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what ho, gods of the abyss!

So, on Sunday, I finally got my hands on Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s long-awaited League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, in which a government dossier is discovered detailing various adventures of the League past and present. And it is absolutely and utterly amazing. Not least because one of the central plots in the book is based on the literary universe with which my sisters and I were obsessed as kids: Frank Richards’ original Greyfriars stories. Oh, yes, leedy, when our heroes first open the dossier and see the “note” written on it to “H.W.” refering to his old “Greyfriars compadre R. C.” I got very, very excited. And just WAIT til you see what Moore has done with it…

One of the best things about the book is the development of a fully realised parallel universe, one in which Britain went to war against the Germany ruled by Chaplin’s “Great Dictator” Hynkel and which then elected the government of 1984. A world in which the Old Boy network is centred neither on Eton nor Oxbridge, but a little school in Kent called Greyfriars, which has produced Big Brother – and Harry Wharton as Big Brother is a stroke of genius. Of course, Orwell famously wrote an article about the Magnet and other boys’ weekly papers, focussing on Greyfriars, so this combination is a truly awesome joke. And as for my beloved Bob Cherry as M…. Then, of course, there’s the magnificently titled What Ho, Gods of the Abyss, in which Bertie Wooster encounters the world of H. P. Lovecraft, although Moore isn’t up to capturing Wodehouse’s airy style.

Anyway, the whole thing is pretty insane and kind of aweome, and I’d love it even without the Greyfriars stuff. But that felt like a present – if you’d asked me what fictional universe I most wanted Moore to do properly, it would have been Greyfriars.



( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 15th, 2008 01:37 pm (UTC)

(am I the [Unknown LJ tag] up there, or is there someone else you figured would be as entertained by this as me?)
Jan. 15th, 2008 01:40 pm (UTC)
It is you! I just edited it, although somehow the LJ-cut link below won't appear properly. Anyway, the whole thing is INSANE but brilliant and the trip to Greyfriars itself is both creepy and poignant (not too fucked up, though, never fear - there isn't a Greyfriars equivalent of the Dr Moreau bit in the last League adventure). Another hint of wonders within - can you think of anyone whose initial might have made him the original Q...?
Jan. 15th, 2008 01:43 pm (UTC)

Do they have this in a shop, like where I might buy it ASAP?
Jan. 15th, 2008 02:53 pm (UTC)
I think Sub City are getting a few more copies in but otherwise you can get in on teh internet...
Jan. 15th, 2008 02:02 pm (UTC)
That sounds fantastic. Really, really fantastic. I read so many of the Greyfriars stories when I was little. Bwah! I may have to go out and find this.

And I love the Wodehouse title.
Jan. 15th, 2008 08:49 pm (UTC)
It's brilliant, isn't it? Alas it is the best thing about the story, which is entertaining but, as I said above, Wodehouse is impossible to emulate properly.

And hurrah, another Greyfriars fan! Did you read the Magnet volumes? If not, in the '60s and '70s bound reproduction volumes of the Magnet, the magazine in which the stories appeared in the 20s and 30s (and before, but they hit their stride in that era) were published - each volume had a complete story arc. My sisters and I were, seriously, OBSESSED with them between the ages of, say, 9 and 12 - Busta J and I would weep copious tears over The Rebellion of Harry Wharton and Fighting for His Honour, in which Bob Cherry was accused of a crime he hadn't commited. I never liked the ordinary novels which were published after the Magnet stopped publication during the war, because they were all about Bunter and more or less ignored the other characters.

Have you read the earlier League comics? It's absolute bliss for lovers of late 19th/early 20th century popular fiction. There are two series, and you can find more about them here. The first series was my favourite, if only because the second series featured one particular comic that remains one of the most disturbing things I've ever read (imagine Dr Moreau - literally - in the English countryside, where all his creations are horrible versions of talking animals from much-loved children's books).
Jan. 20th, 2008 09:35 pm (UTC)
another Greyfriars fan

Yes! You know, I don't think I've ever known anyone else who read them! I read the novels to begin with, but it wasn't very long before I started to tire of them: Bunter really isn't *that* interesting. Then, somehow, I came across one or two of the Magnet reproductions in the library, and suddenly, there was magic again!

I never found any more, and I'm cross with myself that I can't remember the titles, now. But 'The Rebellion of Harry Wharton' might have been one of them. You'll know from this, anyway: I never see or hear the phrase 'he hardened his heart' without thinking of that story, of Harry Wharton standing firm, and of his friends sad and hurt around him. That's made me smile, thinking of those books, and that you knew them, too.

Thank you for the pointer to the earlier League comics. I know about them, but haven't actually read them. This sounds like it could be a prod for me to read at least the first series (thanks for the warning about the second!).
Jan. 15th, 2008 04:42 pm (UTC)
Heh heh! I enjoyed this a lot too...
I never read the Greyfriars stuff so that was a bit lost on me - Harry Wharton didn't ring any bells at all, for instance - but overall Moore & O'Neill were clearly having lots of fun and really getting into the pastiche. My favourite bit was the 1984 Jane Tijuana bible - really great stuff!

