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Literature / Ardath

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Sah-luma, Prince of Poets, Poet Laureate of Al-Kyris. Art by Pyracantha.
Marie Corelli's Ardath (1889) is a Victorian fantasy about Theos Alwyn, a Lord Byron Expy with Writer's Block. At a mysterious monastery he seeks help from the master Heliobasnote , whom he's been told can induce Astral Projection in willing subjects. When Heliobas refuses to do this, Theos exerts his own considerable Psychic Powers (which he's unaware he has) and puts himself into this state. Upon waking he writes a new poem, Nourhalma, and says he has met an angelic woman, Edris, who asks him to meet her at "Ardath"note . He feels he's known and loved her since before the beginning, but once he gets there she ascends to heaven before his eyes. Bereft, he passes out in the middle of the field, and this is where the story really starts.

The majority of the novel is dedicated to a Nested Story in the form of an intensely detailed dream-vision. Theos finds himself in a beautiful city-state called Al-Kyris where poets are very respected. The poet laureate, Sah-luma, befriends him and invites him to share in the glories of Kyrisian high life. But all is not well in the great city, and Theos discovers corruption and betrayal even in the holiest places.

Upon awaking, Edris is back and assures him it wasn't All Just a Dream — but then she vanishes again, so he returns to London. Nourhalma is a huge hit, but he experiences So What Do We Do Now? and constantly compares what he's learned and experienced in Al-Kyris with modern life in London. He goes wandering through Europe, comes to believe in Christ — though not in Christianity as we know it — and eventually finds Edris again.


Jessica Amanda Salmonson calls Ardath Corelli's "weirdest and most baroque novel". Among other things, it was a major influence on Lord Dunsany's dreamworld stories, and is thus part of the ancestral lineage of H. P. Lovecraft's dream cycle. It has often been compared with Vathek.


