Garth – Story 33 – The Sorcerer

The Sorcerer
Story Number: 33
Writer: Peter O’Donnell
Artist: Steve Dowling/ John Allard
Published: 16th January 1958 – 31st July 1958 (R14 – R181)
Number of Episodes: 168

An interesting one-off innovation to this story was the typewritten box in the opening title panel. It read: “With Lumiere completely absorbed in his mysterious experiment, the days in peaceful Rylmouth pass quietly for Garth – too quietly… How is he to know that he is on the brink of a new adventure – into the secrets of TIME?”

Garth - The Sorcerer - Sample Art

To alleviate his boredom, Garth has been helping with the digging for a local archaeological team under the direction of Professor Muller, a one-time acquaintance of Lumiere’s. They are excavating the recently-discovered vaults of a long-vanished priory. However Lumiere is too absorbed to take any notice of Garth’s account of his activities. Then Garth takes a telephone call from an excited Muller – he has made an amazing discovery at the site. He asks Garth to return right away, and to bring Lumiere with him.

At the site, Garth apologies to Muller for Lumiere’s absence, owing to his being “completely wrapped up in some pet project of his own.” Muller shows Garth a casket he has found in the vaults, buried there for some 300 years. He shows Garth a parchment from the casket, with a handwritten message:

Delgado’s comet –

129 year interval

 – disturbs

gravitic balance –

creates feedback.

Garth - The Sorcerer - Sample Art

Muller is intrigued, explaining to Garth that in those days nobody knew the laws of gravity, or the interval of Delgado’s comet, and moreover “feedback” is a modern term. Garth points out that there is something “even crazier” in the message: it has been inscribed in Lumiere’s own handwriting!

Garth drives back to Lumiere’s house with Muller, and they find Lumiere at work on the strange apparatus he has built in his laboratory. Garth asks Lumiere to look at the message, taking care that Lumiere does not handle the parchment. But he evinces no interest, and insists that they stop badgering him at a critical time in his experiment. Anticipating this, Garth grabs his hand and get a set of fingerprints on a pad. When examined alongside the prints on the parchment, they prove to be identical.

Muller is baffled and angry, suspecting a hoax. Garth asks him to go, leaving the matter with him. He will find the right moment to quiz Lumiere, and telephone Muller afterwards.

That night, Lumiere announces that he is ready to make a test of his new theory, and takes Garth into his laboratory. He asks him to watch the needle on a dial: if it moves then his theory will be proven. At that moment, the telephone rings and Garth takes the call. It is Muller, and after referring to the 129 year interval of Delgado’s comet as mentioned in the parchment, he points out that if Garth looks to the night sky in south-east direction, he will find that Delgado’s comet is actually now visible! Garth tries to get Lumiere to come to the phone, but he ignores him. Instead, he throws the switch on his apparatus.

Immediately the apparatus is engulfed in a tremendous field of power, exploding in flame and smoke. Garth and Lumiere vanish from the laboratory…and suddenly find themselves in the midst of a pentacle in another place, watched by two men in 16th century clothing. The men are terrified, conversing in archaic English. They are Master Felix, an alchemist, and Sir John Royston.

Garth - The Sorcerer - Sample Art

From their exchanges, Garth quickly realises what has apparently happened: something went wrong with Lumiere’s experiment, and they have been hurled back into the past. The alchemist – “this old amateur wizard” – thinks they are a couple of devils he has conjured up in his magic circle!

The quick-thinking Lumiere then proceeds to hypnotise Felix and Sir John, putting them both into a trance. He questions the alchemist and learns that the year is 1570. To return to his own time, he will have to build an identical machine. Since many of the materials needed are not known in this age and it will need to incorporate the as yet unknown fault, it seems futile to try. But Garth is confident that the notes on the parchment – which Lumiere has yet to write – may be crucial in helping him accomplish their return.

Lumiere plants false memories that Sir John knows him as a visiting friend, and goes with him to the local tailor. Under hypnotic instruction, Sir John purchases suitable clothes for himself and Garth, so they can pass freely amongst the populace.

On questioning Felix further, Lumiere learns that his friend Sir John’s daughter Meg has been arrested and is shortly to be tried as a witch. That was why Felix had tried, in desperation, to summon evil spirits to help rescue her. Lord Shale is a local tyrant and libertine who lusts after Meg, and because she has refused him, Shale’s lackey Prior Anselm has named her as a witch. Their plan was that she would surrender to Shale in order to save herself, but she has refused and so the witch trial is to go ahead.

Using the chemicals in the alchemist’s den, Lumiere devises an ingenious scheme for Garth to effect a rescue of Meg. Bound in chains, she is to be strapped to a ducking stool extended over a deep pond. The girl will be tilted into the water, and if she sinks, it will prove her innocence. If she floats, she will be burned at the stake as a witch. The villagers are afraid to stop this travesty of justice because Lord Shale can take their land, and they believe Prior Anselm can threaten their souls.

