Friday, April 13, 2012

Jack Kirby, Mindbomb: Eldritch Dimensions

Maurice Masse's passport to Magonia, July 1, 1965

This series -- which started as a look at comic book sorcerers and their real-world parallels and grew far beyond my expectations -- began with "The Possessed," a Doctor Strange story in which interdimensional alien walk-ins possess the citizens of a Bavarian hamlet. 

The story had elements of one of Stan Lee's favorite plots; the secret army massing for an invasion of Earth.

One of the early examples of this was "Whatever Happened to Doctor Dormm?," featuring a merman inexplicably given the title of Doctor. But as we saw, Doctor Strange's immediate predecessor had a similar name ('Doctor Droom') and fought a similar invasion during his brief career.

But what caught my eye in "The Possessed" were all the plot points more typical of Jack Kirby stories than Stan's; the aliens, the dimensional gateway, the walk-ins-- elements of High Weirdness that Kirby had been obsessing over since the early 50s at least. 

"The Possessed" was remarkably similar to Jack's 1957 story for DC, "The Hole in the Sky," in which a Mr. Briggs is abducted into another dimension and encounters a race of Watchers planning their own invasion.

Twin Peaks fans take note: Briggs is abducted into the other dimension while camping in the woods. This type of scenario would be rife in UFO literature post-Hill abduction, but serious UFO researchers tended to avoid it in the late 50s. But as we'll see, this scenario has a much older and deeper antecedent.

The Lee-Kirby synergy worked so well because even if their temperaments were so different, their fixations overlapped. Though a lot of people underestimated Kirby's intellect since he wasn't as glib as Stan, he shared his partner's love for reading, especially the classics. But Jack's interests went deeper and fed his increasingly esoteric storytelling. From his son Neal's recollections in The Los Angeles Times:
There were shelves of mystery and mythology and plenty of science books and they ranged from rocks to rockets, from the inner ear to outer space. Science was always a big part of dad’s work.

Dad was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club, so robots and aliens and tales of the future abounded. How did he actually have time to read? I have no idea, but the Dungeon collection was no ornamental library; he had read every book and probably more than twice.
Given the loose protocols of their collaboration (what came to be known as the "Marvel Style"), it's difficult to determine where exactly their early stories were coming from (as the Sixties progressed, most of the plots were all Kirby, with Lee judiciously steering the ship), but given that Jack was known for writing stories based on Stan's vaguest plots, this next story in what has become a Cycle of sorts is interesting.

"Prisoner of the 5th Dimension," a Human Torch solo yarn from Strange Tales 103 has a lot of Stan-- the secret invasion, the righteous rebellion, the romantic subplot-- but also has a lot of Jack, the 5th Dimension bit for starters. The setup is also straight out of Jack's late 50s canon for DC, and as such opens up a whole new can of worms...

The story begins in Glenville (probably New York, but there's also a Glenville, WV sitting on a Route 33) where a housing development is being sabotaged. The archetypal old coot shows up to tell the city slickers that the Swamp Demons are responsible, since they don't appreciate their home being bulldozed.

Johnny Storm gets wind of the sabotage and decides to do a little reconnaissance. Tapping straight into the deepest recesses of the collective unconscious-- and anticipating Keel and Vallee by several years-- Kirby and Lee reveal the "Swamp Demons" to be interdimensional aliens who look like nothing less than classical elves, wispy figures and pointy ears and all the rest.

Here is the power of the Lee-Kirby synergy. Both men had long apprenticeships of a sort before the dawn of the Marvel Age, and both men had keen, restless minds and a lust for reading. It was in this rich medium that the X-factor of Kirby's paranormal imagination -- which was able to transcend the limits of time and space-- was able to thrive and change pop culture forever.

Here Johnny witnesses a scene rife in UFO literature- the two elfin aliens seemingly vanishing into thin air in the middle of the forest. But of course, this scene's also rife in elf and fairy lore, going back hundreds of years. Some motifs just seem to resonate, don't they?

It was the study of this lore-- as well as the endless accounts of UFOs and abductions throughout history-- that drove Jacques Vallee from the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis and to the misty and murky shores of Magonia, that fabled cloudland where French villagers witnessed strange machines and beings emerge in the Middle Ages.

