Mythic World Rewriting:

Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence

“All countries and all cultures, in the first few centuries that follow their inception, seem to naturally produce their individual supernatural mythologies and webs of folkloric belief. This much we can deduce by looking at existing modern nations and their ancient histories, although those cultures formed so long ago that we can only guess at all the processes that might have been involved. America, however, has less than two hundred years of history and could be seen as going through its first formative period right now, allowing us a unique opportunity to watch those processes in operation.

“Obviously, there’ll be remnants of existing folklore from the Indians who were this land’s original inhabitants, and there’ll be all the myths and articles of faith and superstitions brought here by the colonists of many nations, but if and when a uniquely American mythology develops, out of the rational and scientific times that we are passing through, then what might it be like? I can scarcely imagine it, but it would have to contain gods and devils as vast as the towers of New York; as monstrously complex and pungent and physical as a slum district in Brooklyn; as old and incongruous as the vast system of tunnels that underlies Boston right here where I’m sitting; as modern and startling as Einstein’s ideas, or Duchamp’s nude descending a staircase, or Broadway’s electrical river of light after sundown. I can almost visualize it, something with as many eyes as there are windows in a city and a soul just as unreadable as that of those immense concrete perspectives…”

– Robert Black, Commonplace Book, October 31st 1919, Providence #9, p. 29

It has been suggested Yuggoth was, or is, or will be a world inspired by the discovery of Pluto. But Pluto is a small, cold dwarf planet while Yuggoth itself is anything but static. It is alive and it is constantly growing, always making the story of itself, and insinuating itself into the existences of others. Yuggoth is the aggressive wildlife identified by Randall Carver in the Dreamlands underlying all material reality at the time back in Issue #8 of Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence: a form of infectious life that is the poster child for why you should never bring other lifeforms or species into environments alien to them as they can easily overcome the dominant growth that is already there. But Yuggoth is also, like the Plateau of Leng, more of a state of mind than a place or an object: as though there is some kind of fungus or as the former FBI director Carl Perlman puts it in Issue #12, a series of spores flowing out of Promethea’s Immateria, The Black Dossier’s Blazing World, or perhaps more aptly Alan Moore’s Ideaspace: always there, always waiting to take hold and revert everything back to what it was and always will be.

Those opening sentences to this article are a lot to digest, I will be the first one to admit that. As I said before, I wasn’t sure I was coming back to Providence but if we go by its motif, I don’t think I ever left it. Before this point, I had planned to focus most of my Sequart articles on my impressions of Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, but I have also said that Lovecraft and Alan Moore and what Moore did for From Hell fascinated me and I wanted to see what he could with Lovecraft with the mentality of From Hell, and Promethea, and really his own unique world-ending mentality. But the twelfth and final issue of Providence itself blatantly focuses on the power of ideas as memetic viruses or as Alan Moore through Carl Perlman puts it yet again, spores. Once those spores take root, you realize you never really had a choice in the matter and you have to, in the words of zombie enthusiasts everywhere, “share the love” even as that love destroys the person you were and changes you into something else entirely.

There is so much interlap here between the articles I’ve written in the past and this one. A few years ago I wrote about Justin Jordan and Kyle Strahm’s Spread before it was released as a full first issue, never mind a comics series – which at least the time I thought seemed to focus on an ancient lifeform transforming humans into monsters that had always been in our genetic code or our environment – and before that I particularly wrote at length about Kris Straub’s Broodhollow and his Candle Cove and how fascinating it is to watch a world be creating in front of your very ideas and the ideas behind that world spreading memetically into the minds and imaginations of its readers: to the point where it seems as though the stories truly existed, but they had always been in our reality.

In an almost melodramatic way worthy of a Lovecraftian protagonist’s non-Euclidean revelation I see the pattern spreading, or now becoming more clear in my own studies. When I was doing my Master’s Program, my focus was on Mythic World-Building: specifically on how Herodotus in his Histories, Neil Gaiman in his American Gods, and Alan Moore in his Voice of the Fire put together disparate elements to create their own histories, their own worlds through narrative. But this was before I started collecting separate comics issues again. This was long before I started reading Providence in parts, as the serials they are intended to be. And this was definitely before I joined Twitter and then eventually found Joe Linton, Robert Derie, and Alexx Kay’s Facts in the Case of Alan Moore’s Providence blog with its annotations and its comments section.

