The Redemption of Erâth: History of Erâth – The Second Age (Part IV)

(v) The War of Darkness (Part 4)

The Breaking of the Bridge of Aélûr

When Goroth and his army had crossed the black river, Daevàr did not call upon his army to pursue them further; exhausted, weakened, and still in fear, they remained behind to recover, though they did not retreat further to the South. For a month, the army of Thaeìn rested, and recovered their strength. Daevàr knew Goroth would not be so easily defeated.

The Dragon Lords remained with Daevàr, and conferred much with him, and knew also that Goroth remained yet in Thaeìn, and would not leave their lands while strength remained in his army. The Duithèn had departed the South, and the oppression of darkness was beginning to lift from the kingdoms of Erârün and Kiriün. But both Daevàr and the Dragon Lords knew that at least one final battle would come before the War of Darkness would see an end. Their own forces were greatly reduced; of their army of ten thousand, little over four thousand remained between Daevàr’s army and the forces that had driven back the pirates and soldiers of Cathaï, now regrouped.

Before long, word reached Daevàr that Goroth was indeed regrouping his forces at the mouth of the […]

Read the complete section here.

Movie Night: Jack the Giant Killer

Year: 1962

Director: Nathan Juran

Production Company: Edward Small Productions

Leads: Kerwin Matthews, Judi Meredith

Tonight’s feature was a new discovery for both Little Satis and I. The name caught my eye, though it’s only now that I realize there’s a movie by the same name coming out next year. It’s certain to be a big, epic affair, with all the big guns like Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci, and it will probably be full of mind-blowingly spectacular CGI effects, and absolutely none of the charm that adorns this enchanting little film from fifty years ago (there – I challenge any of me readers to say they saw it in the theater).

Jack the Giant Killer is originally an English fairy tale, set in the southwest county of Cornwall. (As it happens, Cornwall is home to St. Michael’s Mount, from whence came the giant King Arthur slew.) The original tale (which I have not read, though I now intend to) appears to feature an awful lot of giants, an awful lot of blood and guts, and distressed damsels and princesses galore. It seems to have first come into being in the early eighteenth century, and presumably catered to the tastes of the time.

Orville Hampton‘s adaptation bears little resemblance to this tale, save in name and spirit, and a lot more to do with the campy evil wizard Pendragon. On the birthday of the royal princess, Pendragon visits the kingdom in disguise, and sends a giant to whisk her away. The giant, however, doesn’t get far before it is beset by handsome farmer Jack, who slays it with a scythe. Enraged, Pendragon sends his demonic witches to capture her as she flees to safety on a ship, and transports her back to his castle, where he bewitches her.

In a number of subsequent adventures, in which Jack takes custody of a young boy and befriends a viking with a leprechaun (you can’t make this stuff up), he fights his way to the dark wizard’s castle. Passing through the final trials, breaking the spell upon the princess and defeating Pendragon (who turns into, of course, a dragon), Jack finally rescues the damsel, and in true sixties style, wraps up with a wink at the camera and a great big smooch.

The film features a cast of second-rate actors and first-rate effects. I had to explain to Little Satis that they didn’t have computer graphics in 1962, and that all of the special effects were composited or rotoscoped afterwards, frame by frame (then I had to explain frames and film reel and…oh, the headaches). Considering this, the combination of animatronics, live-action footage, costumes, puppets and lighting make for an exciting showcase of the film technology of the time. While some of the stop-motion animation is mediocre (nothing compared to Jason and the Argonauts), particularly effective was the costumery of the witches and demons, and the striking luminescent painting as they flew down upon the stranded ship bearing Jack and the princess.

Another strength of the film, considering the nature and time of the film, was the surprising performance of Judi Meredith as Princess Elaine. From the introduction at the start of the film, we fully expected the damsel in distress to be just that – a helpless, shrieking frail flower, to be guarded and protected from the evil demons that want to capture her for the dark prince. And at first, that’s exactly what we got. Her acting was fairly poor, and her screams fairly annoying. The big surprise, however, came when she was bewitched, and transformed into an evil queen. It was as though, quite suddenly, she woke up to the role of a villain, and relished it. From the sly smiles to the dangerous hand movements, Judi appeared to come into her own. It would have been delightful to see more of her as a villain in other films, but sadly it seems she never really did anything of particular worth again.

I’ll be curious to see what the upcoming big-scale version of this tale will be like; from what I can tell, it will bear as little resemblance to the 1962 film as it will to the original eighteenth century tale. However, I won’t be holding my breath – there’s something rather charming about this one.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tales of Despair: Garden of Hell

Some time ago, I wrote about discovering Pieter Bruegel’s The Triumph of Death; a vast, melancholic landscape of horror, with the dead come back to drag the living down to hell. He portrays a hopelessness in death – there is no escape: peasant and king, saints and sinners, all succumb.

