Haunted Resonance: An Interview With Alan Moore

The wizard of Northampton talks magic, Englishness, and his new book of short stories Illuminations. Words by Miles Ellingham

Five hundred years ago we’d probably have burned him. Indeed, in 1583, that’s just what happened to the home of John Dee who had, earlier that year, set off to Poland with the occultist Edward Kelly on the instruction of beings he’d politically termed ‘angels’. In the centuries that followed, the rich vein of mystic British visionaries continued from William Blake to Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare, snaking its way to the poverty-stricken Boroughs of Northampton where, in 1953, Alan Moore was born.

“I’m a comic book messiah for the 1990s,” a young, but no less bearded Moore once described himself in documentary for ITV, “and having risen from my humble terrace street origins and having survived my tenure as one of the dole queue millions I’ve now become a successful small businessman of no mean repute, and I believe that this is the face of success in Mrs Thatcher’s Britain”. If anything, ‘success’ was an understatement for a man who had essentially re-invented the comic book in just over seven years. Titles like V for Vendetta (1982), Swamp Thing (1983), Watchmen (1986), The Killing Joke (1988) and From Hell (1989) came out in such rapid succession as to suggest some kind of unholy Faustian pact (not entirely off-brand for Moore). When scoffingly asked in an interview, “oh you just write comics?” Moore once replied, “well you wouldn’t have said to Stravinsky that he just did music…”

Moore retired from comics in 2019 following disagreements with film studios which saw him removing his name from blockbuster remakes of his work. On his 40th birthday, he declared himself a ‘ceremonial magician’ and turned to worshipping a second-century Roman snake god named Glycon. This formal shift to magic has come to define much of his work, particularly as so many of his creations seem to have conjured themselves into the real world. V’s Guy Fawkes mask, for example, became the face of anti-establishment movements like Anonymous and Occupy Wall Street while Alexandria Ocasio Cortez once quoted Watchmen’s masked anti-hero, Rorschach, as a warning to congressional colleagues, “I’m not locked up in here with YOU. You’re locked up in here with ME.”

Like the court scientists of old, Moore’s output has an alchemical quality to it, fusing elements of mysticism, William Burroughs-esque squalid modernism, theoretical physics, psychogeography, historical fiction and Lovecraftian fantasy. He’s recently taken to producing ambitious literary tomes. In 2016, he published Jerusalem, a genre-bending, 1,266 page ‘cosmic epic’ about Northampton complete with ghosts, pool-playing angels, and a sexual encounter between Dusty Springfield and a hospital-bound Lucia Joyce written in the impenetrable style of Finnegans Wake.

In 2021, Bloomsbury acquired two book projects from Moore: a five-volume fantasy series (which he says he’s “about halfway through ”) and Illuminations, a book of collected short stories which drops next month. Having managed to finish the advance copy just in time, I called up Moore (he’s not online), to discuss the upcoming title, a conversation that – true to form – got strange quickly.

I’d like to start by asking, how are you doing? I’ve read that you’re still socially isolating as much as possible. How have you been?

Yeah, I’m doing fine. I miss people. As I’ve said elsewhere, although I know the Coronavirus wasn’t created in a laboratory, it’s just that the pandemic has so wonderfully reproduced for the general population, the everyday life of a writer but with probably a bit more hazard thrown in. Not seeing your friends or loved ones for years, living in a world of your own. That’s pretty much a writer’s life.

Well I’m just flicking through your new book. I was wondering how it came together.

Well, I suppose that for that, you’d have to go back quite a few years. As the collection does. I’ve always been an immense fan of short stories. I think you’ll find that first amongst the acknowledgements is one to –

Edgar Allen Poe.

Exactly, that’s who invented the short story in the first place – it’s a wonderful vehicle. There isn’t a better way for people to learn how to write. I did my apprenticeship, if you like, doing short stories for 2000 AD and various other publications and, yes, it can be quite frustrating to think, oh God, I’ve only got two pages or four pages to tell this whole story. But that’s a perfect way of learning how to start and end the story. If you’ve only got four pages to do it, to introduce all your characters, your situation and everything else, you will learn so much about how to structure a story that you can scale up when you’re doing your enormous, impenetrable novel.