Let me see if I can explain. Back when I was working on my Master’s Thesis, I was examining in particular the participatory element of ancient mythological narratives and how Herodotus was one of those earliest in the Western world to tie them together into something of a cohesive narrative, or at least compare and contrast them in an overarching structure not unlike the city domes that Alan Moore included in his version of America in The Courtyard, Neonomicon, and Providence in turn derived from Robert W. Chambers’ “The Repairer of Reputations”: coincidentally one of my favourite short horror stories. With that complex tangent aside, what I wanted to actually say is that what all three writers I observed had it common was that they come from something of an oral tradition. Herodotus would supposedly read his Histories piecemeal to an audience, whereas Neil Gaiman is definitely known for his own public readings, and Alan Moore has an experimental theatre background in addition to his emphasis on magical and occult ritual as a performative art-form. The last fact was something I’d known from his Birth Caul and his Snakes and Ladders pieces which I’d read in the book A Disease of Language in addition to reading about it from Annalisa di Liddo’s Alan Moore: Comics as Performance, Fiction as Scalpel.

Then I remember my look into Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word and his observations about oral culture focusing on an eternal present, and secondary orality being a form of interaction, possibly participatory narrative interaction, between people on electronic media and I can’t help but think about Twitter, and Facebook and, in particular, the comments section of The Facts in the Case of Alan Moore’s Providence. It’s funny how it always comes back to that for me. It isn’t just all of us, as readers of the Blog or fans of the comic, gaining each issue and analyzing it but also in how we interpret what we see, how we research it, and watch the progress of the story and each of our interpretations changing with the continuance of the narrative. But it’s more than just watching a world be born.

Even from my own perspective outside of the Facts Blog comments section, with its own participatory fan nature, I look at what I generally focus on. At one point in Issue #12 of Providence, Carl Perlman asks if there has been any other work of fiction that has the effect of Lovecraft’s stories: of others insisting that they and the Necronomicon are real and even expanding on it. But while Agent Barstow posits that perhaps there was another case where “the first Christians didn’t realize the Gnostics were being symbolic,” which is also another nice tie-in to Promethea and how the first Promethea escaped to the Immateria when the Christians were destroying Alexandria, and I can definitely see how Lovecraft has influenced Western horror and imagination in the writings of Clive Barker, Stephen King, Jorges Luis Borge’s “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” in particular, and even Spread, the former’s inspiration in John Carpenter’s The Thing, Kris Straub’s adoption of Lovecraftian cosmicism and others. I can, however, think of one other independent case myself.

There is Orson Welles’ broadcast of The War of the Worlds back in Sunday of October 30, 1938 and even if the hysteria of people believing a Martian attack was imminent wasn’t true, the idea of it is so popular that there are people to this day who think that the broadcast and its mass panic actually occurred, whatever may or may not have happened. However, if we take Welles’ broadcast in the vein of it existing in Alan Moore’s Providence, then it could be possible that the underlying fear of the alien, the literal alien, attacking America and the West, could have been planted or touched by Lovecraft before the broadcast: even though H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds predates Lovecraft and could have also inspired him in turn.

This is, of course, assuming if you look back at my previous Providence articles that the conceit isn’t that the idea spores hadn’t been incubating with different strains and test runs from Khalid Ibn Yazid onward: infected in turn by what seems to be communications – language again – from a star-headed species from another galaxy that look like the Mi-Go who are actually also the Elder Things if the images in Issue #12 are to be seen. Less than coincidentally, the Mi-Go are also supposed to have come from Yuggoth and, if we believe that past, present, and future are a totality in Providence, perhaps they did…. when Earth and all of reality were, are, and will become the state of Yuggoth again.

I would say that this literary journey of engagement is like the snake puppet god Glycon eating his own tail or the hand that feeds him – an analogy I’ve used before with a lyric reference to Nine Inch Nails – but it’s more like a recursive spiral shape in how Alan Moore’s Providence plausibly and retroactively consumes our own history and at its terminal phase becomes the stories of Lovecraft made fact. It literally becomes the facts of Providence at that point even as parts of the old narrative, and the psyches of characters crumble and decompose into the horror of new facts that always existed.

It comes back to language. It always does. The Mi-Go in Providence speak in the Aklo language of the Kitab Al-Hikmah Al-Najmiyya that they dictated to Yazid. It is that occultic “disease of language,” from literature and imagination, that the infamous magician Aleister Crowley has alluded to in his own works and into which Alan Moore has delved into extensively. But magic, the ability to fundamentally change the perception of reality, is not just an element of words, or imagination, but also the subconscious: of dreams….

