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Review of Unmasked by Candace Nola

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As many of you know, poetry is my secret mistress. Whilst I will always love prose and the novel, there is a power in poetry that cannot really be equalled. I have written about this a few times before, and there are many reasons as to why this is the case, but the two reasons that stand out to me are the following:

1) poetry combines several core artistic elements: imagery, music (in the rhythms and meter and in the rhyme), and narrative.

2) in the words of Candace Nola, “Poetry is the purest, deepest expression of self.”

This quote comes from the introduction to Candace Nola’s recent poetry collection Unmasked, and I can’t help but heartily agree with her. Purity and depth are two of the defining characteristics of great poetry. And, in writing great poetry, one is able to plumb the depths of one’s self: not the shallow ego-self, but the true and secret self. As the title of the collection suggests, in removing the ego-masks we wear, and baring our souls, we dig deeper towards the truth of this real identity concealed behind the societal dross and pain of human experience.

Unmasked is an awesome collection that surprised me in a number of ways. Despite the fact that Nola says in her introduction that poetry is also “raw emotion”, many of these poems are shaped, and possess beautiful form. This level of form and restraint allows us access to the visceral emotion and translates it into something beautiful.

A good example of this can be found in the very first poem, “Endure The Broken”. The final couplet is a masterful example of balance between form and emotion.

The void has consumed me, with darkness, with rage.

Let the blood run freely as a I die on the page.

The rhythm of this couplet is complex, but in essence it is anapaestic, a highly unusual choice. Most English poetry is written in iambic, which follows a measured rhythm almost like a heart beat, de-dum, de-dum, de-dum. Anapaests, however, flow more rapidly: de-de-dum, de-de-dum, de-de-dum. Like a horse galloping, or a river babbling. Candace Nola’s choice of meter here perfectly matches the symbolic meaning of the couplet. The blood runs “freely” with the pacy fluidity of the anapaestic rhythm—you can almost see the river of arterial blood flowing out from her pen. Sound, image, and meaning combine in a perfect alchemical formula where pain is transmuted into beauty.

Not all of Candace Nola’s poems are so formally wrought. Some border on prose with poetic elements. However, even in these looser forms, Candace Nola demonstrates a natural feeling for language and for combining striking imagery with mimetic, sonic effect. In her poem, “Masses” this is demonstrated brilliantly in the final stanza:

“Without you, I’m no longer here. My heart, my soul, no longer beat. I searched for you daily, in the depths of the masses, seeking myself in each heartbeat that passes.”

The italics here are my own, in order to underscore that though there are no line breaks, there is a hidden structure concealed in the prose paragraph. You can hear it—both the rhythm and rhyme-scheme—when the poem is read aloud. But visually it is hidden. This is brilliant because the final image of the poem is all about seeking both love and oneself in the masses that pass us by—how we lose the beauty and meaning in a world oversaturated, overcrowded, and overcluttered.

Throughout the collection, there are memorable quotes and images. One that particularly sticks in my mind is from the humbly titled poem “I’m Fine”.

Take the gun. Embrace the steel.

Let the bullet heal.

Heal” is a totally unexpected rhyme with “steel”, and the surprise juxtaposition causes the darker, deeper meaning behind the poem to hit with, well, the force of a bullet from a gun. It’s worth noting here that Unmasked will be a challenging read for anyone who has experienced, or is experiencing, depression or suicidal thoughts. There were a few moments where I had to put the collection down, because it reminded me of the intensity of those feelings, and how difficult it had been to see a way out. In this way, Candace Nola has truly captured a snapshot of her life. Emotions are temporal. They come and go like clouds. Yet, Nola has enshrined them forever, which is the potency of art.

However, all is not doom and gloom. The final poem, “Phoenix”, as the title suggests, offers us a transcendental uplift from the darkness and depression. Before I print the final poem in full, so that you can experience it for yourself, it is worth noting that this collection contains thirty-four poems, which is the same number of cantos to be found in Dante’s Inferno. Coincidence, or is perhaps Nola framing Unmasked as her own dark descent through hell and upwards into the divine phoenix of rebirth?

Born of ashes. Born of dust.

Born of blood, of rage, of scorn.

Phoenix rise. Phoenix fly. Phoenix die.

Cold, heartless, cruel desolation.

Child of hatred. Child of war.

Terrorized soul forced isolation.

Flames of ice. Hatred borne.

Phoenix rise. Phoenix dies.

Ash from flame. Desire wanes.

Burning wings, glowing brighter.

Red gold molten fire.

Slow burn, torrid desire.

Nuclear rage, mushroom cloud spires.

Phoenix flies.

Phoenix cries.

Tears of fire pouring down.

Burning out, destroy the ground.

Phoenix rage. Phoenix splayed.

Ripped open, beat and bound.

Phoenix cries.

Phoenix dies.

From the ashes, embers glow.

Phoenix still.

Phoenix grows.

In conclusion, Candace Nola is a fantastic poet, and I would definitely like to see more of her poetry alongside her novels and novellas.

You can purchase Unmasked on Amazon:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

And if you enjoyed this review, please consider signing up to my mailing list to get more reviews as access to updates, exclusive content, free books, and more.

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Review of Legends of Liberty Volume 2 by Andrew Benson Brown

In today’s blog we shall continue the trend of reviewing amazing sequels!

In 2021, I reviewed Volume 1 of Andrew Benson Brown’s mock-epic masterpiece Legends of Liberty. Three years later, the much-anticipated continuation will be released March 1st.

The first volume of Legends of Liberty was a masterstroke, blending history with myth, the absurd with the all-too-true, and the blatantly untrue with the sublimely comedic. Volume 2 continues in this vein, effortlessly picking up where we left off at the end of Volume 1.

In brief, Legends of Liberty follows a number of major figures from American history, along with one or two that time seems to have forgotten. We have Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere, George Washington, and, on the other side of the pond, King George, Lord Howe, and Thomas Gage.

What is fascinating for historian and casual reader alike is how Benson Brown treats his characters. He viciously satirises them but at the same time handles their stories with compassion and surprising sympathy. For example, his portrait of Benjamin Franklin, or “Lightning Ben”, is of an obsessive who, for all his nerdy attention to scientific details, misses the one truly important thing in his life: his family.

Like all great writers, Benson Brown does not shackle himself to one mode or tone, and often punctuates his wit and humour with real pathos. The stanza below explores Ben Franklin’s return home to find his wife has passed away:

A priest bears crosses with his prioress:

Their souls, in distant abbeys, window-gaze.

A captured lion craves his lioness

And languishes until his cage his raised—

But when, returning to his shaded lair,

He finds the cubs are grown, the mother gone,

His youth departed, cautious of each snare,

His hunting instinct loses taste for fawn.

The priest, likewise, can only pray and nod

When his abstracted nun departs to be with God.”

Quite apart from the sentiment and imagery, which are beautiful and poignant in and of themselves, the control of language—in terms of meter, diction, and rhyme—are totally astonishing. In fact, it is hard to think of any other poet in the English language working today who demonstrates such technical prowess without succumbing to the lure of virtuosity. Benson Brown’s restraint and control render this passage even more moving. Coleridge said that poetry is “The right words in the right order” and Benson Brown’s epic seems the embodiment of this sentiment.

But not only does Benson Brown triumph in these extended images and passages that shape big narrative moments. He is also he master of the pithy and aphoristic witticism, the seemingly throwaway “one-liner” that speaks an entire century’s worth of words:

When morals lead to maxims, lend them:

Those prone to citing rules are liable to bend them.”

The poem is full of similar insightful and funny couplets; they illuminate the story by making the historical and mythological events feel incredibly down to earth. For all the we grandeur of these figures from history (and myth) we recognise in them hypocrisies and human flaws that allow us to access the narrative more fully.

Poetry is often accused of being intellectual and abstract, but Legends of Liberty proves this a false accusation. Legends of Liberty is a poem grounded in the humdrum details of everyday life and ordinary people making the best decisions they can in bad situations. But this everyday and ordinary life also borders realms more weird, fantastical, and dreamlike.

In this way, the evils of King George are explained—and rendered almost sympathetic— through supernatural means: he has been possessed by the Devil, who takes the form of a cockcroach and whispers into King George’s ear. This is an imaginative and ingenious literary device that threads history with layers of biblical significance. Benson Brown further mythologises his version of history with allusions and similes that draw upon the old masters. For example, the ruthless John Burgoyne is described in terms that evoke both the demon Moloch from Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

The third man, John Burgoyne – a dashing idol

Of ladies, scourge of children he’d had ripped

Untimely, from used wombs he wouldn’t bridle,

In marriage (no Macduffs, these babes in crypts) –”

The contrast with Macduff, the hero of Macberth, is savagely ironic. As, unlike Macduff, who is born via Caesarian but lives to save Scotland from Macbeth's tyranny, these children are denied a future by Burgoyne's viciousness. 

Again, though Benson Brown’s poem is a mock-epic—and laugh-out-loud humour abounds—he does not limit himself solely to comedy. This is particularly evident when we reach the bloody details of the Battle of Bunker Hill:

Monomaniacal, Lord Howe made red

Rain down: the sun burned darker, hotter, rayed

Its heat; the planet Mars, enlarging, rowed

Against the starry ocean’s course and reigned

In the red sky, a pumpkin moon; the raid

Uphill accelerated: runners rode

Over the red-stained stumps, all bent like reeds…”

The repetition of “red” and the alliteration of “R” serve to onomatopoeically hammer home the brutality of the conflict. The cosmic imagery of Mars—the planet of war—overhead, altering its celestial path, is juxtaposed with the broken, severed limbs on the ground.

