SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (20)

By: Heather Kapplow
September 6, 2021

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite unfinished masterworks, legendary obscurities and cherished almost-weres.

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LORD OF LIGHT

“Stranger Than (Science) Fiction” or “The Life and Times of Lord of Light, A Multi-Media Melodrama in 6 Acts”:

Act 1: 1967. Science fiction writer Roger Zelazny publishes Lord of Light, featuring snappy hard-boiled dialog and the kind of extremely detailed description that gives hardcore readers of fantasy fits of neural ecstasy. Lord of Light wins a Hugo Award. Zelazny is able to quit his day job and write full-time.

Lord of Light is set in a colony on an Earth-like planet. Humans have transmogrified themselves into (Zelazny’s exoticist interpretation of) the Hindu pantheon to cope with the trauma of leaving Earth behind and establishing themselves in hostile new surrounds.

Act 2: 1978. Sci-fi fan and inexperienced film producer Barry Ira Geller falls for the book and options production rights, converting it into a screenplay personally. Lord of Light gets another boost when its ornately described characters and environments are handed over to the most well-known American comic book artist ever, Jack Kirby. Planet of the Apes’ makeup artist John Chambers also signs onto the project.

Act 3. Kirby’s fabulous costuming and set renderings help attract Hollywood stuntman/would-be financier Jerry Schafer. Geller and Schafer hatch a grandiose scheme to build a (400 million dollar!!) amusement park, Science Fiction Land, as the film’s set in Aurora, Colorado. The enormous park, underwritten by a Canadian bank loan, is to be built first and then the (50 million dollar!!) film shot within it.

Act 4. You haven’t heard of Science Fiction Land because the funding is fictional. Schafer, a bankrupt hustler, is arrested for securities fraud shortly after announcing the park to the press. Geller goes down with him.

Act 5: 1980. CIA agent Tony Mendez and Chambers (who also does makeup for the CIA) resuscitate Lord of Light. Geller’s illustrated manuscript is retitled “ARGO,” and used as a prop in a CIA mission to recover American diplomats trapped in Iran during the 1979-81 hostage crisis, disguising them as a Canadian film crew scouting locations.

Act 6. No one knows that Lord of Light was the lynchpin of the rescue plan until the CIA files are declassified in the early aughts, and Diane Bernard, a researcher for documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, digs into Mendez’s story for one of Morris’ productions. Intrigued, she begins pulling pieces together for a documentary of her own, also titled “Lord of Light.” She plans to share the saga of the failed movie and themepark first, then reveal Lord of Light’s resurrection as espionage. A year or two in, the project hits some snags, and Bernard hands it off to fellow documentarian Judd Ehrlich; Ehrlich re-names it Science Fiction Land. Then, in 2012, a Hollywood dramatization of the CIA rescue, Argo, is released. But to this day, despite massive research and voluminous interview footage, the documentary revealing Lord of Light’s role in the story sits on a shelf.

Geller retains a tight grip on most materials related to the story, and frequents comic conventions with Kirby’s Science Fiction Land sketches. A deep dive into Geller’s many websites is almost as interesting as the story that no one has been able to tell.

[These Kirby cosmic gods are not the Kirby cosmic gods described above, but you can look upon the real ones without incurring the wrath of the rights-holder at this journalistic source.]

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SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: SERIES INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Luc Sante on WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | Peggy Nelson on THE CURSE OF QUIXOTE | Adrienne Crew on POOR DEVIL | Bishakh Som on KATE BUSH BOOTLEGS | Douglas Wolk on BIG NUMBERS #3 | Devin McKinney on THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA | Mandy Keifetz on BACKFIRE | Heather Quinlan on TRANSITIONAL DISNEY | Michael Grasso on STEELY DAN’S 2nd ARRANGEMENT | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE | Josh Glenn on LE HIBOU PHILOSOPHE | Lynn Peril on 70, GIRLS, 70 | Ron Wimberly on SHIRATO SANPEI | Holly Interlandi on LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT |Stan Chou on TYRAEL’S MIGHT | Nikhil Singh on JOURNEY TO IXTLAN | Brian Lozano on BLOWN BANNER | Adam McGovern on THE LEON SUITES | Sajan Saini on BRISCO COUNTY | Heather Kapplow on LORD OF LIGHT | Greg Rowland on SOLARNAUTS | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on FLEDGLING | Crystal Durant on TURN-ON | Ran Xia on BYRON’S FRAGMENT | Carolyn Raship on BURNT BRONTË.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

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Categories

Enthusiasms

What do you think?

  1. this is the mother swerve of all mother swerves, swerving through history and at least nineteen levels of imaginary gemeotries, benign and otherwise. a lovely summary of this you wrote.

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