Transformations from the world of “A Feast Unknown”, Part 1

The Doc Talos books are in many ways a pastiche of a pastiche. To explore facets of pulp heroism and adventure that would never be allowed in canonical or mainstream works featuring Doc Savage or Tarzan, author Philip José Farmer, for his 1969 novel A Feast Unknown, shifted to doppelgangers of those iconic characters, Doc Caliban and Lord Grandrith. That way he could freely explore themes that fit with his commission to write a novel for the adult publishing firm Essex House, with explicit pornographic elements.

That novel, over fifty years later, has led to the Caliban/Grandrith stories becoming canonical in and of themselves. Reprinted numerous times in multiple languages, through a whole series of editions (from both adult publishers like Playboy Press to presses with a more mainstream feel — the “forbidden” aspects of the works being far more widely accepted in the world of 2021).

My hope, during Farmer’s lifetime, had been that at some point he would return to edgy, primal, challenging sexual themes of the original novel. He never did, instead steering the series first to a more mainstream place, and then more into the realm of his “mashup” Wold Newton concepts, in which numerous literary characters, styles and canons are cross-connected.

Having to accept, reluctantly, that the rogue, visceral world of intelligent and literate pulp pornography — the world of “A Feast Unknown” if not its sequels — was not going to happen, I felt the kind of disappointment that I would guess explorers must feel when they see a mountaintop that has to be turned back from to survive. That mountaintop still beckoned. Farmer’s take on adventure pornography had not compromised his style or vision — in fact it had elevated an often-derided genre.

Having met Farmer and received permission to work on an immense visual multimedia project adapting A Feast Unknown, the artist/auter Iason Ragnar Bellerophon had presented those works on stage in 2005 (an article describing that project can be read HERE). In the years since, he had been slowly working on another massive project: a wordless graphic novel depicting the whole of Feast.

When Iason and I began working together, we realized we had a mutual desire to return to the fiercely explicit tone of the original novel. To do so, he set aside his literal Feast adaptation and we used Farmer’s own technique of literary pastiche to open up a broader landscape to work within. As he had transformed Doc Savage and Lord Greystoke into Doc Caliban and Lord Grandrith, so we made another transformation, creating Doc Talos and Lord Grersoun. The “Talos” reference is to the Greek bronze automaton of myth, and at first in our new novels was used as a disparaging nickname for one of the foundational characters of the Talos saga, Doc’s father. The Grersoun name is the older form of the Scottish Grierson — our version of the character is a Scottish lord, not an English one.

But many other transformations needed to be charted out as well. Though a devoted lover of A Feast Unknown, I found its antagonists, the Nine, to have been portrayed in broad strokes that I wished very much to deepen. To that end Iason and I placed them in a framework of Gnostic belief, and changed the nature of the characters themselves.

A central character undergoing that transformation is Anana in Feast, who is depicted as being extraordinarily ancient — a fearsome figure — but very little of her personal motivation and history is explored at all. Here is a portrait of Anana by Iason.

Anana by Iason Ragnar Bellerophon

Wanting the leader of the secret cult of immortality to have a much more complex nature — including the indulgence of becoming a film star in the Thirties and beyond — as well as a richer epistemological basis for her beliefs and actions, we transformed her to the Gnostic dark Archon Ruha…a very powerful, sexual, and ruthless character, but with many perplexing shades including an intense devotion to those she loves, and a wicked sense of humor. Here is how Iason re-imagined the character, turning her into Ruha.

Ruha by Iason Ragnar Bellerophon

Her “everyday” name is Damaris Emem (the Greek/Latin first name meaning, ironically, “gentle”, and the last name being of African origin, and again mocking her violently sexual nature, meaning “peace”).

And this was just the beginning, as we pursued what has to this point been a six-year obsession with redefining and elevating explicit pulp storytelling.

to be continued…

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