When I was asked to do a short story for a shared world fantasy anthology called Liavek, I came up with ‘The Hypothetical Lizard’ – which features in the collection – and for a first professional short story, I thought it was pretty good. Things change, of course. There were some tiny revisions needed on ‘Hypothetical Lizard’, mainly because I’ve got transgender characters in it which originally, when I was writing that back in the 1980s, there wasn’t a lot of precedent for in fantasy fiction. So I had a trans woman character where I was capitalising her pronouns. So it was ‘Her’. Because at the time it felt like this wasn’t a widely understood thing so there was a need to draw attention to it. Subsequently we removed the capital. Not a big thing, but an indication of how these things change. I did ‘Location, Location, Location’, which had been on my mind since hearing about the Panaceans in Bedford. It was just such a ridiculous story. But what if it was true? What if it actually happened? What if the Panaceans were right? I decided to write the remaining four stories of the collection, which I think I did in about six months.

I’d like to get into some of the wider questions around the book. England features a lot in your stories, as it has in a lot of your previous work. And your next project is going to be a five part fantasy series about London. I’ve always found that England and London have a distinctly eerie quality about them, something you seem to have tapped into. Why do you think that is? That very British feeling of constantly bumping up against the unknown.

A lot of my English-based work is centred on Northampton. But yes, I do find an awful lot of haunted resonance in the English landscape. I’d say that it’s a fourth dimensional aspect of the place. If Einstein’s right and we exist in a universe that has at least four dimensions, one of which we perceive as the passage of time, then you have to look at places with the time element. If you’re trying to get the scale of a place, you have to consider that fourth dimension as well. And the scale of England geographically is not that great. We’re a relatively small island, sort of bobbing somewhere off Europe. But the actual scale of England, Britain, considered in terms of the history, is kind of enormous. Take Northampton: we had mammoth hunters here, we had Romans, we were the centre of the country in terms of how the Saxons saw things. We had the Normans, but we fell out of favour because of Hereward the Wake, a local terrorist who used to be one of the great English legendary heroes when I was growing up.

There’s something a little odd or eccentric about the English mindset that produces some wonderful, imaginative things. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I would say that certainly, since the Second World War, we have been a bit mad. I think PTSD probably explains at least some of the quirky British approach to things, at least since the war. But it goes back a lot further than that. I think it’s perhaps because we’ve been invaded so many times. Perhaps because of the English language itself. English is a kind of brilliant slave patois. We’ve borrowed words from everybody who has invaded us. There are just so many choices and shadings of words and meaning that are to be found in English. Perhaps this has got some bearing upon our thinking as well?

You’re a practising magician and I know you believe that magic is deeply enmeshed with the act of writing and poetry and art-making generally. Do you think the English language is more fertile ground for magical tendencies?

Well, in terms of magic, of course, any language is a sacred language if you’re using it to talk about things in the realm of the sacred. The interesting thing about magic is that a lot of the instructions as to how to actually perform ritual magic – which I must admit I don’t really do so much anymore; it’s more an internalised thing now – but when performing ritual magic, you’re generally made to invoke it using barbaric names. This basically just means words in a language that you personally do not understand. So it can be a foreign language or a made-up language. The important thing is that chanting or reciting these things does something to your consciousness. And if we’re listening to it, it alters our consciousness too. It’s the same sort of thing as the Lucia Joyce chapter in Jerusalem, which I wrote in an approximation of her dad’s language.

Around the Bend?

Yes. I had to have an eighteen-month break from Jerusalem after that. But that does something very strange to your consciousness, whether you’re reading it or if you’re actually writing it. And I think this was what the magical practitioners were aiming for: a kind of dislocation of the normal way in which we order our thoughts, which is linguistic.

Going back to some of the stories in here. One of them is a very classic ghost story. That’s something that seems a quintessentially British tradition in the wake of M.R. James, Henry James and Charles Dickens.

