A Fresh Splash of Vinegar in the Eye
Imagine a terrible transporter accident - not a merciful death that leaves its victims as quivering chunks of flesh (Star Trek: The Slow Motion Picture), nor a romantic one that brings together two kindred spirits like Tuvok and Neelix (VOY: “Tuvix”), but one which unites the interminable pulp adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs with the exploding thesaurus of horror which was known as H. P. Lovecraft. Add a little brain damage (ok, a lot of brain damage), and you have Jim Theis, alleged author of The Eye of Argon.
I think I’ve rubbernecked at too many fan fiction accidents, because I enjoyed The Eye of Argon. Its lovingly-preserved typos and grammatical errors aren’t up to the standards of one of our own (e.g., Analyiah), but in all other categories Jim Theis is an author Bad Fanfic! No Biscuit! could be proud of. He has a firm grasp on the pulp fiction concept of plot (plenty of swordfights, secret passages and confrontations with fat, evil princes) and characterization (none to speak of). The style boasts a superfluity of adjectives (almost all of them misused) that would make Lovecraft blush. And to top it all off, The Eye of Argon is unfinished. Perhaps the author is still waiting for fanmail before he turns it into a trilogy.
To save my adjective-averse readers from the pain of reading The Eye of Argon, I’ll summarize this milestone of fantasy:
As the story opens, we find the hero of the unpronounceable name, Grignr, pursuing his vocation of murder and mayhem in his charmingly bloody way, but his thoughts quickly turn to pillage and whoring instead. It doesn’t take him long to find the whore of his dreams. Unfortunately, another drunk attempts to separate Grignr from his lady-love. Grignr wins the battle, but loses the war, being dragged away to the city lockup by an overwhelming force of swordsmen.
This is where the Evil Prince™ gets involved. Grignr is brought before him to be judged, and he condemns Our Barbarian™ to torture and death. Death means little to Grignr, so a conniving aide recommends a life sentence in the Evil Prince’s mines. Desperate, Grignr makes a bid for freedom, but is again overwhelmed by numbers and placed in a cell to await his grim future as a miner.
And thus we come to Chapter 3 1/2 [sic], in which the author shows his mastery of the genre of bad fantasy. (Liz points out that that’s a tautology.) The scene shifts from BarbarianCam™ to a frightful pagan ritual in which lewd and lascivious priests harass a frightened woman, huddled beneath the jade statue of…you guessed it, Argon. And the idol’s single eye is a pearl beyond price: the rare, the elusive, the unheard-of scarlet emerald. Keep your eye on the eye of Argon, as we return to Our Hero’s plight.
Grignr is lost in philosophic contemplation of the concept of Time. It’s dark and dreary in his dark and dreary cell, and although he’s counted five meals, he’s not sure whether he’s been locked up for ten minutes or ten years. Fortunately for philosophers everywhere, Grignr is distracted from his weary thoughts by a new enemy - a giant rat leaps on his chest, seeking out his “juicy jugular”. Of course, Our Hero triumphs over his hairy foe, and from the corpse he fashions a secret weapon…
Meanwhile, under the eye of Argon, one of the priests forces his attentions on the Damsel In Distress™. In a scene worthy of The Exorcist, the heroine is overcome by the priest’s bad breath; she “wrench[es] her head backwards and regurgitate[s] a slimy, orange-white stream of swelling gore over the richly woven purple robe of the enthused acolyte.” It’s these little technicolor details that make The Eye of Argon the exemplary work that it is. Needless to say, a little vomit can’t keep an evil priest down, and Our Heroine? is soon in even direr straights.
All the rules of literature demand that the author retrieve Our Hero and deliver him to the scene. So back to the cell we go. Soldiers come to escort Grignr to the mines, but he seizes the opportunity and slits a one soldier’s throat with his sharpened rat bone (the pelvis, if you’re curious). He makes quick work of the remaining soldier and begins wandering the catacombs. Barely escaping death from an antique catapult trap (which is somehow part of the floor), he climbs down into the crypt revealed beneath it. From there he hears the screams of Our Heroine, and follows them through the secret trap door inside the sarcophagus.
In a move that is never adequately explained, Grignr appears amidst the menacing priests and makes quick work of them with his sword. And thus we see the happy reunion of Grignr and the wench from whom he was so abruptly parted at the outset of the story. Carthena tells him her life story (not to mention her name): she had escaped from the Evil Prince, but Grignr’s arrest in the tavern brought her to the attention of his soldiers again and thus she ended up in the nauseating clutches of the priests of Argon. Fortunately, Carthena can guide Grignr out of the catacombs. He pries the eye of Argon, that incomparable scarlet emerald, out of the face of Argon, and the happy pair prance happily out of the dreary room towards freedom.
Behind them, a priest awakes from the epileptic swoon Grignr had mistaken for death and follows Our Heroes?. Yet as his unstoppable blade is descending towards Grignr’s hollow head, the trap Our Hero escaped in the previous chapter catches the epileptic evil priest. Grignr and his lady-love continue their escape, chatting about local politics and stumbling across the corpse of Carthena’s ex along the way. As Our Heroes approach the secret exit, Grignr has the opportunity to strike a blow for democracy. The Evil Prince and Oppressor Of Our Heroine and Of Her Boyfriends™ is making a secret entrance with his nefarious advisor; it will be his last.
As Grignr lays about with his sword in his usual way, Carthena uses her torch to cook the Evil Prince to death. (The moral being, don’t mess with this girl’s boyfriends.) And now Grignr and Carthena emerge into the long-awaited “feral red” light of the sun, where the late Evil Prince™ has conveniently left them horses. At this point, a lesser author would have wrapped up the tale, but Our Author gives the tale a Lovecraftian twist. Grignr pulls the eye of Argon out of his pouch to admire it and dream of the wine and women it will buy him. It seems Carthena missed the scene where Grignr pried the eye off of Argon; now she cries out in fear, “The eye of Argon, Oh! Kalla!”
“Kalla” is apparently the native term for “that was a really, really, really, really bad idea, Grignr, you stupid barbarian!” (I knew there was no such thing as a scarlet emerald.) The Eye turns into the Blob in Grignr’s hand, except this blob has a mouth. (For those following the technicolor, the blob is still red, but it leaves yellow-green slime behind it wherever it goes.) Swords are no use against the blob, unfortunately for Our Hero. It attaches itself to Grignr like a leech and soon swells with barbarian blood. Carthena faints. Grignr, blacking out from loss of blood, tries her trick, plunging a torch into the gelatinous enemy. It bubbles and quavers and…
…the story ends abruptly. Apparently there was not enough room in the mimeograph margin to fit Grignr’s final fate. Did this aboriginal evil, this nefarious Eye, grow to consume the entire world? Did Carthena come to and save the day? Did Grignr have roast blob for dinner? The world will never know.
Besides the Technicolor theme, The Eye of Argon is notable for its stunning creativity in the tired old field of swordplay. Where else can you see a grown man done in by a rat’s pelvis? Could Lovecraft himself have transformed a scarlet emerald into an eerie misbegotten leech-blob? Highly unusual for pulp is the feminist angle, in which Carthena (clearly a proponent of free love) strikes out against the male oppressor with sandals, torches and orange-white bile. Overall, The Eye of Argon is a refreshing splash of vinegar in this jaundiced fic-reader’s eye.