The Golden Sphere
Story Number: 26
Writer: Peter O’Donnell
Artist: Steve Dowling/ John Allard
Published: 6th May 1954 – 4th December 1954 (N107 – N289)
Number of Episodes: 183
After their ordeal in Gascony, Garth returns to London with Lumiere, and takes him for a medical check-up. Their doctor perceives that he has been under a great mental strain, and prescribes that Lumiere needs to take a long holiday, with plenty of fresh air and rest. Garth takes him with him on a long sea cruise, and we join them as their ship is crossing the Pacific Ocean.
One afternoon the ship’s engines cut out, and the steward informs Garth and Lumiere that the captain has stated it might be a long repair job. As the ship drifts, a great storm breaks out. The captain orders all passengers to stay below, but Garth remains on deck to lend a hand, and he is joined by Lumiere. A great wave sweeps the steward overboard, and Garth and Lumiere assist in the lowering of a lifeboat to try and save him. However, the ferocity of the storm prompts the captain to cancel the operation. The crew call on Garth and Lumiere to get out of the lifeboat, but a cable snaps and the boat falls into the sea.
As the boat is swept away from the ship, Lumiere spots the drowning steward, and using his great strength Garth manages to drag him into the relative safety of the boat. The rescued man is ‘Lucky’ Flint, an ex-Sergeant-Major of the Coldstream Guards.
The storm rages throughout the night, as the three men battle to stay afloat. The storm abates as dawn breaks, and they now see that the boat is being swept by strong currents alongside a towering cliff face. Lumiere hazards that the cliff represents a “remote part of the South American coast.” Abruptly, they encounter a large golden sphere bobbing on the surface of the sea. On examination, the sphere appears to be hollow and artificial, being constructed of tough fibres woven into a tight mesh and coated with a waterproof covering of golden resin. Garth decides to find out what is inside the globe using an axe, and widens a large gash he finds has already been made on the top of it.
To his astonishment, he finds that there is an unconscious young woman inside, who he lifts her out into the boat. Lumiere examines her and pronounces that she appears to have been drugged. He gives her an injection from the lifeboat’s medical box, and she comes around.
Strangely attired in a brassiere and a short sarong, what is even stranger than the girl’s clothing is that she immediately begins conversing in English, giving her name as Tenga.
From the girl’s story, they deduce that behind the cliffs is the totally enclosed ‘lost land’ of Kazahn, whose primitive peoples believe that they are the entire world. Tenga is the daughter of a ruler who was killed and usurped by the tyrant Vorn. Backed by thousands of warriors, he rules by fear. Those loyal to Tenga and the old regime are now outlaws, hiding in the woods and hills. Tenga had been captured, and on the orders of Vorn, backed by his High Priest Tazeel, had been sacrificed to a ‘Snake God’. She had then been sealed up in the Golden Sphere, and cast into a river which ran underground through the mountains, beyond the end of the world – actually having its eventual outlet in the ocean. According to their superstitious beliefs, this was a Kazahnian version of the Greek myth of the River Styx and the boatman who ferried the dead into the next world.
If the snake venom had not killed Tenga, she would have suffocated in the enclosed globe, or would have drowned when the resin eventually washed away, causing the sphere to sink. In the event she had been lucky: the venom had only sent her into a coma, and the top of the sphere had been gashed by a stalactite when carried through the underground tunnel, letting air into her prison.
(The utter absurdity of the girl from a lost race both speaking and understanding English, and the fact that no one wonders about this, comes as a terrific disappointment. It here ranks with the stupidity of Charlton Heston’s character in the movie “Planet of the Apes” in thinking he is on another planet when the apes speak to him in English throughout the events. As noted previously, Don Freeman always offered explanations as to how Garth was able to converse in alien realms. It is disappointing that O’Donnell lacked Freeman’s ingenuity or integrity.
The author and the editor who allowed this impossible storyline presumably cynically decided that the vast majority of the Daily Mirror readership were too vacuous to notice. Since the trope of aliens and other races and peoples in all time periods on Earth speaking modern English is endemic to all juvenile comics and lowest common denominator TV and film science fiction, sadly they were probably right. But for readers who could suspend their disbelief and move on, there was much to enjoy as the story unfolded).