What Ho, Gods of the Abyss - as you sort-of imply, the title is the best bit - it's a good romp but just not as good as proper Wodehouse.

Did you look at the 3D stuff with proper 3D glasses? Magnificent!
Jan. 15th, 2008 09:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Heh heh! I enjoyed this a lot too...
I know, it was absolutely fantastic! I couldn't believe my eyes. And the newspeak Tijuana bible was indeed inspired. But yes, Moore really isn't up to convincingly copying Wodehouse's style - I think Moore's natural prose style is quite dense and almost Victorian, and Wodehouse is the opposite. But Moore made a good stab at it! And the bit about Gussy's lack of brain making no difference was pretty hilarious.

I think the Greyfriars bits went over loads of people's heads - but as someone who actually won a Blue Peter badge when I was ten because I wrote suggesting they do something about old comics, specifically the Magnet and Greyfriars, I was in my nerdish element! I'm actually going to pedantically mail that bloke who does the amazing annotations, because he missed quite a few things, most notably that Orwell essay, which he didn't mention at all.

And the descriptions in the annotations of some of the characters, particularly Harry Wharton, who was described as a mischievous prankster, was just plain wrong; anyone familiar with the Greyfriars stories that appeared in the Magnet would realise that of course Wharton, who was both the form captain and head boy but would periodically rebel against authority because of his pride and fierce temper (this rebellion would usually happen because, like all characters in school stories, he would be accused of a crime and then he'd get all 'well, if they'd believe I'd do something so awful, I won't even try and defend myself') would use his "natural leader" status to become Big Brother! Wharton was always much more serious than Bob Cherry, who was always a sort of cheerful, good-hearted chap. And his catchphrase was indeed "hallo, hallo, hallo", which comes up a few times in The Black Dossier.

Edited at 2008-01-15 09:06 pm (UTC)
Jan. 15th, 2008 11:36 pm (UTC)
I must get hold of this. I was a huge "Magnet" fan in my tweens - I can remember the excitement of getting the Howard Baker Press catalogues - they even produced a kind of fanzine, although I never got as far as getting the "Collector's Digest". Given that they used to stock them in the children's section of the central library in Preston, there must have been other people who read, but I never met any. I think that the Dick Lancaster series (published as "Billy Bunter and the Greyfriars Pretender: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/r/frank-richards/greyfriars-pretender.htm) has influenced me as much as anything else I have read. I might have known Moore would be a fan.
Jan. 16th, 2008 10:21 am (UTC)
Ha, that was one of my favourites too! So much so that I actually re-read it over Christmas, for the first time in years (and this was before I knew that Moore was going to feature Greyfriars in the new book). I particularly loved the fact that Loder, always one of the most entertaining characters, was the only person who knew the truth about the schoolboy cracksman.

Anyway, I'm impressed you managed to get hold of Magnet volumes in a library - if my dad hadn't bought some before I was even born, I'd never have known about them. I remember picking up my first one when I was about 9 - I think it could have been the Greyfriars pretender - and asking my dad was it any good. I read barely anything else for about a year. My little sister and I actually wrote a letter to Howard Baker himself, who kindly sent us a colour map of Greyfriars and its environs - I must dig it out in my parents' house...
Jan. 16th, 2008 11:19 am (UTC)
I was a huge Jennings fan and then one day I came by happenstance across a copy of Lofts's and Adley's "The World of Frank Richards" in the biography section of Fulwood Library in Preston. This would have been 1979 or early 1980, I think. I became obsessed by the book. Luckily in the central library, they had quite a bit of stuff by Richards - not just "Magnet"s and the 1960s and the Cassells novels, but "Gem"s, "Greyfriars Holiday Annual"s and "The Magnet Companion". I remember getting a copy of "The Downfall of Harry Wharton" for my 12th birthday as well as a copy of the Greyfriars map - unfortunately not free! (£3, I think - from my brother's). I still remember walking home at lunchtime hoping it had arrived.

Loder was a great character, but there were so many great characters - Vernon-Smith, Mr Prout, Coker, Wingate... I recall reading the George Orwell article at the time and thinking that although there was much interesting material there, he had missed the point (to be fair, the most of his political observations probably are more or less on target - but then we don't refuse to read Waugh or not consider him one of the greatest writers of the C20th just because he was a ghastly reactionary boor), especially his statement that the style of the story had evolved to make it easier for them to be written by a team of ghostwriters. Er... no, Eric. He also failed to grasp that Richards's game reply to the essay was from the actual writer of the stories, not from the editor.

You managed to get an item on "The Magnet" on "Blue Peter" as late as 1985. Wow!
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