All of this is saying nothing of the notes Andrew Benson Brown has written to annotate his poem, which are almost funnier than the poem itself, or of the incredible attention to detail he has put into designing the poem. Every page features relevant artwork, usually a historical piece that has been manipulated to live up to the poem’s surreal intensity. The text snakes and warps around these images, so that both text and image work together to create something worthy of an art installation. It’s truly mind-boggling the effort and attention this must have required and it seriously augments the poem’s readability and enjoyment even further.

As I said in my last review, even if you are not normally interested in history or poetry, I cannot strongly recommend Legends of Liberty enough. There is so much in both Volumes 1 and 2 to delight you, whether it be the surreal comedy of Thomas Jefferson, having met the ghost of Dante Alighieri, tarzaning butt-naked into a conference of delegates from Virginia, the rap-battle-level dressing down of some of history’s most significant institutions, or the pathos of the human stories that beat at the heart of this “divine comedy”.

You can check out the series page for Legends of Liberty here:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

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The Beauty of Carcosa

When I was eleven years old, a friend of mine, Rob, used to live near a large shopping complex called Castlepoint, in my home city of Bournemouth. Like me, Rob was an avid reader, and we would often make trips to the Castlepoint Waterstones (the UK’s equivalent of Barnes & Noble) together. Most of the time we would not even buy books—because buying them new was expensive—but simply browse the rows and rows of shelves. We shared a love of dark fantasy, but like many bookstores, one had to wade through the celebrity biographies and pretentious literary fictionsections to get to the good stuff: fantasy, science-fiction, and horror. These three profane genres, along with graphic novels and manga, were relegated to a secluded place on the first floor, right at the back of the shop, in a curious, windowless nook that took up only six feet by six feet. However, despite the fact our favourite genres had been hidden away, the shop manager possessed the wisdom to make something of this little nook (knowing it would call the most reliable and avaricious of reading addicts), laying out old armchairs, putting up fairy lights around the high, ebony bookshelves, and creating what seemed a little pocket out of time for those who loved fantastical tales, tales of wonder and magic and adventure and horror, tales that stretched the imagination rather than reinforced the bleak zeitgeists of modernity.

My friend and I would often spend hours sitting in that nook, taking books off the shelves and reading them while reclining in the armchairs, discussing our favourite stories, and of course writing our own, though we rarely set anything down on paper. In those days, storytelling was an ephemeral process—and that only made it more magical. I would spend weeks—and I do not exaggerate here, the man hours were absurd—crafting the most compelling narratives my tiny brain could conjure, only to use them all for a one-shot D&D campaign that we would never revisit. But that was their magic, the very fact that—like dreams—they would cease to exist the moment we decided to wake up. Some of my friends still talk about those one-shots; they have become our own personal mythology. They exert more power because we can never get them back, because they have no fixed form. Many writers would do well to remember the pure joy and escapism of this childhood creation. As a recent father, I now recognise that some of my best stories are tales I make up on the spot to help my daughter get to sleep. I wouldn’t dream of writing them down. They are for her, for the moment, and all the more beautiful for how they will fade back into the dreamscape from whence they came after they’re told.

This ritual of visiting Castlepoint’s bookstore with Rob continued for around seven years, until I was eighteen. The only reason we stopped going is because I went to university in another city. Our friendship was not impacted one jot—we’re still friends today, and still read like maniacs and share many books together—but all traditions have their endpoint. But before this end came, Castlepoint Waterstones had one last gift to give me. I am fairly convinced, in fact, it is the last book I ever bought there.

One day, I was browsing the horror section (Rob stood on the other side of the nook, looking at the science-fiction), when I spotted a slender volume. The book did not look like it belonged. What was a Wordsworth Classics edition doing on a horror bookshelf? Surely the book belonged in the classic literature section, which, to be fair, was the only other section of the bookstore I spent much time in (me and Rob were both in agreement that Frankenstein was one of the best novels ever written).Taking this curious book off the shelf, I was surprised by its rather rudimentary cover: a man in a hood with a pale mask—nothing more. The title read, The King In Yellow. I had two immediate thoughts. Firstly, why was the border of the book cover in red not yellow, given its title? Secondly, I thought I recognised the author’s name. In fact, I ignorantly had confused myself, thinking that Robert W. Chambers was Robert E. Howard, the author of Conan. However, mistakenly believing the book might have some relationship with Conan turned out to be serendipitous, given my love of sword and sorcery, and so in a rare moment of spontaneous retail therapy I decided to buy it.

Little did I know, I had just purchased a book that would shape who I am. Not just as a writer, but as a person.

I remember the exact moment I opened the book and realised that something life-changing was about to occur. Unlike my usual procedure, I hadn’t looked at the contents of the book in the store—I normally always perform a “first line test”—something had compelled me to take the book home first. Secure in my room, somehow feeling like I was doing something more profane than simply reading fiction, I opened it, discovering to my great surprise an epigraph in the form of a poem, “Cassilda’s Song”. Opposite the poem was a quote in French, and the opening lines of the first story in the collection, “The Repairer of Reputations”. I was familiar with poetry—in fact, I was an avid devourer of it. And I had read a few books with epigraphs in Latin, modern European languages, or even Japanese. But something about the combination of the two, and the mounting suspicion that this was not a poem written by another author but by Robert W. Chambers himself, that already the book was weaving its magic about me, gave rise to—and I hate to sound like a Lovecraft rip-off here, but it’s the only phrase I can muster that feels true—an indescribable sense of mystery. I knew then, though I’d read but a few lines, that these stories were not going to give me all the answers. They were going to tantalise and tease me like LeMarchand’s puzzlebox, offer me a glimpse of something beyond my current conception of reality.

All of this leads up to me first reading the word “Carcosa”.

What many writers these days do not realise is that words are not just magic in the metaphorical sense, they are magical in the literal sense. Sound is magic; magic is sound. The creation of new sounds is the creation of new meaning. That is why music undoubtedly reigns supreme in the arts; at the very least it is the most universal medium. And that is why one can read a word like “Carcosa” and intuit what it is trying to convey, or rather feel some sense of evocation—like the rising of a memory in connection with a smell, a form of distant synaesthesia—without that word having any contextual framework or etymology that is traceable with intellect. I remember repeating the word several times, ensorcelled by it.

Carcosa was a place described in terms of hushed terror, but awe and wonder too. This is perhaps best expressed by the concluding lines of Chambers’ story “The Court of the Dragon”: “Then I sank into the depths, and I heard the King In Yellow whispering to my soul: ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!’” More than once reading the collection, every hair on my arm stood on end. The above quote was certainly one of such moment, but there were others. Despite the horror, Carcosa was a place I wanted to go, a place of dreams where one might meet the living God in all His dark splendour. And indeed, it’s a place I’ve revisited many times in my life.

The first time came several years later during 2014 when a show called True Detective aired on HBO. During the second episode, the detective Rust Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey) reads from the journal of a young prostitute who has been murdered in a ritualistic killing: “I closed my eyes and saw the King in Yellow moving through the forest. The King's children are marked... they became his angels.” As I heard the name of The King In Yellow spill from the lips of Matthew McConaughey’s sociopathically intelligent detective, chills went down my spine. Chills of nostalgia, chills of recognition, chills of anticipation. Cohle subsequently remarks, “It reads like fantasy.” This is a strangely important comment, for it hints towards one of the keys as to why the Carcosa mythos is so enduring and so original. Though it is often described as cosmic horror, and indeed Lovecraft greatly admired Robert W. Chambers and even incorporated the King In Yellow into his own pantheon, The King In Yellow is fantastical as well as horrific, mysterious as well as dreadful, and beautiful as well as strange. Carcosa is not just a black void full of nameless horror, nor is it the horrifying sunken city of R’lyeh (which can only offer us death or madness), it is a place of dark wonders and living fairy tales, a place that you want to reach despite your common sense telling you not to peer too closely into the abyss.

Watching the mythos come alive in the capable hands of Nic Pizzolatto, True Detective’s creator and writer, lit a fire, causing me to dive back into the mythos once again. I discovered to my shock that Robert W. Chambers was not, in one sense, the originator of Carcosa. Indeed, the first mention of Carcosa was to be found in a short story by Ambrose Bierce entitled “An Inhabitant of Carcosa”, a fantastic reading of which can be found here. Bierce’s tale is even more elusive than Chambers’ subsequent interpretation, but what the two share is a sense of loss and a sense of liminality, that however far Carcosa might seem, it is but a step away—and yet, you shall also never reach it in truth. All we can do is stare at the megalithic ruins and wonder. Yet, should we stare long enough, these ruins might begin to speak…

I next visited Carcosa in the hands of Brian Barr. By chance I stumbled upon a short story collection he had released entitled simply Brian Barr's King in Yellow: Stories Set in the Robert W. Chambers' Mythos. The cover instantly grabbed me, not merely because of the phenomenal artwork, but also because it was a similar red to my Wordsworth Classics copy of The King In Yellow, which I still have to this day. I’d never heard of Brian Barr before; he is an independent author, and nowhere near as well known as he should be. But I decided to take a punt. I’ve honestly found more joy and gems in giving independent authors a chance than I have ever found reading big name trade authors. That’s not simply a biased statement from one who is also an indie author (and who’d very much like people to take a chance on him), but the honest truth. Barr is an absolute genius (I’ve read many books by him since), and I found myself riveted from the first line of his astonishing re-imagining of the mythos. Here was somebody not merely homaging Chambers and Bierce but completing re-inventing the theology of The King In Yellow in modern style. He did this partly by incorporating occult elements, such as astrology and kabbalah, into the mythic weave of the story—at the time, I was only just beginning my own study of the occult—as well as introducing alternative history and science-fiction into the mix. I was already inspired to revisit Carcosa, this time on my own terms, but Barr’s modern collection is what really convinced me I had to do this for my own sanity.

