Thursday, June 19, 2008

C L Moore's "Daemon" (novelette, fantasy): Precursor to "Flowers for Algernon"?

Quote from short story titled Daemon by C L MooreThere is just too much similarity between this story, & Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon": half-wit narrator in similar circumstances, similar tone, ... There is even a scene where narrator puts flowers on the grave of his benefactor & friend. I don't know if it directly influenced Mr Keyes, or both were influenced by something older (this story appeared a decade before Keyes').

The differences are:

  1. It's presented as fantasy rather than science fiction.
  2. The world he lives in is far crueler than in Keyes' version; there are occasional gory scenes of violence. Though he gets love too & doesn't quite lose his humanity till end, as in Keyes' version. And dies at end too, like in Keyes' story.
  3. Protagonist never becomes a superman here. Though he has something superhuman that others don't; at least he says so, though we never know if it's his fanciful imagination doing the talking: "I could see things such as other men do not know... Do you know who stands beside you, padre, listening while I talk? ... I have always known the things that walk beside men - other men. Not me. Perhaps they are souls, & I have no soul, being simple. Or perhaps they are daemons such as only clever men have. Or perhaps they are both these things... most men have shapes that walk behind them... Some of them are dark, like the shapes I saw in the saloon. Some of them are bright, like that which followed my grandmother. Some of them are colored".
Very moving story. Very beautifully told.

Story has a lot of references to European lore & legends. Familiarity with them will likely make you enjoy the story even more than I did.

Story summary.

Entire story is narrated by the half-wit protagonist, "Luiz o Bobo, which is to say, Luiz the Simple", on his death bed to a padre.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is his city. Lost after the death of his grandma ("Minha avó") who'd raised him, he somehow lived off the streets. When one fine day, he's kidnapped by a band of sailors at the port - to serve as slave labor on their ship ("Dancing Martha"). He awakens aboard ship, & is repeatedly & badly beaten up on trivialest issues or just for pleasure of the monster of the "Yankee" Captain, Jonah Stryker - couple of short but gory scenes of violence here.

But he finds love in an old & rich Irishman, Shaughnessy - a passenger on the ship. Ship is Ireland bound after a couple of stops in Americas, but there is a problem on the way - "the drinking water became foul" & needed to be replaced. So they berth at a tiny unnamed uninhabited island somewhere in the Atlantic.

Shortly before landing, Luiz gets severe beating & major head injury at the hands of Captain - simply because Captain is irritated. While others are busy replenishing water, badly injured Luiz will fall off the ship when trying to jump off, & will be washed ashore a beach on the island. Shaughnessy will go looking for him, & will care for him after finding him unconscious. Meanwhile, Captain leaves these two stranded, & heads for his destination.

This is where we see Luiz come into his own. Even get a bit smarter. Old man is dying, & will teach Luiz the basic life skills. Eventually, the old man will die. He'd already told Luiz the burial technique & handed him a cross with a message engraved for whoever comes looking for him. Luiz will do the needful, & grieve in his own way.

Now alone on island, Luiz, with his great imagination, finds the island inhabited with many kinds of magical creatures - "oread", "unicorn", "the One" aka "the Master" aka "Great Pan" aka "Piper" with "his goat-hoofed foot", "ninfas ... And the others." Life is going well for him when the ship Dancing Martha & evil Captain Stryker return.

Realizing that any story handed out to relatives of Shaughnessy will not be believed, Captain has returned part-way through voyage to kill the two he left stranded. He lands on island alone, leaving crew aboard the ship anchored nearby. He finds Shaughnessy's grave, & burns the cross with engraved message.

Substantial part of later story is devoted to Captain's hunt of Luiz around the island. And escape of Luiz's magical friends; they cannot share an island with an evil soul. End is the death of both - Luiz by a gunshot fired by Captain, Captain by a hand attack by an injured Luiz.

Collected in.

  1. "The Best of C L Moore".

Fact sheet.

First published: Famous Fantastic Mysteries, October 1946.
Rating: A