Magic comes from the Dreamlands. The Dreamlands are the true state of reality in Providence underlying the temporary – temporal – one in the narrative. In fact, it has been pointed out particularly on The Facts Blog that the word “providence” or the concept of it in a figurative sense seems to mean something else in Aklo: something introduced towards the end of Issue #12. It looks suspiciously like another word, or another concept, another idea…. Yuggoth. And we get to see how language and symbolism and imagery begin to decompose the barriers around the consciousnesses and subconsciousness of the FBI agents in Issue #12.

There are many possible indications as to when the mental reality of our protagonists begins to get rewritten. I mean, it’s a foregone conclusion that the physical reality on their world – if there is one – is being consumed by the Dreamlands and the orgone – psycho-sexual – energy within the mutating power of the trapezohedron once having crash-landed as a meteorite outside of Manchester. Basically, the trapezohedron is conflated as the object that poisons the land in Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” and it becomes the mystical artifact held in the Church of Starry Wisdom in “The Haunter of the Dark.” But I think that the change in psychic reality of Issue #12’s protagonists actually begins with Agent Barstow talking about the Christians and the Gnostics, even though to be fair Perlman was going into detail about Lovecraft’s ideas as the germination of a new reality. They have already been exposed to, in Barstow’s own words, “propaganda weapon” and already forced to think along its lines in the changing clime.

After that, it pretty much goes slowly downhill for our would-be heroes. Eventually, dream logic takes over, changing human societal structures and any illusion of the super-ego. One of the agents lets a mentally broken Professor at St. Anselm borrow his gun in order to commit suicide while the rest of them walk by an escapee from a mental hospital playing music for the severed heads of his victims. Even before this point, they notice that their travel to different areas of America has been shortened somehow – as though it’s Aldo Sax’s anomaly theory of disparate ideas and facts linked together writ large – and Carl Perlman himself points out that the river near the College isn’t called the Merrimack, but rather…. the Miskatonic. They begin to forget that they had familial relations and even what their car looks like.

But even so, it’s after they leave St. Anselm, or perhaps now and always Miskatonic University that they start to think of Arkham as a real place in their real world and specifically about how the reason books used to be burned was to purge and eliminate particular spores that might infect their culture: even though, as Perlman indicates, there are some things that have always been in their culture – culture taking on its micro-bacterial connotation in addition to a human perspective and way of life – and that perhaps the people in the past who burned books, “were probably burning the wrong ones.”

Of course, now I really want to talk about the shoggoth in the room, as it were. It has to do with something Agent Barstow says about “propaganda weapons” and Agent Fuller talking about how dreams are a vanquished country attempting to “overthrow us.”

It is a different political climate now, in 2017, than it was back in 2008-2012 when I was writing about mythic world-building but it never really consciously occurred to me then to look at the elements occurring back then: even forever. The Kitab is a book created by an Arab. America’s deep-seated xenophobia has existed for some time in various degrees, like a spore-culture of its own, but the fact that the comic on page five specifically goes out of its way to bold the words “displaced,” “country” after vanquished, “overthrow,” Yazid’s abbreviated and Westernized name of “Hali” and “propaganda” before weapon speaks volumes about terrorism, Islamophobia, and even colonialism against First Nations people.

Even more than any possible references and resonances to 9/11, racism against people of colour, and the Dakota Pipeline protests is the fact as they transition to the old new dream-state of reality the FBI agents, whose mandate is to uphold and protect the law of the United States of America reveal the main fear behind the infrastructure of classism and xenophobia: of being overthrown as they had once overthrown the British Empire that ruled them as the Thirteen Colonies, and being colonized as they and their European counterparts colonized all indigenous peoples: this time a spiritual uprising coming from and colonizers being other-dimensional beings existing in the Dreamlands, and the establishment and native peoples being humanity. Even Perlman’s reference on page nine to the creation of the American city-domes being the response towards the meteorite falling onto American soil, a literal foreign and alien object, has resonance with the idea of the inevitability and sense in building a giant Wall against whatever age-old threat is perceived to exist outside of America while getting undermined by the true underground psychic infection of fear and ideological change within.