It was inevitable—destiny, perhaps—that one day I would try to write a story in the Carcosa mythos. After all, there was a strange synchronicity in that the fateful day I picked up Robert W. Chambers’ work, I was in the presence of another Robert, my friend. That early encounter forever shaped my understanding of dark fantasy, of grandeur and beauty nestled like a pearl in the scum of terror and dread, all the more beautiful for how it is nearly subsumed. For many years, I tried to come up with a tale, but nothing I wrote felt right. I definitely had something to say about Carcosa, but I did not quite know the way to say it. I had wild ideas and concepts, but what was really missing was character. I had the where, but not the who or what.

But then, one seemingly ordinary day in 2022, I was visited by the black goddess Kali, the goddess of bloodshed, ruin, but also creativity, and she showed me the way. She opened the doors of Carcosa to me anew.

It is in keeping with the legacy of Carcosa to leave it at that and say no more on the mysteries divulged to me by this eidolon of my own desires and fantasies, this inner Muse of decimation and beauty. Suffice to say, once she had left her mark upon me, the story flowed and flowed, and I became possessed by it, just like the characters of Chambers’ tales become obsessed and then possessed by the cursed manuscript of the eponymous play: The King In Yellow.

In the words of Chambers, “The time had come, the people should know the son of Hastur, and the whole world would bow to the black stars which hang in the sky over Carcosa.”

That hour is upon us, friends, when the King In Yellow shall return, and all of you shall witness the beauty of Lost Carcosa!

***

You can find out more information about my upcoming book inspired by Carcosa, The Claw of Craving, as well as listening to an extract from the first chapter, here. I’d like to take a moment to thank the incredible folk at Blood Bound Books, Joe Spagnola and S. C. Mendes, for being brave—or perhaps mad—enough to publish my take on the mythos.

There is also going to be a Carcosa-related treat coming soon for those signed up to my mailing list. So, why not subscribe and receive the blessing of the Yellow Sign (you’ll also get a free sci-fi horrornovella right off the bat)?

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I F*CKING LOVE NARRATIVE POETRY

There. I said it. It’s been a long time coming, this confession. I guess some of you already knew it, but I have to announce it to the world.

Reasonably recently, I released a book called Virtue’s End, a 70,000 word epic poem written in iambic, taking influence from sources as diverse as Spenser’s 16th Century fantasy masterpiece The Faerie Queene, and T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. Unlike the latter of these two sources, however, the poem is grounded in a story with lots of action, drive, even one or two twists, alongside the usual poetic fare of imagery, symbolism, and synaesthesia. I did this because, frankly, I had to. I experienced a mystical epiphany on a trip to Glastonbury, and the outcome of this experience was a transmission—what I believe might well have been a direct channeling of something beyond. I couldn’t not write the book. In many ways, the book was writing me.

But once this outpouring was over, I think a part of me believed I would go back to writing novels like a good little modern author. I’ve never exactly been a “commercial” writer. I write weird stuff for weird people who like multiverses and serial killers who go on fantasy adventures—oh, and telepathic crabs. But, obviously fantasy is a big genre and lots of people read it.

Less so for poetry.

But the thing is, the novels weren’t flowing like they used to. I had this block. Instead of prose, I wanted to write poetry, LOTS more of it. Dissenting voices in my head kept telling me that was dumb. I should stick to more commercial stuff. Hell, I should start writing thrillers and romances and really break into the big leagues…

But the Muse has to be respected, and the Muse cannot be compelled. Something was, and still is, telling me to write poetry.

And now I really am not certain I’m going to go back to novels…

There are many reasons, but perhaps the main one is I am falling in love with narrative poetry.

I love how it can cut to the heart of the matter. One is not burdened with describing every little detail, or making a scene feel grounded by drilling down to the boring mechanics and logistics.

In narrative poetry, you excavate the very core of the story. Who is saying what to whom? Who is feeling what? And what are we looking at? There’s no need for the fluff that pads so much of modern narrative—the epaulettes on a soldier’s pauldron or the exact mechanics of zero-g space-travel—because you’re driving to the centre of meaning, or as close as you can come without going mad. Faery tales and myths do the same thing. The greatest stories in the Bible and other spiritual texts are sometimes merely a few paragraphs of text, sometimes only a few lines

And deeper than this, the condensed and distilled form of poetry means that the language—at least in good poetry—becomes loaded with associations, double or triple meanings, and symbolic power. Through this mechanism poetry reaches the Jungian realm of archetype. 

It is also possible to blend and marry concepts that in a “realistic” prose novel simply cannot be married, because the laws of so-called reality restrain them. Even full-on bizarro novels must make their worlds obey the confines of linear reality, although the best of them at least comment on this fact, such as Alistair Rennie’s epic BleakWarrior.

But in poetry, all bets are off. So long as the feeling and the sense rings true and is comprehensible, then it works. Poems are like dreams in this respect. Upon emerging from their grasp, we recognise their weirdness, but in the throes of deep REM, we care not.

Environments and actors within these environments can be elided subtly by the choice placement of words. Images can ambiguously refer to multiple people or places. For a non-dualist, poetry is a paradise of synergy, a Hieros Gamos that allows us to synthesise wronger and wronged, righter and condemned, flame and burning spirit.

I think poetry, therefore, provides a new frontier for writers and readers alike. Especially poetry that uses form. For form creates beauty. And on the subject of "beauty", poetry is often considered snobby and intellectual, but the irony is that poetry—able to access the direct feeling state—is the exact opposite of intellectual. In many ways, it is pure feeling. 

It is no surprise to me that some of my favourite books over the last two years have been narrative poems. The first of these is my father’s epic poem, HellWard, a masterful homage to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. In this epic, my father describes his battle with cancer in Bournemouth Royal Hospital, which leads to a near death experience, and a descent into hell worthy of The Inferno.

A more playful—but still epic—narrative poem can be found in Andrew Benson Brown’s Legends of Liberty Vol. 1, which rewrites American history whilst, using fiendishly inventive language and imagery, making a satirical commentary on our present day.

Lastly, I had the pleasure to read Michael Pietrack’s upcoming fable, Legacy. This story seems like it’s written for children, but the honest truth is adults will have a lot to learn from it too, and the storytelling and imagination on display here are simply magnificent.

What are your favourite narrative poems? They can be as obvious as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner or something completely obscure. Let me know!

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Now Editing Poetry

Hello everyone. In the light of publishing Virtue’s End, and my renewed interest in poetry, I am now offering editing to aspiring poets out there. Poetry is very dear to my heart and I believe there should be more real poetry out there in the world. So, for those sincerely looking to improve their poetic craft, whether writing free-verse or more formal poetry, please consider signing up to work with me.

Work edited by me has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, National Indie Excellence, and Splatterpunk Awards. My own poetry, in the form of Virtue’s End, has been described as “an astounding and daring piece poetry, offered with the utmost openness and sincerity, a rare, meticulously crafted gem in an age of rapid mass consumption” (Christa Wojciechowski), and as “[Sale’s] Magnum Opus. An intricate, multilayered epic poem” (Steve Stred).

The main editing criteria for poetry will be:

  • form

  • diction

  • theme

  • style

  • narrative (if relevant)

The pricing for editing is £50 ($70) for up to 50 lines. If you're interested, please don't hesitate to get in touch using the contact form on this website, or by emailing me directly!

Alternatively, if you don’t have something specific you want editing, but you want to find out more about how great narrative is shaped—about poetic form, writing style, and more—consider signing up to Joseph Sale’s Patreon The Mind-Vault, where you can get access monthly videos (including the Magical Writing podcast and interviews with authors), articles, and digital downloads:

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POETRY ISN’T PRETENTIOUS, IT’S PASSIONATE

Our popular culture is plagued by the idea that poetry is elitist and pretentious, and to be fair, it’s easy to see why. Modernism and modern art have tried to change the very basis upon which Art is founded: aka, they have shifted the focus from manifesting the divine within the human sphere towards the realisation of an academic idea or commentary. But where Art is only about ideas, it dies. Enjoyment of Art should not be predicated on contextual knowledge. Yes, all Art exists within a context, that cannot be avoided, but the greatest works resound throughout history and transcend the boundaries of the time period, language, or culture in which they were birthed. I do not need to know what it was like for Dante Allighieri to live as a fourteenth century Italian to appreciate The Divine Comedy. His work speaks for him. This is because real Art must be felt, experienced, and lived. It is transformative. 

There is a notion that many of the old English writers of the canon, such as Milton, were crusty academics that had no appreciation of what real life was like, yet when we read his work, we find something very different, we find something vital and alive. Milton is, I think, one of the most profoundly misunderstood writers of all time. For a start, his gift for ironic humour is rarely discussed. Paradise Lost is intentionally and spectacularly funny in places, especially when Satan is backtracking over his own warped and impossible trains of thought (Anton Lesser’s magical audiobook reading of the poem particularly highlights this element). But more than humour, Milton’s writing breathes with a tremendous, baroque passion. This passion causes the very form of the poem to bend and even break underneath the weight of his emotion. Indeed, in the very first line, “Of man’s first disobedience…” he disobeys the iambic pentameter of his own line. This could be read as a clever poetic technique, and perhaps it is, but I prefer to see it as a manifestation of the true meaning of the poem coming through. I dare anyone to read the opening to read Book 3 of Paradise Lost—in which Milton begins to realise he is going blind and calls upon God to help him finish the poem—and not be shaken: “but thou / Revisit’st not these eyes, that roll in vain / To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;”

This is where poetry differs from prose, and why we still need poetry in a world flooded with memes and literalism. I should say, before I go on, that I am not one of those elitist poets who believes in the superiority of poetry. How could I be? I am a novelist too, and I love novels! However, after years of rejecting and suppressing my inner poet, and then facing and unleashing this inner passion, I am forced to conclude that poetry offers something prose does not and never can, which is a way to stir the deepest tides of the human consciousness with merely a few lines. There are many reasons that the resultant outpouring of feeling can be so powerful. Rhythm is one. In other words, great poetry can affect the mind in the same way as music using alliteration, meter, and other formal techniques. This way, poetry can imbed the meaning of the words far deeper than prose. Don’t get me wrong, prose has rhythm too, but poetry cuts deeper. 

