Review: Les enfants de la salamandre
I read these three comic book albums some 20 years ago. They are absolutely fantastic. They contain very passionate and violent images, combined with some scenes of kindness and affection that stand out by comparison. Esotheric and biblical elements are located in the roughness of southwesternern USA.
The story is based very strongly on a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke and gives it a completely new dimension. The same is done with a song of Laurie Anderson. These techniques are woven into the story so naturally that it awakens a strong sense of fascination.
What I will do here is analyze the work as much as my limited mind can handle and add some links to informational places on the internet.
The series contains three books: Angie, Arkadin and Alicia. The first two albums I read were published as part of the series "Collectie Pilote", by Dargaud, in 1988 and 1989, in Dutch. The series was called "De kinderen van de salamander". "Alicia" was never added to this collection and I found a copy of an edition published by Novedi (in 1990). Glénat published the series in French as a single volume in 1997. At Amazon. Blitz published it in Dutch.
The story is very intense. It describes the lives of three young adults, the "children of the salamander", that are the living actors in the eschatology (ideas about the end of the world) of an obscure book. Their goal is to meet each other. The storyline is highly complex and braids the lives of the main characters both chronologically and in flashbacks.
Scene from Angie
The children of the salamander
Angie, Arkadin and Alicia are the children of the salamander. When they are aroused too much, they produce some kind of electric current that destroys things and people around them (the "sign of the salamander"). They fear the sound of nails pounding in wood since it "reminds them of the suffering of their lord" (Alicia, p18). They have a special connection with old car wrecks and can see the "lost legends" in the form of a conquistador skeleton riding a horse (Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, conqueror of the indians of the southwestern United States).
(The name means angel) Angie enters the world as he breaks out of a stone angel in a room in hotel Angel Heart. He explains the goal of the children of the salamander like this: "We all come from the same community.Everyone was part of the other, dependent on the other... all coming from the same dream and oblivion. We must fight this oblivion. We must rebuild the images of that dream. So that no sacrifice is in vain." The role of Angie is less explicit. Angie p3 says "Angie and Arkadin. Two sides of the same medal. Their glance filled with the same eternity, The hope of the one against the hatred of the other."
(A rare name, mostly used as surname, is probably chosen after Orson Welles' 1956 movie "Mr. Arkadin", that has in German the subtitle "Der Satan persönlich") He is the evil one of the children of the salamander. He calls Satan his father (Alicia, p27) He is "the beast of the apocalypse, marked by the seal" (Arkadin, p41). He is found by the faceless in hotel SkyRoad. (Alicia p.37) He is able to shift form. He wants Alicia to be destroyed. At the end of Arkadin he grabs Myrvold (of the sect) and continues to live inside his body.
(The name means `of noble birth`) She enters the world as she rises from the flames of a temple (church), according to the Asgarod. She is raised by brother Leon and sister Clara. Alicia escapes in a process that kills her foster parents (Alicia p21) She then lives with Paddy and works as a librarian. In the library she reads from the Asgarod. She knows the contents of every book in the library, even though she has no recollection of when she has read them. After Angie and Alicia have had sex in an old diner their energies combine (Alicia p26) and parts of their mutual memories return. They remember the gateway they must return to: hotel Skyroad (Alicia, p34)
The community of the salamander
This community consists of people that have come into contact with the children of the salamander: the sect, the "faceless" and the people in the old factory. They are "a people that waits for its saviour and until then is robbed of its strengths." (Alicia, p36)
A group of people that live by the Asgorad. They wear dark glasses to avoid polluting their sight with the corruption of the world. (Alicia, p12) They worship in temples and these temples contain a statue of a "guide" who has a white complexion and black hair, combed sideways. These statues are destroyed at the beginning of Arkadin, probably as a token to introduce the coming of Arkadin. The people of the sect meet with the faceless to find out where they found Arkadin, because this is the place where children of the salamander need to return to (hotel Skyroad). As soon as they find out out, they kill all the faceless (Alicia, p41)
This 'special security' team of the "police" always wears motor helmets since their faces are being burned away. It is doubtful wether they are really part of the police force because of their brutal methods. They tortured first Arkadin and later Angie to find out the meaning of their own life (Alicia, p41)
People in the old factory
These people, who only occur in Arkadin, live in an old factory. Their health deteriorates. Their role is to help Alicia and Angie to find their way back to where they belong.
Scene from Arkadin
(The name may be related to the country of the Norse Gods, Asgard) A key element in the story is the fictive book of Asgarod. It is the "holy book that God left Lucifer after his fall" (Alicia, p12). Brother Achab (of the sect) spends his life decyphering (and probably translating) the book and found that it prophesies the coming of the children of the salamander, that they will meet, and that this will cause their mutual destruction. Only after that event, a Messiah will stand up and will save the community of the salamander (Alicia, p.17) The Asgarod is written in a logogrammatic language (in which several people at least have their own character) and it is probably Achab's translation of this work that everyone is reading.
The Asgarod says that the messiah will be sent after the three angels (the children of the salamander) have met and have been destroyed. Yet after this event has taken place, in hotel Skyroad, no messiah has appeared and so brother Achab resumes his studies. After many years he finds the answer to this enigma in a dream. The messiah is here already. (Alicia, p47)
Scene from Alicia
The books mention several explicit references at the end of Angie and Alicia:
- Gravity's angel - a song by Laurie Anderson (see below)
- "The poem about the children of the salamander is by Rilke" - Actually it is called "Nächtens will ich mit dem Engel reden" (see below)
- South West USA (Gerd Kittel, 1986)
- Written in the west (Wim Wenders, 1987)
- Usines (Jacques Ferrier, 1987)
Gravity's angel - Laurie Anderson:
Nächtens will ich mit dem Engel reden - Rainer Maria Rilke (source) (I hope you will read it, Astrid :)
Nächtens will ich mit dem Engel reden,
ob er meine Augen anerkennt.
Wenn er plötzlich fragte: Schaust du Eden?
Und ich müsste sagen: Eden brennt
Meinen Mund will ich zu ihm erheben,
hart wie einer, welcher nicht begehrt.
Und der Engel spräche: Ahnst du Leben?
Und ich müsste sagen: Leben zehrt
Wenn er jene Freude in mir fände,
die in seinem Geiste ewig wird, -
und er hübe sie in seine Hände,
und ich müsste sagen: Freude irrt
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