Garth - The Sorcerer - Sample Art
Garth - The Sorcerer - Sample Art

Lumiere and Garth hide in the woods on the far side of the large pond where the ducking stool is situated. As Meg is tipped out into the pond, Sir John throws into it a block of special chemicals Lumiere has given him. This causes a bubbling tumult in the water, giving off clouds of opaque vapour. Unseen, Garth is able to dive into the river and rescue Meg before she can drown. He carries her into the woods where Lumiere is waiting with horses. Continuing to play his part, Sir John tells Anselm that he can now report back to his “vile master” that in dying his daughter has been proven innocent of witchcraft.

Meanwhile, Meg has been given dry clothes, disguising her as a youth. As arranged, they ride to an inn in the next village, putting up for the night, using money provided by Sir John. Whilst the exhausted Meg sleeps, Garth recreates the parchment message for Lumiere, and insists he studies it. This time Lumiere does so, and realises that it explains how his experiment miscarried so disastrously. His machine was set to harness power from the “interplay of gravity throughout the solar system…but I forgot that Delgado’s comet was due to return!” Its arrival was sufficient to cause a distortion of forces causing a feedback effect which shattered time. Now that he knows the cause, Lumiere resolves to somehow recreate his machine.

Sir John arrives at the inn, and orders the landlord to saddle three fresh horses. Reunited with his daughter, Sir John reports that the suspicious Prior has had the pond dragged for Meg’s body. Failing to find it, he knows that the girl is somehow still alive, and Lord Shale’s men are searching for her. He had been followed, but had thrown off his pursuers. Sir John has arranged for Meg to flee the country, and has booked a birth for her on ‘The Happy Venturer’, a ship due to sail to Genoa. Its Captain, Dalby, is a great friend of Sir John, and will take her to stay with her cousin’s family in Italy. Sir John will return alone to continue his fight against Lord Shale and Prior Anselm, but he asks Lumiere and Garth to escort his daughter to board the vessel.

That night, the three riders travel along the coast road leading to the harbour. Garth remarks on the large bag Lumiere has brought with him. Lumiere explains that it contains chemicals from Felix’s stock. To earn the money he needs for his machine, he has it in mind to earn a good living by setting up as an alchemist, mystic and “wonder-worker”, taking advantage of his four-hundred year start on contemporary rivals!

Meg is delivered safely to Captain Dalby aboard his ship, and as they take their leave of the grateful girl, she tells them that she senses they “are not what you would seem!” Garth answers evasively that they are “travellers.”

Garth and Lumiere remain in the harbour for a while, trying to decide their next move. Garth suggests going to London, but before they can act, they fall victim to a surprise attack. They are knocked unconscious, ambushed by a press gang led by the bo’sun and crewmen from the ‘Happy Venturer.’

When they recover, Garth and Lumiere find themselves locked in a cubby hole aboard ship. Garth bursts the door, and is confronted by the smiling bo’sun, Croker. He was just about to wake them, to instruct them in their duties aboard the ship. Seeking to establish his authority, he swings a blow at Garth. Garth ducks, and throws the bo’sun over his shoulder, sending him crashing to the deck. A melee breaks out. Meg is forward on the deck with Captain Dalby, and she calls out when she recognises Garth. Dalby orders his crew to desist, and apologises to Lumiere. But when Lumiere asks to be put ashore, he is dismayed to learn that they are twelve hours out, and running with a gale at their backs. It is impossible to turn back: they will have to stay aboard until they reach their destination, Genoa in Italy.

They are given their own cabin, and Lumiere begins drafting his plans for the construction of a new machine, while Garth becomes an active and dynamic member of the crew, working alongside the bo’sun, Croker, who is now a friend. A storm blows them dangerously close to the Barbary Coast, and their ship is attacked by two Corsair galleys. The pirates swarm from their galleys aboard the ‘Happy Venturer’ and Garth fights heroically alongside Croker. For a time the boarders are held until Croker is fatally injured. In a last act of defiance, Croker drags himself to the ship’s powder kegs, and fires them. The resultant explosion rips through the deck, and ends the fighting. Though losing many men, the Corsairs still outnumber what remains of the English crew. Amongst the survivors are Garth, together with Lumiere and Meg, whom Garth had ordered to stay below during the fighting.

With the ship sinking, the Corsairs have lost their plunder, but have captured useful slaves, as “fodder for the rowing bench.” Because of his impressive physique, Garth is amongst the first to be taken off the ship. Lumiere has locked the door to his cabin to buy time to put together his ‘cunning plan’: he and Meg have soaked their hands and arms in a special chemical mix which will enable them to hold their hands over naked flames without flinching, for long enough to impress the superstitious Corsairs.