Tenga implores them to take her back to Kazahn, and to help her in her fight to overthrow Vorn. Garth, Lucky and Lumiere agree. They find the cleft in the cliff through which the sphere had emerged, and manage to row against the current back along the underground river. Tenga tells them that they will eventually emerge by the steps of the temple of the snake god on the outskirts of Lurga, the city now ruled by Vorn.
When they see daylight ahead, Garth tells them to wait whilst he swims ahead to scout out the lay of the land. He swims cautiously to the mouth of the tunnel, and sees the steps of the temple, with two guards holding spears standing guard. Swimming out of sight underwater, Garth surfaces behind one of the guards, and gripping his ankle, drags him into the river. The terrified guard calls out to his companion, who extends his spear for him to grab hold of. Feeling the pull, Garth exerts his strength and succeeds in pulling the second guard into the water. Both guards are then quickly rendered unconscious without seeing their attacker, and left lying on the bank of the river.
Re-joining his companions, Garth moors their boat out of sight in the tunnel, unloading such food and useful equipment as they can carry. His cunning has ensured that their arrival and Tenga’s return will remain unknown, and there will be no pursuit or alarm raised as they enter Lurga. Garth’s clever stratagems had always been seen in Freeman’s stories, but under O’Donnell they would become an even more prominent feature.
Tenga leads them into the woods, telling them that it will be a two-day march before they reach ‘the Valley of Eagles’, where the main force of the outlaws are currently hiding out. As they leave the city unobserved and advance through the woods, Lumiere is interested to note large clumps of an unknown species of bushes with leaves like sword blades. Tenga identifies them as ‘fang thorns’, which are highly venomous.
On reaching the outlaw encampment, Tenga is welcomed ‘back from the dead’ by her followers, and Garth and his companions are welcomed as her saviours. On learning that Tenga’s cousin Berin has recently been captured by a Vorn patrol and likely faces execution when taken back to Lurga, Garth assumes command and calls for a Council of War.
Garth swiftly devises various strategies to effect a rescue (some of which will be re-used in later O’Donnell stories). These include the hauling up of a tree trunk into the treetops, and then secured by ropes. When some of the ropes are cut, the trunk can swing down like a gigantic pendulum/battering ram. Clumps of fang thorn are carefully gathered and preparations made to drop them from above at selected intervals on the path below. Lucky drills the outlaws on advanced military tactics to effect an ambush on Vorn’s separated forces.
Garth’s tactics are a devastating success, and Berin is rescued, and Vorn’s patrol overwhelmed. On Garth’s orders, all prisoners’ lives are spared, and the wounded are tended. They are shown kindness instead of torture, and offered the choice of remaining to serve a merciful queen or returning to face the wrath of Vorn. All elect to stay, swelling the ranks of the Tengans, who are coached by Lucky to fight as a disciplined unit, instead of a rabble. Garth tasks Lumiere with devising war machines (that are revolutionary to the Tengans) such as giant catapults and ballistas, and working with their artisans and chemists to construct smoke bombs, and most usefully, simple heliographs to communicate over distances, with a signalling code. Another stratagem is the capture of wild bees. Encased in breakable globes, the bees can be hurled at enemies, emerging to wreak havoc, whilst the Tengans are protected from being attacked by smearing themselves with a chemical repellent devised by Lumiere.
There are no horses in Kazahn, but there are wild deer in the forest. Garth shows the Tengans how to capture and break in the deer, so that they can be ridden like small horses, adding a mounted cavalry to their forces.
Notwithstanding these preparations for war – Vorn has been informed of Berin’s escape and the loss of his patrol and is preparing to launch a massive attack on the outlaws – Garth still has hopes of avoiding a bloody conflict. He sends a message to Vorn informing him that Tenga is not dead and has returned to reclaim her throne. She is sending Garth as her envoy, accompanied by Galdrec, the commanding officer of the lost patrol, to broker peace: if Vorn will step down, his life will be spared. Garth knows that this is a long shot, and that Vorn will refuse, so he makes special preparations before returning to Lurga and seeking his audience with Vorn.
