The Crystals of Camelot
Story Number: 35
Writer: Peter O’Donnell
Artist: Steve Dowling/ John Allard
Published: 4th February 1959 – 16th August 1959 (S30 – S195)
Number of Episodes: 166
Garth is at home watching a live TV programme on which Lumiere is being questioned on speculative science questions by an audience of young students. Lumiere is expounding on the theory of “parallel worlds”, wherein a multitude of planet Earths co-exist in different channels of time, differing from each other because at critical points of history they followed different paths, leading to different futures. When the programme concludes, Garth switches off, and settles in his chair to read a book whilst awaiting Lumiere’s return.
The TV screen begins glowing, although switched off. Garth is enveloped in a great explosion of power…when Lumiere returns later that evening, he finds only an empty chair facing the TV set, with a dropped book lying on the floor.
A dazed Garth finds himself lying on a moonlit grassy slope fringed by woods. He recognises the surrounding countryside as being near Caerleon, on the river Usk. He had once spent several weeks there with Lumiere, working on the excavation of a Roman fortress. He makes his way through the woods, which he knows leads to a nearby town. He remembers Lumiere telling him that the Arthurian legends are centred hereabouts, particularly that the hill overlooking the town was reputedly where the castle Camelot was supposed to stand.
On emerging from the woods, Garth is thunderstruck to see the looming bulk of an impressive castle atop a hill, which he instinctively recognises as Camelot. But he realises that he cannot be in the past because he is standing on a well-made road leading to the brilliantly lit town in the distance, and the road is lined with gleaming lamp standards.
Hearing the sound of what seems like muffled hoofs, Garth steps off the road into the cover of a bush. He is astounded to see two young couples mounted on two extraordinary creatures that appear to be a cross between a horse and a dog. They have just completed a race up the hill road, and the winners boast of their mount – a strygg – as being the superior “model”. Their mounts are unearthly, but the couples are speaking English. They ride off, and as Garth stares about him, he notices that the lamp posts are, in fact, trees, with roots in the ground. Shinning up one, he finds that the light globe is a transparent membrane with a luminous stamen inside! On descending, he notices that the road surface is not concrete, but a close-packed gritty growth of some kind. Glancing at the night sky, he sees what can only be the Earth’s moon – so he is not on another planet.
Garth recalls Lumiere’s TV broadcast discussing parallel worlds, and remembers what had happened to him after he became enveloped by the wave of power operating through his TV set. He had been suspended in a strange void receiving thoughts in his mind from what seem to be ever-changing geometrical shapes. The creatures inform him that they are pure intelligences from “a galaxy created when time was young”. They are benevolent beings, and range a sector of the infinite time-channels of Earth, observing but not interfering in their destinies…unless and until they detect a world “that is going rogue!” They have selected Garth as their instrument to change this Earth’s destiny.
Not having any idea as to how he is to change the development of this parallel Earth, or what the corrupt rogue element actually is, Garth remains cautious. He walks towards the town, but keeps to the woods at the side of the road. At length he encounters an old man, evidently a poacher, removing a rabbit from a crude snare. The man begs Garth not to report him to the police for practising forbidden magic. When he points to his simple mechanical trap, Garth laughingly dismisses the snare as “nothing magical.” The poacher is immediately in awe of him, seeing Garth as an adept in the forbidden magic in which he himself dabbles.
He immediately bonds with Garth, forming a pact that neither will report the other to the police. He tells Garth that he is called Matthew, and proudly leads him to his ‘home’ – a crude wooden shack hidden in a dense thicket. He boasts that he constructed it himself, and it was not grown from seed. He proceeds to open the door lock with a key, boasting he is casting a spell. Inside, he prepares a meal on his ‘stove’, boiling water by dropping into it “a handful of salamander seed” which causes the water to boil. Garth learns that the metal for his pans came from tiny mole-like creatures that have been bred to extract metal from rock and store it as bees store honey. Subsequently the metal is worked manually by animals called drulls with “hammer paws to whatever pattern is bred into them.”
Garth realises that this rogue world is upside down: here, anything mechanical is magic and forbidden; somehow, they have got nature to do everything mankind does by physics and chemistry. Such mechanical science is now referred to as ‘the lost arts of the ancients, and the blackest practices of magic’. It had begun centuries ago, when Merlin first shaped the Life Crystals in Camelot, and so founded the One Science, a rule that is now world-wide…“the science of adapting the living cell – animal or vegetable – to mature so that it serves a particular need.”
When old Matt examines Garth’s clothes he sees at once that they have not been spun, or woven, by living creatures, and agrees to help Garth by providing him with ‘natural’ clothes so that he can pass unnoticed in the city. The next morning they travel to the city together, where Garth sees more evidence of everything being grown or bred to some purpose.
