That's the abbreviated version of the title... here's the full one : The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, as caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. Quite a mouthful, but quite a story; 19,000 pages, 12 volumes, single-spaced, totally typewritten... illustrations separate.

The story and illustrations are by a man named Henry Darger. Darger's life can take up volumes (and, in fact, it does; Darger wrote an 8-volume autobiography) so I'll just hit the highlights here. Mother died when he was 4, father a cripple, Darger goes to live at a Catholic orphanage, and then gets sent to an asylum. Diagnosed with 'masturbation' - we've come a long way, folks. Escapes, drafted into the Army and discharged, and works the rest of his life at two Chicago hospitals as a dishwasher and menial worker. He lived most of his life in a single room on Chicago's north side; here, he created his life's work. Strongly Catholic and attended Mass compulsively, sometimes going five times a day. Few friends, never talked much, except to himself, but he excelled at talking to himself - he'd carry on extended, hours-long conversations in upwards of five different voices with himself. Utterly harmless man. He was injured and forced to more to a nursing home a month before his death, at which time his landlord found the manuscripts and illustrations. That was his life, now here's his work.

The story deals with a war between two nations, the evil, child-enslaving Glandelinia, and the bright happy Catholic state of Abbiennia. The Abbiennians are led by seven moppets, the Vivian girls, and in fact, the entire land is populated by young girls between the ages of 6 to 10. The Glandelinians attempt to overtake the Abbiennians and the longest, bloodiest war in recorded history ensues. There's a strong classical fantasy element, with maurading dragons and heroic warriors. Lots of martyrs, too, in grand Catholic fashion. Here's an excerpt from the manuscript; I'm told that this is very representative of the whole.

   The massacre continued for still another day. Children were dispatched in
   the most horrible manner. Their intestines were cut out, the Glandelinians
   even pelting their victims with them. Children were commanded to eat the
   hearts of the dead children, and those who refused were tortured beyond
   describing. The children were fairly bathed in blood.

   Scores upon scores of poor children were cut to pieces, after being strangled
   to death, and even their organs were hung on trees. Children were forced
   to swallow the sliced fragments of dead children's hearts. Nearly three
   quarters of the number of children who were massacred died first by
   strangulation, their eyes and protruding tongues were extracted, their
   bodies opened and their entrails pulled out, and their bodies hacked and
   torn and left lying in that condition on the streets and pavements. Blood
   dripping corpses were fairly hung from windows or stuck on posts and pikes.
   Children by the score per minute were scourged to death also being struck by
   horrible whips made of rubber, rope, or leather, and also elastic rubber
   whips with horrible iron spiked lashes at the ends, and the lashes torn
   their flesh until they were covered with gore. Within three days the
   sliced up bodies of the helpless innocents lay strewn by thousands, the blood
   lying in puddles.

As amazing as the sheer mass quantity of his writing is, Darger became famous for his illustrations. Some background on the current art scene : after the massive excesses of Art (with capital letter, natch) in the 80s, so-called 'outsider art' became popular: self-taught artists, usually somewhat mentally unstable. Darger's now a leading light of this genre.

All of Darger's art is there to support his narrative. It consists of long scrolls of paper (typing paper, taped together) drawn in ink and colored with pencils or markers. There are many scenes of massive butterflies and young girls lounging about, sometimes in the nude; strangely, many of the nude girls were supplied with male genitals. Other scenes are the horrific, greyed-out shots of Glandelinian soldiers reaping and strangling the small girls. All the girls appear to be traced from department-store advertisements, and modified from there.

Whatever your opinion of Darger's story, you see his art and you realize that he's got it. He loves bright colors and he spaces them out incredibly well - bright like Peter Max, but with the look and feel of Gaugain. His sense of composition is beautiful. Technically, his style is unsophisticated, but when it works this well, no one wants to complain.

There's a small subset of outsider art history scholars now devoted entirely to Darger; they pick apart his illustrations and manuscripts endlessly, expounding on his supposed love-hate relationship with God, his possible 'split personalities', etc.

Oh, by the way, this is officially one of the strangest artistic masterworks known to man.

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