Book review: The Funhouse by Dean Koontz

Rating: 3 stars out of 4

Not until I was well into this book did I realise it’s a novelisation, because that isn’t advertised anywhere on the book’s cover, nor do I suspect it’s mentioned before the author’s afterword. (It was originally published under one of Koontz’s many pseudonyms, Owen West.) Once, I would have resisted reading a novelisation. In my snobbery I assumed that the genre isn’t “real” writing, that it’s just synopses of screenplays knocked out by hack journalists for quick cash.

The novelisation that changed my mind was Halloween II by Dennis Etchison, an actual name in the horror genre and author in his own right. His Halloween II wasn’t just a cracking yarn – drenched in atmosphere and haunted Gothic images, with plentiful use of colour and perspective to create setting – it was actually better than the film it adapted. (John Carpenter’s Halloween II was a weak, flickering shadow of its predecessor, trading that film’s suspense for cheap gore set-pieces, and reducing the heroine, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), to a passive mute.)

Likewise, Dean Koontz’s The Funhouse is better than the 1981 Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) film whose screenplay inspired it. The Funhouse isn’t a bad film. It even received a good review from the late critic Gene Siskel, of Siskel & Ebert & the Movies fame, a man who in the 80s hated slasher films so much he encouraged fans to send Betsy Palmer (Mrs Voorhees in Friday the 13th) letters questioning her choice of role, and with co-critic Roger Ebert hosted a “Women in Danger” special decrying a lot of the then-new slashers as misogynistic, and even anti-feminist. (To be fair to him, the few slashers he recommended, including the one that started the genre, Halloween, had in common their lack of leering at young women who are then brutalised.)

Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse, however, is a very basic stalk’n’slash tale. Its best scene is its first, which quotes, borrows, and cobbles together various shots, ideas, and soundtrack snippets from classic horror films to create a humorous, affectionate tribute to the genre. If you watch the film (I watched it for free online) see if you can spot all the references. The rest of the film is fun in the same way an actual funhouse (or ghost train) is: things pop out of the dark, there’s some decent Fangoria-friendly images and special effects, and it’s all tied together with the loosest of narratives.

Dean Koontz takes this straightforward material and weaves a compelling story of revenge and religious fanaticism around it. Koontz is often considered a poor man’s Stephen King, perhaps because he didn’t become famous as rapidly as King did after Carrie, King’s début, and still isn’t quite the household name King is. This, however, is grossly unfair. Koontz is just as capable and talented as King, and probably has a similar good-to-bad, book-by-book batting average. The Funhouse is a credit to its genre because it’s a proper novel, containing rich characterisations and spiritual themes.

Koontz, a Catholic, uses the religion (not once even alluded to in the film) to discuss fate and moral responsibility. The long prologue is set in a carnival trailer, where a young mother debates if God will forgive her for killing her child, a strange, Satanic thing screeching in its crib not several feet away. This prologue is a story in itself, asking you to question the reality and coherence of a God who’ll let such a child into the world, and whether His dogmas are relevant. The woman’s own mother was a religious fanatic who tormented her child with images of Hell that would make Hieronymus Bosch proud. Is she destined for the place Bosch’s paintings described, where demons tear your living corpse apart for all time, or is killing the dark child a Christian duty?

After the prologue we meet our heroine, Amy Harper. In the film, played by Elizabeth Berridge, she was a pale and somewhat listless virgin. In the book, we meet her in her boyfriend’s car, where she’s trying to cajole him into paying for an abortion behind her staunchly Catholic mother’s back. She can’t access her own money because her mother controls it, but while her boyfriend wants the abortion, he doesn’t want to pay for it or even take her to the clinic.

The way Koontz handles this is compelling and suspenseful, especially when we meet Amy’s mother, a haunted drunk who’s described as using religion as a crutch, and drink as another. She’s an austere and hard to like presence, who dominates her husband and terrifies her young son, Joey. In the film these three characters – husband, wife, and son – were afterthoughts, especially the parents. The mother is shown drinking once, a shot Koontz probably took and ran with, needing to add personalities where none existed in the screenplay.

