Alan Moore Book Club: ‘Illuminations’ – Not Even Legend

by Koom Kankesan


This column of posts will deal with the stories in Alan Moore’s new collection Illuminations. Some of these stories are old and some are new.

The reader surmises that the stories in this collection might not be presented in the order in which they were written. While the first story was published in 1988, the second one jumps to the present as it refers to the pandemic lockdowns. At sixteen pages long, “Not Even Legend” is the shortest story in the book and whereas the first story was written in a baroque and serious metier, this second entry is written in Moore’s gently bemused and observational style.

Moore’s cast of attendees are members of CSICON (the Committee For Surrealist Investigation of Claims Of the Normal) with their hang-ups and petty resentments and small minded judgments, and are gently mocked as narrative point of view shifts to each in turn at a meeting. The characters refer to previous involvement with The Fortean Times, a publication that focuses on strange phenomena that Moore and his friends have sometimes had ties to. The leader at this meeting, Marcus, stresses the importance of looking beyond aliens and Loch Ness monsters and Yetis and other well-worn paranormal sightings to think about those that have gone undetected thus far – what Donald Rumsfeld called the unknown unknowns.


Moore introduces four of these unknown unknowns that inhabit the UK: Snapjackets, Mormoleens, Jilkies, and Whispering Petes. He has an uncanny ability to coin names and beings that feel and sound like they’ve been a part of real British folk culture for millennia, and these new beings are no different. While we get some sense of the first three (although not a visual sense as they go unseen, remember?), it is the Whispering Pete that proves to be a significant character as the story progresses, in fact the story’s most significant narrator.

Whispering Petes live backwards in time, not exactly like Benjamin Button – they get up in the morning and enjoy each day going forward like the rest of us but then proceed to ‘yesterday’ instead of ‘tomorrow’ like a ‘normal’ person would. This means that time is not simply rewinding for them – they can have relationships and conversations and interactions with other people. In fact, their interactions with other people, specifically their sexual relationships, are what keep them going, what they look backward to so to speak. This can prove to be very interesting because they begin their relationships as they end for the other party, with joy instead of sadness, and by the time they come to the eventual ‘beginning’ of the relationship, they are both sad at it being over and paradoxically great at getting the other party interested in them, as they’ve come to know so much about the person already. They can also surmise things that have already happened but which haven’t been experienced by the Whispering Pete yet, simply through what others say.

Moore has great fun with this device, the narration of the Whispering Pete in the story, and the reader quickly realizes that the Whispering Pete’s narrative components may be read in reverse as the beginning of one extract follows from the end of the one after it. It is a bit like watching the chapters in Christopher Nolan’s film Memento. Long time readers of Moore’s work will know that time and its workings have always been a fascination for him and he does some clever, playful things with it. The reading of the Whispering Pete’s narrative extracts provide the central joy in this story. It is hard to not to think of Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen whose ability to simultaneously perceive time from multiple moments on the continuum – this temporal framing is probably the key joy in that important work as well. Furthermore, Moore’s early masterpiece of a short comics story, “The Reversible Man” (published in 1983 in 2000 A.D.) ironically told the story of a man living his life backwards – purely in rewind – the character’s innocence provides irony for the reader and the cerebral engagement of working out what is ‘really’ going on provides a great deal of delight. In fact, one can find multiple time twists and playful engagements in the various Time Twisters short stories Moore penned for 2000 A.D., with “Chronocops!” (also published in 1983) being another notable work.

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