Meanwhile, somewhere back in history. . . or is it in your computer? Or in your mind?
Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came (and Got Indigestion, and Scored Experience Points)
Editor's Note: The poem is by Robert Browning, and it describes a really weird dream he had. (This should strike a familiar note with a lot of h2g2 Researchers, methinks.) Browning seems to have anticipated the computer fantasy game by at least a century. The pictures are by Superfrenchie, who captured this atmospheric 'dark tower', the Tour des Esprits, in Metz.
My first thought was, he lied in every word,
That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
Askance to watch the working of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
Suppression of the glee, that pursed and scored
Its edge, at one more victim gained thereby.
What else should he be set for, with his staff
What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
All travellers who might find him posted there,
And ask the road1? I guessed what skull-like laugh
Would break, what crutch 'gin write my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare,
If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed2; neither pride
Nor hope rekindling at the end descried.
So much as gladness that some end might be.
[The poet undergoes many scary trials, like unto the quests thou findest in World of Warcraft or other suchlike MMOs. Finally, he cometh upon a more promising playfield.]
Then came a bit of stubbed ground, once a wood,
Next a marsh, it would seem, and now mere earth
Desperate and done with (so a fool finds mirth,
Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood
Changes and off he goes3!) within a rood –
Bog, clay and rubble, sand and stark black dearth.
Now blotches rankling, coloured gay and grim,
Now patches where some leanness of the soil's
Broke into moss or substances like boils4;
Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him
Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim
Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.
And just as far as ever from the end!
Nought in the distance but the evening, nought
To point my footstep further! At the thought,
A great black bird, Apollyon's bosom-friend,
Sailed past, nor beat his wide wing dragon-penned
That brushed my cap – perchance the guide I sought.
For, looking up, aware I somehow grew,
'Spite of the dusk, the plain had given place
All round to mountains – with such name to grace
Mere ugly heights and heaps now stolen in view5.
How thus they had surprised me, – solve it, you6!
How to get from them was no clearer case7.
Yet half I seemed to recognise some trick
Of mischief happened to me, God knows when,
In a bad dream perhaps8. Here ended, then,
Progress this way. When, in the very nick
Of giving up, one time more, came a click
As when a trap shuts – you 're inside the den9!
Burningly it came on me all at once10,
This was the place! those two hills on the right,
Crouched like two bulls locked horn, in horn in fight;
While to the left, a tall scalped mountain . . . Dunce11,
Dotard12, a-dozing at the very n0nce13.
After a life spent training for the sight14!
What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?
The round squat turret, blind as the fool's heart,
Built of brown stone, without a counterpart
In the whole world. The tempest's mocking elf
Points to the shipman thus the unseen shelf
He strikes on, only when the timbers start.
Not see? because of night perhaps? – why, day
Came back again for that! before it left,
The dying sunset kindled through a cleft:
The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay.
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay,
"Now stab and end the creature – to the heft15! "
Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it tolled
Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears,
Of all the lost adventurers my peers, –
How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
And such was fortunate, yet each of old
Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of years.
There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture16! in a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came'
Editor's Final Note (promise!): The poem ends like that. Seriously. We suspect his cat woke him up and demanded chow. They do that. He ought to have thanked it. That is without question the most bogus quest journey of all time.