Joey in the film is a classic-horror fan and prankster. Koontz expands on this, and the relationship he develops between Amy and Joey, much more maternal than that between Mrs Harper and Joey (or Mrs Harper and Amy for that matter), is deeply touching. In the film Amy and Joey are antagonistic to each other, Amy responding to her brother’s pranks with threats. In the book they’re playmates who rely on each other for the emotional needs their parents don’t satisfy.

Amy also relies on her best friend, Liz. Liz is one of Koontz’s master-strokes. The film vaguely implies she’s looser and more sexually available than Amy. The book paints her as a libertine who loves sex and is loyal to Amy (in her way). In Koontz’s Catholic worldview, she represents one extreme, opposite to that which Amy’s mother represents. Where Mrs Harper is cold and repressed, Liz is so cheerfully amoral she’d have made Woodstock blush.

Though the book’s worldview is Catholic, it isn’t in any sense dogmatic, and openly questions what things are truly sinful, and why. Is abortion really a mortal sin, when a full term could destroy or even threaten the mother’s life? Are deformed children really punishments from God? Or could they be gifts from Satan? The various threads of the story presented by Amy, Joey, and Mrs Harper meet at the titular funhouse, operated by Conrad Straker, a handsome and charming carny with a deep, dark secret. When Straker’s carnival leaves town, a murder often happens to have taken place nearby…

Koontz’s novel is a terrific rattle-and-screamer, brimming with love, magic, terror, violence, and fear. There’s gore (more than there is in the film, which is oddly discreet for a slasher), some of it nasty and gripping, and an exploration of what forces in the universe guide which events. The Funhouse is, ultimately, an uplifting good-versus-evil tale, where fallen men and women are brought to either grace or damnation by the paths they choose.


Poem: God, Scurrying

If in the darkness now divine
I see Him like a searching light,
not “Him” nor “Her” but “It”,
that strange perfection scurrying,
what would I say? Nothing.
I would not want Its answering.

What could be said or asked or known;
It would not speak (I guess)
but simply be, and are, and is,
like trees upon which men were hung,
or bodies which their tumours wrung.
All by the darkness will be stung.

Poem: An Anglican Ghost

A church of rounded stones
in grey morose tableaux,
but on this hot Epping morning,
a stone’s throw from the dozing woods,
you feel like an Anglican ghost.

You take the Word of Israel,
sung in a pianist’s key,
the fleshless glory of the Christ
up there in coloured glass.

But man always intrudes.
Man made the church, you know,
played the song which sung the Word.
And Christ Himself was flesh,
the glory holding like a stone
in grey morose tableaux.

A mere thought: Not-So-Fantastic Realism

My brother’s started watching fantasy epics, and I must say, they’re the most grey, turgid, humourless things I’ve seen, fiction-wise. Everyone speaks in this low gravel-y voice, in depressing shanty towns that look like modern Mumbai, but mostly with white people, and the dialogue’s all pseudo-portentous nonsense: ‘we must get to Narnia before the sun is up, or else the elders will curse the wibbly-wobs and drive them from their dams…’ ‘Damnit, man, such a venture cannot be undertaken according to the maps and strategies drawn by our most treasured statesman, Wizard Carlyle, and furtherm-‘ *snooze*.

What genius decided that fantasy needed to be “gritty” and “realistic”? Realism is the opposite of fantasy. It’s the Game of Thrones effect. If your story has dragons and men descended from dragons, it’s not realistic. I don’t want to read thousands upon thousands of pages of flat realist prose in a story which is meant to be sweeping and fantastic, nor do I want to watch several hours of a similarly hamstrung TV show.

That’s why I love Clark Ashton Smith and the other “weird fiction” authors who wrote what we today call fantasy; their short stories and novellas are darker and stranger than anything George RR Martin’s taken eight years to finish, because they take you to other worlds and times where modern society means less than one part of an atom. Worlds and times where dragons are dragons, not socio-political problems.

I’ve not seen a second of the TV series Game of Thrones, and read only some of the first book, published way back in 1996, a distant time when one of my heroes, Marilyn Manson, was actually considered a threat, not a cute oddity. (That’s how long ago we’re talking, folks.) The book had some neat ideas, from what I read, and was briskly written for one totalling over 850 pages. I wasn’t moved by or compelled to finish it, however, because it all felt a bit undercooked.

