An Ongoing Exploration into the Many Worlds of Early 20th-Century Escapist Literature

An Ongoing Exploration into the Many Worlds of Early 20th-Century Escapist Literature -- Crime and Adventure, Fantasy and Science-Fiction, Horror and Weird

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Nor Idolatry Blind the Eye" -- Gabriel Hunt (HUNT THROUGH THE CRADLE OF FEAR, 2009)

It's sometimes easy to forget that pulp continues to be written to this day.  Oh sure, there's Indiana Jones, of course, and Clive Cussler's ubiquitous paperbacks can be seen as a successor to the pulp adventure stories of days gone by, but 1930s throwback pulp is apparently the real deal.  There are people writing Shadow and Doc Savage stories to this day, Tarzan pastiches as well, and of course dreaming up new characters from old molds.  One of these is the two-fisted adventurer Gabriel Hunt, created by (surprisingly enough) Charles Ardai, CEO of internet service provider Juno.  The star of a series of novels, dictated by Hunt to various authors, (a nice throwback to how the Shadow stories were told to "Maxwell Grant" by the Shadow) Hunt is an independently wealthy globe-trotter with a woman in ever port and a side-iron that doesn't seem to stay cold for very long.  Today's story originally appeared as a backup feature for the novel Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear in 2009.

Malcolm Stewart used to be a soldier of fortune and an adventurer.  But a few years ago his wife died and he crawled deep into the bottle, drowning his sorrows in whatever cheap booze he could lay his hands on.  When a job offer comes, he sees it as just another source of income for his binges.  But his latest employer, a Mr. Burke, wants him to work dry.

This comes as no surprise, as Mr. Burke's job is one of delicacy and care; Burke was an archaeologist who found what he believes to be the Biblical Golden Calf, despite the Bible's claims that the Calf was ground to dust.  For laying a hand on the calf, the cult guarding it cut off Burke's hand, and for looking at it they sliced off his eyelids and dumped him in the desert to go blind, mad, and die.  Through sheer luck, Burke survived, though in no condition to continue the quest for the Calf.  To that end, he wants to hire Stewart.

Not sure if he believes in the Golden Calf, Stewart does believe in the money Burke has advanced him, and has promised as payment in return for the Calf, but doesn't forget that one of the qualifications that got him the job was "nothing left to lose."

Once in the desert, Stewart discovers the temple and cult guarding the Calf is quite real...and lording over them, invisible but sonorous, is an entity that introduces itself as "brothergod to the Lord you worship, and have been since men first spoke of gods.  I am many-named: men call me Melech, and Molekh, and Moloch; I have been called Legion, and Horror, and Beast, in fifty tongues, and fifty times fifty, but men also call me Father, and Master, and Beloved." Moloch offers Stewart a deal; Stewart's wife will be restored to him, if he will but bow down, and worship Moloch as a "god of might."

And after all, Stewart has nothing left to lose.

This was wonderful.  It read like a more horror-oriented take on INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, with its desert locale, hidden, trap-filled temple and sinister guardian cult -- and even in that an older man who has spent years looking for the icon of religious significance at tremendous cost emotionally and physically is forced to ask a younger, more virile man to take up the quest on his behalf, as Burke does to Stewart, calls to mind Henry Jones Sr.'s lifelong obsession with the Grail and Indiana's desperate race to get the grail to save his life.

I wouldn't go so far as to call it a Lovecraftian take on THE LAST CRUSADE, because I don't believe for a second that Lovecraft could have written a word of this; though it does remind me of some of Robert E. Howard's Mythos fiction, in which square-jawed, stalwart toughs are brought face to face with cosmic horror and escape through a mixture of luck and chutzpah.

While Moloch is presented in the story strictly in terms of a Judeo-Christian framework (and its introduction, quoted above, might be the best of its sort I've seen since the Rolling Stones released "Sympathy for the Devil"!), I can't help but suspect that this is a ploy; Moloch, as written, strikes me as something far older than Christianity, or Judaism, or possibly humanity as a whole, something that has learned how to adapt and adopt different personas with different eras to better ensnare the unwary.  Moloch is something like a cosmic anglerfish, a monster that uses its victims' own psychology and worldview against them.  And I love this.  I love the idea of a monstrous "god" that understands psychology and uses that knowledge to lure and corrupt.  Too many times I've seen Cthulhu presented as a slavering tentacled Godzilla, hungry for brains/souls, and I feel this does a disservice to Lovecraft's original concept of the Great Old One.  Moloch, in the tantalizing glimpses we're given in the story, is a Yog-Sothoth or Nyarlathotep figure done right, as far as I'm concerned.

I can't speak for the Gabriel Hunt novels themselves, but I really enjoyed "Nor Idolatry Blind the Eye" and call it worth checking out.

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