Tongues of Flame
Voice of the Fire is a book of conventional text, a sequence of first person narratives set in a series of different historical periods from 4000 B.C.E. to the present day (or "recent past" as it now is), all centred on the town of Northampton in the English Midlands. This is miles from the sort of territory occupied by Judgement Day, but it's still part of a strand which runs right through Alan Moore's recent work. The "present instant", the "here-and-now" described in the final section of Voice of the Fire is November 1995, the month of Alan Moore's performance piece The Birth Caul. That text, too, opens with the invocation of a location, the precise spot on which the performance took place, a solicitor's office and former courthouse where once Hadrian's Wall defined the limit of the Roman Empire. Tracing it forward through time from the earliest records, Moore creates a point in time and space from which to trace back the development of the individual.
A closer parallel, though, appears within Moore's comics writing. In the tragically unfinished Big Numbers, the teacher points to a map of the city thinly disguised as "Hampton" (whose shape is easily recognised in the cover design of Voice of the Fire) and tells his class "Where were England's last witches burned? Here. Who was it took their country's greatest poet and stuck him in a madhouse? It was us. Two world wars full of young men have died with their boots on, and who got rich making those boots? We did. It's important to have a sense of where we're living... of when we're living... a sense of history's patterns... of time's passing... I mean, that's the important thing, isn't it? To understand our context; the community surrounding us?" You couldn't ask for a better summary of Voice of the Fire: it's all here, the sense of place, the passage of time, the recurring motifs, even one or two of the individual voices.
For, despite the title, the fire has not one voice but many, and, because the book opens with one of the most distinctive of them, their individuality is impossible to overlook. The boy narrator of Hob's Hog speaks a language built out of modern English, but whose vocabulary and syntax are all its own: "This is a gleaning as I no whiles hear, to say that thing is, which is not. It is more big a glean as I may hold in I all in one whiles. Look I at she with mouth of I hang open." Here, on the one hand, is the metaphor whereby gleaning represents thought, the familiar external activity representing the barely grasped internal process. Here, too, is the analysis of sense into its component parts: "more big" for "bigger", "mouth of I" for "my mouth". It is not clear how far this represents the speech of the time, and how far its limitations are those of the individual speaker, whose slowness in the practical matter of gathering food has caused him to be cast adrift by his tribe, and who is here seen struggling with the concept of deceit which others around him already employ fluently. Whatever its rationale, the language is rich and dense, slowing the reader down in the pleasure of interpreting and savouring the unfamiliar senses given to familiar words. The effect is similar to that obtained in The Birth Caul, where disintegrated grammar and creative application of words to things expresses the wonder of the toddler gazing into the fire:
or upstand, cater-fingers hook in wire guard
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through the nothing squares.
In firetown is red street
and crumble up black house in where the devil live
and if we bread throw on the fire
it eats it.