Of course, the best element of literature is being able to apply the metaphorical aspects of it to any age and the fact that if it is truly an excellent, lasting work it can speak to almost any people or cycle of human history at any time. And there is definitely a danger in ascribing one’s current events on something either potentially timeless or endemic of another time: such as the V For Vendetta film adaptation arguably focusing on the George W. Bush administration and Iraq compared to the original comic and its roots in the 1980s Thatcher and Reagan conservative political era. But, either way, you can see the foreshadowing. If Yuggoth is a memetic virus or disease, then the journalist Robert Black is Patient Zero. He not only doesn’t see the unrealities happening around him, the spots of the old world coming into the human one in plain sight – always rationalizing them away – but in his dreams, particularly the one in Providence Issue #3 where language becomes conflated and confused with different terminology and he sees the deaths of the Salem Deep One-human hybrids in concentration camps heralding the Holocaust in Europe and the eventual end of the human world. Robert Black as the Herald becomes the one that transmits the infection to the Redeemer who will go on to spread it all across the world through his literally seminal writings.

So perhaps Yazid and others after him were also infected by the spores of Yuggoth, including those willingly infected in the Stella Sapiente and the different growths in Salem and the Wheatley family: if the latter aren’t already remembered as the people of Innsmouth and the Whatleys…. if indeed they are remembered at all by any human beings at this point. But as I’ve argued in previous articles, Robert Black manages to communicate the ideas of Yuggoth from the Kitab in a way that Lovecraft can relate to, and eventually in a manner in which the rest of the world, especially the Western world, can find empathy.

I will admit, at the end of Issue #12 of Providence, the final issue of the series as far as I can see, there are still parts I have trouble understanding. For instance, Ambrose Bierce is reintroduced as one of the minds in a jar that the Mi-Go harvest and he is a representative in seeing the birth of the Dreamer: of Cthulhu. But there surely were others too that could have been there in some form such as Yazid – even if he is a lake of gas – or Lovecraft, or even Robert himself. Bierce has his own role in the creation of Lovecraft’s world, but he was by far not the only one. However, it should be worth noting and it has been mentioned by a user with the handle That Fuzzy Bastard in the Comments Section of Facts that it might not be a coincidence that a representative from Yith possessed a woman, that the white old man Etienne Roulet has taken over the body of a young black child, and that Merril Brears was left to her own devices after bearing Cthulhu to the cosmos while accompanied by two more white old men: one of whom trapped Agent Barstow, a female woman of colour’s, essence in a jar. Perhaps this can be seen as yet again another painful observation of American history and society.

It is hard to separate the literal from the figurative in a literary text, of course. But I think what cinches it for me is the journey towards the end, or the beginning of this new narrative. The reality rewrite, this retconning making what is happening to franchises like the Star Wars expanded universe pale by comparison, moves past the physical and psychological alterations and right into the cosmic horror. Agents Fuller, Barstow and even Aldo Sax are led off panel by either the terrible old man Orne or the old cannibal Annesley – who gives the reader a terrifying smile past the fourth wall – and they vanish from the narrative entirely. Aldo Sax is particularly of note here: the FBI agent turned serial killer madman who is the one person left unaffected by this changing psychic reality due to the Elder Sign or swastika against aquatic beings such as the Dreamer Cthulhu carved onto his forehead is literally consumed by Annesley: an element of this retroactive new reality.

In fact, both Orne and Annesley, seem to have functions for doing with “loose-ends,” as it were. Orne acquires and attains the essences of intelligent individuals such as Agent Barstow, while Annesley consumes Agent Fuller and in particular Aldo Sax: the latter for the reasons stated above. However, while these two characters might be this new Lovecraftian ecosystem’s method of dealing with superfluous elements in the new narrative, they are just a microcosm to what is really happening when you can see all of the beings in the emerging Yuggoth as functioning to perpetuate the ecosystem: Azathoth creating the new sky and atmosphere, Yog-Sothoth making the gate to allow them all through, the Mi-Go taking and maintaining key intelligences or “samples” like Orne does, the Yith transferring new consciousnesses and awareness to the Earth, the trapezohedron spreading the biological component of Yuggoth, Shub-niggurath generating new sentient life to dwell in Yuggoth, and Cthulhu dreaming it all into existence with human ancestry of the old and alien mind of the old and new with Johnny Carcosa baptizing him into the water of Yuggoth’s subconscious.

