Meiron Jones’ Christopher Marlowe and the Bards of Nemeton is, in a word, chaotic. Leaping and bounding through plots, settings, and time like a ADHD hamster, it often feels like pure stream of consciousness put to paper. Reading it evoked an experience very similar to a dream: I vaguely knew what was going on, but more often found myself suddenly thrust into a completely new situation with no idea how I got there or what I was supposed to be doing. And yet somehow, it not only works, but is actually quite fun.
Despite all the chaos, or perhaps because of it, Marlowe makes for quite an entertaining read. I found that once I got sucked into its depths, I couldn’t put it down. And when I was ultimately forced to pause my reading, the return felt very much like going back to sleep and trying to retrieve the remaining threads of a dream. My recommendation is to read it in one go with a big pot of coffee.
The plot centres on the playwright Christopher Marlowe, and… is pretty hard to explain. Two warring factions want control over Marlowe as he may be the key to controlling the collective unconscious. Currently, this space is controlled by a cabal of artists from across time, led by Carl Jung and including Mary Shelly, Friedrich Nietzschie, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Mallory, and Francis Bacon among its members. Marlowe goes on a journey through space and time, fighting nightmare creations and joining forces with a group from the future set to oppose The Council aka The Bards of Nemeton (the aforementioned historical characters). But that hardly scratches the surface of what’s going on, as the story twists and turns at the speed of dreaming. It will most likely take at least two full reads to get a good understanding of it all, and probably best to round up to three for good measure.
There are plenty of literary allusions, a given considering the characters involved. I’ve always been a fan of the theory that William Shakespeare stole Marlowe’s unfinished work and passed it as his own after Marlowe died, but I never thought I would ever live to see the two portrayed as lovers as they are here. Carl Jung as the ruler of the collective unconscious is another great touch, as are the connections to ancient Celtic, Greek, and Egyptian mythology (both in art and story).
Jones’ artwork is significantly less chaotic than his writing, and he is able to bring the many nightmare creatures to life in horrific detail. He uses a slightly muted and darker colour palette, reminiscent of 90s comics like Sandman. The detail of the art definitely helps the chaotic story, and it is clear that Jones has a very vivid imagination. The monsters that we meet get progressively more gruesome, and the climactic battle at the end manages to combine brute force with philosophy for several truly impressive pages.
While it may be a bit hard to crack, Marlowe proves to be an enjoyable ride through time, space, reality, and, of course, the unconscious. A feverdream with hints of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman wrapped up in a ball of chaos. And, of course, a hint that there may be a sequel!
Christopher Marlowe and the Bards of Nemeton is available here.