I love the classic ghost story writers. My favourite was ‘A Warning to the Curious’, the M.R. James story with the magnificent Peter Ford. It was set down in Aldeburgh. I voraciously read those stories from childhood but I’d never really written them. Possibly because I was more of a fan of Robert Aickman when he came along in the 50s and just completely detonated the English ghost story and made it into something different, more psychological and symbolic. And perhaps because I tended towards that kind of story a bit more, I never really investigated the classic ghost story until I was working on my beautiful, but doomed underground magazine Dodgem Logic. We had a Christmas issue and I thought, ‘why don’t I write a Christmas ghost story…’ A lot of my friends were rational atheists and I’ve got a great deal of sympathy for that position. But I figured that they probably deserve a ghost story, even if their cheerless philosophy insists that there are no such things as ghosts. So I thought I’d make the victim of the story a fraudulent psychic. That way, my friends could read it with relish.

I’ve always been fascinated by the underlying paranoia behind the explosion of ghost stories at the end of the 19th century, which overlapped with the height of the empire.

But not necessarily just the classical ghost stories – the weird fiction too. The works of Arthur Machen for instance. The majority were stranger than ghost stories. There were things like William Hodgson’s House on the Borderland. It’s almost an indefinable fantasy. Or David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus. These were all around the turn of the century. That does seem to me to be the country unconsciously coming to terms with the new world which it felt was about to descend upon it. The 20th century and all that that would bring.

Hodgson died in the First World War. He’d written House on the Borderland about four years before. Something like that. It’s difficult not to read that book without reading it as a premonition of the war written by somebody who would not survive. The paranoia’s in science fiction as well. H.G. Wells, and all of that. In fantasy fiction generally, whether it’s science fiction or ghost stories, you can generally see the shadows of the population’s mind – stuff that seems like it’s looming up from the future.

Is fantasy becoming more of an imperative now, particularly, as we’re in a time of crisis – both economic and ecological. People are becoming desperate. We’ve got a cost of living crisis that’s engulfed the entire country in Victorian levels of poverty. Might this prompt a new ascendancy of magical thinking? Not that magic is an easy material fix to fill up your smart metre or something like that. But as a way of deciphering the world, particularly when the world is quite grim.

I would hope that intelligent magical thinking does still have some potential answers to our situation. But I would separate that from fantasy. They are not connected. Fantasy is a loaded word at the present. I have to admit, I was never a fan of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, I never watched Game of Thrones. I think a lot of fantasy is kind of – perhaps lazy is too strong a word but something in that region. It falls back on standard tropes. Whereas fantasy should always be unique and new. For me, a wonderful fantasy would be Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, which hasn’t got a dragon or a wizard or a dwarf. It’s just about this crumbling castle and its ritual-bound inhabitants. Or Brian Catling’s Vorrh trilogy. Which is a completely original idea: this neglected garden of Eden that has overgrown space and time. The problem with fantasy at the moment is that most of it is purely escapist. It isn’t fantasy that’s going to tell you about the real world. It’s not using its symbols to illuminate, but give you access to another world that doesn’t have the problems and responsibilities of this one. I mean, take the Metaverse, which is a massive data harvesting project, apparently. I think people are trying to bail out of this universe into – I dunno – the Marvel Cinematic Universe…

Going back to potential ways of delaying or circumventing the social, economic, ecological breakdown that we’re witnessing now. It seems like you were beginning to say how magic or magical thinking could be used to alleviate things. Could you expand on that?

The main problem is the argument that, originally, Palaeolithic shamanism was the one-stop theory of everything. Most of the stuff that has come to be the furniture of human culture has its origins there. The shaman would have originated writing and depicting. The shaman would have used dance as part of their ritual function. They would have also been advising the leaders of the tribes. They would have been observing the cycles of the stars and the cycles of the seasons. They would have been pulling together the observations that would lead to science, lead to agriculture. But once civilization started, magic was gradually dismembered.

When there were civilisations, when there were settled communities and the beginnings of urban culture, people no longer had to grow their own food or hunt. You had the emergence of all of these new classes of individuals. You had a priest caste that emerged, which took away from the spiritual component of shamanism. Then you got artists and writers often in the pay of religion, which took away shamanism’s functions as the dispenser of visions. It still left shamanism with natural philosophy however, which was the beginnings of science and medicine.

