Alan Moore’s Jerusalem Arrives Next Week

Alan Moore’s Jerusalem Arrives Next Week

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Alan Moore is one of the most celebrated writers of the last 30 years. His most famous work — including Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, Batman: The Killing Joke, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — is arguably the canonical literature of modern comics. And let’s face it, whether you’re a comics reader or not, the most valuable media properties on the planet today (Batman, Iron Man, Superman, X-Men, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Deadpool, just to name a handful) all trace their first seminal steps into the world of adult literature directly to the early comics of Alan Moore.

Jerusalem is — by far — Moore’s most ambitious work. Among comics fans it has acquired an almost legendary status, as Moore has been working on it — and dropping cryptic hints about it — for roughly a decade. In his 2012 review of Moore’s first novel, Voice of the Fire, Matthew David Surridge summarized some of the anticipation surrounding Jerusalem.

How do you follow a book like this? Moore’s currently working on his second novel, Jerusalem. It’s scheduled for publication in autumn of 2013; reports suggest it’ll be 750,000 words long (about the length of two volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire put together), be set entirely in an area of a few city blocks in Moore’s home of Northampton, and, according to Moore, disprove the existence of death. It’ll be concerned with time, different chapters set in different eras; like Voice of the Fire, it seems. What transformations will we see in it? How different will it be? Voice of the Fire‘s a strong book that, in its ellipses, promises more. Now that we shall have. What spirits shall we see? What work shall it accomplish?

At 1280 pages, one thing’s for certain: Jerusalem certainly delivers more. What’s it about, then? Well, that’s sort of hard to describe.

Based on Moore’s past descriptions of the novel, I rather expect there will be far more copies sold than actually read. Unlike most of his comic work, Jerusalem doesn’t sound like a fast-paced read. Reportedly, the author challenged himself to write each chapter in a totally different style. Here’s his 3-sentence description from 2014:

I’ve done a chapter that’s like a mid-sixties New Wave, New Worlds Michael Moorcock-era science fiction story. There’s one that’s like a piece of noir fiction. It’s all these different styles…

The early reviews are now starting to trickle in, and they’re tantalizing and enigmatic… much like the man himself. In her article “No, Alan Moore Isn’t a Recluse” for Publisher’s Weekly, ex-Vertigo editor Heidi MacDonald does a fine job summarizing a book that may be unsummarizable.

Jerusalem is an astonishing collection of words and ideas that weaves a hypnotic spell… Jerusalem is Northampton as well. A map of the center of town is printed in the endpapers, like the map in many a fantasy novel, but instead of tracking the journey through a Narnia or Westeros, it’s a world of common alleys and sordid churchyards where ordinary humans play out the intricate art of living, dying, and remembering, and an occasional dark menace — human or otherwise — appears fleetingly just beyond a garden wall…

The novel’s origin lies in Moore’s contemplation of his own mortality. He found various conceptions of the afterlife lacking… He realized that the afterlife he’d like most was simply “my lovely, untidy house, all of my books, my wife and my children, and my friends, and my childhood, and all of my experience — but just forever.” Moore found a solution that was “startlingly easy”: he wrote an immense novel that encompasses all of his feelings for home and family…

His empathy for his characters took a dangerous turn when he wrote the chapter based on Lucia Joyce (daughter of James Joyce), who died in a mental institution in Northampton, which is written in a complex invented language. Moore had to take over a year off from working on the book when he finished this section… Yet “the torturous mind-bending part of it was actually the part that I enjoyed the most. It took me almost two years to recuperate from it. But it was ecstatic and probably the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever written.”

As his long-time fans are aware, Moore has never been one to shirk from a challenge. And for Jerusalem, he pulled out all the stops. He even painted the cover. (Which looks hideous, in my opinion, but I’ll reserve final judgment until I see it up close.)

So is this massive, ambitious, crazy patchwork of a novel readable?

In his glowing review for Entertainment Weekly, Darren Franich seems to think so. Although he’s rather free with his comparisons to the notoriously difficult (translation: famously unreadble) Finnegans Wake, which might give you pause.

