her family on her father’s side being prone to madness and how they have gotten lost in the winding lanes, and ultimately angles, of the city. With regards to insanity, “For saying just how many people had gone round the bend, Alma remained convinced that whatever existed past the unseen corner must be lonely, empty, and there’d always be nobody there but you.”
At the same time, Alma feels the Vernalls to possibly be guardians of these places and whose duty it is to watch them or keep others from taking that inevitable wrong turn. What is also interesting is that Porthimoth di Norhan seems to be in the process of construction to host an event to decide borders, walls and the “edges of the world” called the Vernall Inquest. It’s similar to the mentality in the earliest chapters of Voice of the Fire where the earliest magic-makers of the world created the divisions of the Earth as humans know them.
She also remembers, in her dream – or experiences part of her dream – her mother telling her that an abandoned stable filled with roosting pigeons is “where dead people goo.” These Jungian archetypal layers of House, along with Alma getting stuck in her jacket and choked by visions of the windows of Northampton bearing down around her reiterate the layers of the poet Iain Sinclair’s conception of psychogeography: of the land having memories and remembering the shades of people, places, objects and emotions. It is also reminiscent of Alan Moore’s idea from Voice of the Fire of “town as hereditary virus,” of a place and its people imprinting itself on an individual’s ancestors and shared between relatives.
Mick Warren himself is not immune to visions. This is especially true after two death – not near-death – experiences: once when he, like Alan Moore’s brother Mike, choked on a cough-drop as a child, and then as an adult during a factory accident. Like a shaman gaining enlightenment through the death of a previous self, reminiscent of those shamans in Voice of the Fire yet again, he sees the entirety of the city from above and the ghosts and the eating of fairies. He sees the city dying and feels the Destructor, some virulent darkness: a cancer in the healthy infection of Northampton originating from what the powers that be have made of the Boroughs area where so many used to live, robbing itself and its people of meaning. He tells his sister Alma about it. They are both older now, between their late forties and early fifties. It’s an eerie parallel to “Phipps’ Fire Escape” all over again. This, in turn, inspires Alma to stop this “Armageddon” of their town from gentrification, from a metaphysical death, to paint her brother’s visions even as he’s afraid that he’s going insane: of falling prey to their family’s supposed history of mental illness.
At the same time, the vision changes Mick. While he struggles with realizing that the worst thing about his vision isn’t the possibility that he might be mad, but that it might actually be true – this growing degradation, displacement, and ultimate nihilism eating the layers of the spirit of the land and people in it – he aids a young man horrified by a possible drug experience thinking that he left his friend in the roof of a pub that no longer exists in bulldozed and gentrified border of the town where so much life used to live, by giving him cigarettes and telling him not to let that feeling take hold: to ultimately ground himself. Even Mick doesn’t feel like he has convinced himself, giving this man advice, but as he passes through the darkness of the Destructor through this place that used to be his home, he seems to overcome it for a time and get to Alma’s exhibit: which he hopes will be strong enough against the nothingness. Perhaps the Third Borough and his order of carpenters represent a messianic version of a potential Boroughs neighbourhood: an ongoing local dream of universal family in a realm of words in Alan Moore’s Ideaspace. Even the map at the beginning and the end covers of the book resemble blueprints. Maybe Alma and Mick will help mind the boundaries against the encroaching darkness.
This is how the Prelude ends and “Work in Progress” continues to Book One of Jerusalem: “The Boroughs.” I don’t know how accessible this article is to those who haven’t read the novel and other novels of Moore’s. I also know it might not be useful to scholars who appreciate citations and footnotes. Most of this is stream of consciousness, my eyes on the path that occasionally look up to take stock of the landmarks that I need to note down on the way. I’m trying to follow the narrative. Sometimes I feel like I’m making it up as I go along. I am going on a written psychogeographical walk through a book, and in front of my computer.
Next time, I hope to continue my journey through “The Boroughs”… towards “A Host of Angles.”