So that was fine for a number of centuries. But then with the Renaissance, you’ve got the emergence of science from magic – often unacknowledged. The first people to talk about anything resembling the scientific method were alchemists in the Arab world. Most of our modern science is actually built upon the foundation of magic or alchemical ideas. So with the Renaissance and with the specialisation of science and medicine, you’ve got the biggest part of magic practically taken away, which left it only with its access to the inner world.

But then that was presumably removed too…

Yes, in 1910 when Sigmund Freud suddenly emerged. Psychiatry was basically using ideas that had been common in magical orders or magical philosophy for centuries. The first person to use the term ‘unconscious’ was Paracelsus in the late 15th century. Once that was gone, all magic really had was the ritual robes, the painted wands, the empty theatre. What I think – and this is just from a magical point of view – is that effectively we are living amongst the dismembered fragments of magic.

I had a dream – as Martin Luther King said, although mine was a bit stranger. It was this fragmentary dream where I was crossing a room and there was a television show on. And I didn’t recognise the show but it depicted a detective’s office at night, lit only by moonlight. On the floor of the office, there was the detective’s dismembered body. There’s no blood. It’s almost as if he’s a store window dummy that was just dismantled, but it’s clearly a human being in pieces. There’s the head. There’s the torso. There are the four limbs. But the head is still muttering. Too low to hear. Perhaps revealing the identity of the killer, perhaps giving some clue to the mystery. Then I woke up. But I found that an interesting dream. It seemed to symbolise where culture is. We are living amongst the dismembered corpse of magic in its original form of shamanism. But the head of magic has still got something to say.

What I think might be a useful approach – perhaps impractical, but bear me out – I think that if we were to reconnect magic and art as a starting point, because they’re practically the same thing anyway, make art the product of your magical experiments, the way that Austin Spare did for example, then that would give magic an enormous sense of purpose and I think it would also lend art the vision that it seems to be lacking at present. A lot of modern art seems rather empty and hollow conceptualism that lacks any real vision or substance or power. A linking of magic and art would help both of those fields. Then, once you’ve done that, maybe linking art and science. There’s plenty of work already done in that regard.

I’ve seen artists who’ve taken enormous inspiration from the latest findings of science and scientists have become interested in the processes of art. They don’t have to be in opposition to each other. That might give science some of its morality back. Then finally the most impossible part of this equation is that we should link up science and government, in the hope of having some evidence-based government. But that is the most unlikely part of the scheme. We certainly need to move beyond capitalism. Who was it that said that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism?

Fredric Jameson, I think.

That is a very true statement. We need to move beyond capitalism. We need to move urgently beyond growth and our obsession with growth, because that is a fantasy and it always has been. We do not live in a world of infinite resources, so infinite growth is clearly not possible. It’s becoming very urgent. We don’t have to be ruled by GDP. There are other ways that progress can be measured: the wellbeing of a country, for example.

A lot of this would entail the introduction of a universal basic income scheme. Which again is very possible. There are places where they’ve tried it out. It seems to be a very workable thing. And we know that the money’s there. The thing is that amongst conservative thinkers, it is unthinkable that people should get something for nothing, even though that is what their entire careers are often based upon.

We need something drastic very soon. A lot of this stuff, it’s not going to work unless there’s some top-down adjustments. Big initiatives like the Green New Deal, which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was pushing in America. I don’t think the Green New Deal actually dares to talk about the possibility of a life after capitalism. But at least it sounded like people started to address the issues. We need to show people what a world beyond growth might look like.

I’m not being facetious when I ask this. You’re very influenced by John Dee, who once advised the court of Elizabeth I. Do you think it would be a good idea to bring back the court magician?

You know, John Dee, actually – much as I think he is probably the greatest magician in history in terms of his effect on the world – it has to be said that most of that effect was negative. Dee invented the British Empire, which was probably not a good thing. It was John Dee who invented America, in that he came up with a plausible-sounding legend by which Elizabeth could claim that America already belonged to England. He wanted to create a world based upon Christian Kabbalah which had Elizabeth I essentially as a kind of moon queen at the centre of it. No, I don’t think that having a court magician would be a good idea at all.