From Vallee's absolutely indispensible ultraterrestrial bible Passport to Magonia, published in 1969:
The physical nature of Magonia, as it appears in such tales, is quite noteworthy. Sometimes, it is a remote country, an invisible island, some faraway place one can reach only by a long journey... This parallels the belief in the extraterrestrial origin of UFO's so popular today. A second—and equally wide-spread theory, is that Elfland constitutes a sort of parallel universe, which coexists with our own.
With this story (and several others before and after) we see Kirby and Lee were mining this theory long before Vallee.

Here again is another sci-fi spin on an ancient theme. The Old Coot revels himself to be an alien elf in disguise and takes his anti-matter gun-- a Space Age spin on the magic wand so beloved to Elfdom-- and "paralyzes" Johnny by taking away his flame power.

With Johnny powerless, the elf/alien then opens an interdimensional doorway to Magonia the 5th Dimension, and abducts Johnny. Vallee again, on Elfland:
It is made visible and tangible only to selected people, and the "doors" that lead through it are tangential points, known only to the elves. This is somewhat analogous to the theory, sometimes found in the UFO literature, concerning what some authors like to call the "fourth dimension."
Or 5th, give or take.

Remember now that the terms "elf" and "fairy" are essentially two different words for the same type of beings in the original folklore, with elf derived from the Old English and fairy derived from the Middle English. Remember also that abduction scenarios are all over the place in the old folktales of these beings. Vallee:
This sort of belief in fairies being able to take people was very common and exists yet in a good many parts of West Ireland (where my branch of the Knowles family originally hailed from- CK). And one often sees among them the young men and children who have been taken. Not only are people taken, but—as in flying saucer stories—they are sometimes carried to faraway spots by aerial means.
As we saw before, Kirby's endless obsession with this motif of interdimensional contact played out in the origin of the Archie Comics superhero The Fly, which he and erstwhile partner Joe Simon created. Kirby rewrote Simon's script to include contact with this spindly, goggle-eyed alien and a kid who's the spitting image of a young Johnny Storm.

Back to the main narrative, Johnny taken to the 5th Dimension and is accused by what is essentially the Elven High Council. Here we see Kirby grafting his sensibility (and stunning sense of design) on Lee's Cold War paranoia.

We see that Johnny is faced with the same accusations that the Reverend Kirk, author of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies faced in gossip and folklore following his death- revealing the secrets of the Elven folk:
At the time of his disappearance people said (Kirk) was taken because the fairies were displeased with him for disclosing their secrets in so public a manner as he did. At all events, it seems likely that Kirk was taken ill very suddenly with something like apoplexy while on the Fairy Knoll, and died there. I have searched the presbyter books and find no record of how Kirk's death really took place, but of course there is not the least doubt of his body being in the grave.
Here the story becomes more obviously Stan's; Johnny is kept prisoner in a giant water cooler but a fairy princess comes to his rescue, using her fairy magic to enchant the guard. The princess' name is Valeria, which shows either remarkable coincidence or someone did their homework. Valerian root is an ancient herbal remedy, meant not only to induce restful sleep and pleasant dreams (of which there is scientific data to support) but also to ward off jealous elves (tests on that claim have been thus far inconclusive).

Note that her dress is strongly reminscent of Tinkerbell's in the Pinocchio movie.*

As in any good fairy tale, the young hero inspires the downtrodden people of the Elf Realm to rise up against their tyrannical ruler.

In the end, justice is served, but the hero must leave the Elf Realm and return to the mundane world. The beautiful elf princess begs him to stay but he must return. He returns to the forest primeval and finally to the dreary world of regimentation and consumerism and his adventure seems like little more than an daydream. But still he dreams of returning one day for some hot, freaky elf-sex with Valeria.

Here again, the classic myth-cycle was being replayed, only in Spandex drag. 

We can therefore examine in detail four aspects of fairy lore that directly relate to our study: 
(1) the conditions and purpose of the abductions; 
(2) the cases of release from Elfland and the forms taken by the elves' gratitude when the abducted human being had performed some valuable service during his stay in Elfland; 
(3) the belief in the kidnapping activities of the fairy people; and (4) what I shall call the relativistic aspects of the trip to Elfland.
The end.