The second way is via rhyme. Rhyme is commonly misunderstood. For many modern commentators, rhyme is a pointless exercise, the poet simply “challenging” themselves, but this is a masturbatory view. The real purpose of rhyme is to link two ideas that would not normally be linked. When words rhyme, we begin to infer an association, however off-the-wall. For example, if we rhyme love and dove, we link the concept of human “love” with “peace” as the dove is a symbol of peace. Those two words have been rhymed far, far too often, so it is no longer an interesting rhyme to use, but you get the idea! We can also use para-rhyme (which includes vowel-rhyme and consonantal rhyme). For example, rhyming love and live is a consonantal half-rhyme. Rhyming wound and noon is a vowel-rhyme. This gives us access to a huge, huge range of possibilities, and given the English language has the fastest growing vocabulary in the world, and the most words, we are unlikely to exhaust the possibilities any time soon! 

Of course, bad poetry uses predictable or monotonous rhythm, and cliched and unoriginal rhyme, which destroys the potency of the verse. But the existence of bad formal poetry does not mean we should throw all formal poetry out, just as my inability to kick a football straight does not mean we should ban football as a sport. 

Poetry is a large and daunting field, despite the fact that people are eternally claiming “no one reads poetry” anymore. The truth is: people do, as the many YouTube channels dedicated to the study of poetry attest. The world is hungry for it, but some people may not know exactly what it is they are hungry for, because the field is so rife with politics and loaded with historicity.

Not only this, but great poets introduce new phrases into common speech all the time. We are forever loaning the words of poets, even if we don’t know the names of those poets. Percy Shelly said that poets were “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. Whilst the statement is lofty, when it comes to language, it’s hard to deny its truth. And this brings us to one of my favourite quotes from Alan Moore: “Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.” This, perhaps, might be the very definition of poetry itself! The thing about truth is it’s like the sun. We can’t look at it head on, because it would burn our eyes out. However, poetry, unlike prose or any other medium, can reveal the truth more obliquely. The seeming “weirdness” and veils of poetry allow us to glimpse the truth without being blinded. There is a powerful link between poetry and magic which is too deep to go into here. 

So, where to begin? No two poets are the same, though some have much in common, and ultimately we have to find the poet or poets who speaks to us. Arguably my favourite poem of all time is Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came, by Robert Browning, which is one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written in my eyes. You can watch me doing a reading of it here. It is not too long and the language and feeling is awe-inspiring. Its meaning cannot be easily précised, but think about what the hero confronts at the end: is it death? despair? self-annihilation? guilt? Then consider how the hero faces it. Hair-raising stuff!

I also personally adore the work of Edmund Spenser, but many find him a little too formally rigid for modern tastes, and the size of his poems makes him difficult to get into. I find he is worth the effort though! My own upcoming work, Virtue’s End, is heavily inspired by Spenser’s Faerie Queene.

If you are looking for contemporary writers, though I am completely biased, I would have to recommend my wonderful father’s epic poem, HellWardas a starting point. The poem deals with his battle for cancer in the ward of a hospital which, as the title would suggest, is not all that it seems. Though epic poems can be daunting, the great thing is that they have narrative propulsion, which makes them a good starting point for someone who is new to poetry, or just looking to test the waters. We can follow the narrative and if some of the imagery or references go over our head, that’s okay, because we’re on a journey. After a while, we sink into the rhythm of things and realise our bearings. Another incredible modern epic poem is Andrew Benson Brown’s Legends of Libertywhich is a historical mock-epic set during the American war for independence. I previously reviewed this dazzling, hilarious, and moving work here.

Poetry is not for everyone. Except, I actually think it could be. That’s because real poetry isn’t understood with our left-brain, that is clouded by biases and intellect and judgement, it’s absorbed somewhere deeper, in the very soul, perhaps—though we have to open ourselves up to it. Any time we respond to a painting, piece of music, or literature with that unfettered, even explosive, emotional reaction, we are getting to the heart of what great Art—and poetry—is about. Archibald MacLeish once wrote, “A poem should not mean, but be.” In a world of ever more divisive opinions and politics, real poetry asks us not to decipher or argue, but to enter that immediate, present, and timeless being and feeling state. In the words of Emily Dickinson, “Forever is composed of nows.” 


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Review of Legends of Liberty by Andrew Benson Brown

Time moves in cycles—an ouroboros, if you will—and it is exciting to observe trends that seemed dead and gone forever return due to the cyclical nature of reality. We’re currently experiencing a complete resurgence of the Slasher genre, and a renewed interest in Horror overall. The existence of streaming services such as Shudder, and the popularity of modern films such as the Fear Street trilogy, are testament to this revival. What this says about our modern world, I leave to you, but certainly the narratives we invest in tell us something about who we are.

To be fair, Horror has always had a way of hanging on, and surviving cultural movements (even when banned or prohibited). It is one of those genres that never fully goes away, because human fear never truly goes away. It is far more impressive when a genre such as classical poetry makes its grand return. 

In the wake of modernism and post-modernism—the deconstruction of spiritual beliefs and national identity—and the advent of free-verse, classical poetry has been out of fashion for the last half-century. It is far beyond the scope of this review to explore the deeper reasons why here. However, what we can explore is how the genre is seeing a slow, steady, but powerful resurrection. 

In 2020, my own father James Sale published an epic written in terza rima called HellWard, echoing the form Dante used to craft his magnum opus The Divine Comedy. HellWard, whilst classically influenced, is based on my father’s very real personal experience of battling cancer. This is very revealing on a number of levels. It shows that poetry has never been the province of solely the elite, because real poetry, the poetry that influences culture in unimaginably potent ways, is always about true, human, relatable experiences (finding our way home, to our own soul (The Odyssey), or losing a loved one (The Iliad)). In writing HellWard, my father found a way to translate Dante’s sojourn into hell into a contemporary experience of fighting cancer tooth and nail. He has synthesised real trauma with myth

HellWard is the first instalment of The English Cantos, which will similarly mirror Dante’s tripartite model exploring hell, purgatory, and heaven. Whilst I am obviously biased, I am genuinely in awe of this book, and how it has captured the imaginations of so many. There have always been poets, either self-publishing their work or otherwise; this is not necessarily indicative of a revival of anything, especially when so much modern poetry reads like solipsism. But a popular, classically formed poem emerging in the maelstrom of Covid-19 and other catastrophes, now that begins to resemble the beginning of a movement! 

On the heels of HellWard comes Legends of Liberty, a new mock-epic poem written by Andrew Benson Brown. Benson Brown’s poem styles itself after Lord Byron, particularly Don Juan, and whilst the “mock” elements are certainly laugh-out-loud, there is no denying that the poem is serious at its heart and has some important things to say about modern society, the way history is taught in schools, literalism, where Western civilisation lost its way, and much more. Whereas HellWard is written by a Brit, Benson Brown speaks for an American audience, although his truths are universal. He deals with Thomas Jefferson confronting his sins in the inferno, with the battle for America’s independence from the British, and how new technology has shaped the landscape of war. However, Benson Brown never falls into the trap of giving a tedious, preachy history lesson, as many so-called poets do. His scenes have a surreal quality which at times is used for hugely comic effect, and at other times, to evoke mythic grandeur: 

“Their bayonets cast beams — reverse sundials 

Dissecting the empire’s diurnal span

That cast so many shadows on the globe.” 

There is so much to unpack from three lines like this. The image of the bayonets catching the light mirroring the ancient spears of the Greeks in The Iliad, but he does not stop at merely aping the original, but reverses the image, whereby we come to associate the weaponry with the oppressions of Western empire. We move from the “beams” of the bayonets, aka light, toward the “shadows” cast across the whole world. 

Benson Brown has a gift for aphoristic wit, a compact statement that seems to encapsulate the entirety of a gigantic concept. This is essential for writing mock-epic, which is often as much a commentary as it is a narrative, for example: 

“And wear beliefs as circumstance permits.

They’re diplomats by trade— we call then hypocrites.” 

This is where poetry shows its strengths. Form is not a restriction, it is a tool that can produce mimetic effects upon the reader when deployed by a master wordsmith, which Benson Brown assuredly is. In the words of Kurt Seligmann, form is “not resented as a coercion but rather welcomed as a liberation from the tyranny of chance.” The genius of rhyming “permit” and then half-rhyming “diplomat” (which “tricks” the brain into thinking the verse is done), only to then complete the couplet with the rhyme “hypocrites” amplifies the comedic effect by virtue of misdirection. The fact that permit and hypocrite is a “perfect” rhyme also conveys cleverly that “hypocrite” is the true term for the type of person he is describing. 

