The Knight recently posted a short video of Alan Moore being interviewed on his magickal views. Unknowingly he reminded me of an insight I have gained last year from reading V for Vendetta, one of Lana Moore’s masterpieces.
Alan Moore is an English author, most famous for his work on comic books such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, Watchmen or From Hell. Some of his more famous works have been adapted into films, with varying (lack) of success. Alan Moore does not limit himself to writing comic books, among his other areas of study are literature, poetry, music, drama, occultism and magick. His occult interests interest me as they are one of the prevalent influences evident in his literary work.
do what thou wilt
V for Vendetta deals with a dystopian future in which an anarchist fighter who calls himself V wages an uncompromising war on a fully totalitarian British government. This parallel reality gives us a view of a Britain whose citizens have very little personal and political freedom left, most of it being given away by themselves in return for personal security as a result of a brief nuclear war and a subsequent coup d’etat by a fascist group offering immediate protection to the citizens.
One of the reasons why V for Vendetta (both in the film and comic book versions) gained such popularity in recent years is the way that individual security and personal freedom have been changing in recent years, closely resembling the story told in V for Vendetta. The so-called ‘war on terrorism’, (a war, which should be noted, by definition can’t be won) has been given as an excuse both in America and Britain to pass legislation that takes away more personal freedom than most people realise. Personal and political freedom is being quickly exchanged for perceived security from a danger that can’t be protected from, or if you are more cynical, does not exist. Leaving us…
V is an anarchist, he doesn’t believe that it is necessary to give away freedom to receive security. He doesn’t believe in chaos and disorder either. His beliefs can be summed up by a quote from Aleister Crowley: ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.’ V agrees with Aleister Crowley that it is possible to know one’s True Will, True Will being the true calling, potential and will of an individual, rather than needs, desires or wishes that are constantly experienced and which control most personal decisions and choices. V calls this process of discovering one’s True Will ‘escaping the prison’. He ‘escapes the prison’ of his perceived needs, wishes and desires by being physically imprisoned in a concentration camp, where he and numerous other ‘test subjects’ are infected with a chemical virus, which apart from V kills all its recipients. He is physically imprisoned and lacks control over what happens to him, which makes it possible for him to awaken the parts of him, which can’t be controlled by anyone but himself. This episode gives V the intelligence, strength and knowledge to escape his prison and ultimately single-handedly challenge the government.
My favourite part of the comic book plays out on pages 148 – 172, where V puts another person, his disciple if you wish, or a girl he met by chance if you prefer, through a similar experience in order to produce the same effect, the same process of awakening. Perhaps the most revealing way of describing the effect would be to copy the last part of their conversation:
V: Welcome home.
Evey: You. You did this to me. You did this to me, yuh-you. Oh god. Yuh-you hit me, and cut off my hair… it was you. It was you all this time… You… tortured me… Oh, you tortured me…
V: Because I love you. Because I want to set you free.
Evey: Because…? Set me free? D-don’t you realise? Don’t you realise what you did to me? you nearly drove me mad!
V: If that’s what it takes, Evey.
Evey: I hate you. I hate you because you just talk junk and you think you’re so good that you don’t have to make any sense! Nothing you say means anything. You say you love me, and you don’t because you just frigten me and torture me for a joke… You say you want to set me free and you put me in a prison…
V: You were already in a prison. You’ve been in a prison all your life.
Evey: Shut up! I don’t want to hear it! I wasn’t in a prison! I was happy! I was hu-happy here until you threw me out.
V: Happiness is a prison, Evey. Happiness is the most insidious prison of all.
Evey: That’s warped! That’s warped and evil and wrong! When you threw me out I went to live with somebody. I… I was in love with him. I was happy. If that’s a prison, then I don’t care!
V: Don’t you? Your lover lived in the penitentiary that we are all born into, and was forced to rake the dregs of that world for his living. he knew affection and tenderness but only briefly… Eventually, one of the other inmates stabbed him with a cutlass and he drowned upon his own blood. Is that it, Evey? Is that the happiness worth more than freedom?
Evey: H-how do you know? How did you know what happened to Gordon?
V: It’s not an uncommon story, Evey. many convicts meet with miserable ends… Your mother. Your father. Your lover. One by one. Taken out behind the chemical sheds … and shot. All convicts, hunched and deformed by the smallness of their cells, the weight of their chains, the unfairness of their sentences.. I didn;t put you in prison, Evey. I just showed you the bars.
Evey: You’re wrong! It’s just life, that’s all! It’s how life is! It’s what we’ve got to put up with. It’s all we’ve got. What gives you the right to decide it’s not good enough?
V: You’re in a prison, Evey. You were born in a prison. You’ve been in a prison so long, you no longer believe there’s a world outside.
Evey: Shut up! You’re mad! I don’t want to hear it!
V: That’s because you are afraid, Evey. You’re afraid because you can feel freedom closing in upon you. You’re afraid because freedom is terrifying…
Evey: I can’t feel anything! There’s nothing to feel! Leave me alone!
V: Don’t back away from it, Evey. Part of you understands the truth even as part pretends not to. Woman, this is the most important moment of your life. Don’t run from it.
Evey: I don’t know what… you’re… Oh god. Oh god. I can’t… breathe… Asthma. Whuh-when I was… a little guh-girl…
V: Good. You’re almost there. Go closer. Feel the shape of it. Your mother died. They took your father away. There’s a little girl, Evey, and she’s screaming…
Evey: A-huh… aa-huhh… Oh, make it stop. Mummy, daddy, please make it stop. What… are you doing to me? Oh, I can’t breathe…
V: You were in a cell, Evey. They offered you a choice between the death of your principles and the death of your body.
Evey: Oh. Oh, I can feel it… oh, what is it… oh, I’m going to die, I’m going to burst…
V: You said you’d rather die. You faced the fear of your own death, and you were calm and still. Try to feel now what you felt then…
Evey: I… uhhh. oh god… I felt… huhh… I felt… like… an angel… Oh god, I’m so scared, I’m so cold. What’s happening to me?
V: The door of the cage is open, Evey. All that you feel is the wind from outside. Don’t be afraid. Try to stand. Try to walk. The lift will take us up to the roof.
Evey: To… the roof…? Outside…? I don’t want… to be blindfolded…
V: No, Evey. No more blindfolds. All the blindfolds are gone.
The most common way of understanding V for Vendetta is as a social and political commentary. After reading the comic book I was left with the feeling that that is only the very top layer of the meaning that V for Vendetta seeks to convey. V’s awakening and Evey’s initiation are both very powerful episodes in the main plot, explaining where the knowledge and information needed in order to understand oneself, not to mention knowledge needed in order to transform society is to be gained. Consequently, I find it difficult to limit the importance of V for Vendetta to its political and societal message. For me it is primarily a story of the individual, explaining the true meaning of the word. We build our own prisons.