The Eye of Argon

From Academic Kids

The Eye of Argon (TEoA) is an infamously bad heroic fantasy novella, written in 1970 by Jim Theis and circulated anonymously in science fiction fandom since then. The story subsequently came into use as part of a common SF convention party game, as described by SF critic Dave Langford in SFX magazine:

The challenge of death, at sf conventions, is to read The Eye of Argon aloud, straight-faced, without choking and falling over. The grandmaster challenge is to read it with a squeaky voice after inhaling helium. What fun we fans have.
Contents

History

The story was written in 1970 by Jim Theis, a Kansas City, Missouri science fiction fan, at age 16. The work was first published in 1970 in OSFAN (the journal of the Ozark SF Society) #7. Langford described Theis in SFX as

a malaprop genius, a McGonagall of prose with an eerie gift for choosing the wrong word and then misapplying it.

Some time in the 1970s author Thomas Scortia obtained a copy, which he mailed to Californian SF writer Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. She showed it to other fans, and it met with a tremendous and incredulous reaction. The work was copied and distributed widely around science fiction fandom. Readings quickly became a common item on science fiction convention programmes.

The version which currently circulates on the Internet was manually transcribed by Don Simpson from a mimeograph of Theis' original, and bears his note at the bottom:

No mere transcription can give the true flavor of the original printing of The Eye of Argon. It was mimeographed with stencils cut on an elite manual typewriter. Many letters were so faint as to be barely readable, others were overstruck, and some that were to be removed never got painted out with correction fluid. Usually, only one space separated sentences, while paragraphs were separated by a blank line and were indented ten spaces. Many words were grotesquely hyphenated. And there were illustrations — I cannot do them justice in mere words, but they were a match for the text. These are the major losses of this version (#02) of TEoA.

Otherwise, all effort has been made to retain the full and correct text, preserving even mis-spellings and dropped spaces. An excellent proofreader has checked it for errors both omitted [sic] and committed. What mis-matches remain are mine.

The Internet text does contain typos not in the original [1] (http://www.infinitematrix.net/columns/langford/langford99.html) and is incomplete, although a complete copy of the original fanzine was discovered in January 2005 [2] (http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/Ansible/a211.html).

It is unknown whether Theis was aware of the cult infamy his work latterly gained, or of its use as a party game. A copy of a 1995 reprinting was sent to him, with no response. Jim Theis died in 2002 aged 48. [3] (http://groups.google.com/groups?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=utf-8&threadm=4198sv%24ilb%241%40mhadg.production.compuserve.com&rnum=5&prev=/groups%3Fq%3D%2522the%2Beye%2Bof%2Bargon%2522%26hl%3Den%26lr%3D%26ie%3DUTF-8%26oe%3Dutf-8%26selm%3D4198sv%2524ilb%25241%2540mhadg.production.compuserve.com%26rnum%3D5)

The Lost Ending

The version usually found on the Internet is incomplete, ending with the phrase "-END OF AVAILABLE COPY-". The website "http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/~susan/sf/eyeargon/eyeargon.htm" claims to have the missing ending section, including information on how the lost ending was discovered. Quoting from that page: For the history of this great work, including the eventual discovery of the legendary lost ending, see New York Review of Science Fiction #195, November 2004, and #198, February 2005.

The ending paragraphs are as follows:

With a sloshing plop the thing fell to the ground, evaporating in a thick scarlet cloud until it reatained its original size. It remained thus for a moment as the puckered maw took the shape of a protruding red eyeball, the pupil of which seemed to unravel before it the tale of creation. How a shapeless mass slithered from the quagmires of the stygmatic pool of time, only to degenerate into a leprosy of avaricious lust. In that fleeting moment the grim mystery of life was revealed before Grignr's ensnared gaze.

The eyeballs glare turned to a sudden plea of mercy, a plea for the whole of humanity. Then the blob began to quiver with violent convulsions; the eyeball shattered into a thousand tiny fragments and evaporated in a curling wisp of scarlet mist. The very ground below the thing began to vibrate and swallow it up with a belch.

The thing was gone forever. All that remained was a dark red blotch upon the face of the earth, blotching things up. Shaking his head, his shaggy mane to clear the jumbled fragments of his mind, Grignr tossed the limp female over his shoulder. Mounting one of the disgruntled mares, and leading the other; the weary, scarred barbarian trooted slowly off into the horizon to become a tiny pinpoint in a filtered filed of swirling blue mists, leaving the Nobles, soldiers and peasants to replace the missing monarch. Long leave the king!!!

By Jim Theis
winner of the Jay T. Rikosh award for excellence.

