Qinmeartha and the Girl-Child LoChi by John Grant
The Tomb of the Old Ones by Colin Wilson
(Cosmos Books [a "Cosmos Double"], $14.99, trade paperback, 206 pages; October 2002.)
Although the two short novels presented in this book could not be more different in terms of style, feel, storyline and outcome, a number of similarities make them comfortable companions here. First, the premise of each is based on a bold new idea for the creation of life on Earth; it is true that anything goes in the world of fantastic literature, but it is not often that a story starts from scratch when dealing with Earth matters. In addition, both stories thrust seemingly ordinary humans into metaphysical circumstances. Again not that odd, but the movement in these stories is smoother than usual. Most importantly though, the stories are both centred on supernatural communication through dreams.
Qinmeartha and the Girl Child LoChi is a mysterious tale from John Grant's ongoing mythology concerning the god Qinmeartha. Insane and evil in this story, the powerful Qinmeartha is ridiculed by his pals -- the other gods -- and turns in anger on his greatest creation, the mortals. He subjects them to a searing, neverending light from which only the much-anticipated Girl-Child LoChi can save them.
The story involving the struggle between light and dark is told on two planes. Joanna Gard dreams of living in a two-dimensional world where she is sapped of energy by a blinding, burning, never-setting sun. There is no shade in a two-dimensional world, no pillar or post to hide behind. Everyone suffers as she does and waits for the Girl-Child LoChi, who will shield them from the sun. Joanna wakes from the dream to the town where her aunt lives. The town has been slowly withering ever since the arrival of a gender-shifting family of four -- the Gilmours. Her Aunt Jill falls into a listlessness and mental debilitation until finally succumbing to death. Joanna herself slips into the ennui gripping the village. At first it seems to be a symptom of grief due to her aunt's passing, but soon it becomes apparent that it's a supernatural phenomenon connected with the weird Gilmours, who are creatures of the dark.
Although using classic horror symbols such as werewolves, an unseen evil power and the possession of a human soul, the story is neither as frightening nor as shallow as is typical of the genre. There is more going on here than mere good overcoming evil or vice versa. The god Qinmeartha created life and he seems to be destroying it unless the Girl-Child LoChi intercepts. This is like the Jesus story: the All Powerful creates everything, an uppity servant seeks to undo it all, the son of God steps in as saviour. But the Qinmeartha story is more concerned with the balance of nature -- positive forces balancing negative forces, light balancing dark -- than with abstract non-absolutes like good and evil battling each other for dominance. Christian mythology, with its obsession with two types of souls, sanctified and cursed, can have only one answer for each person on the all-important question: Are you saved? And once answered, for all eternity nothing changes for that soul. With Qinmeartha, by contrast, it's hard to say what's good or bad, right or wrong. He is both creator and destroyer.
The Gilmours cause the town to die, yet they attract the Girl-Child LoChi. Are these two entities -- Qinmeartha and the Girl-Child LoChi -- good or evil? Is there a difference? Does it matter? These questions seem to be irrelevant in this mythology. Balance is more important than one side overcoming the other.
While matters of the spirit are all-important in the Grant story, the same cannot be said for The Tomb of the Old Ones, by Colin Wilson. This is a straightforward science-fiction tale, presented in a Poe-like or Lovecraft-like style. The main character begins the narration with a rather detailed and seemingly superfluous account of events leading up to the present and his own involvement in the current phenomenon or problem.
In this story, Matthew Willoughby recounts how his grandfather, Daniel, inspired by the early conquests of Antarctica, dreamt of a lost civilization under the ice. While Daniel firmly believed in the existence of said civilization, he was unable to prove it because the technology he needed hadn't been invented yet.
Matthew inherits his grandfather's dreams and belief in the existence of the lost community. He eventually teams with a celebrated inventor, Trask, and they travel with a group to Antarctica. With newer testing equipment and powerful lasers not available during Daniel's time, Matthew and Trask are indeed able to uncover the lost race. Once discovered and thawed, the strange half-animal, half-plant survivors begin to show signs of returning to life. Realizing the dangers to the human race of an unknown and seemingly powerful species, the team returns home, and in classic fashion agrees never to let anyone know about the discovery.
Both of these short novels are written exceptionally well, keeping the reader's attention to the end. Both authors masterfully weave the lives of rather ordinary characters into supernatural circumstances without the usual sputtering through the period of disbelief until the character is faced with the inevitable evidence that "yes, there is a devil (or an angel, or a ghost, or whatever the story is about) standing in front of me".
Joanna, in Qinmeartha and the Girl-Child LoChi has no problem knowing her dreams are telling her something. She realizes they are depicting truth. In addition, she knows the Gilmours are turning into nightmare creatures and exchanging their genders with each other, and that the town is dying by an unknown force. Yet she is just as firmly rooted in the mundane world of losing a job, having an abortion and being dumped by a boyfriend. She's not clairvoyant or mystical. Yet being thrust into the realm of the supernatural is not a shock or a fight. It feels normal; the flow of the story is not compromised.
Likewise, Matthew is convinced his dreams are more than just respite from the day's demands. Someone is contacting him through them. He's a normal guy in college -- somewhat nerdy, maybe, but pretty average. College guys in general would probably ignore the feeling that a dream was more than a dream. But, like Joanna in the Grant novel, Matthew accepts it, and we unquestioningly follow his foray into the fantastic.
One unbelievable element in Matthew's story is the agreement between six individuals that the most astounding discovery of all time should be kept secret. It's a bit hard to swallow a situation where not one of these persons would believe there's a way to contain these potentially dangerous members of a lost species. When someone's scientific reputation could be elevated to Jane Goodall status overnight, it would be difficult to keep the news to oneself. But we'll forgive the pat ending.
Both stories grip from beginning to end and, although they're disparate in intent and feel, they make a good juxtaposition. And a nice sampling of the two authors' work to boot.