Garth gambles that after rejecting the peace offer Vorn would not kill him out of hand, but instead hold him in captivity, and try to learn his secrets by torture. Predictably, this is exactly what happens: Galdrec is condemned, and Garth is thrown into a prison cell to await Tazeel’s torturers. But Garth takes a drug that Lumiere has prepared for him: this plunges him into a deep sleep from which he cannot be awoken, even when shaken or stabbed. He is left overnight in his cell, but awakens in the early hours. Hidden inside his empty scabbard is a blowpipe with a poison dart, and he uses this to knock out his guard, through the bars of his cell door. He then uses his great strength to break out of his prison, and after freeing Galdrec from his condemned cell, and employing one of Lumiere’s smoke bombs, is able escape and return to the Valley of the Eagles.
The next day, Vorn makes his attack, confident of crushing the rebels by sheer weight of numbers. His massive army separates into two forces, attacking the Tengans in a pincer movement. But thanks to his heliograph scouts, Garth is forewarned of the positions and movements of Vorn’s forces, and is able to make preparations to ambush them and to employ Lumiere’s devices and Lucky’s military manoeuvres.
A great battle is waged, and Garth’s army comes out on top. Facing defeat, Vorn invokes the ancient right of settling matters by personal combat – himself versus Tenga’s champion. Naturally Garth takes up the challenge.
At first, they fight with maces – with which, we learn, Vorn has never been beaten. During the duel Vorn misses with a wild swing and stumbles headlong. Garth has him at his mercy. With all eyes on the combatants, the High priest Tazeel decides to grab his chance to murder Tenga, to ensure she never becomes ruler. He draws his dagger and approaches her stealthily from behind. As he is about to stab her he is spotted by Garth, who hurls his mace with unerring aim. It crashes into Tazeel’s head, killing him instantly.
Garth is now disarmed, and Vorn scrambles to his feet, advancing menacingly with his own mace. However, Garth floors and disarms him. Then, to the dismay of the onlookers, Garth tosses aside the mace. Vorn draws a hidden knife from his belt and lunges to the attack. Lucky immediately tosses his own knife to Garth, who is able to parry Vorn’s knife thrust. The watching Lucky opines that Garth seems to be trying to knock his opponent out, rather than kill him. Sure enough, Garth succeeds in hurling Vorn over his shoulder in a flying mare, and Vorn thuds to the ground, where he lies unmoving. Despite Garth’s intention not to kill him, fate has determined that he has landed on his own knife, and he is pronounced dead.
Vorn’s soldiers proclaim their allegiance to Tenga, and she returns to Lurga in triumph. News of her ‘resurrection’ has preceded her, and she is hailed as ruler.
Tenga makes it clear that she wants Garth to stay as her consort and adviser, but he tells her that “…beyond these mountains and over the seas, there are new adventures waiting. And for me, that call is stronger than any other.” Tenga sadly accepts that they must part: “I feared it would be so.”
Lucky, however, elects to stay behind. He has no family to return to, and the Tengan army want him to stay and continue to teach and guide them. Besides, he fallen for a native girl!
Lumiere has had a mast and a sail fixed to the lifeboat, along with buoyancy tanks to defeat strong currents, and he and Garth set sail for the outer world. By keeping to the coast they should soon find a settlement. The story closes with Garth telling Lumiere that they will not mention their discovery of Kazahn: “…a little world on its own, and a happy one now – Let’s keep it that way!”
Synopsis by Philip Harbottle
In a feature encompassing the entire history of the much-loved strip, Garth writer Philip Harbottle pays tribute to artist and editor John Allard, who worked at the Mirror for over 50 years, outlining his huge contribution to Garth‘s enduring success
Strip dates given are those of their original appearance in the British newspaper the Daily Mirror, first compiled by Geoffrey Wren and Ann Holmes and updated by Ant Jones and Philip Harbottle
Garth © REACH/ Daily Mirror