Garth – Story 38 – The Long Sleep

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The title panel shows, behind Garth, an indistinct figure of a woman encased in a crystal cube, but the legend reveals that ‘The Long Sleep’ will be a story in which “Garth and Astra meet again”. There is a slow build up to the story, detailing how Garth is to pilot a ‘Commonwealth Space project’ spaceship into twelve orbits around the Earth, returning him in his space capsule via parachute, splashing down in the sea. Professor Lumiere is assisting with the project, and is in mission control, aboard a cruiser. This was 1961, in the very early days of manned spaceflight, and an orbital flight was still something of a novelty.

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Once in orbit, Garth radios to mission control that he appears to be seeing things outside the capsule’s observation port: the face of a bearded man! Garth knows that he cannot really be there, unprotected in space, but the oppressive, sinister face remains visible to him. Garth then loses contact – he is no longer receiving radio messages from Earth – but just in case mission control can still receive his radio messages, he continues to transmit. He reports that he experienced a severe jolt to his craft, and is gripped by a feeling of strain and tension.

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Back on Earth, however, all contact with Garth has been lost, and all instruments and observers indicate that his capsule has disappeared.

After completing his programmed twelve orbits, Garth’s capsule descends to Earth by parachute – but not in the designated area in the ocean, in daylight. Instead, he finds himself drifting over the English Channel at night. As he descends, he is astonished to find himself amidst an artillery barrage, and then he is attacked by a First World War German Fokker aircraft. The capsule splashes down in a river.

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Garth exits the capsule and struggles to the river bank, where he is held up at gun point by two investigating British soldiers. From their questioning, Garth realises that he has landed in the midst of the First World War. He is taken before the Commanding Officer under suspicion that he is a German spy. From the C.O., Garth learns that the year is 1916, and that the remainder of a British platoon are trapped in a farmhouse, behind enemy lines.

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Garth - The Long Sleep

The farmhouse is attacked and destroyed by British long range howitzers, but miraculously Garth’s body is somehow protected, and he lies dazed but unhurt, well clear of the wrecked farmhouse.

He is found and arrested by German soldiers, and is brought before a German Intelligence Officer for interrogation. His lack of papers, and his modern clothing (zips being unknown in 1916) intrigues the Germans.

They are also baffled by his demeanour – Garth, on learning that he is in the past, is convinced that it must have been Astra who saved him. So he is completely unworried as to his fate when he is condemned to be shot by a firing squad the next morning.

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Garth - The Long Sleep

That night, when Garth was hoping that that Astra might appear to him in a dream, he is disconcerted to see only the sinister bearded face of the man he had ‘seen’ outside his space capsule. Garth senses that the watcher is evil. A feeling confirmed when his vision expands to show a vaulted stone hall with the bearded man conducting a black magic ceremony.

Next morning, a drained Garth is wakened by armed guards and led out into a yard to face a firing squad. The order to fire is given and a volley of shots crashes out, splintering his tether post – but Garth is no longer there! He materialises a thousand miles away in the temple he saw in his dreams. Garth realises that since he has been brought here by black magic, Astra cannot have been involved. When he speaks her name aloud, the sinister man muses “Ah! So it is by the oldest of her names that you know her?” Garth then realises that the man is Baal.

Baal had been, with Astra, the other remaining member of the Great Ones, the immortals of the ancient magi—one who had become twisted into the service of evil. Baal confirms that he has used that name at times through the ages, but that in this time his name is Rasputin – which Garth recognises as the notorious ‘Holy Devil’, the mad monk of Russia!

Rasputin takes Garth to his opulently furnished room in another part of the monastery, and orders Garth to tell him – and the Mirror readers – what Garth knows of the history of the Great Ones. Their story had been previously told in “The Last Goddess” (1957) and reprised in “The Sorcerer” (1959).

When Garth tells Rasputin that in the future he and Astra together will destroy him, Rasputin reveals why he has snatched Garth through time. “The powers of darkness have shown me this danger – but there are many possible futures… and devious means for one such as I to manipulate the way ahead!”

Garth had been shown to him as a future enemy, and by choosing a moment when Garth had become vulnerable by leaving Earth and going into space, he had been able to snatch Garth. To avoid his fate, Rasputin needs to kill Astra now, in 1916, and will use Garth as his instrument to slay her. Enraged, Garth tries to attack Rasputin, but is stunned by his mental force.

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When Garth comes round at the monastery on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, he is given contemporary clothes to wear by one of Rasputin’s slatternly handmaidens. The Czar is away with his armies, and so the Czarina presides over the Russian Court… but Rasputin presides over the Czarina, as he does over all women. From history, Garth recalls that Rasputin had cured the sick royal child, so that the Czarina thought him a saint. Garth is to be presented at court by Rasputin. Helpless against Rasputin’s occult powers, Garth can only obey and bide his time.

As they journey to the palace by troika, Rasputin tells Garth that he cannot hope for rescue from Astra because, in this decade, “she sleeps the long sleep”. He adds that in this mysterious state she is vulnerable to him under certain conditions which Garth will provide.