You have to remember that magic isn’t like a religion. Religions are ways of getting everybody to conform to one spiritual paradigm. The root is ‘religare’, which is the same route as ligament, ligature meaning ‘bound together’. This is very much like the definition of fascism. The bundle of bound sticks. Whereas magic is more like a spiritual equivalent to anarchy; it is purely of the individual. It’s not a religion. As far as I know, nobody worships Glycon other than me, and if they do, they’re not worshipping my Glycon.

I’m not interested in being part of a religion. Religion is one of our major problems. If you are going to move to a post-growth world. Well, there are a couple of big hurdles in the way. One of them is the resurgence of populist fascism, which still remains to be dealt with. But there is also established religion, which has always been hand in glove with the state. We keep religion around because it’s handy if we want to stir up hatred against another ethnic group. So that we can have a crusade or a war against terror. It’s mainly a political tool to keep people controlled, preying upon their fear of death. Any kind of magic in an advisory capacity to political leaders would be co-opted. The Third Reich had its occult elements and that doesn’t seem to have been an ideal system.

The former president of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had something similar to an economic shaman who he trusted to advise him on fiscal policy. That obviously didn’t go very well. Something I wanted to get into, though, is the question of time itself. You have this Einsteinian, block universe theory view of time. It’s perhaps a Nietzschian idea as well. It’s present in Illuminations, or it seems like it is. You’ve got one character whose consciousness moves backwards through time, another who’s past and future collide on a beach holiday in Weymouth. Does this notion of time affect your political beliefs and your analysis of the world? You’ve said you’re an anarchist. I wonder if these two things are linked as well.

That becomes complicated. It certainly gives me a lot less despair, the idea of an Einsteinian block universe, which, as I think he understood it, means that the past is still there and the future is already here – just in other parts of the block. Our consciousness is moving through this solid block of changeless and eternal space time. Along the filament that represents our lives. However, those lives end up, however civilisation ends up, it is all still here. And I believe that we have those lives over and over again, which is similar to Nietzsche. But Nietzsche had no idea about Einsteinian space-time, he was instead basing his theory on the idea that the universe is infinite. And if that was true, if it was infinite and of infinite duration then, yes, you would get an infinite number of worlds eventually that were exactly like Earth in every detail. But as far as we know the universe is not infinite and does have a starting point. It’s very big, certainly, but not infinite. So it’s the Einsteinian notion that everything is eternal. Every moment, there forever. And those moments that make up our lives, we will re-experience them over and over again as we re-experience our lives.

Some people find that a terrifying prospect. But it will always be like it’s the first time – if it even makes sense to talk about ‘a first time’.

One of the big worries used to be that if there was an environmental collapse, if there was a nuclear war, then it would be as if we had never existed. It would mean that every sacrifice anybody ever made, every childbirth, everything was completely wasted because it was all building up to a nuclear or environmental catastrophe. Now I look at it differently. You have to look at your life differently. You’re not working for some eternal reward. This is your internal reward right here and now. This is your heaven and this is your hell.

If you believe that, shouldn’t you have a bigger onus on affecting people whose lives are, by prerequisite, full of suffering?

Yes, of course. Those people’s lives, full of suffering, are, by my scheme of things, forever. Not because they deserve it. There’s nothing moral about it. And we should try to prevent suffering. I wouldn’t limit it to just people either. One thing that the pandemic has shown is that we need to revisit our relationship with the rest of the biological world. That is right at the root of the coronavirus and many of these viruses. Yes, it is our responsibility to wake people up to the fact that this is your only life and it might as well be eternal.

I can remember my grandmother, who lived her life in desperate poverty and was a strictly religious woman. She used to sing along with Songs of Praise every Sunday. Devoutly religious and incredibly superstitious, genuinely believed in the devil. I think that she was expecting a reward in heaven for her very, very hard life. If she hadn’t expected that, if she’d thought, ‘no, I have to take control of my life’, if it hadn’t been for the illusion of heaven, we might’ve had a lot of social change a lot quicker. People perhaps wouldn’t have put up with their unenviable lot in life. An acceptance that this, right here, this is us. We’re not reincarnations. We are not bound for some sort of heavenly reward or eternal damnation. It’s important to live your life as if it’s real, as if it’s important. We need to not do things that we aren’t prepared to put up with forever.

