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The Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night

The Heroic Vision

Over shadowy spires and gleaming towers lay the ghostly darkness and silence that runs before dawn. Into a dim alley, one of a veritable labyrinth of mysterious winding ways, four masked figures came hurriedly from a door which a dusky hand furtively opened. They spoke not but went swiftly into the gloom, cloaks wrapped closely about them; as silently as the ghosts of murdered men they disappeared in the darkness.

Behind them a sardonic countenance was framed in the partly opened door; a pair of evil eyes glittered malevolently in the gloom. ‘Go into the night, creatures of the night,’ a voice mocked. ‘Oh, fools, your doom hounds your heels like a blind dog, and you know it not.’

The speaker closed the door and bolted it, then turned and went up the corridor, candle in hand…

‘Well, Ascalante,’ said the Stygian, setting down the candle, ‘your dupes have slunk into the streets like rats from their burrows. You work with strange tools.’

‘Tools?’ replied Ascalante. ‘Why, they consider me that. For months now, ever since the Rebel Four summoned me from the southern desert, I have been living in the very heart of my enemies, hiding by day in this obscure house, skulking through dark alleys and darker corridors at night. And I have accomplished what those rebellious nobles could not. Working through them, and through other agents, many of whom have never seen my face, I have honeycombed the empire with sedition and unrest. In short I, working in the shadows, have paved the downfall of the king who sits throned in the sun. By Mitra, I was a statesman before I was an outlaw.’

Robert E. Howard – The Phoenix on the Sword (Conan the Barbarian)

The Heroic Vision is serious, and takes itself seriously. Its protagonists know what they are going to say before they say it. They speak in uninterrupted paragraphs. There are no distractions that are not plot. It is this lie – more than the imagined creatures, exotic settings and magic – that makes Heroic Vision a fantasy.

Pratchettian Counterpoint

The Supreme Grand Master rapped his gavel for attention. The room shuffled into some sort of circle.

‘I call the Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren to order,’ he intoned. ‘Is the Door of Knowledge sealed fast against heretics and knowlessmen?’

‘Stuck solid,’ said Brother Doorkeeper. ‘It’s the damp. I’ll bring my plane in next week, soon have it—’

‘All right, all right,’ said the Supreme Grand Master testily. ‘Just a yes would have done. Is the triple circle well and truly traced? Art all here who Art Here? And it be well for an knowlessman that he should not be here, for he would be taken from this place and his gaskin slit, his moules shown to the four winds, his welchet torn asunder with many hooks and his figgin placed upon a spike yes what is it?

‘Sorry, did you say Elucidated Brethren?’

The Supreme Grand Master glared at the solitary figure with its hand up.

‘Yea, the Elucidated Brethren, guardian of the sacred knowledge since a time no man may wot of—’

‘Last February,’ said Brother Doorkeeper helpfully. The Supreme Grand Master felt that Brother Doorkeeper had never really got the hang of things.

‘Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,’ said the worried figure. ‘Wrong society, I’m afraid. Must have taken a wrong turning. I’ll just be going, if you’ll excuse me . . .’

Terry Pratchett – Guards! Guards!

The Pratchettian vision is playful. Plot is interrupted by the friction of reality. Speeches will be disrupted by impatient colleagues or bungling underlings. Pomposity will be punctured. Delusions of grandeur will not survive contact with reality. There will be embuggerances. Pratchett does not take the world seriously – he cannot – because his writing is heroically true.

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