*the window slides*

*Bless me Father, for I have sinned: I totally jacked a certain line from Alan Moore’s “Voice of the Fire” for use in this week’s column. It was too awesome a line not to appropriate; I wonder if my readers will know which one it is. There's some pretty choice puns of my own invention too. Anyway, I will say many a Hail Mary for my penance. Did I mention the column is about Marvel and their marvelous business practices? Ha ha, get it, Father? Amen!

*Stressful morning, but I got a lot accomplished. Got stuff done last night too, since my nerves wouldn’t let me sleep; grossly allegorical dreams melted into half-awakenings at fifteen-minute intervals for the whole of the three hours I laid in bed. At least it’s all done with now, and done with to a certain measure of satisfaction, I must say.

*“Voice of the Fire” PROGRESS UPDATE: because readers like Nik from the Spatula Forum suggested it.

I’m four chapters away from the ending (keeping in mind Alan David Doane’s note that the real whammy arrives in the final chapter), and I’m really enjoying how certain chapters seem to direct address one another, offering different views of a similar situation; in this way, it’s very much like the pair of BC chapters that take up the first third of the book, presenting a pre-Christian world from two distinctly untrustworthy viewpoints.

That Roman detective yarn is still a good one, but I think my current favorite chapter is the amazing “November Saints”, being the narrative of a Catholic nun in the 11th century who bears witness to certain miracles and ecstatics during her time as a beggar outside the church walls. As is so often the case in this book, the narration isn’t a model of unbiased reportage, with events occurring that seem to press the novel for the first time into the realm of the outright supernatural, unless an awful lot of it is taking place in our deluded beggar’s brain. What interested me was how passionate, how devout in its Catholic mystery the narrative is, achieving a blood and thunder ‘Lives of the Saints’ feel (and indeed, we hear of the private affairs of several among the canonized), with all of our sins flayed away with the kiss of the lash, and extreme beauty and baffling vision walking hand-in-hand with extreme pain and irrational punishment. And blasphemy! The ecstatic eye is so elevated as to glimpse the whole field of human faith, with sacraments of one type becoming offerings to Wotan in the blinding hurricane of religion totaled. But the walls of the church itself still bear pagan origins, fertility carvings dotting the entrance, certain gods not entirely transitioned to other gods. It’s a spellbinding glimpse of mystic theological sea-change.

And one that’s instantly contrasted with the bitter fruits of “Limping to Jerusalem”, in which the very opposite of our prior narrator, a monied knight, a veteran of the Crusades, returns to Northampton at the dawn of the 12th century, just after the conclusion of the prior chapter (relatively speaking). He’s not going to be providing any visions; indeed, all of the visions have been beaten out of him. He’s constructing a new (*gasp*) round church as per the designs of the Knights Templar, who act here as harbingers of a new age of Christian pragmatism, seeing as how the carry with them the Greatest Secret Ever Told. There’s no need for pagan structures for our bold knight, no time for superstition: Christianity has exited the Wild West and is ready for prime time, ready to work with (and against) physical evidence for largely the sake of the powerful. The mystic has become the political. But Moore knows to insert just enough historical detail (like the home layout and marital customs of period nobility) to keep us fascinated, even if the secret of the Knights seems awfully suspect.

Don’t worry.

Moore knows this. That’s way he tosses in a brief bit revisiting the topic in what’s by far the book’s funniest chapter, “Confessions of a Mask”, narrated by a very droll decomposing head on a pike. “V for Vendetta” fans will particularly enjoy Moore’s exploration of the origins of Guy Fawkes Day, but there’s a deeper connection here, running all throughout the book but perhaps most apparent here. Watch for the narrative shift in the final paragraph of this chapter, switching from the first person to the third. It’s the titular Voice itself speaking to us, the voice of fiction, of dream, of magic, of fire. Nearly each chapter, besides the curious occasional complimentary structure, features reference to other chapters, all of these characters tied together by both geography and the confines of the book itself, the story being told, and do flip through Moore’s “Promethea” for his attitudes on that. Even the town itself slowly evolves, though Moore leaves this up to the reader to discern. The first chapter revolves around a hog house. Later, the area is referred to as Ham Town (get it? it's a surprisingly easy connection to miss). It grows yet words are compressed: soon it’s Northern Hamtun. And by the time we reach “Angel Language”, the darkly comic saga of a randy judge fallen in with witchery, it’s simply Northampton, only taking until 1618 to get there. The judge character, it must be said, is an excellent characterization: charismatic, lusty, and by the way also interested in prepubescent girls, that little fact always calmly dropped in to upset the reader’s sympathies. The next chapter, which I haven’t read, promises to offer a different view of ‘witches’. Our eyes continue to dilate and betray us in this book, but such is the rigor of history and storytelling.