Do you like your heroes to be wholesome and your villains vanquished? You do? Well, sorry, this isn’t Nickelodeon. This is Somewhere Else…
“Dust, discs, it’s a fuck up whatever it says.”
Rene peered over his cymbals at Wallet. “Wasn’t that one of your favourite programmes in the ’70s?”
“Fuck off, Rene.”
“It’s a Fuck Up. . . .”
(There Will Be Blood)
The thing about universes is that the light bits are too bright to look at and the dark bits are as black as sin. The TotenUniverse is no different and the characteristic light and dark themes divide into two story lines, the TotenSeries (five novels charting Toten Herzen’s comeback)….
The night after he went back to continue his experiment. Starting out shortly after eight p.m. gave him enough light and time to set up a real performance. And what a performance. The sheep near Crinkle Crags quoted Ibsen, on Harter Fell they cracked jokes and up on the windswept tops around High Street walkers were dumbfounded by two sheep, leaning against a wall, arguing about Marxism.
(Toten Herzen Malandanti)
And the two Malandanti novels, Who Among Us… and Lords of Misrule….
Virginia’s head rolled back. . . . Jenzo peered through the window to examine the ceiling, but the bare concrete wrapped every side of the cell. No plugs, no switches, no contacts from which a discharge would come, no contraption, paraphernalia, fantastic bit of gadgetry that every underground lair should possess. She almost leaned against the glass, but one of the two men took her arm.
“Time to go. We’re done here.”
“What? Why?” A shimmering heat haze deformed the view of the cell and Virginia’s terrible outline. Friedrich hopped about, unable to avoid the hotplate searing his feet and the latent heat blistering his skin. Before the door was shut behind her Jenzo heard him scream.
(Who Among Us…)
The two Frieda Schoenhofer novels straddle the dark and the light and we’re never quite sure where her ambitions lie. Frieda is a hybrid anti-hero/flawed villain and possibly an ‘unreliable narrator’ too, it’s up to you to decide. But the acid test is simple, would you trust her in a crisis? A dilemma Dr. Gert Hoenenbacker is presented with when he’s the subject of an internal enquiry at the University of Wurzburg; for him, Frieda is an annoying nuisance, but also a lifeline:
“I’m glad we finally agree on something. You know your only redeeming factor is your avoidance of puns.”
“I don’t know what you mean. I know what a pun is, but how is that relevant to me?”
“There is nothing more infuriating than a halfwit who wants to display his ability to distil a subject into one or two inappropriate words.”
“Yes. The bee keeper buzzing with enthusiasm, the restaurant business plan that’s a recipe for disaster-”
“Yes, yes. . . .”
“The magician up to his old tricks again-”
(The Fine Art of Necromancy)
For all the complexity of plot and themes, ultimately a journey can be made or destroyed by the company you take with you. It’s all about the characters.
Rob Wallet, accused of haplessness:
“You’re an interface,” said Dee. “You know, like when the shit hits the fan?”
“You’re the fan.”
(We Are Toten Herzen)
Raven (nee Barbara Turkington), accused of ignorance
“How come the cannon doesn’t blow her legs off?” Bronwen had yet to learn the secrets of the human cannonball’s cannon. A technical marvel and masterpiece of health and safety.
“It wouldn’t blow her legs off, would it?” said Raven. “If it was a real cannon it would just blow her up. It’s magic. The whole circus is one big magic trick.”
(Behind the Wall)
Susan Bekker, accused of sadistic arousal.
She was holding it! A black Gibson Flying V. Susan rested the pointed ends of the body against Lundqvist’s chair, pinning him in place. The headstock nuzzled tightly against her stomach. Without the blink of an eye, she grabbed the arms of the chair, impaled herself on the neck of the instrument and pulled her body along it until she was face to face with the petrified producer. She gasped, inhaled a long deep satisfying breath and laughed revealing razor canines licked with the teasing tip of her tongue. Lundqvist started crying.
“It sounds so much better when I tune it this way.”
(We Are Toten Herzen)
Nikos Kazantzakis said ‘The doors to heaven and hell are adjacent and identical.’ (The Last Temptation of Christ). The similarities don’t end at the threshold. In the TotenUniverse, the worlds behind the doors are indistinguishable unless you consider another possibility. Orthodox religious belief insists on the duality of a heaven and a hell with the Earth in between, a testing ground for humans, but the TotenUniverse takes out the middleman. In this environment there is still heaven and hell, but which side is occupied by us and which side is occupied by ‘the others?’
There’s an old marketing rule: deliver your customer from hell, deliver them towards heaven. We think it should be the other way around.
“Call me what you like. If we refuse to believe this is the work of the Devil then we cannot celebrate the Eucharist, we cannot celebrate the virgin birth or the resurrection. You can’t have one without the other. Belief isn’t a one sided coin. Evil exists alongside good.”
“What if it doesn’t?” said Dugarry.
Pausini looked at Thwaite as if he had just thrown his voice. “I’m sorry.”
“What if there is only evil? Or what you call evil. What if that evil encompasses everything and is separate from this world? And what if this world is a plaything for that evil, a creation. That would be your coin, eminence. This world on one side, hell on the other.”
(Lords of Misrule)
Literature has given us very few that are nuanced and ambiguous, sinister and charming, dangerous and delightful. We live in an age desperate to draw a clear line between good and bad. But we all know life isn’t that simple and a cursory rummage behind the headlines reveals the complexity of world events and the culprits controlling them.
The TotenUniverse is no different. Who doesn’t like an engaging villain? Whether it’s Jennifer Enzo’s diabolical bets, Frieda Schoenhofer’s infernal challenge to re-enactors, or Lena Siebert-Neved’s devilish nursery rhymes:
“Payment in kind, payment in kind. I knew all along what you had in mind. A grope and a fuck to pay off the debt. Giving me something I’d never forget. Now I have my keys and I’m feeling elated, but you are cold and quite saturated. Look at me next to a dead man walking, what happens next will have everyone talking.”
. . . the villains always have the best lines, so best to stick close to them.
At the risk of including spoilers, don’t expect Toten Herzen’s comeback (not a reunion) to run smoothly, not even by the clichéd standards of storytelling. They were never that kind of band. Their story is one of hope undermined by human frailties, faults we all recognise. And they conform to the law of unintended consequences. As the TotenUniverse progresses you’ll witness the unfolding catastrophe born out of Rob Wallet’s simple desire to be somebody. A chain of events he could never have predicted. (We think. . . .)
And if you like your Hell to be all fire and brimstone, consider the view from the Initiat when Frieda and Wallet take a stroll to the other side:
They continued. “I thought you said five realms,” said Wallet.
“Sorry, yes. Everybody forgets Belial.”
“Belial. I know that name.”
Fearing Belial’s creeping presence, Wallet spun around, but the only presence was the path slipping down the hillside through the cloud to the Initiat. Beyond that, ghostly and temporary, a collection of spikes and spires poked out of the cloud. Wallet counted fifteen, some timber, others stone, each one topped with a weathervane or an ornament fashioned from metal.
“Churches?” said Wallet.
“Belial likes his chapels. He’s vain. Everyone in his realm spends their time building them.”
(Behind the Wall)
Characters are there to entertain, not confirm what we want to hear or reinforce what the ‘powers that be’ want us to believe. And be honest, don’t you ever wish you could wave your hands and get rid of that annoying bastard you’ve always hated?
“Fuck me, man. A fucking bolt of lightning came clean through that fucking window. Blew the whole goddam lot of ’em clean off their feet. Blew her out of her fucking shoes, man.”
(Toten Herzen Malandanti)