But Benson Brown does not only use the rhyme scheme to comedic effect. As I said before, the poem is serious at heart. There is a sense of mourning lost values and ideals, exemplified by how many heroic American figures are now forgotten, save for in obscure annals and Benson-Brown’s own poem (these obscure sources are extensively referred to in the poem’s copious notations, often witty, amusing, and informative). This sense of loss is perhaps no better exemplified than in the incredibly dense couplet:

“Of petals, perfect in their fair proportions.

What nature nurtures, time adopts, and chaos orphans.” 

From here, we have the full journey of a human life encapsulated. A petal, like a child, is made perfect. Nature nurtures it, which in itself is a clever play on words, referring to the endless debate as to whether we are more influenced by “nature” (our genes and biology) or “nurture” (what we are taught and experience). Benson Brown’s line here seems to appropriately suggest both play their part. In growing up, the child is taken under the wing of Time, entering the ouroboros of existence, before being orphaned by “chaos”. There are a number of meanings here for “chaos”. In one sense, we all become orphans eventually, as our parents must die. But in another, we are orphans in the sense we have to find our own way through life’s “chaos” and complexities. This is only scratching the surface of meaning.

Even if you are new to American history, or indeed to poetry, I highly recommend you read Legends of Liberty. It is witty, humorous, moving, and unlike anything you have read before. Classical poetry, much like Horror, is coming back from the dead in the hands of skilled writers like Benson Brown. The least we can do is give it a warm welcome. 

You can purchase Legends of Liberty below:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

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Entering Carcosa Part 5: The Book of the New Sun

Hello dear scholars! Welcome to the fifth installment of Entering Carcosa, a series that examines the modern epic. Our aim is to show that epic narrative is far from dead, far from confined to the dusty shelves of snooty academics, but rather a living breathing thing. And we need it more than ever. We’ve looked at a variety of epics so far, from video-games: Metal Gear Solid, to collaborative novel series: The Horus Heresy and TV: True Detective. I retreated into the dark recesses of my ‘workshop of filthy creation’ for a time, poring over your suggestions for further entries in this series, and one suggestion above all captured my imagination. So, today, I want to write about an often over-looked Fantasy-Science Fiction epic, a quartet called The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe. I’d like to thank Dana, a senior developer at Red Hook Games (the geniuses who made Darkest Dungeon), for recommending The Book of the New Sun to me. It has honestly been a life-changing experience reading it, and it is certainly a fitting entry into the epic canon.

The Book of the New Sun was published in four segments: The Shadow of the Torturer (1980), The Claw of the Conciliator (1981), The Sword of the Lictor (1982) and The Citadel of the Autarch (1983). Since, it has reached a kind of cult-status among fandoms, but is not as widely known as say The Lord of the Rings or even the works of Raymond E. Feist or David Eddings. However, Gene Wolfe’s quartet is surely a masterpiece, one that probes the nature of time, love, destiny, morality and divinity. The true brilliance of the novel is not simply the scope of its world ‘Urth’ (which in fact is our own post-technological world thousands, or perhaps even millions, of years in the future), or the scope of its themes, but the way these are conveyed to us via the first person narration of its protagonist, Severian the Torturer. Severian recounts to us his complicated and colourful life, from being a humble apprentice with the Guild of Torturers, to ascending to the very apex of society. He is an unreliable narrator, prone to tweaking facts and investing too much thought in certain interpretations of events. Everything we see in this world is filtered through his perception, and Gene Wolfe does a phenomenal job sustaining this viewpoint for the entirety of this lengthy narrative. Severian is as real to me as any historical figure.

Introducing an element of unrealiable narration into the Fantasy genre is a stroke of brilliance because it creates space for the reader to create their own interpretations, to question, and to draw their own conclusions about events. Whereas Fantasy has a tendency to be simplistic, or even didactic (the prophecy is the prophecy and is undoubtedly true, for example), Gene Wolfe’s epic muddies the waters, which actually more closely resembles Homer’s own grey and ambiguous morality. Are we supposed to see Achilles in The Iliad as a hero or monster? Are we supposed to condemn Odysseus for his unfaithfulness to Penelope or forgive him? The epics of old created complex characters that were in no way saintly in their actions, and so we see this in Severian, who is remarkably convoluted. On the one hand, he has no qualms about torture and execution, and even prides himself on his relative mastery of the art. On the other, he shows remarkable compassion for certain people and things: his dog Triskele, whom he rescues, his lover Thecla, whom he spares further torture (which causes him to be banished from the Guild, initiating his quest), Dorcas, whom he takes under his wing despite knowing nothing about, and even his arch-nemesis Agia, who tries to kill him on more than one occasion. However, it is precisely this complexity that has potentially stymied The Book of the New Sun from reaching mass-market appeal, unlike some of our other entries in this series, which are more broadly popular. Still, it is widely regarded as one of the best Fantasy novels of all time (according to Locus magazine and many others).

Not only is this first person close perspective a deeply intimate and personal style, which makes it incredibly emotive, it is also elusive. By this, I mean that Gene Wolfe manages to bury many secrets in his narrative. The answers to the narrative’s many questions are there for the observant reader, but they are not spelled out to us. We must seek them ourselves. This, I would argue, is a relatively new idea in the epic, which as a genre has never been much about twists or ‘surprises’. However, Gene Wolfe’s narrative is not reliant on it. The story can be read at a surface level: a rip-roaring fast-paced and unusually well-written Fantasy novel. However, look a little deeper, and you will see threads connecting characters, events, and timelines in the most astonishing ways. Gene Wolfe has achieved such remarkable narrative depth that, thirty five years on or more, it is still being discussed on reddit forums, podcasts, and in book clubs. There are wild schools of interpretation that take certain angles on the events described in the book, piecing together the elliptical parts of the storytelling. In addition, writing in Severian’s voice, Wolfe uses a plethora of antiquated words to evoke a post-technological (and therefore, paradoxically ‘ancient’ even though it is in the future) world, such as sabretache, oubliette, zoanthrope, eidolon. Though Severian writes in a fairly accessible way, his vocabulary is that of an older world and often dazzling, matching the high, elevated style of the epic.

Time and again, Wolfe draws us back to the classical epics with his work. Severian is, in many ways, the epitome of an epic hero. He bears a double-edged executioner’s blade called Terminus Est, and a ‘fuligin’ mask and cloak, a colour dimmer than black which hides him in darkness. He also carries the Claw of the Conciliator itself, a magical talisman, remnant of a Messianic saviour, that can ‘heal’ people and create awe-inspiring light. His cloak echoes the magical cloak used by Siegfried in the German epic The Nibelungenlied which can turn its wearer invisible (think also of the cloaks given to Frodo and Sam by the elves of Lothlorien). His sword echoes numerous ‘epic’ blades, including Siegfried’s Balmund, King Arthur’s Excalibur, and the Spear of Achilles, which can ‘cut the wind itself’. This magical equipment allows Severian to overcome many perils on his journey.

He has been trained as an instrument of the law (all epic heroes require a sense of justice), and is proud of the fact that he never ‘exceeds’ allotted punishments, which is his idea of fairness. Severian of course, as the narrator, tries frequently to persuade us to his point of view. Odysseus narrates part of his tale in The Odyssey, and during this story he often asserts his moral rectitude. In this way Wolfe mirrors the classical epics, but he stretches our empathy even further, perhaps to breaking point. Many of the acts Severian commits would make Odysseus pale. In addition, Severian has several powers, including ‘perfect recall’, although some instances of omission in the narrative lead us to question the veracity of this.

Severian is an orphan who does not know his true parentage and has been raised by the Guild itself, though hints of his origins (and his true nature) become evident later. Here, he echoes Achilles, who was sent away from his mother Thetis to be raised in a secluded sect of women, dressed and disguised as a woman, so that he might never go to war. The prophecy about Achilles was that if he went to war, he would die young but win great glory. Thetis does this to protect Achilles, but of course, as with all Greek tragedy, it ends up becoming part of the prophecy’s fulfilment, for the sect is discovered by Odysseus who recruits Achilles for the war. Achilles has been dispossessed of his masculinity, his royalty, and his free choice by being hidden away, and in going to fight in the Trojan war he reclaims it. So, too, Severian is dispossessed in his own fashion, dispossessed of an identity and a ties to other people, hence his sociopathic nature. He is forced to wear the habit of the Torturer, which he remarks upon himself is ‘a disguise’ of his true nature. Many characters refer to him as ‘Death’, yet as he says himself he is not Death but simply ‘a man’. However, we sense as readers deep down he may not even be a man at all. There are many layers of disguise and symbolism here at work. In a way, The Book of the New Sun is a rags to riches story of Severian coming to inherit what is rightfully his, though whether he truly knew himself that he had been dispossessed is up for much debate. He arguably shares one other trait with Achilles, that of his indestructibility, yet this too is uncertain given the lens of unreliable narration.

Severian possesses many tragic flaws; he might even be described as monstrous from a certain point of view. He is full of lust, morally unscrupulous, deceitful in his narrative and frankly terrifying to most people he meets, and is it any wonder: he is described (roughly) as a six-foot tall man in a black gimp mask with a blade longer than he is tall. Certainly not a knight in shining armour, but he does have redemptive qualities that make him compelling to read. Much like the compellingly vile heroes of Ancient Greece (Ajax, Achilles and Agamemnon come to mind).

