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Hogarth judge

November 2017

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Bad literature

The Eye of Argon, an appreciation

The Eye of Argon has been called "the worst science fiction story of all time". (Well, actually, it's more low fantasy, but whatever....) Fortunately, it's nothing of the kind.

It's overreaching prose justly provokes amusement:

"Prepare to embrace your creators in the stygian haunts of hell, barbarian", gasped the first soldier.

"Only after you have kissed the fleeting stead of death, wretch!" returned Grignr.

A sweeping blade of flashing steel riveted from the massive barbarians hide enameled shield as his rippling right arm thrust forth, sending a steel shod blade to the hilt into the soldiers vital organs. The disemboweled mercenary crumpled from his saddle and sank to the clouded sward, sprinkling the parched dust with crimson droplets of escaping life fluid.

....

Eyeing a slender female crouched alone at a nearby bench, Grignr advanced wishing to wholesomely occupy his time. The flickering torches cast weird shafts of luminescence dancing over the half naked harlot of his choice, her stringy orchid twines of hair swaying gracefully over the lithe opaque nose, as she raised a half drained mug to her pale red lips.

Glancing upward, the alluring complexion noted the stalwart giant as he rapidly approached. A faint glimmer sparked from the pair of deep blue ovals of the amorous female as she motioned toward Grignr, enticing him to join her. The barbarian seated himself upon a stool at the wenches side, exposing his body, naked save for a loin cloth brandishing a long steel broad sword, an iron spiraled battle helmet, and a thick leather sandals, to her unobstructed view.

"Thou hast need to occupy your time, barbarian",questioned the female?

"Only if something worth offering is within my reach." Stated Grignr,as his hands crept to embrace the tempting female, who welcomed them with open willingness.

....

Grignr's muddled brain reeled from the shock of the blow he had recieved to the base of his skull. The events leading to his predicament were slow to filter back to him. He dickered with the notion that he was dead and had descended or sunk, however it may be, to the shadowed land beyond the the aperature of the grave, but rejected this hypothesis when his memory sifted back within his grips. This was not the land of the dead, it was something infinitely more precarious than anything the grave could offer. Death promised an infinity of peace, not the finite misery of an inactive life of confined torture, forever concealed from the life bearing shafts of the beloved rising sun. The orb that had been before taken for granted, yet now cherished above all else. To be forever refused further glimpses of the snow capped summits of the land of his birth, never again to witness the thrill of plundering unexplored lands beyond the crest of a bleeding horizon, and perhaps worst of all the denial to ever again encompass the lustful excitement of caressing the naked curves of the body of a trim yound wench.

This was indeed one of the buried chasms of Hell concealed within the inner depths of the palace's despised interior. A fearful ebony chamber devised to drive to the brinks of insanity the minds of the unfortunately condemned, through the inapt solitude of a limbo of listless dreary silence.
The polysyllabic Malapropisms of the text have made Jim Theis's tale a party game: the challenge is to read the tale aloud without laughing. This is not easy.

But what makes TEoA suitable for this entertainment are in fact its neglected virtues. Without those virtues, no matter what comedy gems exist in the choice of descriptive wording, nobody would have endured the text long enough to happen across them.

First, the story is well paced. Theis begins with an action sequence that also serves the purpose of introducing his main character, Grignr, and describing his martial prowess. He has drunk deeply enough of the well of his obvious master to know how to put together a pulp story that sustains its intended mood and excitement. Without this, who would have read on?

Second, the story is well imagined. Leaving aside the problem that the setting is not particularly original, there is no scene in the text anywhere that fails to leave you with the impression that the author had clearly formed a mental picture of what he was describing, and was working mightily to get that mental picture into the words of his text. There is never any carelessness about setting or scenery in TEoA.

This is a habit that's easy to do with fantasy: the genre comes with built in assumptions about what dragons are for and what barbarians do, so there's a tendency to let the labels substitute for descriptions. Theis never falls into this trap.

And, for the most part, he actually succeeds. In reading TEoA, you never have to wonder, even for a moment, what the intended scenery is and what the characters are doing in it. The attempt to fancy up the text is where it went wrong, but it never goes so far wrong as to leave the reader confused. Ultimately, the most basic test of a storyteller is whether he succeeds in telling his story. Theis has succeeded in telling his.

Comments

Like Erskine Wold said about Go Tell Aunt Rhody, it's got a good beat, and the words tell a story, and you could dance to it. I'd give it about a seventy-five.