After years of meaning to get around to it, I finally picked up a copy of Alan Moore’s prose novel Voice of the Fire.
The novel consist of a set of stories that all take place in Moore’s hometown of Northampton, but which cover a span of almost 6,000 years.
The very first story, “Hob’s Hog,” takes place in 4000 BCE, and it’s a very challenging thing to read.
The challenge arises in the form of the story’s protagonist and narrator, a young half-witted man who, upon the death of his mother, is abandoned by his tribe of hunter-gatherers and left to fend for himself.
Given his extremely idiosyncratic way of speaking, his limited understanding of the word around him, and the fact that he lives always in the moment, unable to distinguish between the waking world and the world of dreams, it’s extremely difficult to glean any meaning from what he is attempting to describe.
The use of the word “glean” in the preceding sentence is in part the influence of the narrator for whom “glean” is a multi-purpose word, indicating knowing, thinking, understanding, and feeling. Mostly, he “gleans not.”
That said, in this case that the text is challenging makes it all the more rewarding as you successfully puzzle your way through and determine what it is that he’s trying to convey.
Additionally, his manner of speech actually lends a certain weight and poignancy to his words, as you find yourself viewing the world through a much simpler and guileless set of eyes and you find that some ideas, some gleanings, are common to everyone, whether you’re a cynical, technologically-savvy inhabitant of the 21st Century or a nomadic simpleton living 6,000 years in the past.
After having been injured by some unwelcoming members of another tribe, our narrator is found and cared for by a young girl, who, as is so often the case, both puzzles and delights him. The girl keeps him hidden from the much older man with whom she lives, a shaman – a “gleaning man” – named Hob, whose fearsome appearance frightens our narrator.
Finding himself sufficiently recovered from his injury, he contemplates moving on:
Glean I now on girl, on little of she feet, and thin of turning-bones and leg low of she wrap. Glean I on hair of she, all bright and wrap-a-bout with aur-ox white. I is with want in I for pull this wrap from she that bright is all fall down bout of she arms, and glean I now that for to go here off is see of she no more.
In of I’s belly is I’s gleanings all come vexed, and fall they now to hit and bite one at an other, like to cats. There is no quiet in I.
I glean that feel, bro.
There’s actually a blog that provides a page by page “translation” of the story to make it a little more coherent, but honestly, I like it the way it is.