Severian is our ‘guide’ through this story, in one sense, though not an entirely reliable one. He does have his own guide too, that of Thecla, who in some ways, like Penelope, is symbolic of his deeper, better self. The anima of his soul (for our souls are said in Greek philosophy to be the opposite gender to our bodies). She is also a philosophical teacher, much like Virgil was to Dante. Thecla is the first person to introduce Severian to the tales of the old world in the ‘little brown book’ that she reads to him and subsequently bequeths him. Her wisdom and knowledge, the stories she imparts to him, prove a comfort and guide in his times of need. Though Thecla is no longer with him (in one sense), her voice continues to guide him throughout the events of the story. This becomes more literal later on, whereby ingesting the gland of the alzabo (a creature possibly hailing from another world) along with a piece of Thecla’s flesh, Severian absorbs her consciousness and becomes a dual self. He also gains her memories which become essential to infiltrating the citadel of the Autarch later in the story. Severian, in one sense, becomes a keeper of the dead.

The Book of the New Sun is many things. I have mentioned that in some ways it resembles a ‘rags to riches’ story, and I think at its heart that is the narrative that most resonates. At the end of the story, we revisit many of the locations and people that formed the early narrative in an unexpected yet heart-breaking return. It is this moment we realise ‘how far we have come’, how Severian has grown, now being at the highest eschalon of society, and how much has been lost and gained. It is a truly masterful turn from Wolfe – an Odyssey moment where the hero comes home. However, he subverts this. Whereas Odysseus’ home is more traditionally comforting (his loyal servants, his roaring hearth, his family, his loving wife), Severian’s ‘comforting’ return is to the torture cells of his old Guild tower. Somehow this is no less emotive.

However, despite this ‘rags to riches’ moment, it is undeniable that Severian’s journey into the north and south of his land feel like a traditional quest, with episodic encounters, recurring characters, and unexpected turns of fate. He even has a party of followers, which changes from time to time with the ebb and flow of the story. He winds up in a war against the Ascians, climbing Mount Typhon to meet with an Autarch of old, plumbing ruins filled with devolved man-apes, a captive prisoner of a renegade of the state, and a respected official in the city of Thrax far away from his home of Nessus, and much more besides. In essence, the scope of this story in a literal sense is immense. Underlying this are the thematic elements which are what truly make the story work and give it such powerful resonance. Severian describes a world to us that once knew interstellar travel, but which now regards technology as a kind of magic. The sun of the world is dying, fading to a dull red glow, the Urth dying with it. There is a prophecy, however, that one day the New Sun (which may in actuality be a New Son) will arise, causing Urth to be reborn and ushering in a new age of technological greatness. The New Sun, and the other quasi-deities that are worshipped in this strange future world are, in a way, the Muse which Severian invokes to tell this tale. They are the promise of a redemptive future and a new hope to which Severian has dedicated this tale of his life. Wolfe performs the invocation of the Muse within the universe and mindset of his character, never breaking the illusion he has created.

Through this lens, Wolfe is able to make all kinds of anachronistic observations of our world, as well as predictions about the worlds of the future and commentary on the past. Still, timeless themes prevail as well as political or sociological ones (the Ascians are certainly a commentary on Communism in the East, for example, only able to recite ‘approved’ scripture, yet an entire language is formed around this and Wolfe subverts expectations by having one of the most powerful framed narratives in the whole book told by an Ascian prisoner). Love and its antithesis is a big theme in this novel. Severian’s many encounters with women are often unwholesome and cause us to judge and condemn his repulsive behaviour; we are supposed to feel this way about them. Yet, these give way to moments of transcendent beauty and forgiveness too. Death and religion are also big themes. Severian is Death, in a sense, a man in black with an executioner’s blade stalking the land. Yet, he is also life, because he bears the Claw. He is, in some sense, an adjudicator, the ultimate judge with the power to give and take away. The world itself is dying, but there are also possible futures where it is renewed, and this is not only through technology but also a spiritual occurrence, the return of the Messianic Conciliator (New Sun). For some this hope is nothing but a faint delusion, but for others it is real. The power of religion to inspire and deceive is dealt with in equal measure. Ultimately, Severian’s beliefs shape the whole narrative, because as insightful as he is, he is blind to the truth about what he really is. Wolfe, I think, is making the point here that perhaps we all are.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a katabasis, a descent into hell. There are many instances where Severian descends into a kind of ‘land of the dead’, the first of which in The Shadow of the Torturer, significantly, is his pursuit of his dog through the tunnels beneath the Guild Tower, where he stumbles upon the forgotten Atrium of Time. In this place, he meets an eerie maiden, Valeria, and time itself seems to be stopped. You will not know it upon first reading, but his conversation with Valeria, much like Odysseus’ with Tiresias in Hades, is prescient, and foreshadows many events of the later narrative. Time remains a theme throughout The Book of the New Sun. Severian seemingly steps into the past in The Claw of the Conciliator via the incantations of the Cumean, a witch queen. He sees a strange ritual and sees a vision of a dead man: Apa-Punchau. He also experiences the horrifying rite at Vodalus’ camp whereby he eats the dead body of the woman he loves most in the world, Thecla, in order to absorb her consciousness. This is truly hellish, yet it leads to a moment of beauty in which Severian is, finally, re-united with the woman he lost. Nekyia is the Greek word for the rite by which the dead are summoned (e.g. necromancy), and here we see that rite not only allows Severian to see the dead but to keep them alive. [see my own ‘epic’ novel Nekyia if you’re interested in more on this theme]. In The Sword of the Lictor, Severian has many hellish encounters, including an assault on a keep overlooking Lake Diaturna, a keep occupied by a terrible giant. Within the keep, he sees many malformed experiments, twisted once-humans the giant has created, and which he must fight through. This ends with a frankly hair-raising confrontation with the giant himself which is almost reminiscent of the battle between Achilles and Hector. In the final book, The Citadel of the Autarch, Severian goes to war, finding himself amidst the horrors of the front, though this is not nearly so dramatic as his escape into the Corridors of Time, glimpsing the world behind the world.

Ultimately, The Book of the New Sun can easily be considered an epic. In its scope, pathos, style, structure and most of all: its protagonist. Wolfe has created a modern legend that is deeper than it appears on first glimpse, full of hidden meanings, subtexts, and secrets. Yet, it does not lose its narrative power or pace. Rather, each part augments the whole. Were our society to come to an end, and The Book of the New Sun be one of the only surviving fragments, no doubt whatever species discovered our ruination would be curious as to what incredible and convoluted hero it was that wrote such an account.

It has been a pleasure to bring you a fifth part of this series. I am always looking for more examples of modern epics, and while I have some thoughts myself, I quite enjoy taking your suggestions, as it introduces me to new material! Please, feel free to leave a comment with your suggestions for further epics or thoughts about The Book of the New Sun.

Also, feel free to message me on Twitter!

If you feel that you have benefited from today’s class, then please check out my KoFi page, where you can donate $3 to “buy me a coffee” to help me keep producing free resources like this. Do not feel pressure to do so, but small contributions can go a long way for creators like me.

Until next time, my friends!

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A Yearly Round Up – 2018

2018 has been one hell of a year: personally and politically; for my immediate circle and globally. There have been tragedies and triumphs of human spirit alike. It has taken me places I never thought I’d get to or even knew I wanted to be. In January, I transitioned from working full-time at a call centre (taking 150 phone calls a day and feeling this oppressive weight on my spirit) and fitting writing and editing around that, to working part time on a reception desk and running this business alongside it. That was a huge step for my sanity and health. If you want to read more about that, I did an interview at Kendall Reviews about it. However, I made another leap mid-way through the year, quitting the part time job. I’ve now been running this editing and writing business full-time for six months. It fees like a dream and I honestly can hardly believe my luck. I’m thankful every day for this opportunity to do what I love.

Getting here wasn’t easy, but I am grateful for all the amazing friends, family, and fans who have supported me to be here. I wanted to write an article summing the year up, in part to thank those people, and also to direct you towards some of the awesome things that have been happening that may have passed you by – because who wants to be tuned in to news all the time? Some of these things are fantastic creative projects by people I admire, know, love (or all three). Some are pieces of work that have helped keep me going or inspired me to produce content. I hope they equally inspire you with whatever project you may be working on, whether it’s a year-end budget for work, or an epic poem.

–Speaking of which, the first item on our list: My father has been working on an epic poem, The English Cantos, inspired by the work of Dante Alighieri, particularly his Inferno. This poem depicts his descent into hell while suffering from cancer in the ward of Bournemouth General hospital. It is a vivid, phantasmagorical, heart-wrenching story. He has published the first three Cantos on the Society of Classical Poets’ website. You can also find me doing a reading of the poem’s opening here. The film was directed and produced by my good friend and unacknowledged genius Robert Monaghan. You can look for some more collaborations from us next year…

– Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy is another descent into hell. I don’t seem to be able to stop rewatching this movie. It is cosmic, visionary, gruesome, disgusting, hilarious, heroic, disturbing, spiritual and anti-religious, all at once. Cage’s acting is nothing short of spell-binding and the mythology Cosmatos has created is rich and layered, drawing from both Arthurian and Greco-Roman legend. I cannot recommend you get this horror DVD enough – if you can stomach it! Mandy wasn’t the only great horror cinema we got. Other wonders include Hereditary, Annihilation, Halloween and more! A good year for horror!

– …In games too! Puppet Combo, twisted genius behind Power Drill Massacre, The Night Ripper and many other retro PS1-aesthetic horror games, released his masterpiece Babysitter Bloodbath in limited edition hard-copy (limited run of 100). His work embodies the words of Stephen King that horror is all about ‘emotion’. The atmosphere of tense dread in his games is like no other, an adrenaline kick not to be missed! If you’re curious, you can read my interview with him here.

– I discovered an awesome book series Empires of Dust by Anna Smith-Spark, which is one of the most brutal, grimdark fantasies I’ve ever read. It is poetic and dark and riveting and utterly brilliant. Well worth time and energy for any fantasy lover but also any horror fan too.

