The Black Gate Opens (a little)

John O’Neill has put up a preview of Black Gate 11 (which will include a Morlock novella, “The Lawless Hours”).

Things I never knew (or forgot about) until recently:

There are “Black Gates” all over the world: in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, in Trier, in Ypres, in Tokugawa, maybe even in Toki City. (I can’t quite tell whether “the black gate” in the text is merely descriptive or a proper noun there. Either way, it looks like an interesting place.) There is also a hentai movie with the English title Black Gate. (No, I’m not going to provide a link.)

For years I assumed the magazine’s title referred to the Morannon, the Black Gate of Mordor in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. But a while ago I saw an interview with John where he mentioned that it actually referred to the entrance to the underworld in classical mythology. (I’d link to the interview, but I’ve mislaid the URL and many minutes of fierce googling failed to unearth it. However, I did find the links in the paragraph above, so it wasn’t a total waste of time. Please don’t look like that while I’m rationalizing.)

I instantly thought of my favorite passage from Vergil, where the Sybil at Cumae explains the facts of death to Aeneas:

facilis descensus Auerno:
noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;
sed reuocare gradum superasque euadere ad auras,
hoc opus, hic labor est.

Vergil, Aeneid 6.126ff

“The descent into hell is easy.
The door of the dark city stands open night and day.
But to recall your steps, and escape into the upper air…
For that you’ll work. For that you’ll suffer.”

But that doesn’t fit, because in the Latin the adjective atri is applied to Ditis (Dis, the city of the underworld). Was it a transferred epithet? Were they thinking of some other passage or passages?

I could have written John about it, of course, but instead I chewed quietly on my elbow for awhile and gave it some thought. (I go through more elbows that way. Fortunately, I know a good wholesaler.)

Then recently I came across this bit in Propertius:

desine, Paulle, meum lacrimis urgere sepulcrum:
panditur ad nullas ianua nigra preces.

Propertius, Elegies 11.1f

“Paullus, stop spilling tears on my tomb:
grieving prayers can’t pry open the black gate.”

And I realized I could stop chewing that elbow.

Hm. All this underworld stuff, and the Bergman notice I posted earlier, is giving the blog a rather funereal cast. I’ll put a cartoon or some dancing weasels from YouTube in my next post to brighten things up a bit.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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8 Responses to The Black Gate Opens (a little)

  1. sboydtaylor says:

    Dancing Weasels are nice, but the Brass City and its Black Gates are so much more interesting 🙂

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s true! Dancing weasels rank pretty low on the “This really matters” scale (possibly even to themselves; that’s the secret tragedy of dancing weasels).

    • JE says:

      I hope it doesn’t disappoint! I’m especially looking forward to the Wells and Rowan stories, myself; Howard has high praise for them on his blog.

  2. sboydtaylor says:

    Hah! 🙂 Brilliant.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great! It is a really interesting background–room for a lot of story there, I should think.

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