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Voice of the Fire
Bar Harbor
Had a bout of insomnia last night. Decided to start re-reading Alan Moore's (not comic book) novel, Voice of the Fire. It's a good thing I'm not prone to nightmares based on my reading material. I'm not sure if I ever consciously noticed it before, but the theme "brutal murder in return for power" runs through Moore's works like a river. It's not everywhere, but it's rarely far away.

VotF is a history of Northampton, but mostly seen in terms of the gruesome bloody murders that have happened there. Each chapter is set in a different time period, moving from prehistoric times up to the present day. You could think of them as linked short stories, but there is a definite superstructure holding them together.

The first chapter is my favorite, though it is also the most difficult to read, and probably caused way too many readers to "bounce off of" the book on their first attempt. It's set in 4000 B.C., and the narrator is a cast-off member of a wandering hunter-gatherer tribe. The entire chapter is written in an invented dialect, with simplified grammar, and about a 500-word vocabulary.

The narrator's vocabulary is not only small in terms of words, but in terms of basic cognitive tools that we now take for granted (some of which he is introduced to over the course of the story). The effect of this "limited language" is to put you ever more into his very alien-to-us headspace quite effectively. For instance, there's a scene early on where he tries to hunt a pair of pigs, but it turns out that it wasn't pigs, but just some logs that looked to him like pigs. But he doesn't quite grasp that:

Up quick, for catch of pigs. Fall make I slow, that they may come a-change, for I is sniff no pig at all. At this I's belly is with fright, for which runs I more quick, and looks to pigs as I is come more by of they, but oh. Oh, one, she is a-change, she's hind legs gone. All out-ways of she black face is turn in, and is now hole with darkness full. Runs I more quick that they is yet a bit of pig while I is catch with they, but oh, there is no move in they, and is they sniff with rot. They come more little pig as more tread I make.

Now I is by they, and they is but logs of white-wood, lolling one on other. Eyes come wood-holes. Pig-foot come to branch-stub. Ah.

Set I on neath-more log, there flatting grass in low of hill, and make hot waters out I's face.

It's not all at that level, though. He ends up staying in a (slightly) higher tech-level village, and being introduced to some novel concepts (and it's extremely cool to see them as *novel* concepts, newly-minted) by a young girl who assists the local shaman. But then he falls in love (or at least lust) with her (not that he knows either word), and Things Begin to Go Very Wrong.

Recommended, for those with strong literary stomachs.


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