James Joyce, much? Yes, yes, very much. Many of Jerusalem’s chapters follow the life-in-a-day structure of Ulysses, with characters thoughtfully perambulating around a few square blocks in Northampton, England… Jerusalem is Moore’s apotheosis, a fourth-dimensional symphony of his own beloved city. Drawing on his own history as a lifelong resident of Northampton, Moore mixes together macro-historical figures with local personalities and characters based on Moore’s own family. In the first millennium, a monk travels from the Holy City. In 2006, a local artist plans a new exhibition. As Moore’s narrative shifts through time, it also shifts upwards, into an eternal life-beyond-life, where four angels decide the fate of the universe in a never-ending game of snooker. (No, even Moore can’t really explain snooker.)

There are demons, escaped slaves, a gang of dead kids, enough drunken poets to fill a freshman English course. Philosophical fights are picked with Margaret Thatcher, Oliver Cromwell, Tony Blair, Isaac Newton, quantum physicists, and the modern comic book industry… Jerusalem is a love song for a vanished neighborhood, and a battle cry for an embattled class left behind by centuries of powermongers and tyrants and corporations and New Labour. It took a decade to write this book, but it feels uncannily well-timed for this Brexit year: In his native city, Moore discovers untold generations of working-class people quite literally incinerated by history. But he also takes a great, goofy joy in experimenting, writing one chapter as a play, one as a mock-noir. Jerusalem is split into three Books, and the second one is by far the most coherent, a Little Nemo in Wonderland riff about a recently-deceased little boy on a fairy-tale adventure across time and space…

Who will read this thing? Well, I did. And although Jerusalem is a very strange text – maybe unfinished by its very nature, frequently weighed down with self-importance – Jerusalem soars high on the wings of the author’s psychedelic imagination.

Voice of the FireLike Matthew, Heidi MacDonald also made the connection to Moore’s first novel, Voice of the Fire, which is also an ambitious and stylistically challenging exploration of Moore’s hometown of Northampton.

Moore has no qualms about putting readers through their paces. He admits that the concept of literary difficulty was on his mind. “An author will take on a difficult literary approach, knowing it will alienate a certain section of the audience, but which he or she also knows will force the remaining members of the audience to engage with the work upon a more strenuous level.” It’s an approach that Moore used for the notoriously difficult first chapter of Voice of the Fire, and he says, “It’s probably what I’m trying to do in general with a lot of my work.”

This sort of difficulty is what Moore enjoys most as a reader himself. “I don’t like this passive response to art and entertainment that seems to typify the modern era… I want that audience to get out of their seats,” he says. “I don’t want them to do as much work as I’ve done, but I want them to do more work than they’re used to…”

For those who admire Moore, Jerusalem will be the ultimate vindication of his love of technique and allusions. For those who don’t — well, they won’t get far. “Very often I am writing about writing,” he says. “Not to the exclusion of the story. Jerusalem does have a plot. In fact it has several.”

Our previous coverage of Alan Moore’s work includes:

Alan Moore Completes 1 Million+ Word Historical Fantasy Novel, Jerusalem
The Clothes Make the Mage: Alan Moore’s Fashion Beast by Matthew David Surridge
Speaking in Tongues: Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire by Matthew David Surridge
Goth Chick News: From Hell Gets the Small Screen Treatment from FX by Sue Granquist
Kimota! and Marvelman by Matthew David Surridge
Miracles Happen by Matthew David Surridge
What Would it Look Like to Pull a Watchmen on Planetary Romance? by Derek Kunsken

Jerusalem will be published by Liveright on September 13, 2016. It is 1280 pages, priced at $35 in hardcover and $29.73 for the digital edition. The cover is by Alan Moore.

See all of our coverage of the best in upcoming fantasy in our Future Treasures section.

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R.K. Robinson

As much as I have enjoyed his work in comics, this is beyond my scope of interest. I agree that it’s likely many more copies will be purchased than read.

John R. Fultz

Pre-ordered my copy this summer. Finding time to read it will be my real challenge…

Sarah Avery

I wonder why nobody seems to be talking about this book in connection with William Blake’s epic poem Jerusalem. Okay, Blake’s Jerusalem is just this side of unreadable even for highly motivated poetry geeks, but it’s still a clear antecedent, one I am absolutely certain Moore was thinking about and signaling to readers to consider.