After being presented at court, Garth is left to his own devices. Mixing with the courtiers he learns that the more dissolute amongst them will later that evening be attending a party thrown by one Count Kolinsky, when Rasputin will be providing entertainment. After the reception is open, Garth is hailed from a passing carriage by an elderly Countess, Tanya Stremov, who invites him to ride with her to Count Kolinksi’s residence. The Countess confides to Garth that they are both enemies of “that Hell-serving fiend, Rasputin,” who she knows is planning to kill her. Fingering her jewelled pendant, she tells Garth that she has some measure of protection. Of all the women in the Russian Court, she is the only one Rasputin cannot dominate, but there is another, deeper reason for his enmity that she cannot divulge as yet.

At the Kolinskis’ Palace ballroom, Rasputin presents Garth as a seer who can foretell the future. Garth bluntly informs them that within two years, Czarist Russia will be dead, and that a man called Lenin will rule from Moscow – and that those of them who have not fled will die.

The Countess, pleading tiredness, invites Garth to leave with her, and to stay at her home. Rasputin mockingly tells Garth that he has no objection, adding cryptically that a pattern of events has been set in motion that will end with Astra’s destruction, whatever Garth does.

That night, at the home of the Countess, Garth strives in his sleep to make mental contact with Astra, unsuspecting that his thoughts are monitored by Rasputin, who is conducting a demonic ceremony to aid him to locate Astra’s hiding place. Gradually, however, Garth senses that evil forces are helping him. Spooked, he awakens. In the monastery, the drained and thwarted Rasputin fumes at his failure to find Astra, and vows to “invoke the Black Archons from the deepest reaches of hell to counsel me!”

Several days pass, and both Garth and the Countess are waiting for Rasputin’s next move – which comes when the Countess receives an invitation to another party at the Kolinskis, where Rasputin will again be attending.

That night, as they travel together, the Countess tells Garth that when they return, she will tell him her “strange, sad…yet very wonderful” story.

Rasputin arrives at the Kolinskis, bringing with him a huge, sleeping bear, which is under his mental control. In the ballroom, Rasputin announces to the assembled guests that he now presents for their entertainment his animal friend, Gromm, a performing bear. The bear tumbles and dances under Rasputin’s hypnotic spell. Watching grimly, a pale-faced Countess alerts Garth that Rasputin means to kill her, that this “day of the Bear” had been foretold to her.

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Garth - The Long Sleep
Garth - The Long Sleep

Under Rasputin’s control, the bear suddenly lunges towards the seated Countess. Garth leaps to her rescue, striking the bear aside with his feet. As Garth wrestles with the maddened bear, the Countess again fingers her jewelled pendant, calling upon the “power of my beloved Apollo” to aid Garth.

Garth chokes the bear into unconsciousness, and demands that Rasputin gets the bear chained and taken away. Rasputin is not displeased, gloating to himself that “It is done as the dark Lords counselled me… which will lay Astra powerless before me!”

Garth returns with the Countess to her home, where she bandages Garth’s right arm, which has been savaged by the bear. Garth is worried that she looks near to death herself. The next morning, Garth is summoned to her bedside. She tells him that she is “happy that my loneliness will soon be ended.” She removes her jewelled pendant and urges Garth to place it around his own neck. She reveals that when the pendant had been made for her fifty years ago, she had been told that a day would come when she must pass it to the man who would fight for her ‘on the day of the Bear’. She tells Garth that the jewel and the foretelling had been given to her by her lover, Apollo, one of the immortal Great Ones. Her story is a pure parallel of his with Astra, concluding in Apollo giving up his hold on life, to prevent his going the way of Baal/Rasputin, and becoming a thing of evil when his lover aged and died.

Garth then tells her his own story, as Rasputin watches and listens by occult means from his monastery. He gloats that now Garth is wearing the jewel of Apollo it will guide him to Astra – “while she lies helpless in the Long Sleep”.

Garth tells the Countess he had heard Rasputin referring to Astra lying in the ‘Long Sleep’ and asks if she knows what it means. The Countess does not, but tells Garth that she believes the jewel of Apollo will help him to find her. She asks Garth to remain near to her, so he spends the night in an armchair in the salon downstairs. Here, he falls asleep, and has a dream of Astra lying in a crystal cube in a lofty stone cavern. However, he is unable to make any mental contact with her.

Upstairs, the Countess summons a servant to her bed, and orders Garth to be brought to her quickly. She tells him that she has dreamt her last dream, in which she had seen that one of her horses, Saladin – a descendant of the horse Apollo rode when she was young – would lead and carry Garth to Astra. Just before she dies in her bed, the Countess calls for her servant, Felix, and instructs him to take Garth to her country home, and give him her horse, Saladin.

Felix takes Garth to the country house and, mounted on Saladin, Garth sets out on his quest to find Astra. Holding the reins loosely, he lets the horse guide him, unaware that in his monastery Rasputin lies in an induced sleep, monitoring Garth’s every move.