(If any of my articles are ever read, I expect copious fanboys and girls to correct my woeful misunderstanding of their holy book, hopefully without putting me to the sword.) What I read never seemed to leap off the page and envelop me; it stayed put, conveying a hard, prosaic world I wasn’t very interested in. I’m not being namby-pamby. My favourite genre is dark fantasy (a title I prefer to “horror”, which may be closer to what I mean but is today more associated with torture porn and jump scares). The genre’s moral ambiguities and, above all, overwhelming strangeness truly takes you to other realms. (The aforementioned Ahston Smith’s second book with publisher Arkham House – famed for its association with H. P. Lovecraft – was tellingly called Lost Worlds.)

My problem with A Game of Thrones was that it’s too terrestrial, too bound by a flat and gritty approach to Medievalism, which for me doesn’t work in a story with dragons and magic. I may be narrow-minded, but in my opinion a story is either realistic or fantastic. I’ve heard of Magic Realism, but the aim of that genre, based on what I’ve read and seen, is to create or imply a world beyond our own. What stories like Martin’s do is take those worlds beyond and domesticate them, bring them down to our level. There’s no doubt nobility and fine artistic purpose in that, just not for me. I like my worlds beyond just that: beyond.


Book review: Dolores by Jacqueline Susann

Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4

I’ve tried to detest the phrase “guilty pleasure”, but it is relevant, because there are authors whose books I turn upside down, spines against the wall. I think it’s partly a gender issue; as a man, reading Daphne du Maurier is fine, as is Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith, and Ruth Rendell. Georgette Heyer is a stretch, but acceptable (‘her language and historical research are really good!’), so long as the spine doesn’t have one of those library love-heart stickers. (At my local, the Heyers are in a bank of romantic fiction carousels in the centre, with the Mills&Boons, so I have to stride past without browsing and pluck a Heyer if I see one.)

But Jacqueline Susann? Author of Valley of the Dolls, who inspired the “bonkbuster” niche now filled by Jackie Collins and Danielle Steele? That’s an affront to masculinity! Yet gender roles don’t take into account the vagaries of what we find entertaining. Susann may not have been du Maurier, but her years on the outskirts of showbiz and natural storytelling ability combined (with, admittedly, a conquistador’s approach to self-promotion) to make a writer who set the book world ablaze.

A loose fictionalisation of the post-JFK life of Jacqueline Onassis, his wife, Dolores was written at a time when Susann was in near-constant pain from her last illness and woozy on pills. (Which in Valley she famously called “dolls”; like a dolly, they were something to cling to, and something to imitate in your glazed submission.) The novel, serialised in Ladies’ Home Journal as “Jackie by Jackie”, was finished anonymously by friend and film critic Rex Reed.

Susann said she wrote five drafts for her novels, each on a different coloured paper. (“The first is on inexpensive white paper. I don’t try for style, I just spill it all out. The second draft is on yellow paper, that’s when I work on characterizations. The third is pink, I work on story motivations. Then blue, that’s where I cut, cut, cut.”) To be honest, Dolores feels like it never passed white. It’s much shorter than Susann’s previous published novels, reaching well under 200 pages (Valley: 442; The Love Machine: 512; Once is Not Enough: 480); even then, my small Corgi edition (pictured) has wide margins. (If it was any larger, its chapters would mostly be a page or so each.)

The prose is filled with ellipses, which could be deliberate style, though it feels more like first-draft hallmarks; academic omissions you see in quotes. Come second, Susann would probably have filled these ellipses with characterisations, come third story motivations. As a result the novel feels fragmentary and barely plotted.

It’s divided into two “books”, with chapters rarely more than three pages. What you have, then, is a string of scenes-from-a-life as opposed to a complex narrative, and Susann’s prose, though unsubtle and untextured, does create a few striking images. Most notable among these is main character Dolores Ryan, wife of slain president Jimmy Ryan, crossing the runway from Air Force One in a suit splashed with her late husband’s blood, having refused to change clothes on the plane after the assassination.

As with Valley, whose dialogue was cribbed from showbiz talk overheard by Susann, a large part of Dolores‘ appeal is gossip and anecdote. Susann uses many rumours about Jackie Onassis, circulated after JFK’s death, like her bringing her own food to a barbecue. Like Susann’s other famous novels about modern women, though, Dolores is a tragedy where the heroine finds success (her mother coaches her daughters to snare rich men), then is cast aside by capricious society.