Fortunately, reading Blake’s Jerusalem isn’t the only way to appreciate it. His manuscript illuminations are forerunners of comic books, and gloriously weird. Even when they make no sense whatsoever, they’re magnificent, and you can find them all online at the Blake Archive. Here’s just one of the bizarre images from Jerusalem.

GreenGestalt

I was thinking “Great – another thing they’ll churn out a B movie on and then Alan Moore will start raving and casting black magick curses over…” – but hehe he seems to have made something that can’t be made into a movie…?

My favorite Alan Moore projects – might be jokes but I’d love to see.

1. A book on Magick (as in RL magick with a ‘k’ casting spells, conjuring demons, etc.) for KIDS. Inspired by all the parents/religious groups throwing whine and cheese over his RL occult themed “Promethea” comic series. So a book aimed at kids for teaching them Magickal rituals/thinking, the fame from all the christian groups book burnings alone should make it a bestseller, especially if they BUY the books to BURN them, haha…

2. A book of “Pure” Kabbalah. Some Jews whine that non-jews, non-upper rabbis, or anyone messing with that stuff isn’t just dumb/hazardous but insulting their culture, etc. But Kabbalah based stuff is popular with those into the occult, Crowley’s “Thelema” system is heavily influenced by it for example. (I’m more into Spare if anything) So he’s proposed a simplified Kabbalah pointing out it goes back way, way, WAY before Abraham and it might be possible to work out a purified system that is divorced from the Jewish stuff. Quite marketable as the ‘bigger breasts through witchcraft’ pop occult crowd would buy it eagerly while the “hallp us! Hallp us! Heez stealing our culutre!” cries from that community would generate the fame.

I like Alan Moore a lot – and it is unfortunate his disillusionment with the comics industry. If I get hyper successful with my works (hah, not holding breath) I might go into a ‘literary’ bent trying to approach greats like Gibran or Tagore. However I truly love the Pulp stuff I’m doing now. It seems he’s essentially retired and is working on the art and medium for the sake of it itself, the purest form of art. Just hope he goes back to telling entertaining stories – or those two projects I mentioned – before he passes on.

Thomas Parker

Alan Moore produces enormous tome following in the footsteps of James Joyce (whose own work is drawing close to being a century old).

The old saying is true – everything changes but the avant-garde.

Sarah Avery

GreenGestalt, I’ve gone back and forth with myself about whether to ignore the thing that bugs me about your comment. It’s not the one about the “‘bigger breasts through witchcraft’ pop occult crowd,” which, as Wiccan clergy for the past 20 years, I actually found pretty funny — I’ve stood at the bookstore shelves shaking my head in dismay over titles not much better than that. The bit that bugs me is something you may not have intended, but it has echoes I can’t ignore.

The phrasing about how “it might be possible to work out a purified system that is divorced from the Jewish stuff.” The idea that it’s desirable to purify the Jewishness out of something makes me uneasy, because history has shown us what can happen when a culture tries to purify out its Jewish influences. My extended family now includes a woman who spent some of her childhood in a concentration camp, who lost her mother and siblings there, and who has one of those notorious tattoos on her arm. Let me be clear: I do not think you were talking about doing physical harm to actual Jewish people. But when I see someone advocating purifying out the Jewishness, I see the same kind of discourse that put that ink on Agnes’s arm. I’m talking about this in part because you probably didn’t intend that, and you may not have realized it could come off that way. I’m working on the hypothesis that you’re a curmudgeon, rather than a jerk. Curmudgeons are generally okay by me — they fill an important niche in any large community. I hope that’s what you turn out to be.

You may dismiss this as a PC concern. More likely, you’ve stopped even looking this far back among the blog posts. In any case, I felt it necessary to speak, whether anyone sees it or not.

GreenGestalt

Sarah,

I actually do go back a bit far on my posts… Worried I’m like HPL sometimes spending too much time going over correspondance versus writing new stories. Heh, imagine if Lovecraft had today’s internet…?

But overall more or less the reaction I was expecting – and more experimental than trollishness.