Garth has a sudden insight and asks Matt if scientists have used their skills to adapt a man. Matt tells him that scientists had been trying for centuries to remake a man, but have only recently succeeded in creating a superman – Sorl, who now rules Camelot. Suddenly, a parrot-like ‘message bird’ lands on Garth’s shoulder…and croaks his name! Matt remarks that the sender must have known Garth. The bird then croaks its message: “Follow alone, Garth… follow alone.”
Garth takes his leave of the old man and follows the bird to a small house on the outskirts of the city. He is welcomed by a young woman accompanied by a mysterious small stoat-like pet animal, who tells him that her name is Leonie, and that she is “a witch from the resistance movement against the One Science.” She has been sent to fetch Garth by her leader, the Great Warlock. No one knows his name or anything about him, only that he came amongst them with incredible skills in the forbidden sciences. He now leads an underground movement of ‘witches and wizards’ – people who practice physics and mechanics. He teaches them that these things are not witchcraft – they are fields of true science, and there is no evil in them. Leonie is one of a number of rebels against the One Science and its practice of adapting all lower life forms to serve man. Garth realises that this world had diverged from his own back in the days of King Arthur, when Merlin created the mysterious Life Crystals. He conjectures that the recent adaptation of a man into a superman may be the beginning of this world ‘going rogue’, something he has been chosen to prevent.
Leonie tells him that the Great Warlock is at a secret encampment some distance away. He had instructed her to obey Garth in all things, adding cryptically that Garth might want to see and learn more of this world’s culture before returning with her.
Garth rides on a strygg to Camelot with Leonie, intent on learning more about the ‘new man’, Sorl. They dismount in the vast courtyard of Camelot. It is one of the few buildings constructed by the now dead craft of masonry, left as a monument to the birth place of the new culture. Inside the great castle, Sorl gives audience to the spokesman for the Council of Scientists, who control the Life Crystals. Sorl is a cruel, cold and commanding figure, with an unnaturally large bald head. He has supplanted the Council of Scientists that had replaced the monarchy.
With his telepathic power, Sorl senses Garth’s arrival, picking up his thoughts seething “with forbidden knowledge.” He orders his arrest, and as guards close in on them, Garth separates from Leonie, and urges her to get away. Garth battles with the guards, and looks like escaping as he gains the top of the high wall surrounding the castle. But before he can get clear, he is shot at by a guard, firing a prickly burr projectile. The burr contains a powerful anaesthetic, and renders Garth unconscious.
Garth is brought before Sorl, and on returning to consciousness, finds himself trapped in a ‘chair’ that imprisons him with limpet-like creatures. Sorl probes Garth’s mind and establishes that he is an outsider and not a member of the underground, but who, as yet, is unaware of why he has been sent. As Garth tries to fight Sorl’s mental intrusions, Sorl hurls a bolt of thought to sear his brain, as he tries to learn whence Garth came, and why. But Garth remains stubborn, learning to ride the mental punches. At this impasse, Sorl has the captured Leonie brought in. He had read her thoughts and ordered her capture at same time as Garth’s.
But when Sorl tries to read her mind to learn the whereabouts of the Great Warlock, he is unable to do so. Garth surmises that the girl has been hypnotized by the Great Warlock to blank out her thoughts should she ever be questioned. Sorl has the girl taken back to her cell to be questioned later.
Turning back to Garth, Sorl establishes that Garth is trying to learn the secrets of the Life Crystals. He decides to let Garth see them, hoping that this will serve to clarify the rest of Garth’s purpose in coming to Camelot. Garth is released from his chair, but there is a ‘shackle-root’ around his neck that will contract and choke him should he try to escape or attack anyone. Garth is taken through the castle to the great hall wherein are housed the Life Crystals.
The Council of Scientists are in the midst of an adaptation experiment when Sorl and Garth enter – much to their consternation that an outsider should be witnessing their work. Sorl reminds them that he is their master now, and they will do as he commands or face death. He can use the Life Crystals ten times more effectively than the entire Council. They are ordered to continue with their adaptation, and to explain it to Garth.
The Life Crystals are mysterious glowing objects suspended in a globe of black void, like stars in the heavens. They float in the air above a spinning metal plate above a circular pit. The scientists place living creatures on the plate, and then use the power of their thoughts – picked up and amplified by the crystals – and concentrate on a desired change, a re-design for greater efficiency and a specific purpose. The process can be used on any new-born animals, or the seed of any plant. The crystals can cause a mutation on any form of life to appear in the next generation. Greater changers can be effected across several generations. Sorl himself is the product of three generations of selective breeding.