Now if this were your usual, conventional-wisdom kind of blog, the story would end there.
Everyone would nod vaguely and mutter weak homilies about the "power of myth" and cultural anthropology and trickster archetypes and bla-bla-bla-no-one-gives-a-shit, then we'd all toss in some self-aggrandizing snark about "UFO nuts" and "tinfoil hats" and generally reinforce the tired, dreary normality bias that allows the System to keep its boot planted on our minds as well as our throats.

Luckily, you're on The Secret Sun. For me, Passport to Magonia wasn't an excuse to jump on the debunker bandwagon- it was the cement that helped put the blocks in place for what I call the Elusive Companion Hypothesis.

The ECH is similar to Keel's Ultraterrestrial theory and Tonnies' "Cryptoterrestrial" theory, only it presents what I believe is a more compelling explanation for all of the madness surrounding the UFO issue over the past several thousand years and ties up all the loose ends between the ancient astronaut thesis, the UFO and fairy lore throughout the Christian Era and the modern UFO phenomenon.

Put simply, I believe that if you look at the totality of the phenomenon, you have what essentially amounts to a surveillance -slash- espionage operation. The ancient texts tell of Igigi or Grigori- a "Watcher" race left behind by the gods of old to essentially keep an eye on the project. A race of spies, essentially.

Several years ago ( as I mentioned in my discussion with Jeff Kripal, I lost interest in UFOs and the rest for the better part of a decade before he invited me out to the Superpowers conference at Esalen), it occurred to me that not only are the stellar distances too daunting to account for the more cogent UFO accounts, the craft usually reported struck me as a kind of glorified hovercraft than any kind of spacecraft at all. There was something else going on.

Kirby takes us to the Secret Commonwealth

I covered the bullet points of Kirk's Secret Commonwealth in this post, and prefaced it all with this, explaining just how little we have experienced of this world, despite our abstract "knowledge" of it:
We see the world through an extremely limited band of the electromagnetic spectrum. The same goes for our hearing. We consciously process a remarkably tiny proportion of the limited sensory input we receive. We are only able to measure that which can perceive. And we still don't understand exactly how or why we process anything, other than to facilitate our survival on a purely reptilian level.

There are millions of square miles of land we've never stepped foot in. There are many millions more we have only the faintest experience in. The same goes for our oceans- we're still struggling to explore the endless depths- 71% of the surface of the world is water- and are physically limited in our ability to do so. And we've barely touched the unimaginably vast network of caverns beneath the Earth.

Since the dawn of time, humans have recorded encounters with strange beings with weird powers and even stranger means of transportation. They've been identified in various cultural trappings. Our tech-minded age chooses to see them as extraterrestrial technocrats, coming to Earth to conduct their experiments.

Indeed. And so we turn to this piece by Terry Melanson discussing the 1965 Masse case, one of the many European-based contact narratives that I discussed with Mike Clelland. As I explained to Mike these stories seem engineered to trigger some atavistic recognition in the mind when retold. And as Terry explains, the Elven magic wand goes back much farther back than the Middle Ages.

First the Masse account, from Valensole in the French Alps...
Around dawn on July 1, as Masse was standing near a hillock at the end of a field, he heard a whistling noise...Masse glanced around and expected to see a military helicopter. Not so. He saw a machine, shaped like a football and about the size of a Dauphine car, standing on six legs in the middle of his lavender field.

As he watched, Masse saw what he took to be 'two boys of about eight years' emerge from the object and begin to steal more of his plants. Furious and determined to catch them, Masse, a former Maquis fighter,tried to sneak up on the thieves. When he was only a short distance away he realized they were not little boys, but funny creatures with pointed chins, almond shaped eyes that curved around the sides of their heads, and slits or holes ('un trou') for mouths.
Masse broke cover and rushed at them. When he was not more than five meters away, one of the creatures pointed a pencil like instrument at him and he found himself immobilized. He was conscious but frozen in his tracks.The other creature carried a larger stick or rod which, Masse later speculated, could have stopped an army.
Of course, here we are back in UFOlogy (more on the Masse case here), which for many is no more credible than a comic book. But we have pierced the veil between fiction and reality, and find ourselves in the Netherworld, if nowhere else.

I find it pretty amusing that the debunkers-- who are just as addicted to UFOlogy as any believer-- would cast doubt on the veracity and perceptions of a man who risked life and limb in the French Resistance, where one lived or died on their wits alone. But that's the nature of the game.