– Further in publishing, my good friends at Storgy Magazine successfully crowdfunded their very, very weird (and very, very awesome) Shallow Creek anthology. It’s a collection of tales all set in the same fictional creepy American town, with a cast of characters that the authors have been able to play with. It sounds innovative and exciting. Not only that but they hit a whole host of stretch goals too, adding three stories by top writers Aliya Whiteley, Richard Thomas and Sarah Lotz.

– In the realm of Weird Fiction, things seem to be stirring in the depths. Dan Coxon launched the second volume of the Shadow Booth anthology as well this year, which has writing from some incredible authors, new and established. Shadow Booth is a benchmark of quality and well worth your time checking it out. Zero pretension, just great words and weirdness.

– My mother took part in London Art Battle III this year, where she produced work live in front of an audience. The event was hosted at Red Gallery and is created by the quirky Kiss My Art. I honestly deeply admire her for this. I know how it is going to Spoken Word / Rap Battles from my brief foray into performance poetry. To produce art live and improvised, any type of art be it music, words, visual pieces, or dance, is extremely nerve-wracking and pressured and she performed incredibly well! Proud son!

– She also exhibited her artwork at Upton House Gallery earlier this year. The exhibition was called ‘Unveiling Souls’ and tackled spiritual themes. My mother loves figure-work and iconography and is honestly a hugely underrated force of artistic talent, as well as love and kindness, in this world. You can check out a video of what it was like here. To see more of her artwork, you can check out her website. Alongside my mother’s art was poetry by my father from his collection The Lyre Speaks TrueThe artwork my mother made for the cover of that poetry collection is below.

– My baby 13Dark Issue #2: CURSED CROSSINGS launched! This collection features four amazing stories by authors: Richard Thomas, Christa Wojciechowski, Andy Cashmore and Anthony Self, totalling 41,000 words of content. I’m super biased because I edited this collection, but still! The first issue of 13Dark was hailed for the quality of its stories and design and the second issue is a right treat with some killer horror tales. Both issues are available from Lulu. To find out more about 13Dark, you can visit this webpage. It includes some brilliant interviews with 13Dark authors by the great Christa Wojciechowski.

– Speaking of which, my good friend, and writer in Issue #1 of 13Dark, Ross Jeffery, has published a slew of brilliant stories this year, including ‘A Time for Everything’, up at Soft Cartel, ‘Judgements’ at Idle Ink, and ‘Toilet Trauma’, available to read in the latest issue of Schlock Magazine. He also has a story in Storgy’s previous anthology Exit Earth.

– The great Max Booth III’s amazing new werewolf novel, Carnivorous Lunar Activities, is available for pre-order here. Earlier this year I reviewed his incredible novel The Nightly Disease and it was honestly one of the best books of the year.

– My novel Gods of the Black Gate finally released in November! This is horror-sci-fi was described as ‘True Detective in space’. It has had some radical preliminary reviews, including a 5* one up at Kendall Reviews. You can buy it from either Amazon UK or Amazon US.

– I also had a bunch of short stories published and wrote a bunch of articles on how to write fiction and horror and epics. They were all immensely fun to write and if you want more of a particular thing (or less), please let me know, because I love feedback and love hearing what you think about my work. You can drop me a line here.

WHAT TO EXPECT NEXT YEAR…

Well, I’ll still be editing, so if you have that novel you finally want to get publication-ready, or you want me to collaborate with you on a creative project, then I’m here! I’m working on a whole bunch of new material too. I’m currently shopping five novels (yes, five!) to different publishers – so the aim is to get them homes by the end of 2019. I’ll be on Richard Thomas’ awesome Novel Writing course too, working on a big, big project that will take most of the year. I’m also taking on some slightly different creative endeavours. I mentioned collaboration with the great Robert Monaghan, well, there are two potential projects unfolding next year involving our twisted minds. Here’s a teasing screenshot of one of them…

I think you know what it means!

Have happy holidays and happier New Year! I hope the future is a blessed place for you and that every goal and intention you are moving towards comes to pass. I’d invite you, if you haven’t already, to join our supportive community. The tide is turning. We’re moving. We’re going to take over the world.

In a nice way…

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Entering Carcosa Part 4: True Detective

Television can be trivial, populist, unadventurous and mind-rotting – but it can also be brilliant. At its best, television can certainly be an epic form. Its long-running series structure allows for incredible scope and ambition, beyond that of a movie, whilst also maintaining cohesion and intensity. One only has to look at examples of recent television extravaganzas, such as HBO’s Game of Thrones, to see the epic potential of television. Game of Thrones is overtly epic, with its high-fantasy setting, dragons, wars, and tremendous cast, drawing on the historical events of the War of the Roses and Fall of the Caesars, as well as on Tolkien’s corpus for inspiration. However, in this series, Entering Carcosa, we are looking for the less obvious epics, the ones that ask us to re-evaluate epic values or styles in intriguing ways. A story doesn’t need to be told over eight seasons to be epic. In fact, one of my favourite television series of all time is True Detective, told in a mere eight episodes. For the purposes of this article I will be focusing only on the first season, which I believe stands alone as an epic.

On the surface of things, HBO’s True Detective seems insufficient in scope to be called ‘epic’. Compared to the complex, world-spanning military drama of Metal Gear Solid, or the intergalactic wars of the Horus Heresy, a series of killings on the Louisiana bayou seem relatively small-scale. However, True Detective uses symbolic significance to elevate the narrative to a timeless story about good and evil. In essence, the entire series is an extended metaphor for something deeper. Director Cary Fukunaga’s awesome cinematography  draws out the concurrent themes and moods of Nic Pizzolatto’s writing. Again, a collaborative epic effort.

‘It’s all just one story, man… Light versus dark’. These lines are uttered minutes from the series’ close, yet True Detective never strays into hackneyed simplicity. Its characters are grey, complex, and at times downright repugnant. In the first episode, Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) asks Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey): ‘Do you ever wonder if you’re a bad man?’, to which Cohle responds: ‘The world needs bad men, Marty.’ The oldest epics challenged the idea of good and evil as clear-cut definitions. Odysseus is a heroic leader who is trying to do what is right. But he is not perfect. Unlike his wife, Penelope, who remains faithful to him throughout his 20 year voyage home, Odysseus strays, betraying Penelope with both the sorceress Circe and Kalypso. True Detective pushes the envelope even further, showing us two despicable anti-heroes and asking the question of whether their ultimate good deeds outweigh their sins.

The Odyssey is certainly one of the three key models for True Detective. The show spans a twenty year period, paralleling the time-frame for Odysseus’ voyage home. In particular, it focuses on three periods: 1992, 2002 and 2012. It begins in media res in 2012, as Marty Hart and Rust Cohle are called into their old office to be interviewed about a recent killing in the same ritualistic style as the ones they dealt with in 1992. Marty Hart very much typifies an Odysseus character. He is quick-witted, personable, and naturally looked-to for leadership, earning promotions fast. He is also unfaithful to his wife Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), unable to resist the lure of younger women. Rust, on the other hand, is very unlike Odysseys. Though he is a thinker, he is alienating to those around him. His atheistic, nihilistic worldview and self-punishing asceticism trouble those he comes into contact with. He experiences visions, which he dismisses as the result of his years infiltrating a drug cartel, though he admits at times they feel like: ‘A mainline to the secret truth of the universe’. These issues stem from the death of his daughter, a death which psychologically scars him and destroyed his marriage.

If Rust is based on anyone, it is in fact, ironically, Jesus, the Bible crucifixion story being the second key influence on True Detective. The more I watch the series, the more obvious it becomes. Like Jesus, Rust is a radical social reformer un-intimidated by social opinion. Rust speaks in imperative language, a trait of Jesus’ speech patterns. In addition, Rust uses religion (even though he claims not to believe in it) to extract confessions, breaking down his subjects until they ask him for forgiveness. His monk-like existence (in a minimalist room with no furnishings) echoes Jesus’ humble origins and nature. Rust’s only notable decoration in his room is a crucifix. He claims he doesn’t ‘believe’ in it, but likes to meditate on ‘the garden’ (aka, of Gethesmane) and how Christ was willingly able to give up his life for others. Rust Cohle’s name is almost an echo of the meaning of Adam’s name in Hebrew, which means ‘red’ or ‘earth’ – Jesus was thought to be ‘Adam come again’, a kind of new beginning for mankind. I could go on and on about the many parallels, but it has already been written about at length by other writers.

In this image, Rust most resembles Christ, with the long hair and blackened eye, having offered himself up as a sacrifice to defeat the killer. He receives a wound in his side (much like the Spear of Destiny pierced Jesus). Rust returns from his death-coma, again echoing Christ.

 

Suffice to say, we have here a story about two modern interpretations of mythological/theological heroes. Rust, in particular, certainly qualifies for the epic description. He is from an unusual place, Alaska, where the ‘stars are brighter’, a far-out world to the deep, warm South of Louisiana. However, he moved to Texas, away from his home and father, in a way self-orphaning. He has a magical power, which are his visions – visions which often help him on his case – and his synaesthesia, a condition which confuses the translation of senses by the brain, meaning he can taste ‘psycho-spheres’ and smells. Rust has an obvious sense of justice – he is a homicide detective, after all, and a good one. He possesses a special red toolbox of equipment which is hidden away under the boards of his house containing AK-47s, grenades and other tools, such as a liquid concoction and syringe for simulating drug-use (which he uses to re-infiltrate a biker gang). Rust has a tragic flaw, which is his nihilism and lack of belief, which is healed in a moment of true catharsis at the end of the story.

