Mondo Moore: Sinclair's Norton & Remembering Farmer

Preview: LoEG: Century #1

Our six-part look at Century: 1910 with Alan Moore continues today as Moore talks about one of the newer and most unusual additions to the League – Norton, the Prisoner of London, created by modern novelist Iain Sinclair. And Moore offers a special tribute to the late Philip José Farmer, whose “World Newton” series was a major inspiration for the League.

Part one here, part two here, part three here. Preview of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 #1 here, review here.

Newsarama: A character appearing in Century who was created more recently is Iain Sinclair’s Norton, the Prisoner of London. How did you come to bring him into the story?

Alan Moore: Well, that was because when we were thinking about this third volume, we thought, “Okay, in the first chapter, we can have the 1910 version of the League,” who as you know include an immortalized Allan and Mina, who are immortal and eternally young after having passed through Ayesha’s blue pool of plasma out there in Uganda, as we mentioned in the backup story in Vol.2. They’ve also got Orlando with them, who is already an immortal, which means these characters can carry through the entire series.

There’s also Thomas Carnacki the ghost-finder, and A.J. Raffles, the gentlemen thief, both of whom are ordinary humans and will be dead by the second book – long dead by the time 1969 comes around. So we wanted a character who was not an immortal, but who could turn up in all the various parts of this book.

And for my money, the greatest writer in the English language currently working is probably Iain Sinclair. He’s been an incredible influence on my work; I hadn’t realized it was possible to get that much intelligence into such a condensed space as Iain does so elegantly in his books.

Slow Chocolate Autopsy

One of the characters he created for his book Slow Chocolate Autopsy was the character of Norton, the Prisoner of London, who is a character very much like Iain Sinclair himself. He’s confined to London, but only in a spatial sense. He can’t move outside of London, but he can move to any period within London.

In Slow Chocolate Autopsy, it’s got him turning up in the garden where Christopher Marlowe was killed, ostensibly in an argument about a tavern bill, but actually because of shady doings that involved British intelligence and the British crown.

So Iain’s got Norton showing up in the garden where Christopher Marlowe got stabbed in the eye. He’s got him turning up in 1960s London shadowing Jack “The Hat” McVitie, who was a famous victim of the Kray brothers.

So I just thought, “I like the idea of a character who will always be the same, but it moving through London in a fourth-dimensional sense.” So we’ve got little scenes in the first two parts of Vol.3, and a slightly larger role in the third part, where you’ve got representatives of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen interacting with Andrew Norton, the Prisoner of London, outside of King’s Cross in these very different eras.

I hope Iain Sinclair will still be my friend after seeing these, because as I was explaining to him, it’s somewhere between a tribute and a travesty. That’s not how Iain Sinclair actually talks; it’s not even how Norton actually talks. It’s somewhere between Iain’s actual talking personality and the incredible erudition that is gently packed into every one of Iain’s paragraphs.

We’ve got this character, Norton, where every word he says is of real significance. Even if it’s cryptic, even if it relates to things you might never find out about, everything he says has cryptic significance. And yet, because the other characters cannot understand him, his dire warnings are not understood until it is too late, like Cassandra – which is probably true of the real Iain Sinclair as well.

His books have tremendous significance; they’re so brilliant that most of us will probably not understand them until we’ve read them three or four times. There’s the line I give to Mina where she says, “You know, for the first time in my life, I feel stupid.” And that is not an uncommon reaction upon reading your first Iain Sinclair book. It gets easier. Once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s a really thrilling adventure. But it’s not easy, though an adventure really shouldn’t be easy.

But that’s why we’ve got Norton in there. He’s a handy character who will be very useful in Book Three, where he explains the mystery of King’s Cross, and it helps me pay tribute to someone who is one of my very favorite writers.

Of course, there’s also lots of tributes to Michael Moorcock, another of my favorite writers. That’s one of the benefits of the League. You can tip the hat to your friends and influences.

NRAMA: Speaking of influences, I wanted to ask about Philip José Farmer, who recently passed away at age 91.

AM: Philip José Farmer was a seminal influence upon the League. I mean, I had read his Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, which had that whole “World Newton” family tree that connected up all the pulp adventure heroes. Although we’ve taken it a little bit further than that in the League, whether we would have ever thought of that without the primary example of Philip José Farmer, I don’t know.

I’ve still got a healthy collection of Phillip José Farmer’s work. He will be very much missed. He was a very important writer. He was one of the pioneers in writing intelligently about sex in science fiction. I can remember reading Strange Relations way back in the day, when I was still in school. It had a profound effect on me; it made me realize it was possible to write intelligently about sex without it being pornography or smutty jokes, and yes, science fiction was as good a place for it as anywhere else.

So many great works – “The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod,” a great mash-up of two writers named Burroughs. He would change his writing style for the job on hand. He wasn’t afraid to try anything new – I mean, his Riverworld books, the first couple were wonderful.

I think he sometimes he came up with brilliant ideas that maybe didn’t go as far as I’d hoped, but that’s the only criticism I can think of. And if you’re criticizing someone for being too ambitious, that’s not really a criticism at all. If only a few of our modern writers were as brilliant as Philip José Farmer, then I think the world of culture would be a much better place.

Special thanks to Moore annotator Jess Nevins for his help with this feature.

Next: Moore on the reaction to The Black Dossier.

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