No matter what Dolores does in this novel, whether she accepts the role the public’s given her, or tries finding a new man (or at least a fur coat), she’s given loneliness and misery. There’s something deliciously perverse about how Susann’s heroines are ostensibly Mary Sues (Dolores fascinates every man and woman she meets), yet are always left weeping or dead.

The novel has a splendidly bitchy character based on author Truman Capote, whom Susann’s husband and publicist, Irving Mansfield, threatened to sue, after Capote said on The Carson Show that Susann looked like “a truck driver in drag”. (The suit never materialised, though Susann had her revenge when, asked about Capote while on Carson herself, replied “Truman… Truman. I think history will prove he’s one of the best Presidents we’ve had.”)

Susann’s Capote is Horatio Capon, a brilliant painter who hasn’t painted in years, but instead spends his time selling gossip to magazines and bitching about socialites with Dolores’ sister, while claiming he’s working on his masterpiece. I love Capote (In Cold Blood is the perfect “true crime” book, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s the perfect novella), but Susann’s characterisation is painfully accurate.

After Blood, Capote did squander his talent and spend the rest of his life amusing then betraying rich people. His unfinished masterpiece, which he always claimed he was this close to completing, was Answered Prayers, a novel not unlike Dolores in its length, subject, and fragmentariness. (Also like Dolores, the heroine, Capote was an indictment of the American Dream. A small-town boy with ambition, he reached New York, made his fortune, then became a pathetic drunk trading his name and connections for one more talk show.)

Dolores isn’t a great or even a very good novel, yet it has a genuine approach to the material and something to say about it. It’s loose, fragmented nature even feels sadly appropriate sometimes, given the unfulfilled life it depicts. An Amazon critic said it reads like a short story, and I know exactly what they mean. It’s consumed then digested quickly, and as a novel it leaves you craving something more substantive, like a hors d’oeuvres before a main course, but for those sympathetic to Susann’s theme, or who’ve enjoyed her other novels, it’s worth a look. Even if you have to turn it upside down and push its spine against a wall.


Flash fiction (approx. 1,000 words): Sometimes, They Follow You Home

Mary stared at the sketch on the back of the bookmark, which she’d picked from the tea service beside her husband’s armchair. It was an ugly, lunatic thing, the work of an arrested adolescent, not the straightforward colonel she knew and had married thirty years ago. Sketched with a golfer’s pencil, it depicted a Negro dancing on a savage altar whose supports, she noted with disgust, were bones bound with bamboo strings. The Negro, his race implied with crude shading and caricature, wore a painted wooden mask through which his rubbery lips protruded. Around his wrists were bone bracelets, across his sex a palm leaf.

She hid the bookmark in a fold of her housecoat. Their guests had retired for the night, but she couldn’t risk an idle hand other than her own or her husband’s finding it. He’d be locked away, she was sure, or at least analysed, the latter possibly the worse option for her social stature. In a cell he could at least do no harm; a whiff of the leather psychiatrist’s couch and the neighbours, especially that bitch Elsie Braintree (whose husband was an MP, no less), would forever regard her with pity.

She walked upstairs and into her husband’s study without knocking. This room was lined with salvage from his time in Benin, twenty-five years ago in the late 19th-century, when he’d gone with the first of the Britons to that dark African kingdom, which observed its own laws and worshipped its own gods. ‘”White man’s burden”‘ he’d say, borrowing Rudyard Kipling’s phrase, ‘is a demanding master, but we were men of that burden, and we shouldered it like men.’ This was before the Great War, when he had some tact and discretion. Age had battered these defences, and Mary had almost collapsed when, entering their drawing-room one evening, she saw him showing a pale Edward Braintree, MP, an artist’s rendition of a Negro execution. ‘The poor savage’ she wrote in her diary, ‘hung slumped like bird-feed in a tall bamboo frame.’

Now, Colonel Hannigan sat behind his enormous desk with other sketches on his blotter. The architectural kind, she was relieved to observe, remembering his part in the development of a new church for their village. She pushed this relief aside and pulled the bookmark from her housecoat, flicking it at him with contempt. Its corner striking his red jowl was his first indication of her presence. ‘Eh, Mary? What is it?’