The journey takes many days as Garth rides across plains and forests, towards a mountain range. Each night as he dreams, he sees the vision of Astra lying asleep in her hidden vault. The long journey takes its toll on Garth as his wounded arm, now infected and almost useless, makes him feverish and weakens him. In one dream, he sees a mountain with three peaks, and when he awakes he finds that the horse has gone during the night. Proceeding on foot, he reaches the three-peaked mountain he saw in his dream, convinced that he will find Astra inside the mountain.

At length the rock face ahead of Garth grows hazy, and he finds that he can walk through it. In the monastery, an exultant Rasputin awakens. Now that Garth has found Astra’s hidden sanctuary and breached its barrier, the way is open for him to follow.

As Garth stands before the crystal cube enclosing the sleeping Astra, wondering how he can awaken Astra and warn her, Rasputin exerts his occult powers and teleports himself into the cavern. Garth finds that he cannot move as Rasputin advances towards them.

Rasputin now reveals to Garth the secret of the Long Sleep. Once every thousand years, their kind must sleep the Long Sleep for a full decade, to restore the inner forces which make them immortal. Soon, she will awaken, to find herself trapped and powerless to prevent Rasputin plunging into her the ancient dagger of Cain he now carries, ending her immortal life.

Garth watches helplessly as Rasputin begins to construct a black magic pentacle around Astra, when suddenly the jewel of Apollo about his neck begins to glow, brightening as it releases its pent-up power. Garth finds himself free from Rasputin’s hypnotic spell as Astra’s crystal block slowly begins to melt and dissolve.

Rasputin taunts Garth that his right arm is useless, and that he is weakened with fever. Wielding his dagger he leaps upon Garth, bringing him crashing to the ground. Garth clutches Rasputin’s knife wrist with his one good hand, desperately holding on until Astra can awaken. The cursing Rasputin struggles to drive home his knife, but Garth doggedly holds on, preventing a fatal thrust – then Astra wakens just as Garth finally lies limp, his last atom of strength spent.

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Astra’s renewed powers are at their height, whilst Rasputin’s magic is annulled by Apollo’s jewel. Rasputin is hurled through the air like a rag doll. Looking down at him, Astra asserts that the laws of the Great Ones forbid her taking Baal’s life, but she can send him back to where he came from, and wipe from his mind all memory of this time. She raises her arm and a blinding ray of light blasts down on his body, and he materialises on the floor of his monastery.

In the mountain sanctuary Garth struggles back to consciousness, and starts to warn Astra that Baal intends to kill her. Astra tells him that it is all over, and Baal defeated. Picking up Garth, Astra tells him that she will remove him “to a far place…and make you well…”

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Garth awakens on the golden shore of a sunny island, now restored to health. For several days he enjoys his usual blissful idyll with Astra, but knowing that they must soon part. Astra tells him that when “the interplay of celestial forces is rightly balanced”, she will return him through future time, back inside his space capsule. Before exerting her power to do this, she gives Garth a lock of her hair, “as a token of reality.” Garth is puzzled, but Astra assures him that the reason for her gift will be made clear after his return.

In the present day, Lumiere and those in the space mission control room are amazed and gratified when Garth’s space capsule mysteriously reappears, and they re-establish radio contact. The mission concludes as a success, and after splashdown Garth is picked up. Garth tells the scientists and officials that he cannot explain why they had lost contact, but when they are alone, he recounts to Lumiere the whole story of his fantastic adventure in the past with Astra.

To his dismay, Lumiere’s first reaction is to regard Garth’s story as a fascinating hallucination… “A dramatic mental effect of your flight into space.” But when Garth shows him the lock of Astra’s hair, “Like spun gold”, Lumiere realises that he had spoken the truth.

Science fiction buffs would appreciate this ending as a pleasing riff on H.G. Wells’ Time Traveller bringing back “two strange white flowers.”

Mention must again be made of the outstanding, meticulous artwork to the story, in which Dowling and Allard continued to experiment with an even greater range of intricate shading effects – scraperboard, cross-hatching, and a unique admixture of both.

As for the story, here O’Donnell too had been on top form, the intricate plot elements dove-tailing beautifully. The writing was carefully crafted to impart profundity and emotion. However, as with his previous Astra story, “The Sorcerer”, he again failed to “fix” the anomaly of Garth adventuring in foreign lands and being able to speak and understand the native language – in this case, Russian! Why, oh why, did O’Donnell do this? When writing interstellar stories, he always used a science fiction trope or gizmo to give Garth a knowledge of alien languages. But similarly Garth, unaided, could no more speak fluent Russian than mid-Galactic!

This illogicality could easily have been fixed – O’Donnell could, for instance, have added a panel in which a knowledge of Russian was telepathically transferred to Garth by Rasputin, who could have explained that he needed to have Garth understand Russian to weave his plot to destroy Astra. But he didn’t. Perhaps O’Donnell and the strips editor considered the Mirror readership to be too stupid to notice, or to be indifferent if they did. The persistence of this anomaly would seem to indicate that maybe they were right! But, for me, by doing so, what should have been a classic Garth story, was merely a very good one!

Previous: The Living Mountain | Next: Warrior World

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