Ravana Libre : Abhimanyu Singh Sisodia – “Ravana: Roar of the Demon King”

“Oh, never star/ Was lost here, but it rose afar!/ Look East, where whole new thousands are!/ In Vishnu-land what Avatar?

-Robert Browning, “Waring.”

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Campfire Comics is a New Delhi publisher that takes a “Classics Illustrated”-like approach to canonical tales both Western and Eastern (Tom Sawyer! Oliver Twist! Zeus! Krishna!). On the Eastern side, we get “Ravana: Roar of the Demon King,” (written by Abhimanyu Singh Sisodia and digitally painted by Sachin Nagar). Born from a literally unholy marriage of the Brahmanic and the Demonic, Ravana is one of the more villainous troublemakers in the Hindu pantheon. 

Being largely unfamiliar with Hindu religion, I enjoyed “Ravana,” which re-tells one of the gnarliest stories from the “Ramayana,” and does its best to redeem, or at least justify, the ways of this Luciferian character. Lucifer had one God to contend with. This being Hinduism, there are a lot of gods to defy.

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Born innocently enough as Dashananda; a student of the four Vedas and six Upanishads which were to earn him a ten-headed representation; a master of the veena, (a  fattish proto-zither); and a warrior in the kshatriya tradition, Ravana the Roaring One starts well enough in life. But his training gets pretty grizzly when in an attempt to summon/piss off Brahma (the ultimate Creator), Ravana  cuts off his own head.

Kids, do NOT try this at home.

The religious logic of summoning the Creator through self-beheading escapes me, but Brahma simply makes it so Ravana’s head grow right back. So an angry Ravana cuts it off again. This happens NINE TIMES until Brahma gets tired of the bloodshed and finally puts in an appearance on the tenth beheading.

The 10 heads are similar to the 7 Christian deadly sins, so symoblically kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), madha (arrogance), matsarya (jealousy), manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), chitta (consciousness) and ahamkara (ego).

ravana3suppose that a demon who is willing to cut off its sinful tendencies so persistently is bound to please Brahma, so the Big Guy grants Ravana a potion for immortality, (that goes right into Ravana’s navel, tucked nice and safe), gives him a book with all sorts of witchy spells, and sets on him on his way to do horrible things like kidnap the beautiful Sita, which is a major faux pas given that Sita is already married to Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, one of the BIG THREE along with Brahma and Shiva. Eventually, all of Ravana’s peccadilloes add up, and Rama shoots him down with a  magical bolt, since head-chopping doesn’t work on Ravana.

Overall, this has worked as enough of an appetizer as I hope to expand my knowledge of the canon beyond the West. I’m currently reading “The Tale of Genji” and hope to go on the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Jataka and the Four (or six, depending who you ask) Chinese Classics. All these have been absent too long from my education!

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Ponson du Terrail – “The Blacksmith of God’s Court.”

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As the winds of Revolution rise, proletarian Dagobert, a blacksmith attached to a convent, (or THE “Blacksmith of God’s Court”)  is put in charge of a mysterious girl called Jeanne, who (non-spoiler) may be nobility. As Jeanne grows and attracts attention both wanted and unwanted, Dagobert finds himself having to rescue her at hammer point from a million perils while solving the mystery of Jeanne’s birth. A fun Rocambolesque tale I don’t imagine will appeal to many now living.

Dreadful!: James Malcolm Rymer – “Ada the Betrayed, or The Murder at the Old Smithy”

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Like comic books in the ’50s, or video game arcades in the ’80s, the penny dreadfuls of Victorian England could boast of a popularity that was allied to disreputability. James Malcolm Rymer, one of the relative titans of the genre, at least made two historical marks: his “String of Pearls” introduced Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street; his endless “Varney the Vampire” popularized many fang tropes. More than one hundred other such transgressive reads followed. “Ada the Betrayed, or the Murder at the Old Smithy,” (my first official penny dreadful ever, I think). These thrillers are not too far from, say, Dickens or Eugene Sue, except that they are stripped of any perceivable literary value (except ENTERTAINMENT, which IS a value), and so carelessly conceived that “Ada” begins in 1795 and then jumps forward ten years… into 1742; so made-on-the-spot that a character is named Joseph Gray at first, and Jacob Gray soon after; a Frank is sometimes a Frederick and at other times a Francis. Every single night is dark and stormy. Rymer is a master at stretching a novella’s worth of actual plot into 100+ installments, like a student laboriously making their way to a high word count on an essay.  But for all his carelessness and prolixity, Rymer had a genuine ability to elicit horror in the reader.

 

A Heart Full of Love and Cloaks and Swords : Paul Feval fils – “Coeur D’Amour”

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ABOVE: Paul Feval, pere

Paul Feval is the classic creator of “Le Bossu” (“The Hunchback” that does not hail from Notre Dame) and other swashbucklers like  “The White Wolf” and “Captain Phantom”; arguably the originator of modern detective fiction with “Jean Diable” and “The Mysteries of London”; the masterful storyteller behind the multi-volume crime saga of “Les Habits Noirs”; the pioneer of vampire fictions several decades before that hack Bram Stoker…

….and yet borderline unknown in the U.S.

If Paul Feval is unknown, what to say of his SON, Paul Feval fils?

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ABOVE: Paul Feval, fils

Paul Feval fils is the very entertaining writer of sequels to his father’s Lagardere series, and more famously of the long D’Artagnan vs. Cyrano saga in which the two Gascons fight and make up and fight and make up and fight and make up.


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Enjoy some  swell covers of the convoluted Coeur D’Amour saga, with bad-ass titles like “the Diabolical Trinity,” The Man With the Stolen Face” and… I’m having a hard-time translating “L’Eborgnade”… “The One-Eyed Blinding”?

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Comedy Bit: Honore de Balzac – “The Chouans”

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1829’s “The Chouans” is Honore de Balzac’s first official novel in that monumental Human Comedy cycle I always mean to read and yet never seem to. In 1799, the Chouans (whose password is the hootting of the owl, the “chouette”) are rebellious peasants opposing the newborn French Republic out of both a traditional respect for King and God, and also cuz it’s fun to be brigands. Their noble leader, a Marquis de Montauran going by the nom de guerre of La Gars, frees a group of conscripts from the “Blues” led by Commander Hulot, and falls in love with a Citizeness spy, Marie de Verneuil, who reciprocates. But when La Gars allows Marie to be exposed, humiliated, and nearly killed, she escapes, and replaces her love with revenge. Balzac deals fairly with then recent history, but I’ll admit that without some previous experience with the period (from Alexandre Dumas’ “The Whites and the Blues”) I might have gotten less from a novel that feels overlong even in its briefness. And someone should have shown that Balzac kid how to use the paragraph break!

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