Marty and Rust must hunt down a serial killer who has secretly, in the shadows, been haunting Louisiana for some time. Like the epic Beowulf, a ‘monster’ resides at the heart of the story as the central obstacle to be overcome. Or perhaps more aptly, like Theseus and the Minotaur, which I believe is the third significant narrative influence for True Detective. At the end of the tale, when the killer is finally tracked down, Rust and Marty enter a literal labyrinth filled with the bones of decades of raped and murdered children. They must, like Theseus, navigate this maze in order to find the monster at its heart. In Rust’s own words: ‘To realize that all your life – you know, all your love, all your hate, all your memories, all your pain – it was all the same thing. It was all the same dream, a dream that you had inside a locked room, a dream about being a person. And like a lot of dreams, there’s a monster at the end of it.’ This profound philosophy and soliloquy, reflections on the nature of existence itself, is another reason True Detective can be considered epic.

Scope is one thing, but we already know style maketh the epic. True Detective has style in abundance. The script is labyrinthine in itself, full of nuances and complexities that reward subsequent viewings. It shifts from black comedy to poetry to sordidness effortlessly. In the second episode, Rust looks around at the desolate town and says: ‘This place is like somebody’s memory of a town, and the memory’s fading…’ A beautiful poetic image (and extended metaphor) that perfectly encapsulates both their bleak surroundings but also Rust’s more spiritual, artistic character. Marty’s put-down is hilariously delivered and salt-of-the-Earth: ‘Stop saying shit like that.’ Whilst some people have said they found the series difficult to get into because of the way the characters talk (and I can’t disagree the thick Southern American accents and phrases are hard to decipher, particularly for non-US audiences), it is this very thing which elevates it. There is a rhythm and metre to even the most banal exchange of insults, the most libidinous comment, the most corporate excuse. Like Shakespeare, you have to tune your ear, but once you break in, your mind picks up the meanings.

Both men act as guides for each other at different points in the story. Throughout the investigation, the relationship between Marty and Rust and which of them is most dominant swings. Rust drives many of the investigative breakthroughs, but it is Marty who is able to buy them more time with his superiors, who are ever more eager to hand it over to the task force and be rid of it. Marty smooths things over with Rust and the others, guiding him through the social malaise and securing his position (until their falling out in 2002). Rust encourages Marty to love his wife and be a better man. This alternation subverts the idea of a guide in the traditional epic sense. Neither one is the ultimate guide, both in turn have their strengths and weaknesses.

In addition, True Detective frequently plays with our expectations for their characters. For example, Marty claims: ‘I was steady and Rust was smart’. At first, we believe him. Rust seems a genius, Marty seems a great ‘family man’. But later, the series challenges this. Marty ultimately cracks the case. His comment about Rust, that he has a ‘tendency for myopia’ proves correct. However, Marty is inconstant in that he is unfaithful to his wife and friends, and suffers from wild mood swings. His hypocrisy, as well, when dealing with the two teenage boys who slept with his daughter is palpable, the very definition of unsteady.

Rust, on the other hand, though seemingly an intellectual giant, is ultimately not the one to make the final case breakthrough, as his thinking and worldview is mono. But, he is the one who never gives up on solving the case and understands its true, wider implications. Even when it seems that he and Marty’s relationship will be irreparably destroyed by Rust’s liaison with Maggie, he does not fight Marty with his full strength, suffering significant injury through holding back, remaining bizarrely loyal to him. Similarly, in the early days of their relationship, he never gave away to Maggie that Marty was betraying her – whilst also never directly lying to Maggie (this kind of masterful ‘treading of the line’ is also another reason he is comparable to Jesus, who was legendary for his ability to circumnavigate very ensnaring questions and accusations). Rust, in fact, is so remarkable not because of his speeches or philosophy, but because of the sheer depth of his integrity. He is the ‘true’ detective of the title, who remains unshakeably loyal to his purpose no matter what.

Arguably, the two interviewing officers Maynard Gillbough (Michael Potts) and Thomas Papania (Tory Kittles) are also guides as they force Rust and Marty to go back through their past and details of the investigation. This is an intriguing play again on the trope, as Maynard and Thomas are actually really trying to wrong-foot Rust, Marty and also Maggie – whom they interview towards the end. Though they do end up doing the right thing at the close of the investigation, trusting Marty and providing backup when he makes the call, they are antagonists for the majority of the series, as well as guides for the audience and their interviewees.

I’ve said there are three key story influences on True Detective: The Odyssey, Theseus and the Minotaur, and the Bible, but there is also a fourth key influence on the setting, which is the mythos of the Yellow King, particularly the collection by Robert W. Chambers: The King in Yellow. Now, we finally come to the title of this series. Entering Carcosa. Carcosa is a mystical land ruled by the King in Yellow in Robert W. Chambers’ stories. The King In Yellow is not only a personage in this world, however, but also the name of a play in the ‘real’ world. Reading this play drives you insane and brings the phantasmagorical to life.

Carcosa itself is only hazily described in Robert W. Chambers’ tales. We get the sense of a kind of fantastical realm warped by ancient ruins, colossal lakes, sprawling beneath a sky full of ‘black stars’. Carcosa is mentioned several times in True Detective as the place to which Rust is ultimately being drawn for his final confrontation with the killer, who may be the King in Yellow, or an incarnation of him. Carcosa seems both a spiritual dimension beyond the veil of reality and a physical space (the labyrinth at the end). In a brilliant scene in the final episode, Rust experiences a vision where the firmament opens up and a swirling vortex of stars pours down into the darkness. The gate to Carcosa itself, or just another hallucination resulting from neural damage? Rust’s visions seem to become more frequent the closer he gets to the killer. Could he have glimpsed something beyond the real? Or does it mean, as Rust is told by the killer that: ‘You’re in Carcosa now’ – he has already crossed over.

Carcosa, needless to say, is a metaphor for hell. By using cosmic, Lovecraftian horror (Robert W. Chambers was a tremendous influence on Lovecraft), True Detective neatly sidesteps the well-worn path of so many horror movies, instead giving us something more sinister, evasive and mysterious. Carcosa is a place, a state of mind, but also – most importantly of all – a feeling. It is not-quite-rightness embodied. It is Rust’s skin-crawling sensation that the town is not real, just a ‘memory of a town’. It is Marty’s feeling that his life is ‘slipping through [his] fingers’. Carcosa is the hell that creeps up on us in unexpected moments, the constant threat that the universe is not quite right. Rust feeds his interviewers cosmic theology, claiming that ‘Time is a flat circle’, that we live the same life over and over again and can never escape it. This morbid nihilism is thought, by some, to be merely a smokescreen to wrong-foot the investigators, but I think at some deep level Rust believes it. He believes there is something wrong with the world. That more than anything else is Carcosa. True Detective brilliantly subverts the epic by bringing Hell to Earth, but not in an obvious way. It brings it to us in the insidious doubts of our lives.

The references to The King in Yellow also serve as a kind of subversion of the invocation to the Muse. The King in Yellow is worshipped by many people in the story secretly, and the pervasiveness of his worship is only truly known at the end of the series. As the story unfolds, the king becomes an increasingly sinister presence, felt in every scene but never quite seen. There is a feeling that the Yellow King is the one controlling events, leading the story where it needs to go. The muse has become a frightening demonic force in the narrative.

On a side note, there is much debate about who, truly, the Yellow King is. Is it Errol Childress, the Killer? That would be perhaps the most obvious solution, but the killer does not identify himself as the king. In fact, he refers frequently to higher powers which he hopes to ‘ascend to’. Is it Rust, then? The killer refers to Rust as ‘My little prince…’ (incidentally, ticking another box for epic heroes: royalty). Does this suggest he has a place in Carcosa too, a lineage? Or, most weirdly of all, is it mundane Marty? Marty’s second name, Hart, weirdly chimes with the antlers the killer attaches to many of his victims’ heads. The antlers are described by Rust as a ‘crown’. There is also a moment when Marty steps into a club in search of one of the drug dealers who might be supplying the killer with his LSD cocktail, a concoction he uses to presumably make his victims more compliant. A ray of yellow light falls across Marty, illuminating him. Coincidence or deeper meaning? It is, after all, Marty who finally closes the case. Never has the Muse been imbued with such a sense of mystery.

Ultimately, the epic can be expressed in so many different ways, but all epics tap into something deep within us. A craving for a higher narrative of existence. A sense of cosmology – aka, an order to the universe, an explanation why things are the way they are, whether that be visualising mountains as the result of a tap-dancing god, the rivers as the seed of a giant bull, or an understanding the disharmony of life as the result of a deeper struggle against cosmic darkness. Metal Gear Solid, The Horus Heresy and True Detective are vastly different works, and all of them have had many hands in their creation, but they are unified in the way they help us to define who we are and what heroism is. In an era of increasing deceit and cowardice, where no good deed goes unpunished and no crime goes swept under the carpet, we need epic narrative, and definitions of heroism, more than ever before.

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We’ve now come to the end of this series. I do hope you enjoyed it, it was an absolute pleasure to write. I would love to have your suggestions for other modern epics so that I can write more of these articles in the future. A few of you already have recommended some stuff, so I’m going to spend some time checking it out. Who knows, part 5 might be coming sooner than you think! Thanks for being there.

If you want to find out more, or ask me any questions, feel free to leave a comment on my website, or to message me on Twitter!

If you feel that you have benefited from today’s class, then please check out my KoFi page, where you can donate $3 to “buy me a coffee” to help me keep producing free resources like this. Do not feel pressure to do so, but small contributions can go a long way for creators like me.

Until next time, my friends!