‘I want you to look at that… that thing on the blotter in front of you.’

‘The blueprint for the nave? What’s wrong with it?’

‘You know what I mean! The… bookmark.’

Seeing what she meant, he picked it up and regarded the sketch. ‘Oh yes, of course. I must have “dozed off”, as the curs used to say, and sketched this without thinking.’

‘I don’t care what your army friends used to say, Richard, and you’ll mind your rough manners around me. Imagine if someone had seen that!’ Richard laughed, cracking her relative composure. ‘They did see it, dear. I showed it to Dr. Wembley. Tough sort of fellow, sees death all the bloody time. Much less wishy-washy than that damn fool MP you keep inviting here…’

‘Oh Richard, how could you?!’ Mary almost screamed, and swatted a tear. She hurried from the room, half-consciously noticing the masks and savage tools that lined it.


One mask was missing, and where it had hung the oak panelling was slightly pale. The colonel’s jacket was as copious as his wife’s housecoat, and hid more than a bookmark. Against his left breast lay the flat wooden mask he’d drawn that evening, not having “dozed off” but, in his way, fully alert. More alert than he’d been in years. A passing remark from the new vicar had done it, brought him back to that wretched kingdom by the river, and when he was, he supposed, still a contented Christian.

He put the topmost blueprint in a drawer and looked at the one beneath. It was much the same, excepting one detail. In the centre of the nave was the same Negro as the one on the bookmark. He wasn’t dancing now, and he held his mask in his hand. Despite the blueprint’s birds’-eye view he faced the artist, so he seemed to hover vertically above the pews. The Colonel was amused by that. The Negro’s eyes were wide open but betrayed no sentiment, good nor evil.

‘Well I’ve just come from Africa, of course’ the vicar had said, drinking the Colonel’s wife’s tea as he talked to her. ‘Ours was the second mission in ten years where they stationed me, so the locals already knew something of the Trinity, and weren’t the pagan savages I’d feared I might meet.’

Hearing those simple words, delivered by a simple missionary, Colonel Hannigan fell backwards through memory until he landed in that long hut where the altar had been. The altar, the bones, the art, and the sacrifices; all congregated there. No Negro danced on the altar, but he somehow knew one had, once, spattering blood with a soaked cane, the way the priest who’d reared him in worship used his censer.

Colonel Hannigan repeatedly folded the blueprint then placed it in his breast pocket. ‘Sometimes, they follow you home’ he said to himself, then took the mask from his jacket and studied its face, its eye-holes, and its mouth-slit, which was a perfect rectangle. Red and yellow stripes alternated, slanting from an unseen point beyond the mask’s upper-right corner. Returning to a savage sun, he thought, which the dead Negroes watch from their tree-houses.

There was no Trinity, no single spirit governing man as the ultimate moral teacher, punisher, and redeemer… The white man’s burden was an empty vessel… They’d lock him in a cell, call him old and demented, when really he was as young and clean as any man could be… With trembling hands he attached the mask to his face with a bamboo string.

Book review: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Rating: 4 stars out of 4

Jamaica Inn is a dark, violent, suspenseful, and atmospheric novel about “wreckers”, men who sabotage ships, killing every man, woman, and child on board, then looting the cargo. Written at a time (publication date 1936) when stories about heroines by women were invariably called “romance”, a label du Maurier detested, few books deserve that label less than this. (I don’t have anything against the label. It’s easy to forget that, in the 19th-century and before, romance simply referred to literature of the fantastic and macabre. In their day Jane Austen’s novels, with their minute attention to everyday mundanities, were probably thought of as “realist” as opposed to “romantic”, a la Danielle Steele in the modern vernacular.) Jamaica Inn is an adventure novel in the spirit of Treasure Island and King Solomon’s Mines (even their titles betray this; the genre, in its classic form, is very place-driven), though invigorated by du Maurier’s characteristic themes.

The story, set in 1820, follows Mary Yellan, a village girl whose passage to adulthood the novel charts. Her mother dies after many hard years keeping the family farm alive, and leaves her daughter with a promise that she’ll leave the village to live with her Aunt Patience, whom her late sister remembers as a light-hearted, successful woman. When an unworldly Mary arrives on her aunt’s doorstep, however, she finds a meek, shabby, half-mad, and terrified woman.