As the Corsairs break down the door and burst in, they pull up short as they see Lumiere and Meg (garbed like a witch, with the ship’s cat alongside her) with their hands thrust over a flaming cauldron. Meg speaks as Lumiere has instructed her: “Be still! The ship sinks, and my master is calling the Djinns of the Sea to his aid.” Lumiere quickly adds that he will only withold his magic from those who help him. The cowed Corsairs beg Lumiere to call off the Djinns on their promise to help him – what does he want them to do? Lumiere demands they be taken off the doomed ship to their galley, and be presented to its captain.

However, once on board the Corsair galley – not knowing (but hoping) that Garth is on the other galley – Lumiere elects to treat the wounded, barking orders for bandages and splints to be brought. Yazid, master of the galley confronts Lumiere, then is shocked to see that Lumiere is actually ministering to his own son, whom he had not known was injured.

On the other galley, the captain orders that Garth, whilst chained to the oars, is to be spared the whip, because he is to be sold in the slave market. Garth decides to keep his head down and bide his time, confident that he can escape after he has been sold and put to work somewhere.

Assisted by Meg, Lumiere is gaining a reputation as a wizard healer. By using hypnotism, Lumiere is able to carry out crude but painless surgery, achieving apparent miracles…and he also saves the life of Yazid’s son, gaining them a great deal of kudos. Now known as ‘El Yumeer’ he is feared and respected.

Two months later, Garth and others slaves are disembarked at the city of Bekrah and paraded in the slave market. Garth is the subject of spirited bidding, eventually selling for a fantastic sum to a mysterious veiled woman in a curtained litter. She is attended by a retinue of servants, and when one of them hands over the money and has Garth led away to follow her litter, he addresses him by name. Garth’s puzzlement deepens as they arrive at a large house with a walled garden; his chains are removed and he is allowed to bathe and have a meal.  Given fresh clothes, Garth is brought to his new owner. The woman dismisses all the guards, and Garth is alone with her.

She informs Garth that after his “plight was made known to her”, she has travelled half across the world to help him, and that it had been ordained they should meet…“I from a far place, and you from a far time, Garth!” She adds cryptically that they shall meet again in a future age. She removes her veil, and is revealed to be Garth’s lost love – Astra, the last Goddess!

Garth tells her that he knows her as one of the Great Ones, an immortal of the Ancient Magi, and that they were lovers. Astra points out that she is forbidden to know her own future, though she is aware that in centuries to come their “lives will be linked in some great venture”…possibly several times. But when these moments draw near “I will take all memory of you from my mind…and we shall meet as for the first time.” But now, given a little time together, “we shall be as you remember us!”

As the weeks slip away, Garth has an idyllic time riding and hunting with Astra, and they become lovers. When Astra informs him that their time together must end, Garth is ashamed. He had forgotten all about Lumiere and Meg! Astra tells him that – using her great mental powers – she has been watching over them. Thanks to Lumiere’s ingenuity they have become rich, working for the Bey, and living in his palace. But now they are in great danger, and as she is forbidden to harm mortals, she must send Garth to help them.

Astra invites Garth to look into the waters of a lake, and mentally projects onto the surface a picture of Lumiere and Meg in the Bey’s palace. He hears their conversation:  the Bey is ordering Lumiere to concoct an undetectable poison so he can assassinate an enemy without being blamed. When Lumiere refuses, Meg is seized by guards, and the Bey threatens to have her cut to pieces unless Lumiere makes the poison. When he pleads for time to consider, the Bey tips up an hour glass and tells Lumiere that Meg will be killed when the sands run out, unless Lumiere agrees.

Astra tells Garth she is going to mentally project him – “the Professor would call it telekinesis” – some 200 miles to the Bey’s palace. Garth is instructed on what he must do once he materialises.

In the palace, the impressive glowing figure of Garth in a loincloth suddenly materialises alongside the Bey’s throne. The superstitious onlookers declare that “El Yumeer has summoned a Djinn!” The terrified Bey begs Lumiere not to let “this djinn devour me!”

Meg is equally impressed – believing Lumiere to be responsible, she promptly faints! Bowing to Lumiere, Garth claims to be a fiery spirit answering his summons, and awaiting his orders. Recovering from his own surprise, Lumiere plays along. He orders the Bey to go to his bedchamber whilst he decides his fate. The guards are to withdraw and guard the hall against intruders.

Garth explains to Lumiere about Astra’s intervention. The Bey is brought back to learn Lumiere’s terms for restraining the djinn from killing him. He wants an equipped and crewed barge put at his disposal. The djinn will watch over his safety and if the crew attempt treachery, both they and the Bey will die. The Bey is relieved at being let off so lightly, and adds gold and treasure to the ship’s manifest.