Garth watches as the four scientists concentrate on impressing changes on the germ plasm of a small animal. Reading Garth’s mind, Sorl now learns that his purpose is to destroy the Life Crystals, smashing the One Science, and destroying Sorl to stop him from remaking mankind with creatures of his own making.
Garth is taken to a cell, where he is shackled to the wall using ancient metal chains. A guard then slaps a ‘narco-leech’ on his arm, and Garth slumps to the floor of his cell, completely paralyzed. Sorl then tells him that he has selected him to be the specimen from which “I shall begin to adapt the new man. Yes, Warlock…soon you will lie beneath the Life Crystals!”
Sorl goes to a nearby cell, where Leonie is held captive. He transmits a painful bolt of mental energy, telling her that is just the start of a ‘bludgeoning’ process he will employ tomorrow to break down her conditioning.
Then, through the metal grille of Garth’s barred window, there creeps a tiny, stoat-like animal. Garth recognises it as Leonie’s pet. It bites Garth on his arm, and the narco-leech shrivels and drops off. Garth quickly recovers: the creature’s bite holds an antidote. Lying back down, Garth begins groaning loudly and twitching. The guard outside surmises that the narco-leech must have been faulty, and enters the cell to apply a new one. Garth rears up and kayos the guard with a mighty blow to the jaw. He transfers the new leech to the guard, and finds and removes his bunch of keys. He frees himself from his shackles, and then frees Leonie from her own cell nearby. She strokes her little pet ‘Skelky’ and tells Garth that she had released it just before she was captured. The creatures are bred to seek out and counteract the narco-leech. Pinning their hopes that Sorl does not pick up their thoughts – because he has no need at that moment to be concentrating on them – Garth and Leonie move cautiously through the dungeon corridors seeking a way out.
Cue O’Donnell’s familiar trademark Garth stratagems, that see Garth overpower a guard and then create a thick smokescreen by setting fire to damp straw and detritus strewn about the floor outside a bell tower leading to the foot of the castle. Garth and Leonie are able to flee on a strygg, heading towards a river deep in the forest, where Leonie has hidden a boat.
Sorl has awakened and sensed their escape, despatching his police guards to search for them with hounds. But using the ‘boat’ – a hybrid animal and plant contraption that employs jet propulsion through the water, Garth and Leonie are able to escape down river. They make their way overland to a seaport, and as they are proposing to steal a boat to reach the island where the Great Warlock has his secret base, they are found by a rebel emissary who has been waiting for them. He has a boat ready for their escape – another animal-plant construction.
On reaching the island, Garth is astounded to find blast furnaces and rolling mills for metal construction of locomotives and other machinery. The island itself is known to Sorl’s government as a producer and exporter of plants for use in the pursuit of the One Science, but its secret factories and activities are unknown. Garth is astonished that just one man – the Great Warlock – could be responsible for teaching them the alternative technologies. He is even more astonished when he finally meets him – to discover that he is, in fact, his friend Professor Lumiere!
Lumiere explains to Garth that he too had been snatched across the time-channels by the mysterious guardians, but whereas Garth was projected directly across the time-stream, Lumiere was thrust three years into the past. He found himself on the rebels’ island, and was instructed to teach the people there the secrets of physics and chemistry. He was told the exact day in the future when Garth would find himself in Camelot. Lumiere had reasoned that Sorl might be telepathic, so he had shielded Leonie’s mind by hypnosis before despatching her to find Garth. He had banked on Garth’s curiosity leading him to learn the secrets of Sorl and Camelot that he wished to know. Lumiere tells Leonie to summon the ‘Council of Adepts’ to learn what Garth has discovered.
Garth tells his story. He concludes by telling them that even though the scientists leading the ‘One Science’ culture may not have been intrinsically bad, only misguided, that no longer signifies: they have been superseded by a superman, Sorl, who lacks any humanity. His warped mind is planning to replace the human race. Lumiere points out that the more powerful intellects he is planning will have greater telepathic powers, enabling them to find and pinpoint the island as the home of the resistance.
There is general agreement amongst the Council members that the Life Crystals must be destroyed. In a few generations all adapted strains of plant and animal life will slowly revert to normal, or die out. When that happens their ‘wizardry’ will no longer be a crime… but the vital system of knowledge on which mankind can flourish.
Lumiere tells Garth that he has been asked to design weapons for an assault on Camelot, but he will not be doing so. They will no doubt find their own way to design weapons in the future, but his own work here is finished. Now he and Garth must find a way to destroy the Life Crystals. It will be no easy task. Lumiere believes that their creation by Merlin was accidental, and that even Sorl does not understand their nature…their creation must have been a freak event, a manifestation of real magic. They cannot be destroyed by known science, but only by another magical power. Such power may exists in a centuries-old shrine that was rediscovered on the island some ten years earlier.
