(From Gunnerkrigg Court. Click for full-sized homework assignment.)
Remember when I did my original review of Gunnerkrigg Court, and talked about how a major theme of the comic was the conflict between magic and technology? Well, Tom Siddell is turning that theme completely on its head.
When we started a chapter entitled “The Great Secret”, I honestly expected the secret in question to turn out not to be so great. Siddell has shown in the past that he’s not above setting high expectations for a chapter only for it to turn out to be a shaggy dog story – though he’s also done just the opposite; a chapter depicting the formation of the Court had a cover page that made it look like another frivolous holodeck simulation chapter. In this case, I was proven dead wrong; we’re learning things that force us to rethink the entire comic. This post is going to be far short of what it could be; to do this chapter justice would require me to reread the entire comic, and I don’t have time for that, even considering how relatively short Gunnerkrigg Court is.
For Coyote, the mind of man is forever restless, never able to see things as they actually are. This isn’t a new concept to the Court, but to this point it has generally been used to explain the Court’s stance towards magic: a firm belief in Clarke’s Third Law, that everything that appears to be “magical” must have a scientific explanation, not realizing that maybe magic actually exists and all the weird phenomena in the comic just is that way. Siddell is now using it for the opposite purpose: that man is responsible for the existence of magical phenomena in the first place. To use Coyote’s example, a man doomed to die in the desert and have his corpse feasted on by a real coyote does not see an animal like himself driven to survive and opportunistically preying on his misfortune, but the power of a god that has actively decided his fate. When a man dies, the contents of his mind are absorbed into the “ether”, a concept that has appeared in the comic before as the source of its magic, and from that all the ideas in his mind bear fruit. Coyote himself is but a “being of the thoughts of man”; the content of the secret itself, in the single page in which he utters it, is “I do not exist!”
This gets to the heart of the conflict between the Court and the world of magic; we see the roots of the split between the Court and the forest in the same process by which Coyote describes his own creation, while the main driver behind Coyote’s actions appears to have been protecting the secret more than anything else. The pretense for Antimony’s visit to the forest in this chapter is that Coyote is bored and wants Antimony to tell him stories – about himself, something you would not normally expect him to need to do, but which ends up making a lot more sense when Coyote reveals his secret: the more stories about how great and powerful he is there are, the more great and powerful he actually is, or at least will ultimately be. Coyote is worried that the Court will either take control of the process described in this chapter, or cut off the flow of stories entirely with rational explanations, either way cutting off his power but benefiting mankind, freeing him from his own unconscious creations, while vindicating Antimony’s position as explained in my original review.
Robert A. “Tangents” Howard has been waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the comic to give us a reason to sympathize with the Court and what it sees in the forest for it to fear, and that may finally be happening, though not in the way he had in mind. Coyote once called the Court “man’s endeavour to become God“, and while we’re now starting to see what he meant by that, from man’s perspective it’s really more like a modern Prometheus. The comic becomes less about the conflict between magic and technology and more of a parable of man’s conquest of nature with science, as well as (like Homestuck) a commentary on the importance of story. Suddenly the imagination of man becomes the biggest weapon in the fight between the Court and the world of magic – indeed it’s no longer a sure thing that the comic is building to a fight in the normal sense.
To this point, while I have found Gunnerkrigg Court interesting, I haven’t found it any sort of literary masterpiece. But while my original thoughts on the comic’s entertainment value are unchanged, I now wonder if it might have just as much literary merit as Order of the Stick. If it weren’t for the fact that Antimony is in the middle of the third of five years at the Court, I’d think Siddell was starting to build to the end of the comic; as is, I’m now very interested in seeing what direction he goes with this, and I may want to take notes from the Court for my own future webcomic I’m working on. The comic’s direction has now changed course considerably.