Friday, October 01, 2010

The Sorcerers Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
That old sorcerer has vanished
And for once has gone away!
Spirits called by him, now banished,
My commands shall soon obey.
Every step and saying
That he used, I know,
And with sprites obeying
My arts I will show.

    Flow, flow onward
    Stretches many
    Spare not any
    Water rushing,
    Ever streaming fully downward
    Toward the pool in current gushing.

Come, old broomstick, you are needed,
Take these rags and wrap them round you!
Long my orders you have heeded,
By my wishes now I've bound you.
Have two legs and stand,
And a head for you.
Run, and in your hand
Hold a bucket too.
    Flow, flow onward
    Stretches many,
    Spare not any
    Water rushing,
    Ever streaming fully downward
    Toward the pool in current gushing.
See him, toward the shore he's racing
There, he's at the stream already,
Back like lightning he is chasing,
Pouring water fast and steady.
Once again he hastens!
How the water spills,
How the water basins
Brimming full he fills!
    Stop now, hear me!
    Ample measure
    Of your treasure
    We have gotten!
    Ah, I see it, dear me, dear me.
    Master's word I have forgotten!
Ah, the word with which the master
Makes the broom a broom once more!
Ah, he runs and fetches faster!
Be a broomstick as before!
Ever new the torrents
That by him are fed,
Ah, a hundred currents
Pour upon my head!
    No, no longer
    Can I please him,
    I will seize him!
    That is spiteful!
    My misgivings grow the stronger.
    What a mien, his eyes how frightful!
Brood of hell, you're not a mortal!
Shall the entire house go under?
Over threshold over portal
Streams of water rush and thunder.
Broom accurst and mean,
Who will have his will,
Stick that you have been,
Once again stand still!
    Can I never, Broom, appease you?
    I will seize you,
    Hold and whack you,
    And your ancient wood
    I'll sever,
    With a whetted axe I'll crack you.
He returns, more water dragging!
Now I'll throw myself upon you!
Soon, 0 goblin, you'll be sagging.
Crash! The sharp axe has undone you.
What a good blow, truly!
There, he's split, I see.
Hope now rises newly,
And my breathing's free.
    Woe betide me!
    Both halves scurry
    In a hurry,
    Rise like towers
    There beside me.
    Help me, help, eternal powers!
Off they run, till wet and wetter
Hall and steps immersed are lying.
What a flood that naught can fetter!
Lord and master, hear me crying! -
Ah, he comes excited.
Sir, my need is sore.
Spirits that I've cited
My commands ignore.
    "To the lonely
    Corner, broom!
    Hear your doom.
    As a spirit
    When he wills, your master only
    Calls you, then 'tis time to hear it."

I quote this poem because this will be an unusual post. I've talked in the past about creators and critics trying to glamorize their profession and hobby as high art, drawing correlations between high art and pop culture with badly conducted so-called scholarly studies, articles and books. In some cases, they do overlap though. While doing research for my website, I came across Red Band Comics #1 (and 2 which was just a reprint of the first) and a story called "The Sorcerer and his Apprentice". Like most, I'm most familiar with the story through the Disney cartoon, but it's easy to see that it's a pretty straight adaptation. The GA story takes a few liberties but one can see the elements from the poem.

What struck me as especially interesting wasn't just the story being lifted from the poem or even the wonderfully illustrative quality of the artwork but how it connects to some popular literature of the time and upon other research, some of the works of Alan Moore. When he's casting his first spell, he calls on both Cthulu and Melek Tawus. Cthulu is of a fictional cosmic being from the mind of and works of H. P. Lovecraft. Melek Tawus is a bit more complicated. Melek Tawus is of the Yazidis faith. He is the head of a group of seven angels who oversee the Earth. According to their faith he's rewarded for not bowing down to Adam (he received conflicting orders from God). Because of this, by Christians and Muslims identify him with Lucifer and Satan and the Yazidis as devil worshipers. Reputedly, Yazidis and their faith were portrayed as evil devil worshipers in at least one work of Lovecraft as well as his collaborator E. Hoffman Price. This would seem a bit strange as it implies that the Sorcerer is then calling on evil gods for his spell and possibly a devil worshiper himself. Of course, wizards, warlocks, and witches have long been identified as devil worshipers and consorts of demons according to many religions but much fictional literature draw certain distinctions between "white" and "black" magic.

Where does this connect to Alan Moore? Well, Moore is a fan of Lovecraft's and has adapted some of his works. Plus, Melek Tawus is identified as being the Peacock Angel. A major character in Alan Moore's Top Ten comicbook is a superhero police officer King Peacock, who is generally portrayed as a sympathetic character. Of course, Moore does little straight-forward and being Alan Moore, he must put a twist in there to stab at and offend Western culture and societal norms. Thus, it's not enough for King Peacock to be of the Yazidi faith, but identifies himself as actually a devil worshiper. This would be an actual affront to those of the Yazidi faith who do not identify Melek with Satan and would consider it taboo and deeply offensive.

Thanks to for the scans

1 comment:

Chuck Wells said...

Very interesting and I'm glad to have a chance to see this.