The reader gets to watch the process of a world not being created, but rewritten by the powers that be. The barrier between the reader and this fictional world, as it had in Promethea, thins and the few remaining characters almost become aware that they are characters in a story being rewritten and that all of their freewill seems to be an illusion.

But here is where we get to the Gate of Horn or Ivory argument. It’s the one that exists when discussing the end of Vergil’s Aeneid, and the one I talk about in my Mythic Bios article A Hesitant Hero or the Pause Before the Precipice: Alan Moore’s Miracleman and Virgil’s Aeneid, and it is definitely inherent in Alan Moore’s other works such as Watchmen. What I mean by the Gate of Horn and Ivory is that a prophecy is given in dreams, and dreams are connected to the afterlife. The dream is true if it goes through the Gate of Horn, but it is a lie if it comes through Ivory. In The Aeneid, Aeneas is given a vision of Rome’s glory in the afterlife, but he exists the afterlife through the Gate of Ivory and he seems to hesitate before killing the last opponent in his way to building Rome: with Vergil possibly saying something about Rome in his time. Miracleman seems to stare out the panel after creating a world government with his power and wonders if he’s done the right thing: which is a possible resonance of Alan Moore reflecting on how he might been integral in developing comics revisionism and affected a chain reaction on the superhero genre for the worse. And Rorschach’s Journal may or may not reveal the deception that brought world peace at the end of Watchmen.

At the end of Providence, the last chapter being called “The Book,” Carl Perlman is watching Shub-Niggurath, the Mother of a Thousand Young, begin to spawn her children all across the Earth turned Yuggoth and populate it with more monsters. He has in his hands Robert Black’s Commonplace Book: with perhaps a method of stopping this old new world and saving the human reality. In the end, Perlman is told by Brears that “It’s all destiny. It’s all Providence. Just do what you have to.” It’s that point, over the bridge, that he tears the book in half and lets the pieces fall into the Miskatonic river.

Now, on one hand you can interpret this as a sign of determinism and defeat. There is no freewill. Carl Perlman realizes this and lets the inevitable of malevolence and an uncaring cosmos win: resigning humanity and all sentient life to this fate. It can also symbolize Alan Moore’s apparent retirement from full-time work in comics: not unlike Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest where the magician drowns his books and goes on with his life.

On the other hand, as Dr. Manhattan once said to Adrian Veidt at the end of Watchmen, “Nothing ever ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.” It should be noted that water is a medium between the material and supernatural worlds: and that it can contain objects. It is life. And a river can also be seen as a stream of consciousness. Now remember what Perlman has been saying about literary ideas as spores, and books were burned, and think about the pages of Robert Black’s Commonplace Book, with its observations and recordings from Hali’s Booke and its possible banishing rituals drifting down the water: being carried across the world of the subconscious, of the Dreamlands. Perhaps torn pages are seeds that might germinate, or might not.

There is one other question I’ve had upon finishing reading Providence. I’ve asked myself just how or why is it that Yuggoth changed from the Dreamlands to the narrow reality of human logic and understanding. And then I remembered Yuggoth as a planet and Pluto. Pluto must be a small dwarf planet of eternal winter. Winter is a season of death and stasis, and perhaps I was too quick to say that it wasn’t Yuggoth. After all, if Yuggoth is a process, then perhaps it is also a cycle where dead things dream and afterwards live again in another season. Nothing ever ends. Does Providence illustrate a Yuggoth of our discontent? And are the retroactive growth of new perceptions the same as alternative facts?

I’ve always wondered what would happened if, years ago, Alan Moore hadn’t lost the rest of his script of Yuggoth Cultures based off of H.P. Lovecraft’s poetic cycle Fungi From Yuggoth on a taxi ride. But perhaps that was the result of Yuggoth: beautiful, luminous, fleshly, terrifying Yuggoth. Perhaps, now and forever, it was always just Providence.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matthew Kirshenblatt is a graduate from York University, Toronto, Ontario, and is a writer and blogger living in the city of Thornhill. He is a comics and mythology fanatic; having written his Master's thesis, "The Spirit of Herodotus in Gaiman and Moore: Narrative Spaces and their Relationships in Mythic World-Building," he also contributes science-fiction, horror, and revisionist short stories to Gil Williamson's online Mythaxis Magazine. Nowadays, he can be found writing for G33kPr0n, and creating and maintaining his Mythic Bios: a Writer's Blog, in which he describes his creative process and makes weird stories, strange articles, reviews, overall geek opinion pieces and other writing experiments.

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