The debunkers' real problem is that they can't shake their own doubts; no matter how hard they debunk they're still terrified at the thought that those goddamn saucers might be real. Otherwise, why would they pay any attention to the topic at all? Or maybe that's what they're secretly hoping for but can't bring themselves to admit it because they've been let down so many times in the past. A cynic is just a shattered idealist, after all.

It's much worse with AAT debunkers, because the stakes are that much higher. As the challenges to the status quo stack up ever higher, the debunkers' argument basically boils down to "no, it ain't neither."Case in point- Hill abduction debunkers (like the egregious Susan Clancy) claimed that Barney Hill simply described the alien from 'The Bellero Shield', the classic episode of The Outer Limits that aired sometime around his hypnosis sessions. But as Stanton Friedman pointed out, the alien in 'Bellero' was a strapping six-footer and not a three-foot Gray, and actually didn't look that much like Barney's description at all.

But let's say for the sake of argument Barney was influenced by The Outer Limits. How does that account for any of the countless of identical depictions of Greys we see all over the ancient world in cultures that have no record of contact with one another? Terry Melanson also notes, referring to the figure above (whose Sumerian provenance I'm trying to confirm):
I would like to draw your attention to the rod in its hand. This instrument was described by various abductees and Paiute Indians as a device to subdue, and paralyze potential captives.
It was Betty Hill's description of such a device that led Jacques Vallee to believe that their accounts might have been more than simply the work of overactive imaginations.


The term "eldritch" is associated with things like magic wands, the word coming from the Old English term for "elf realm." The word always caught my ear since my early school days were spent in Eldridge Elementary School in Braintree. It turns out the name Eldridge is itself an adaption, the name meaning "sage rule," and the sages were seers and magicians in contact with the Elf Realms, or perhaps even the Elven folk themselves.

Eldridge has another connotation in the conspiracy underground: the legendary-slash- apocryphal Philadelphia Experiment, which if you believe the accounts were nothing less than a working of technological sorcery (and if you don't, were a particularly confusing and garbled body of theories, accounts and anecdotes):
On August 12, 1943 (or October 28, 1943 - accounts differ) the US Navy conducted a test of some sort on the USS Eldridge (DE [Destroyer Escort] 173) at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The exact nature of this test is open to speculation. Possible tests include experiments in magnetic invisibility, radar invisibility, optical invisibility or degaussing (rendering the ship immune to magnetic mines). 

This was to be accomplished by wrapping an electromagnetic 'bottle' around the ship in question, absorbing or deflecting radar waves. The bottle was created by two (or four - accounts differ) massive Tesla coils which acted as electromagnetic generators...(w)hen activated, the electromagnetic field would extend out from the ship and divert radar waves around the ship, making the Eldridge invisible to radar receivers.

It was at this point (the vanishing of the Eldridge) that the true power of the electromagnetic field that had been created was revealed. The Eldridge had not only vanished from the view of observers in Philadelphia, it had vanished from Philadelphia all together! The ship had been instantly transported several hundred miles - from Philadelphia to Norfolk, Virginia. After a few minutes, the ship once again vanished, to return to Philadelphia.

The test had managed to render the entire ship 'out of phase' with the surrounding universe, which is why it was able to travel from Philadelphia to Norfolk instantly. This phasing effect had drastic effects on the crew members. During the experiment, crew members found they could walk through solid objects, and when the field was shut off, men were found embedded in the bulkheads, decks and railings of the ship. The results were gruesome enough that some men went mad.

Now, note that the alleged technology that made the Eldridge allegedly "disappear" was essentially identical to the eldritch technology of the alien elves from the 5th Dimension. This story was published in September of 1962 (cover dated Dec. 1962) which means it was probably drawn in May/June of that year. 

The earliest publication of Philadelphia Experiment lore I can find was in Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea, published in 1965, a full three years later.

Why am I not surprised?

* Kirby's draftsmanship was on fire here- he was as brilliant as he was mind-numbingly prolific. I wonder how much time he had to think these stories through or if his unconscious was driving him entirely. Kirby claimed that the stories projected themselves onto the page and he simply traced what he saw. This is no idle boast- Jim Woodring worked with Kirby at Ruby-Spears in the 80s and compared him to a mapping machine. Which is to say that Kirby's artwork manifested itself the same way a laser print does- he'd start at the upper left hand corner and finish at the lower right. Woodring said the effect was mindblowing.