I don’t know how this plays into anarchism. A lot of it is probably quite contradictory. Anarchism – the idea that we should have no leaders – that’s fair enough. Although in my reckoning of things, we have no free will. So the decision to become an anarchist or not to become an anarchist is presumably one that was already taken for us around the time of the big bang when space-time exploded into being. So I think that anarchism is the best political position. At least anarchism as I see it, which is not just do whatever the hell you like. It’s the exact opposite of that. It’s taking responsibility for what you do and for your own life. That is the way that I prefer to live my life politically. At the same time though, I’m a fatalist. In that this is a predetermined universe. A lot of physicists agree that’s pretty much what it looks like. Although that would be a bit dispiriting because it doesn’t leave you with much in the way of vice and virtue.

Returning to the severed head of magic, you might not be the best person to ask, because I know you’re famously offline, but can this new, ubiquitous digital world that we’re seeing – Web 3.0 and all that – interrupt Enlightenment assumptions about reality in favour of more magical ones? Particularly in places where certain physics, certain chemical rules won’t apply anymore?

The idea of a VR future is, at the moment, quite a frightening and disturbing one. And we’re going to be in the hands of big tech companies who simply want all of your data so that they can sell it. But that is not to say that there won’t be possibilities in the idea of virtual reality. Technology is pretty much neutral, it depends on how we use it.

I experienced a little bit of VR and it is a very compelling experience where your body is not obeying your instructions. I have tried to step off a VR cliff, knowing that there was solid floor there, and I’ve been unable to do it. I’ve tried doing it with my eyes closed. Now, that didn’t work either, because my brain was telling me, ‘no, we don’t step off a cliff, even with eyes closed’. That’s worrying, but it does indicate the depth of effect of this technology. And it occurred to me that you could recreate a transcendent experience which is very rarely visited upon people by making that available through something like virtual reality.

The first time I heard about virtual reality, I said somewhat cynically, ‘Oh, yeah, like there’s another kind…’ because we already have a virtual reality, it’s just that our headset is our head. We don’t experience reality directly, it’s compiled somewhere on the loom of our consciousness from the sensory expressions that we receive. And we do that moment by moment. So it’s not that big a leap between reality as we experience it and virtual reality. Would it be possible to recreate a mystical experience using VR? It would take a great deal of artistry.

But how does one programme a mystical experience? Aren’t they supposed to be sort of inexplicable?

And personal and intimate and purely of the individual? Yes, that may well be so. But on the other hand, I have had, I think, some success in conveying the mystical experience, at least partly, by using the comic strip. Some of the stuff that we did in Promethea was pretty spectacular in terms of it using the effects that comics are capable of. I think they do manage to convey a little of the experience, although you have to put a lot of work into it artistically. So I don’t know whether it’s possible to convey the full mystical experience by means of technology, but it might be possible to point people in the right direction with things like biofeedback. We can actually change the patterns of our minds by using technology. Although, as you say, you’re not talking to the best person about this because I know absolutely nothing about technology. I use my desktop computer basically as a fancy electronic typewriter. That said, I’m interested in technology and keep up with it. Though I’d prefer to remain in the position of an observer

I know you don’t like talking about comics very much, and you’ve moved on from them now. But I did want to ask, now you’re writing prose, do you still – or did you ever – conceptualise stories visually before they arrive on the page? Has that changed now?

The thing is that there was a huge amount of my work that people never saw and will never see. In my comics’ scripts I could see the finished work clearly. I could see how the panels were laid out, and what all the images looked like. I’ve got a very clear image of that, but I had to take perhaps a page to describe a single panel. Describing all of the detail in a fairly prosaic and plain way, because I’m just communicating it to the artist. But I found that, for example, when I was working on Jerusalem, I thought this is obviously a novel written by a former comic book writer who hasn’t got an artist along. So I was paying enormous attention to the visual descriptions.

I was trying to write them in a much more fluent and engaging way. But it was the same skill, if you like, it was just that I wasn’t having to draw thumbnails. I was just composing it straight onto the page. I mean, one of the benefits of prose writing is that you can more easily refer to all of the senses: you can talk about how things smell and sound and so on. It’s a good thing to try and keep your reader grounded in all five senses, let them know what the character in the story can hear and smell and taste.

