Who the fuck is Terner, anyway?

by Alex Hern

Well, fuck. In what is an auspicious start to this whole shebang, I just lost my post. So this is going to be a shorter, choppier version of what I originally wrote in response to:

1. Set well into the twentieth century, Moore uses several fictional characters in League: 1969 who aren’t in the public domain, and so generally avoids directly naming them. Does it harm the reading experience if you don’t know who the characters are supposed to be?

I’m an Unwritten-level reference-getter (it’s a thing), rather than a League-level one. The two use their bedrock of borrowed literary (and more) culture in different ways, of course, but it is certainly true that Unwritten tends to go for more commonly known works, while League goes for… well, everything, really, but clearly things that hew more to Moore’s personal interests get a more of a look-in than those that don’t. And yet the one thing that should make League easier to read in this way – the fact that that you can be certain, in a way you can’t with Unwritten and its Tommy Taylors, Willowbank Tales, Tinkers and the like, that anything you see is a character from somewhere – actually makes it harder. With Unwritten, you spot a reference, good for you, but if you don’t, you can just carry on regardless and tell yourself that it’s not a real book anyway, but League offers the tantalising treat of trying to get everything.

Of course, you aren’t going to (unless you’re Jess Nevins, or Amy and Andrew Mindless), and the temptation to try can – really can, and came perilously close to doing so with me – ruin the book. The first ten or so pages I read with a laptop next to me, googling every name and poring over the background panels for faces I recognised, until I realised that that’s fucking pointless. Maybe Moore intended one to read it like that (fuck off English Literature lot, you can have my authorial intent when you pry it from my cold dead hands) but I doubt it. The references I get? Good. The ones I don’t can frankly get stuffed.

But, meandering back to the point, public domain vs copyrighted characters? To me, it was a non-issue. I admit, I expected it to be more of one – I literally didn’t know how it would work, especially given the third volume, The Black Dossier, is still technically samizdat in the UK due to violations of (I believe) Orwell’s copyright on 1984 – but in the end, there was precisely one character whose protected nature made a difference to me. Jack Carter (who is, I admit, fairly major) is someone I’d have got from the off if he’d been given a surname, and those oblique nods to him taking care of some family business up north would have been more fun if I got them in my first reading.

But that’s it. Pretty much every other copyright block falls into one of two camps; either, as with Performance and it’s main character, the Mick Jagger stand-in, it’s something that I wouldn’t have got anyway (yes alright, I’ve never seen Performance, I didn’t even know it existed before I read the Mindless Ones’ Annocommentations), or, as with Voldemort – hell, as with Winnie-the-Pooh at the start, if we really want to split hairs – it’s so blindingly obvious that being allowed to use names wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference.

In fact, I rather liked the fact that Voldy was never named. It gave me the same sort of feeling I get from working out the twist in a horror film – that belief that of course you got it before everyone else did, you’re clever, you saw it coming a mile off. I allowed myself a pat on the back, for that, and then moved on. Because, and I cannot stress this enough, if this book becomes a game of spot the reference, it ruins it. It turns it from a deep (often frustratingly so) work of fiction into a glorified Where’s Wally for pop-culture nerds, and that is unacceptable.