Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rethinking The Gothic Touch

By Dale E. Rippke
Caution! This essay contains spoilers about THE GOTHIC TOUCH

Of the entire Kane saga set out by its author, Karl Edward Wagner, the only really difficult tale to place is his final Kane story, THE GOTHIC TOUCH. The tale is a bit of a mixed bag; it reads like one of the old “heroic fantasy” Kane stories, yet contains elements of the more “modern” ones. The story is usually placed amid the modern Kane stories, but I intend to show that it doesn’t really belong there.

THE GOTHIC TOUCH is the story of how Kane manages to open a gateway between his world and the world of Elric of Melnibon√©. He enlists Elric and Moonglum’s help to recover a treasure that exist beneath a ruined castle. Of course, the treasure ends up being something entire different than what Elric expects.

There is one plot point that makes THE GOTHIC TOUCH appear to be one of the “ancient days” tales:

1. Kane’s appearance and weapons.

There are a number of plot points that make THE GOTHIC TOUCH appear to be a “modern” story:

1. Kane has the ability to travel between parallel worlds in space/time.

2. Kane is attempting to retrieve a transducer that helps to power a space ship.

3. Kane is carrying a nuclear weapon.

4. Kane is on the run and trying to escape from an unknown pursuer through time and space.

I intend to show how an examination of each of these points can lead to a very interesting conclusion.

Appearance and weapons.

Kane is described in the story as “clad in mail, leather breeks and high boots, and a flapping black cloak”. He is carrying a long sword made of odd-looking metal, which he claims was made in Carsultyal “long ago and far away”. This is pretty much how he is described in nearly all of the “ancient days” heroic fantasy stories.

Kane in the modern stories wears modern clothing (biker leathers and pin-striped suits). He doesn’t carry his sword in any of these stories, but does carry a cosmic ray laser in AT FIRST JUST GHOSTLY.

If a “modern” Kane changed into armor to fit in with the manner of dress on Elric’s world, then you would still have to ask why he went to all the trouble to enlist Elric’s help when he could have just brought his cosmic ray laser instead (after all, he brought a nuke). I am nearly positive that THE GOTHIC TOUCH takes place before the “modern” stories, but a long time after the “ancient” yarns. 

The ability to travel between parallel worlds in space/time.

In THE GOTHIC TOUCH, Kane is able to hold a gateway open for a very limited time at great effort. We are not positively told whether this ability is magical or some type of technology. There is at least one of the “ancient days” stories where the ability to interfere with time by magical means is inferred; MISERICORDE. Kane is promised the ability to travel between worlds by the Bloodstone entity in BLOODSTONE, although this would be accomplished through the application of its alien technology instead of magic. Whether it taught him how to do this is in question, although it certainly showed him that teleportation within the same world was possible.

The “modern” story LACUNAE showed that he had mastered the ability to teleport at will without apparent technology and in AT FIRST JUST GHOSTLY, Kane showed both the ability to teleport at will and to manipulate time in various fashions, all without any apparent technology (it is implied though, since his other weapons use some fantastic manners of tech). 

Kane’s ability to open a gateway in space/time between parallel worlds in THE GOTHIC TOUCH is one that he has acquired fairly recently (within several years of the beginning of the story). It is apparent that he has used it quite a bit since he claims that this is his second meeting with Elric (the first being sometime in Elric’s future) and that he has also had dealings with Corum. We get the impression that magic is involved, since Kane declares that opening a gate “is a feat any sorcerer could carry out”; Elric suspects that this is a lie. Kane also seems to need to mentally concentrate to keep the gateway open; this implies the mental discipline found in certain types of magic (to be fair, Kane does describe the process in tech terms like “trans-dimensional warp” and “losing time phase” while keeping the gate open).

Even if the ability to open a gateway seems inclined to be more magical than technological, it is probably a toss-up as to its placement amid the tales of Kane. I could literally place this story anywhere in the unknown history between the “ancient, magic-using” Kane and the “modern, tech-using” Kane.

The attempt to retrieve a transducer that helps to power a space ship.

This is actually one of the better arguments for an earlier than “modern” placement for this story. According to Wagner, Kane left his creator and came to earth in a flying saucer (according to LACUNAE it looked like the hubcap of a 1957 Chrysler 300C). THE GOTHIC TOUCH even states that the metal in Kane’s Carsultyal blade is made of melted-down starships. The unwritten novel IN THE WAKE OF THE NIGHT was supposed to chronicle Kane’s discovery of an elder-earth spacecraft during Kethrid’s voyages. In BLOODSTONE and in fantasy conventions around the country, Wagner always made the case that Kane’s primary motivation was to get off our Earth and attempt to return to his creator’s abode.

In the “modern” tale AT FIRST JUST GHOSTLY it is obvious Kane has been off-planet. First of all, he claims he has already killed his creator (who lives off-planet). Also, he has a cosmic ray laser that is powered by two black holes locked in an antimatter matrix. Just where are you going to find the technology to make a weapon like that on Earth?