Its discoverer was Leonie when, along with other children, she had been exploring in the hills. They had discovered a cave opening that was almost completely blocked by a huge boulder. Only Leonie was small enough to wriggle through, discovering a shrine to King Arthur. The adepts had forbad any attempt to enter the shrine – but Lumiere believes it may hold the answer.
Garth exerts his colossal strength and moves the boulder aside. Together with Lumiere and Leonie, he enters the cave. Inside, it is just as Leonie remembered it. The tomb of King Arthur in carved granite sunk on the floor, and a sword embedded in a stone plinth – Excalibur! Lumiere translates its Latin inscription: ‘My work is not yet done…who plucks me forth except to gain my cause…on him shall the mountain fall.
Lumiere believes it to be the same cause as they are now fighting for. Ordering Leonie to wait in safety outside the cave, Garth pulls out the sword. The mountain does not collapse, and Garth finds that the sword is imbued with some tingling mighty power, and seems weightless in his hand. He feels it could slash through anything material. Lumiere conjectures that it may have been made by Merlin’s master Blaise, greatest of the Druid magicians. Whilst in their own world, according to legend, it had been thrown in a lake, in this world the sword had been placed in this shrine.
Leonie insists on accompanying Garth and Lumiere on their dangerous mission to Camelot. Since she knows the country, Garth agrees on the understanding that she will be left behind once they reach the castle. They set out on the boat at dusk, and dawn finds them camped in the woods on the mainland. Garth asks Lumiere what his plan of attack is, and is dumbfounded when Lumiere smilingly admits that he does not have one – he has left that detail to Garth!
Several days later they sight Camelot in the distance, on the far side of the forested valley. Garth has indeed formulated a plan: it involves their finding his old hermit friend Matthew, who lives in the forest. Lumiere is to hypnotize Matthew and implant a story in his mind, so that he believes it to be true. Matthew will then travel alone to Camelot and seek an audience with Sorl, to warn him of the imminent arrival of Garth and the Great Warlock. He will tell Sorl that he overheard them in the woods, discussing their plan. They are bringing with them a special machine that has the power to affect the minds of all men and beasts in Camelot. It will inflict all his guards with a strange madness, turning them against Sorl, and attacking him. Matthew will tell his story without any idea of betraying his friend; his mind has been blocked against it.
They arrive at Matthew’s hut, and the old hermit is duly hypnotized. The plan works perfectly. Matthew is brought before Sorl, who reads his mind and buys into Lumiere’s planted story. He duly orders an exodus from Camelot of all men and beasts, leaving himself alone in the castle, confident of his own power to destroy Garth.
Watching from the woods, Garth and Lumiere make their move, leaving Leonie to await the return of Matthew. They enter the deserted castle, and finally reach the great chamber of the Life Crystals. Garth kicks open the door, to find Sorl calmly waiting for him alongside the pit of the Life Crysals.
Sorl is confident his bolts of mental energy will sear Garth’s brain, and he exerts his powers. But the energy is deflected and crackles around Excalibur in Garth’s outstretched hand, leaving him unharmed. Lumiere exhorts Garth to use the sword to strike at the Life Crystals, whereupon Sorl puts forth the full power of his mind, and all the chairs and free standing furniture and objects in the chamber whirl through the air – aimed at Garth’s head!
But his sword wields itself with blurring speed and blocks and slices through every object thrown at him. Raising the sword Garth brings it down into the floating black void holding the crystals. Sorl screams for him to stop: “Don’t strike! It’s death for us all!”
There is a vast soundless explosion, and outside Leonie and Matthew watch in horrified astonishment as the castle walls are riven apart, the ancient towers topple, and with a thunderous roar all Camelot crashes in ruins. Matthew grieves that his friends have given their own lives to destroy the Life Crystals, but Leonie tells him that Garth had told her they would not be returning. They were not of her world, and she believes that in the moment of their achievement in destroying the crystals, they would be returned to their own world.
Such indeed is the case, and in the interdimensional void into which Garth and Lumiere have been projected, they mentally hear the voices of the strange guardians of the time-channels: “Your work is done, humans… the danger is past…and the world from which we have taken you can no longer go rogue…”
Outside Camelot, the Council of Scientists return and realise that the One Science and Sorl are both gone forever. They “must find the wizards and warlocks of the underground… make them our teachers.”
Garth and Lumiere materialise in Lumiere’s house. They pour themselves a drink, and toast their other-world friends of the ‘Brotherhood of Magic’ who will restore their civilization.
This story was undoubtedly the best O’Donnell/Dowling/Allard creation to date: superb “other-worldly” cross-hatched artwork, and an imaginative and original story-line…but, astonishingly, it was about to be topped by their next story!
Previous: The Mask of Chang-Ku | Next: The Big Game
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