Other attributed authors

Many readers have found it hard to believe the story was not a collaborative effort, a satire on bad writing or both. Langford reported the following, sent in by author Michael Swanwick, in Ansible #193:

I had a surprising conversation at Readercon with literary superstar Samuel R. Delany, who told me of how at an early Clarion the students and teachers had decided to see exactly how bad a story they could write if they put their minds to it. Chip himself contributed a paragraph to the round robin effort. Its title? "The Eye of Argon". [4] (http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/SF-Archives/Ansible/a193.html)

Langford considers it well known that Theis is the author, and surmises that Delany misremembered the event.

The 1995 reprint was attributed to "G. Ecordian," after the hero, Grignr the Ecordian.

Plot summary

Chapter 1 
The story starts with a violent swordfight between the barbarian Grignr and some soldiers. Grignr is on his way to Gorzom in search of wenches and plunder.
Chapter 2 
Grignr arrives in Gorzom and goes to a tavern, where he picks up a local wench (with a "lithe, opaque nose"). A drunk challenges him over the woman; he kills the drunk, but is arrested by the man's companions and brought before the local prince, who condemns him to a life of forced labour in the mines.
Chapter 3 
Grignr sits despondent in his cell, thinking of his homeland.
Chapter 3½ 
A scene of a pagan ritual involving a group of shamans, a young woman to be sacrificed and a jade idol with one eye: a "many fauceted scarlet emerald", the Eye of Argon.
Chapter 4 
Grignr sits bored and anguished in his cell and is losing track of time. He battles a large rat and it inspires him with a plan, involving the corpse of the rat.
Chapter 5 
The pagan ritual proceeds, with a priest ordering the young woman up to the altar. When she fails to proceed, he attempts to grope her. She disables him with a good kick in the nuts, but the other shamans grab and molest her.
Chapter 6 
Grignr is taken from his cell by two soldiers. He takes the rat pelvis he has fashioned into a dagger and slits one soldier's throat. He then strangles the second and takes his clothes. He wanders the catacombs for a time, finding a storeroom protected by a booby-trap. Below this room he finds the palace mausoleum. He resets the booby-trap in case he is being pursued.
He hears a scream apparently coming from a sarcophagus. He opens it to find the scream is coming from below. He opens a trap door and sees a shaman about to sacrifice the young woman. He ploughs into the group of shamans with an axe and takes the Eye. The young woman, Carthena, turns out to be the tavern wench. They depart.
Chapter 7 
One young priest, who had been suffering an epileptic fit during Grignr's attack, recovers, draws a scimitar and follows Grignr and Carthena through the trap door in the ceiling.
Chapter 7½ 
The priest strikes at Grignr but he triggers, and is killed by, the reset booby-trap before his sword can connect. Carthena tells Grignr of the prince, Agaphim, who had condemned him to the mines. They encounter Agaphim and kill him.
They emerge into the sunlight. Grignr pulls the Eye of Argon out of his pouch to admire. The jewel melts and turns into a writhing blob with a leechlike mouth. The blob attacks him and begins sucking his blood. Carthena faints. Grignr, beginning to lose consciousness, grabs a torch and thrusts it into the blob's mouth.

Traditional photocopied and Internet versions end at this point, incomplete since page 49 of the fanzine had been lost. The ending was rediscovered in 2004 and published in The New York Review of Science Fiction #198, February 2005.

The Lost Ending (Remainder of Ch. 7½) 
The blob explodes into a thousand pieces, leaving nothing behind except "a dark red blotch upon the face of the earth, blotching things up." Grignr and the still-unconscious Carthena ride off into the distance.

External links

  • The Eye of Argon (http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/SF-Archives/Misc/Eye_Of_The_Argon) — full text
  • The Eye of Argon (http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/SF-Archives/Misc/eyeargon.html) — full text (HTML) including the long-lost ending
  • Interview with Jim Theis (http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=30mac7%249jd%40panix2.panix.com&oe=utf-8) — OSFAN #13, November 21, 1970
  • Bottom of the barrel (http://www.ansible.co.uk/sfx/sfx043.html) — Dave Langford on The Eye of Argon, SFX #43, October 1998
  • The Eye Of Argon — Rules for a Reading (http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/~susan/sf/argnrule.htm) by Mary Mason
  • The MSTing Mine (http://www.keithpalmer.ca/msting-mine/) — contains Adam Cadre's MSTing of The Eye of Argon
  • Another copy (http://www.bmsc.washington.edu/people/merritt/books/Eye_of_Argon.html) of the Cadre's MSTing, nicely formatted in HTML
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