The thrust of THE GOTHIC TOUCH has Kane attempting to retrieve a crashed starship’s transducer from Elric’s world and time. This implies that Kane has a need for it; that he has already obtained an undamaged spaceship to attach it to. This would place THE GOTHIC TOUCH between the “looking-for-a-way-off-planet” Kane of the “ancient” stories and the Kane of the “modern” stories who has already gotten off Earth and killed his Creator.

The appearance of the nuclear weapon.

This would seem to place THE GOTHIC TOUCH firmly amid the “modern” tales. Suitcase nukes are a pretty recent weapon here on Earth. So why is this not the case here?

Because there is evidence that Kane utilized nuclear weapons prior to the modern stories. In LACUNAE (the first of the “modern” tales, chronologically) Kane mentions that he used to build atomic bombs, and that they are overrated. When did he do this? He hadn’t been in our “modern” time very long, as he was just beginning to establish himself in our world by creating designer drugs. If he learned enough about atomic bombs to be able to build one, then this almost certainly had to have occurred before he appears in our “modern” era. His knowledge came from someone else. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds…

The text of THE GOTHIC TOUCH makes it clear that the nuclear bomb Kane carries has been stolen from someone else. Someone who is able to follow him through space/time to retrieve it. Since the people of our “modern” era don’t have the ability to pursue someone across time and space, the weapon cannot be from our world. This also means THE GOTHIC TOUCH does not have to be placed within the context of the “modern” tales. 

Kane being on the run and trying to escape from an unknown pursuer through time and space.

In THE GOTHIC TOUCH, Kane is being pursued by “certain forces who wish me no good”. These forces, like Kane, have the ability to travel across time and space. They are intent on stopping him from using the nuclear weapon he carries. Kane plans to use the nuke to seal the gateway between worlds, so his pursuers can’t follow him anymore. So who are these “certain forces”?

Well I find it hard to believe that Kane would be on the run from any group of humans, no matter how technologically advanced they were. The Kane described in THE GOTHIC TOUCH is so strong and deadly that it would take a pretty large group to take him down. His desperation to close the gate permanently seems to indicate someone or something bigger and badder is after him.

This really only leaves three possible groups that would be consistent with Wagner’s saga of Kane: Extraterrestrials, the evil forces of the Demonlords, or the good forces of the Creator.

The Earth prior to the advent of man was inhabited by a variety of extraterrestrial visitors, such as the Brvenn, Tuhchiso, Scylredi, and Krelran. For the most part these alien colonists were either gone or degenerate by Kane’s age. And I think we can pretty much discount visiting Extraterrestrials, since THE GOTHIC TOUCH implies that Kane is only able to open gateways between parallel versions of our world and no mention is made of contact with anyone from Outer Space yet.

I also think we can rule out the forces of the Demonlords. Even in the “modern” tale AT FIRST JUST GHOSTLY, when the source of Kane’s power is literally astronomical, the forces of darkness live by a sort of “You don’t mess with us and we won’t mess with you” philosophy, until Kane marks Cody Lennox as his own minion. The Demonlords live to spread Chaos and Kane is really only a human who does just that. For most of the “ancient days” series the Demonlords and Kane have had a sort of alliance against his creator.

That leaves the “Good” forces of Kane’s Creator to consider. Several things make me feel that these are those “certain forces who wish me no good”. First of all, the Angelic minions of the Creator seem to keep Kane under observation (this is what chapter 5 of DARKNESS WEAVES is about). Secondly, they are no fools; they have to realize that if Kane completes his spaceship, he could cause major trouble for them. And lastly, if you don’t think Angelic forces would wield nuclear weapons, then you don’t remember the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by an angel wielding “fire and brimstone”. 

There is one final clue about who this force might be that I would like to touch on. Wagner wrote that Kane was being pursued by “certain forces who wish me no good”. I find this an intriguing use of the language. Why did he use the term “wish me no good”? “Wish me no good” doesn’t equate with wishing someone evil or even harm. It’s sort of a neutral phrase. I equate it with the withholding of good intentions. The Demonlords certainly wouldn’t be able to withhold good intentions and to Extraterrestrials the term would probably be meaningless. If this is the case than it could be a clue pointing toward the Angelic forces of good being those “certain forces who wish me no good”. Of course, I could be reading something into the story that really isn’t there. But it is pretty interesting…

In Conclusion

I think it’s only fair to acknowledge the overriding story arc to the Kane saga was Wagner’s insistence that Kane was finally able get off planet to kill his creator. How he accomplished this must have been pretty spectacular since AT FIRST JUST GHOSTLY claims that he not only killed God, but destroyed ALL of the forces of good. Kane annihilated Heaven! It certainly makes for the greatest untold story in the Kane series.

THE GOTHIC TOUCH shouldn’t be considered a “modern day” story, because it never was one. It was the setup story leading to the tale of how Kane was finally able to kill his creator. It all fits; Kane on the run with a nuclear bomb he stole from the angels, managing to elude them long enough to recover the one part he needed to make his spaceship fly, and then setting off the bomb so they couldn’t follow him as he planned his mission to kill God. 

I told you this was going to go someplace interesting…

Rethinking the Gothic Touch essay Copyright 2002-2012 by Dale E Rippke

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