It struck me, reading Illuminations, that it was Lovecraft – obviously a big influence on your work – who had a funny modernistic idea about assembling something called a hypernovel, a collection of fragmentary stories.

Well that was the critic, Dirk W. Mosig, who was a psychologist and a big fan of Lovecraft and wrote some very interesting pieces about him. One of the things he said, was the suggestion that all of Lovecraft’s writing was actually part of a hypernovel. Now I read about that and I thought, ‘no that certainly isn’t true’, but, by an act of misprision, what if I was to pretend it was? What if I were to think, ‘okay, so all of Lovecraft’s works were intended as part of a hypernovel.’ I know they weren’t. But if they were, what kind of novel would that be? This was what led me to creating Providence. So, in Lovecraft’s world, there isn’t a cthulhu mythos. That was something invented by August Derleth long after Lovecraft’s death. And Lovecraft resisted the notion. He thought it was just a game that he was playing with people like Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard. He did talk about his Arkham cycle of stories, but nobody has got any clear idea of what he meant by that. And I don’t know whether he had a clear idea, but it seems to me that some of his stories, set in his imaginary New England, might have been meant to be connected in some way.

Lovecraft hated modernism publicly though I think he was a closet modernist. There’s things like stream of consciousness – perhaps more stream of insanity in Lovecraft’s case – but it’s the same principle. There are brilliant, alienating effects, like where he deliberately tries to alienate his readership by telling them three things that Cthulhu doesn’t quite look like, or referring to the colour of space as ‘only a colour by analogy’, which is brilliant. With that I was able to think, okay, how would Lovecraft’s stories connect up? Obviously the Necronomicon or something like it plays a big part in all of them. And so, yeah, I came up with a chronology of a more credible Necronomicon.

I researched Arab alchemy and found out about the 8th century father of Arab alchemy, Khalid ibn Yazid – also known as Calid, which was a word used by the guy who wrote The King in Yellow, Robert Chambers. This all enabled us to explore the Lovecraft mythology, but in a new light. We were interviewing and encountering Lovecraft’s monsters before they reach the pinnacle of their monstrosity, before their stories happen. We meet the doctor from ‘Cool Air’, before he suffers a failure of his cooling system and ends up a liquefied mess. We’re able to talk to him before that happens and before anybody knows that’s going to happen. We’re able to talk to the Wheatley family as we rename the Whateley family from The Dunwich Horror. It was interesting.

Well, this might be my own misprision, but I was actually looking for some kind of unifying theme in Illuminations, but I couldn’t really find one. A lot of the stories seemed to revolve around the modern world accidentally coming into contact with the unknown. This idea of ‘weird encounters’ I suppose. The unknowable poking through into the rational world, which is actually equally absurd in its own way. That’s kind of a Lovecraftian idea, isn’t it?

I suppose so, although that’s a lot of other writers as well. I mean, with Machen it’s a big thing. And I think with Illuminations, what I was trying to do with that title… It’s an ambiguous word. It can mean a lot of things. In the title story, it’s the string of bulbs along the seafront. The character who’s having a collision of the past and present in a seaside town. But it’s also his moment of realisation as well. A moment of illumination. And that is there in a lot of the other stories as well. Some moment where you realise that things aren’t what you thought they were.

The final passage of ‘Thunderman’, where you get a sense of the awful, metaphysical reality of these creatures. ‘American Light’ is, of course, illumination itself. It’s talking about light, but it’s also about the reputation of an imaginary poet – something that leads to a kind of a revelation. The story. ‘Location, Location, Location’, set in apocalyptic Bedford, again, that’s the illumination of revelation. But yes, the realisation that we have perceived things incorrectly. That there is something else going on.

A lot of life is like that, the realisation that things haven’t been quite what we thought they were. These moments of illumination can sometimes be very benign and sometimes less so. It strikes me that I’m probably an illuminist. That’s not to say that I’m a member of the Illuminati – though I understand that there are places on the internet that do say that.

Illuminations by Alan Moore will be published by Bloomsbury on 11 October. Miles Ellingham is a journalist for the Financial Times

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