(From Gunnerkrigg Court. Click for full-sized extreme uncanny valley.)
As is its wont, Gunnerkrigg Court has answered the question of what, exactly, Jones is in a way that a) doesn’t actually answer the question (turns out Jones doesn’t really know herself) and b) raises more questions than it resolves.
The just-ended chapter began with a series of mostly frustratingly contentless flashbacks, starting with a number of interactions between Jones and Eglamore, then going back through the numerous identities Jones had taken throughout history, then dropping dialogue as it progressed through older and older time periods, until finally it wound up at a time before the existence of humans themselves. At this point I was about ready to call bullcrap on the explanation for Jones this was building up to, as it didn’t make any sense for Jones to have a human form before humans themselves existed, unless man was created in her image or humanity “retconned” her in to the formation of the Earth.
As it turned out, Siddell intended to use that seeming contradiction as a jumping-off point for an exploration of her psyche. It seems that when humanity arose, Jones initially thought she was no longer alone, that she had encountered others like herself, only to find that she could not experience the emotions common to all humanity. As such, she does not consider herself “living”, no different from the stones and rocks that make up the Earth itself, and simply hops from identity to identity taken from people she knows, with it being heavily implied that Mr. Eglamore will be next on the list. I still call bullcrap (it’s the classic “creature feels bad about not having feelings” paradox, though again the last page suggests this didn’t escape Siddell’s notice either), but at least Siddell used it as a jumping-off point for an interesting story rather than a gigantic hole in his existing one. It also means Jones is not that different from an autistic, developing social skills only through conscious “close observation and mimicry”.
But an exploration is not an explanation. It’s easy to see how Jones represents the apex of Coyote’s “great secret” we learned in the previous chapter; Jones is the imprint of man in every era of the Earth’s existence, billions of years before man himself came into being. Despite Jones’ very existence not making any sense without humanity retconning her in before their own existence, Antimony was prepared to use her existing before humanity as evidence against Coyote’s “theory”, on the grounds that such “retconning” should be impossible, or not having crossed her mind. Jones then proceeds to explore the apparent paradox, without actually coming to a conclusion; rather, the point seems to be to hammer home in Antimony’s head just how much power could be lurking in the ether, how much power the Court seeks to harness, if Coyote’s “theory” is true.
And yet, at the same time, she seems to suggest – without really realizing it – a limit to this power. “Coyote will say he [put the stars in the sky] himself, and it is not a lie,” Jones claims. “The same claim will be made by powerful creatures from other cultures around the world. However, I can unequivocally state that the stars were always in the sky. I saw them myself, long before any creature on this planet could lift their head to see them.” At first, this seems to suggest that Coyote was retconned in before even Jones, until you realize that his tale would still contradict those of the other “powerful creatures from other cultures around the world”. More generally, Jones’ personal history seems to line up with the actual, scientifically-established history of the world and the universe. The world’s history, as Jones has experienced it, is more consistent with what you’re likely to learn in science textbooks than with any stories coming out of any culture anywhere in the world, including those Coyote tells.
And yet, it’s coming from someone whose very existence – as someone with human form billions of years before life, let alone humans, existed – doesn’t make any sense without the ability of humans to “retcon” her in to the formation of the Earth, and whose presence in every era of history is attested to not only in her own telling of it, but in the actual physical evidence she’s left behind. That seems to rule out the idea that humans have shaped the memories of creatures like Coyote without actually affecting what actually happened. On the other hand, Jones claims to have no connection to the ether whatsoever, so it’s entirely possible she represents the “overwriting” of other ideas of the history of the Earth with more scientific ideas. That would put her extreme emotionlessness – and apparent separateness from both the Court and the world of magic – in a wholly new light. Perhaps Jones has not even been “created” yet, and will eventually serve as the Court’s means of imposing their will on the history of the world in a way that, they hope, leaves no room for magic. The only alternative I can think of would be the Court’s own version of DC Comics’ “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, that each culture has its own “timeline” of the history of the Earth, all of which has somehow been unified into a single timeline.
The key may be Antimony’s first visit to Coyote in the forest back in chapter 20, when Coyote let Antimony leave her thumbprint on the moon. Coyote appears to bring the moon down to Earth at the same size it appears in in the night sky, then gobble it up, at which point it appears where it did before. Kat detects no “irregular lunar activity” while all this is going on, yet still detects the aftereffects of what happened. Might the physical evidence of her existence Jones has left behind be similar? If this were to be the case, the stories of the past and the explanations for existing phenomena Coyote and others tell of may be false, but the physical evidence of their existence may not be. In keeping with the fundamental conflict of the comic – and, reversed, in some real-life defenses of religious explanations of the way the world is – there may be no way to disprove stories like Coyote’s or Jones’s even if they happen to be false. In this sense, it may well be possible for multiple contradictory accounts of, say, how the stars wound up in the sky to all be “true” in some sense. (I’m not yet willing to adopt Robert A. “Tangents” Howard’s explanation, that humanity only shapes the divine into a form it can perceive, without changing the existence or history of creatures like Coyote or Jones.)
I suggested before that the revelations in the last chapter represented the other shoe dropping, that we were finally learning exactly what it was that the Court feared in Coyote and the creatures of the forest. At first glance, this chapter seems to be moving in the opposite direction, firming up the Court’s place as the comic’s villain seeking to use the power locked in the ether for “their own ends”, and if the theory that the Court is planning to use Jones to overwrite history is true it would seem to lock in this notion. Yet the suggestion, first hinted at at the very end of the last chapter and explicitly raised by Jones in this one, of Coyote exerting some sort of power over Ysengrin that exhibited itself in Ysengrin’s attack on Antimony, certainly makes Coyote look a lot darker than he’s appeared as to this point, and Jones suggests not that the Court has evil intentions in and of themselves, but that Coyote has been trying to “sway [Antimony’s] opinion” of it through the revelation of his secret, implying that the Court’s actual intentions may be nothing of the sort; my idea of the Court as a “modern Prometheus” may still be alive.
This chapter heavily implies that Antimony is about to be named the Court’s new medium (it’s not like Jones is likely referring to Parley here), and Jones warns her that she’s likely to encounter decidedly more dangerous and less friendly creatures than she has thus far, which Coyote may have been trying to prepare her for both by revealing his secret (and giving her the homework assignment that formed the basis for this chapter) and inducing Ysengrin to attack her. Yet it seems to me that Antimony has come out of the last two chapters less prepared for the job than she was before. Before, she could hew to the approach that there’s no reason for the worlds of magic and technology to distrust one another, and indeed that there could be great boons to their cooperation; now it’s become apparent that that approach will be impossible without putting some sort of value judgments on the value of the Court vis-a-vis the creatures of the forest, and more generally mankind vs. nature, at least without establishing the extent to which Coyote’s “theory” is true. I would suggest that it’s incumbent upon Jones to lay out all the Court’s secrets for Antimony to see and to assess as reasonably and rationally as she can, so that she has a full appreciation of both sides of the issue.
After all, it’s not as though the preceding 38 chapters have given her, or the audience, a particularly cheery view of the Court as it is.