Lumiere had already began reassembling his time travel machinery, and after it is carefully loaded aboard, the galley sails north from the city of the Bey. They stop first at Genoa, to drop off Meg to stay with her relations. Lumiere’s riches enable him to take a house where he can continue his work on the machine, whilst Meg is safely installed with the family of her father’s cousin.

O’Donnell added a nice little touch when, at a reception given by Meg’s relations, Lumiere is introduced to an admirer of his mysterious achievements – one Signor Delgado! Lumiere prophesises that the unknown local astronomer will soon achieve fame!

After an anxious interval, Meg receives a letter from her father in England. It reveals that Lord Shale has engendered hatred by appropriating common land for sheep grazing. Sir John is the leader of a growing band of outlaws who harry the tyrant as best they can by tearing down fences and scattering his flocks. A wholescale uprising is only a matter of time.   

Garth elects to return to England to assist the outlaws (“My kind of work!”) ahead of Lumiere, who still requires more time to complete his machinery.

Several months later, when Lumiere and Meg finally sail into Rylmouth Harbour, there are greeted by Garth and Sir John. Lord Shale is dead and his lands forfeited – half of them to Sir John! Garth has successfully led night raids and guerrilla tactics culminating in a village uprising in which Anselm had also been killed and his priory razed to the ground.

Lumiere writes the message to himself in the future, placing it in a casket – the same one Dr. Muller will find centuries hence. It is buried in the priory vaults before they are covered over, Lumiere pretending to onlookers that it is a necessary “spell of exorcism!”

Lumiere buys Felix’s cottage where he completes the reassembly of his machinery. Garth prepares Meg for their leaving, telling her they have work to do “elsewhere. We shall leave in strange fashion…” Whilst they will appear to perish, he assures her that she need not worry for them. Meg echoes the trope of most of the women in O’Donnell’s Garth stories when she declares “I have always known you and Lumiere are…not as other men”, so she will not fear for him, before adding wistfully: “I shall weep a little when you are gone.”

Delgado’s comet is in the sky, and it is time for their departure. Lumiere gives his servants his gold and orders them to take their horses to the stables, leaving the cottage free of anyone except himself and Garth. He has rigged an explosive charge to destroy his equipment after he and Garth have been transmitted to the future. However, as he and Garth enter the laboratory they are dismayed to detect “a queer, acrid smell.” Acid has been leaking out of one of the primitive batteries; a main lead has been eaten away, and the whole bank of batteries has been drained flat. The equipment is useless and cannot be repaired in the narrow window of time available. They are marooned in the past!

Garth goes outside and looks to Venus in the night sky. Lumiere joins him and Garth tells him that he can sense Astra is watching them from afar. Suddenly a lightning bolt flashes in the sky, announcing an unexpected storm. Garth shouts to Lumiere that they should go back and throw the switches – Astra has told him that she will supply the power. Sure enough, from half across the world the goddess Astra filings a shaft of power, shaped and modified by her will. Lumiere’s machine is energised and its force field envelopes Garth and Liumiere; they are flung back to Lumiere’s laboratory in the present.

Garth - The Sorcerer - Sample Art

Although they have spent over a year in the past, the laboratory appears to be just as they left it, and with the telephone off the hook. Suddenly they hear the excited voice of Dr. Muller. Garth picks up the phone and learns that following his sighting of Delgado’s comet, Muller had rang to ask Lumiere to stop his experiment until after they had solved the mystery of the parchment manuscript.

Lumiere takes the phone and blandly announces that there has been an accident – his machine has been wrecked, and the manuscript destroyed! As he talks, he holds out a flame and watches as Garth burns the parchment. Muller rings off, an angry and disappointed man. The closing panel has Garth musing that if Lumiere can one day build the right modifications into his machine then he might go back in time…and find Astra again.

This story was ingenious and brilliantly written, and the artwork rose to its greatest-yet level. Dowling and Allard’s rendering of historical costumes and architecture was convincing, and the cinematic rendering of the scenes, with viewpoint shifts from indoor to outdoor, and close-up and long shots with full length figures was dazzling. And the range of innovative shading was also at a new high level, giving the panels a unique look. Evidently Dowling was now able to spend a lot more time on his Garth strip, following the cancellation of his Ruggles strip the previous year. All the more sad then, that O’Donnell once again abdicated responsibility for the suspension of disbelief by having all the foreign characters  in their native lands converse with Garth in English, and vice-versa. It would have been quite possible to insert a bi-lingual character who could translate as necessary, but presumably it was thought that this would have slowed down the action. 

Apparently, a cynical decision had again been made that since the majority of the readership would not notice or care, it was not worth the effort. Consequently what should have been a great Garth story turned out to be a merely good one.

Previous: The Captive | Next: The Mask of Chang Ku

Synopsis by Philip Harbottle

• Garth: An Introduction

• Garth – Strip Checklist – Part One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight (Garth Reprints)

A Tribute to Garth Artist and Editor John Allard 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