As I learned about Bruegel‘s fascination with hell, it brought my attention to the one who significantly influenced his style and subject matter: Hieronymus Bosch. From an earlier generation (Hieronymus died around 1516; Pieter wasn’t born until 1525), he was born and raised in the Netherlands to a family of artists: his father and four uncles were all painters, as their father had been also. In this early stage of the European Renaissance, the Netherlands appeared to be more tolerant of the representation of death, demons and hell – with their frankly grotesque, disturbing and often mind-bending caricatures of men and devils, it is easy to imagine his work denounced as heresy, or worse, the influence of the devil himself.

Though there is no reason to believe his childhood was less than ideal, a great fire in his home town when he was but a boy laid waste to thousands of homes. One can only imagine the terror and devastation of a fifteenth-century village, flames spreading from roof to roof, as men valiantly throw water from buckets onto the ever-blackening homes. Caught in the living hell, thousands must have perished, screaming and burned alive. And when all was over, the horror of stepping through the smoldering ruins, blackened and charred bones lying side by side with the beams of houses. From this, it is suddenly easier to imagine the influence for his work.

One of his best-known works today is the seminal Garden of Earthly Delights (doom metal band Cathedral pay wonderful homage on their album, The Garden of Unearthly Delights). It is a monumental piece, a staggering seven feet high and thirteen feet across, oil painted on wood, with hinges that allow it to be folded closed. Thus separated into three parts, Hieronymus dedicated each third to depicting a stage of mankind’s journey from conception to corruption to death. The left-most panel – the simplest, in terms of content – is dedicated to the garden of Eden, replete with newly-made animals, luscious lakes and fields, and azure mountains in the far distance. Orchards and palm trees sway (did they have palm trees in the Netherlands?), and in the foreground, Adam sits, watching as God presents Eve to him, new and pure and virgin.

Adam, Eve and God in Eden.

Even here, the surreal nature of his work can be seen; while some animals are recognizable, others appear as odd or deformed creatures, including three-headed lizards, deformed snakes, and some creatures that are beyond recognition.

Bizarre and distorted creatures, even here in Eden.

The central panel, twice the width of the side panels, is given over to – perhaps – paradise. It is a busy scene, with nude folk cavorting endlessly far into the distance. Here already, the scene is already becoming unsettling; though at first it appears that the beauty of Eden has grown to accommodate the growth of man, there are signs that not all is well.

The central pane – the defiling of paradise.

Not a man or woman can be seen toiling or working, and in their play, there show the signs of corruption, sin and vice. On the left of this panel there are depictions of good; in the far distance, groups of people can be seen entering upon paradise, among the unadulterated animals we know so well. A couple sit side-by-side on a giant pink sculpture, and a man even flies high above the world on the back of a griffin, holding aloft a branch of peace.

The sinless entering paradise – soon to be corrupted.

Yet as we move along, things begin to run afoul; men have begun to abuse their power over the beasts, riding them for their own pleasures. At the same time, their very pleasures become more bestial, as the eat from the beaks of birds, and appear even to seek congress with fish.

Um…is that what it looks like?

And of course, in the far right the ultimate symbol of sin: man taking the forbidden fruit.

The final, ultimate sin.

And so we enter the depths of hell, and it is here where Hieronymus’ true talent – and most bizarre and terrifying imaginations – is revealed. From severed feet to living consumption to grotesque violations, every detail is intended to shock and horrify.

Horror in the bowels of hell – all are equal in torment.

In one corner, a man makes love to a pig, while behind him misers defecate money into a cesspit in which further sinners can be seen drowning. Beside them, a hideous demon gropes an unconscious woman, while a donkey looks on.

Lust and avarice – tortured by their sins.

Elsewhere, musicians are impaled upon their own instruments, and tormented by the demonic music now passing through their ears.

Even the musicians are not spared.

In the center of the panel, a bisected giant forms the setting for the damnation of gluttons and soldiers alike; men are led into a fiery cavern to feast upon embers and ash, below whom tortured souls drown below the frozen waters. To their right, demons impale, imprison and feast upon soldiers – those who would kill for glory.

The fates of gluttons and killers.

But it is at the top of this panel, in the darkest and most frightening place imaginable, that the true despair of hell is shown. Lost in dark fog and shadows, the fires of hell burn high, and men are whipped, burned and massacred. Torn limb from limb, they are thrown into rivers or cast into flames, and always new sinners fall from the world above.

The distant and terrifying depths of hell.

Most heartbreaking and tormented, though, of all this, is a tiny detail at the absolute height of hell: behind the terrible black cliffs, the light of salvation glows – forever unattainable. Despite this, a single, solitary man braves the flames and the heights, desperately seeking redemption. And above him, an angel plummets from heaven.

Unattainable salvation.