“I traffic in fiction. I do not traffic in lies.”
Alan Moore reminds me of an Old English Sheepdog with a wry twinkle in his eye. You just know he’s got a juicy bone hidden somewhere. He’s best known for his comics, like Watchmen and V for Vendetta, and for the fact that he hates the movie versions with a passion. Hollywood, he says, “spoon-feeds us, which has the effect of watering down our collective cultural imagination.” Moore is an artist driven by the art rather than the market. A writer, storyteller, magician, rebel, iconoclast, and psychonaut who, like William Blake, believes the reality of imagination is paramount. Moore’s new novel, Jerusalem, is out later this year.
As a mystic I’m drawn to Moore’s ideas – he always has something interesting to say, even if I don’t understand what he’s talking about at times, or agree with him when I do. But I confess I’ve never read any of his comics. I must remedy that and add him to my Fantasy Reading List. In the meantime, let’s explore the mind and ideas of the Orson Welles of comics.
“With fiction, art and writing it’s important that even if you’re dealing with areas of complete outrageous fantasy, that there is an emotional resonance. It is important that a story ring true upon a human level, even if it never happened.”
Moore grew up in Northampton and escaped the boredom by devouring fairy tales, mythology, and superhero comic books. He was expelled from school for dealing LSD and is mostly self-taught. As a working class lad he got stuck in shitty dead-end jobs until the power of his imagination gave him the chance to break free and become a comics writer himself.
“Quitting my day job and starting my life as a writer was a tremendous risk, it was a fool’s leap, a shot in the dark. But anything of any value in our lives, whether that be a career, a work of art, a relationship, will always start with such a leap. And in order to be able to make it, you have to put aside the fear of failing and the desire of succeeding. You have to do these things completely purely without fear, without desire. Because things that we do without lust or result, are the purest actions that we shall ever take.”
On his 40th birthday, Moore came out as a magician – not the illusionist sort with the cards and sawing women in half – but the wizard sort. He certainly looks the part. Moore says that magic is art, and that art is literally magic. Art uses symbols, words and images in order to change consciousness, so magic could be seen as a ‘science of language’. This means you have to be careful what you say and think because it can literally change reality.
(Aside: I was going to put a Buddha quote in here: What you think, you become – but it’s not Buddha, it’s the Bible, Proverbs 4:23: Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.)
As a writer, you have immense power to influence others through storytelling. Stories can transform a person or a society. Moore says “an artist or writer is the closest thing in the contemporary world to a shaman.” Culture and storytelling originally came from the shaman, but now this art has been reduced to mere entertainment and distraction, and writers have allowed themselves to be “sold down the river.”
“It is not the job of artists to give the audience what the audience want. If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn’t be the audience; they would be the artists. It is the job of artists to give the audience what they need.”
Magic began with shamanism and the animist belief that everything has an essence or spirit. Shamans communicated with the spirits and other worlds and brought back ideas and stories as survival tools. As civilisation developed this process was formalised and priests took over the role of shamans. This has created a distance between the people and the gods, with many believing that religion is the only way to develop a relationship with God (or gods, if you prefer).
The gods can be seen as representing the higher Self – the little spark of the divine in every human being. With the growth of monotheism, people became estranged from their own inner divinity. Moore calls monotheism “a great simplification.”
“I mean the Qabalah has a great multiplicity of gods, but at the very top of the Qabalic Tree of Life, you have this one sphere that is absolute God, the Monad, something which is indivisible. All of the other gods, and indeed everything else in the universe, is a kind of emanation of that God. Now, that’s fine, but it’s when you suggest that there is only that one God, at this kind of unreachable height above humanity, and there is nothing in between, you’re limiting and simplifying the thing. I tend to think of paganism as a kind of alphabet, as a language, it’s like all the gods are letters in that language. They express nuances, shades of meaning or certain subtleties of ideas, whereas monotheism tends to just be one vowel and it’s just something like ‘oooooo’. It’s a monkey sound.”
Magic, then, is a way to reclaim your divinity and form a relationship to the gods or God. In alchemy, the Great Work is the search for the Self, the alchemical gold, which is the Soul of every individual. Moore says that knowledge of our own Self is “the single most important thing we can ever attain… When we are doing the will of our true Self, we are inevitably doing the will of the universe… Every human soul is in fact one human soul. It is the soul of the universe itself, and as long as you are doing the will of the universe, then it is impossible to do anything wrong.”
Moore is also known for his concept of ‘Idea Space’ which is “a space [where] mental events can be said to occur, an idea space which is perhaps universal. Our individual consciousnesses have access to this vast universal space, just as we have individual houses, but the street outside the front door belongs to everybody. It’s almost as if ideas are pre-existing forms within this space… The landmasses that might exist in this mind space would be composed entirely of ideas, of concepts, that instead of continents and islands you might have large belief systems.”
The landmasses within this world can be explored using the maps created by magic systems in the past, such as the Qabalah or the Tarot. But it isn’t just the mind that is built from ideas. Moore considers imagination to be just as real as reality, and thinks the world is made of ideas too:
“…not just the physical structures, but the mental and ideological structures that we’ve erected – our political structures, philosophical structures, ideological frameworks, economies. These are actually imaginary things, and yet that’s the framework that we have built our entire world upon… A strong enough wave of information could completely overturn and destroy all of that. A sudden realisation that would change our entire perspective of who we are and how we exist.”
To finish, here’s an entertaining interview with Alan Moore where he discusses Jerusalem, his 615,000 word novel about Northampton – or rather the tiny area of Northampton he grew up in. His previous novel, Voice of the Fire, was also about Northampton, and starts in 4,000 BC. The new book mixes his own family’s stories, historical events, and fantasy, with chapters written in different voices. One part he describes as a “savage, hallucinating Enid Blyton”, another chapter is written in sub-Joycean text which is incomprehensible (not to him, presumably), while another takes the form of a Beckett play about cricket. The book explores the nature of time and aims to “disprove the existence of death.”
In the interview he explains his version of Eternal Return and talks about what he’s planning to do next…
Here’s a couple of choice quotes from the interview:
“[Jerusalem] is a lot friendlier than you’re probably expecting, especially those of you who read Voice of the Fire. Some of you might think of yourself as readers, I think of you as victims… I was very proud of it. But someone said, ‘so why did you make the first chapter of your first novel incomprehensible gibberish?’ And I said – because during an interview you don’t very often get time to think before you give your answers – and I said, ‘to keep out scum’. Which is kind of true. I later found out about the concept of literary difficulty, which is a much better way of saying it – it still means to keep out scum…”
And this is something I can relate to, having written a novel nobody wants:
“I’d like to re-engage with poetry. You have to understand one of the things that’s put me off of comics – and this is probably an admission of immaturity upon my part – but comics are really acceptable now. Everybody really likes comics. They’re a good thing to have on your coffee table. I believe they’re called graphic novels these days. That’s a lot more grown-up sounding. I really liked comics when everybody hated them… These days, I would rather do things that nobody wants… Nobody asked for [Jerusalem], it was just me. I wanted it to exist. So that’s what art is about – it’s not about what people want, it’s about what I want. So I like the idea of doing a difficult literary novel that’s a bit kind of modernist because nobody wants that… These are the areas that deserve most attention… to find the areas of culture that are not being paid attention to… something which nobody in their right mind could possibly take seriously – that is attractive to me. So yeah, poetry. Everybody hates poetry.”
Aside from the two interview quotes above, the rest come from the excellent and highly recommended film The Mindscape of Alan Moore. You can find out more here.