Aunt Patience now lives at Jamaica Inn, a widely despised Cornish hostelry operated by her husband, Joss Merlyn, a vicious and enormous brute who doesn’t welcome travellers, but does attract what are once referred to as “the dregs of the country[side]”. They’re the aforementioned wreckers, whose secrets threaten to engulf Mary. Placed in a precarious situation by her loyalty to her aunt and her Christian duty to expose the murderers, she keeps an uneasy silence, further complicated when Joss’ kinder, more handsome brother Jem arrives.

As you may have guessed after that last detail, Jamaica Inn does feature some of the romance novel’s trappings, but what separates it from the lower-end of that genre is a lack of pandering and naivete. In one startling sequence Mary reflects on the cycle of a typical working-class courtship, in the village where she was raised: first a furtive kiss at a dance, then a giddy and smitten removal to Lover’s Lane (referred to less naively by her village’s elders, Mary notes, in what is probably the closest this 1930’s novel comes to profanity), before a long, dreary future of passionless drudgery, at home for the woman, at work for the man.

This passage is stunning in its cynicism, and wounding in its sadness (though du Maurier never quite gives in to despair, at least where Mary’s concerned). Mary and Jem’s courtship is furtive and fraught with suspicion on her side, as it should be considering his fraternity. What softens Mary is animal attraction, compared at one point to the invisible laws governing actual animals and their intercourse. Ugly and charmless as this analogy might seem, it fits with du Maurier’s sweepingly naturalistic, almost pagan atmosphere.

The atmosphere is a character in the novel, and possibly the most important one. The bleak, misty, shadowed and treacherous Cornwall landscape, which du Maurier understood so well, drenches every chapter. This is a beautiful book just for its evocation of place, and its thorough understanding of what a setting can add to a story. Jamaica Inn itself is a fearsome creation, placed like a wart on the landscape between dangerous tors (peaked rock piles) by a stretch of highway passed quickly by travellers eager to leave the Inn in their rear-view mirrors. (If horse-and-traps had rear-view mirrors, of course.)

As I said in the opening of this review, this is a dark and violent novel. Considering how tightly policed films were at the time, with the Production Code forbidding all manner of morally questionable behaviour, it’s shocking how much novels got away with. One particularly nasty scene shows the wreckers tormenting a retarded man (called, in the language of the 1820s, a “wretched idiot”) who happens to wander into Jamaica Inn’s bar.

The wreckers have no regard for lives other than their own, and are little more than bestial savages, driven by coarse, greedy instinct alone. Seeing them at work on the coast reveals how un-human they are, or seem. You can’t imagine these “people” having friends, wives, lovers, and family they truly care for. You can’t see what lives, dreams, hopes, and ambitions they might have beyond filling their pockets with money and their bellies with rum. Joss Merlyn is clearly their smartest, most reflective and introspective member, though he himself rarely rises above the level of a cunning rat (or, more appropriately given his size, ego, and brutality, a bear).

The novel’s most enigmatic human character is Francis Davey, an albino priest whose parish lies to one side of Jamaica Inn, which stands isolated between it and another town. Mary encounters Francis on the moors, where he rescues her from the possibly deadly marshland between the tors. Admittedly, Davey’s albinism is presented in a way which might offend modern readers; du Maurier uses it to connect him to a distant, unchristian past at odds with his profession. He seems one with the Cornish wilderness, white like the mists and unsettled in his nature like the moors.

This doesn’t come across as mean-spirited so much as old-fashioned, though, and Davey is easily the most intelligent and intriguing character, if not the most likeable. A fair bit of the novel’s suspense is what exactly his motives are; what lies behind his habit of always being around to rescue Mary? This is the same kind of suspense Joss’ brother Jem generates, though Mary’s approach to him is complicated by sexual attraction; she has no such feelings for the strange albino priest, who captures his parish in portraiture and knows the landscape like the back of his hand.

Jamaica Inn, I’ll venture to say, is a perfect novel of adventure and suspense. It’s piercingly intense, atmospheric, packed with gorgeous set-pieces (at one point we even get to see a “wrecking”, which is as horrible as it sounds), unexpected twists, and above all a depiction of nature as an ancient, mysterious entity, sometimes friend, sometimes foe, all-seeing darkly, between the tors…