First, the “Occult” when it waxes in popularity is mercilessly exploited. Pop books written to fill shelf space and separate cash from the gullible. Neat article in Green Egg from the 90s on that – “look before you cast” complaining some publishers/writers didn’t just not experiment on rituals in those books but -gasp- made them up. Of course deep occultists then were growing past the Crowley stuff and re-discovering Osman Spare. I was a bit of a “munchkin” then, indeed munching up the pop stuff, so was mocking myself a bit in earlier days.

Now the Kabbalah stuff, not to offend or troll but exactly the issue here. And the discussion is on Alan Moore and it is an issue he’s pondered.

Kabbalah is popular these days but there are outraged cries from Jews/Jewish Community on parts on the outside use of it. Offense at the “Cultural Appropriations” also the misuse and plain dumb pop money making stuff, such as Madonna’s brief dip into it for a few…weeks?

Alan Moore proposed years back a ‘purified’ form of Kabbalah years ago. (oh, great, will that be offensive…? Really, that fuels the anti-P.C. backlash more than a billion ‘hate’ sites ever could…) And he actually meant it to be NON-offensive. A way of working with it without the cultural, offense things. Alan Moore is essentially from the 60s – he’s for open social progress, but P.C. is decades down the road and nothing related to that. A 60s person will risk getting beaten, stabbed himself to stop a black man from getting beaten but will keep his R. Crumb comics with “Angel Food McSpade”. (warning, will make modern P.C. crowd head’s go ‘explodey’)

Something to the effect of – and I’m not quoting him, but … more or less…

1. Kabbalah goes back way, way before Judaism which began in it’s known modern form with the Prophet Abraham.
2. It dates to Antediluvian times – such as the times of Atlantis/Mu – from perhaps fallen watcher angels that gave mankind forbidden knowledge and technology.
3. The concepts can be re-labelled so there are not Jewish terms/names on them.

-therefore – they can make a version that is not ‘jewish’ both as a “We are sorry if we were offending you/your culture’ and – “Shut the … UP!”, the latter statement not racist or hate speech, just ‘get off my d… back’ sentiment that’d be put at any annoying group.

So – and this is Alan Moore’s interest really, not mine, but I’d be interested to see the results, not that others aren’t working on purifying the concept motivated by boredom itself – to move from all the layers of culture, ritual, superstition to look for what was really at the core.

Sarah Avery

Green, thank you for clarifying where you’re trying to convey Moore’s ideas and where you’re adding your own. Especially when I’m in a conversation with someone I often disagree with, I try to be sure I understand what the person is actually saying. And I do think you have a point about how many people who came of age in the 1960s take flak about not keeping current about political flashpoints from people who might not have had the freedom or resources to make those objections if not for the old-school folks. (And, for the record, I think R. Crumb is a genius.)

If Moore’s reply to concerns about appropriation is that the Kabbalah goes back to Atlantis so it’s not really Jewish, I can see why not everybody might feel that the issue is resolved. That said, let’s set Atlantis aside and say we hypothetically accept that there’s a pre-Abrahamic version of Kabbalah that can be reached — I’m in no position to speak for the Jewish community, but I can see the reasoning in that proposition.

Some decades ago, at the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, some of the Native American delegations came with a grievance against the Neo-Pagan delegations over cultural appropriation. The Neo-Pagan elders met with the Native American elders, and it turned out that many of the practices at issue were globally widespread and documentably practiced in Europe and Asia before contact with the Americas. There were still some practices at issue, but with a smaller range of stuff to be annoyed about, there was a lot more confidence that ongoing dialogue was possible and worthwhile. The kind of reconciliation Moore hopes for is not crazy. As to whether it’s feasible about the Kabbalah, I leave to people who know that lore better than I do.

What do we find when we remove layers of culture, ritual, and superstition? Sometimes we just find older layers of the same, other times we find one person’s idiosyncratic gnosis. I’ve spent too much time hanging out with anthropologists to assume there’s a true and eternal revelation at the origins of any given religious practice. Humans want to connect to the divine. Culture, ritual, and superstition are some of the modes we use in that effort, and I’m not sure they’re less valid than other modes.

To come around again to fantasy fiction, you might be interested in Michael Livingston’s Shards of Heaven. It’s not the best book it could possibly be, I think, but it has a lot going for it, and it might be up your alley. I reviewed it here.

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