Monday, January 9, 2017

Random Thoughts on The Bright Illusion

In lieu of one long specific analysis of this work, here’s a short list of my thoughts on The Bright Illusion:
  1. It’s a shame that the 1930’s didn’t have a genre magazine specifically for Weird Romance, because that would have been a natural fit for C. L. Moore.  The Bright Illusion is the third tale in the C. L. Moore collection (that I’m reading from), and it is the third tale to revolve around a whirlwind romance that is doomed from the start.  In the first two Northwest Smith allows himself to be seduced into dangerous situations by aliens to which even Captain Kirk would have succumbed?  This third tale breaks that mold by pushing Dixon into the role of deicidal assassin who fails to strike at the opportune moment by the fear that his actions will forever bar him from being with his one (eyed) true love.
  2. This is also the third story to incorporate ancient and otherworldly evils that we know today as Lovecraftian.  Two elder gods of strange dimensions fighting for control of a city of bizarre angles, tentacle denizens, and impossible colors?  Tell me that doesn’t ring of Lovecraft.  This almost feels like a thumb in Lovecraft’s eye, though.  For one thing, the alien city in The Bright Illusion reads far stranger and yet far more imaginable than any description of R’lyeh.  For another, the final message of the story is that love really does conquer all.  Even enormously powerful and uncaring gods.  Even death.  You won’t find an ending with such strong undercurrents of hope in Lovecraft’s work.
  3. I keep using Lovecraft as a yard-stick, and the more I read of Moore, the more I realize the unfairness of that comparison.  The two were contemporaries, and shared the corner of the Great Conversation marked by what we know today as “Lovecraftian”.  That word comes to us by the happy circumstance of Lovecraft’s name being associated with the RPG “Call of Cthulhu”.  Had that game been less well written, and less well received, it’s a good bet that Lovecraft’s name might have disappeared down the same Memory Hole as Moore.  It isn’t too big a stretch to imagine a world where the term “Moore-ian” was used to describe works like this – all it would have taken was a brilliant mind like Sandy Peterson [CHECK THIS – WHO WROTE CoC] choosing Moore’s universe as an RPG setting over Lovecraft’s.  Chalk another win up for those who argue that RPGs serve as an opening for a cultural flanking attack on the Narrativists.
  4. These days Supernatural Romance represents a significant chunk of book sales with the sparkly vampires of Twilight serving as the classic (and most lucrative) example.  If you want analysis of this kind of work, you’ll have to find another book club to read, because my experience is limited to watching one Twilight movie.  (I make no apologies*.  It was my daughter’s birthday, and even she soured on the material after that snooze-fest.)  It’s a safe bet that The Bright Illusion is weirder than even the most daring Supernatural Romance, though. 
  5. Christendom shines through even in a Weird Horror tale like this, and the tale is better for it.  Even the great god-being IL admits that when it eats the beings who worship it, “The energy which was theirs in life supports me – but something escapes.  I do not know what.  Something too intangible even for me to guess at.  No – I am a god, and even I do not know what comes after death.”  This small escape of some un-knowable essence, which can only be that of a soul, acknowledges that even strange dimensions and weird alien gods are subjects of something greater and all powerful.  That’s an incredibly optimistic undercurrent to this otherwise sad affair, and it keeps the story from descending into the sort of pure, pointless nihilism that marked the man from Arkham.
*  No apologies, only excuses.

1 comment:

  1. You are correct: the brilliant, affable and odd Sandy Petersen wrote the Call of Cthulhu for Chaosium, Inc back in 1981. It's a great game not only for Lovecraftian Horror, but also for guns and fists pulp gaming too.

    I've managed to avoid Twilight completely, and every other glance at Supernatural Romance just seems to encounter badly written goth porn, RPG set in a Moore-ian world of weird romance?

    I would buy that.

    As for the rest of your article...ah, there's the AMEN corner.