  • 100% Adoration Rating: What Sah-luma has. He is not just respected and admired, but deeply loved by all. In fact, the Poet Laureate actually ranks equal or higher with the King.
  • And Man Grew Proud: Basically the whole point of the Al-Kyris part of the story.
  • Arc Words: "Kyrie eleison! Kyrie eleison!" Theos knows when he hears this hymn that he is in the modern world, but in a sacred place. Here's how he might have heard it at Heliobas' monastery, and what he might have heard at the cathedral near Ardath.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Edris, although once Theos has seen the error of his ways she is re-embodied and he finds her as an ordinary mortal.
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  • Beauty = Goodness: Averted, powerfully, with Lysia. And while Sah-luma is a good guy, he's also a spoiled, selfish brat who is blind to Lysia's evil and thus contributes to the downfall of Al-Kyris. He also doesn't see his true love (and possible twin flame, although Corelli only hints at this) when she's right in front of his nose, because she's just a shy servant girl.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: What Theos thinks at the outset because he's Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions. He finds out that faith doesn't have to be like that.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: The scene in which the city's gigantic central obelisk spontaneously crashes to the ground is still horrifying to read. There's another when an earthquake destroys the Temple of the Snake Goddess and then the entire city (possibly the whole continent, if this is meant to be Atlantis).
  • Break the Haughty: What Theos learns on his visit to Al-Kyris is that he must "crucify SELF forever!"
  • Byronic Hero: Theos Alwyn. Marie Corelli was fascinated with Lord Byron and a good friend of his widow Isabella. Knowing ol'George questioned God and Christianity (he was at best a Deist) Marie sought to redeem him on paper at least, figuring it would take an immensely dramatic experience to convert him.
  • Bromance: Bordering on Ho Yay between Theos and Sah-luma. They seem to fall in love on sight, and there's a good reason. Theos is Sah-luma reincarnated. The two have met themselves in each other.
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: Theos wants to be remembered, but after his Al-Kyris experience he learns that fame is worthless and only love matters besides the fact that half the stuff he wrote, he didn't really write — or he did, but he was Sah-luma when he wrote it. As superficial socialites and gossip columnists invite him to their parties he accepts so he can try to talk them into understanding his new perspective. Good luck, T.A.
  • Chastity Couple: It's implied that Theos and Edris may be this, since the narrator says they have a "spiritual love" that "far exceeds material passion" and that Edris is "unclouded by any shadow of sin."
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: Al-Kyris is all about this. There are hints that it is the capitol of Atlantis.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: Part of the reason Nourhalma takes off like a rocket. Theos was briefly believed dead, so his poem was initially published as "a work of PERISHED GENIUS!" As soon as they find out he's alive, the newspapers pronounce the poem a trainwreck, making even more people buy it!
  • Deadpan Snarker: Heliobas. He goes into Sarcasm Mode often, as he did in A Romance of Two Worlds. Theos is pretty good at this too, and one of Sah-luma's maidens, Irenya, uses sarcasm to disguise that she likes him.
  • Déjà Vu: Theos occasionally has the powerful impression that he's seen certain things and met certain people in Al-Kyris before. And so he has, since he is the reincarnation of Sah-luma.
  • Engagement Challenge: Theos loves Edris, but has to undergo a huge amount of Character Development to prove himself worthy to be her mate. After a few episodes of this, he expects her to vanish while he goes and learns another valuable lesson; when she shows up in the church at the end he takes one look and says "What do I have to do this time?"
  • Fantastic Religious Weirdness: The temple and ceremonies for the snake goddess Nagaya are described in momentous detail.
  • Happily Ever After: For real in the last chapter, although YMMV, possibly an Esoteric Happy Ending since they're most likely a Chastity Couple.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The door to Lysia's banquet hall looks like a solid wall. Theos is wondering how they'll proceed past the "huge erection". Lysia, we've been told, is an unbelievably beautiful woman who inspires desperate lust in every man she gazes upon. Draw your own conclusions as to whether Corelli was having a little fun there. (Hint: She was a huge fan of Shakespeare.)
  • I Will Wait for You: Edris will sit in heaven and wait for Theos to do whatever it takes to become worthy of her. After all, she's "God's Maiden".
  • It Sucks to Be the Chosen One: The prophet Khosrul. He has seen a vision of God taking the form of an ordinary man who preaches love and sanctifies humanity, is persecuted and crucified, but rises from the dead. This will happen about 5000 years from the time he saw it.note  For this and other prophecies, Khosrul is condemned to death.
    • When Theos shouts that this already happened over 1800 years ago (it did, from his perspective), Sah-luma smooths it over as a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Sah-luma is in love with Lysia, and hopes to marry her. Snake priestesses are supposed to be maidens, but Lysia betrayed that vow long ago. Despite massive evidence to the contrary, he believes she's as pure as the driven snow.
  • Recurring Character: Heliobas, who made his debut in A Romance of Two Worlds as a holistic medical practitioner. He'll be back in The Soul of Lilith.
  • Religion Is Right: Christianity really isn't stupid after all! At least in Corelli's more spiritualized version. Theos insists that no church has real Christianity and he denounces St. Paul as muddling Jesus' message with confusion and discord.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Theos is really good at this, bordering on Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter!, especially in the opening chapters.
  • Scenery Porn: Corelli is at her best with her lush descriptions of wild storms over stern forbidding mountains, peaceful gardens and exquisite palaces and shrines. Like all her writing, it's extremely cinematic.
  • Secret Circle of Secrets: The Mystic Brethren. A rare good version, they are aware of the corruption in Al-Kyris. Theos is overjoyed to see that they wear a cross emblem, even though it's just to show they believe Khosrul's prophecy.
    • There's also the Servants of the Secret Doctrine of the Temple, who use electricity not only to create special effects for temple festivals, but for Sinister Surveillance. Lysia seems omniscient because she is.
  • Self-Plagiarism: Theos, unwittingly. Most of his poems, especially the most beautiful and well received were originally written by Sah-luma.
  • Take That, Critics!: In spades. Al-Kyris even has a professional Straw Critic whose job is to snark at Sah-luma's work, call it maudlin, sentimental and so forth — in short, all the charges that had been leveled at Corelli's own work.
  • Virgin Power: Traditionally, the High Priestess must be a maiden so she can have this. However, Lysia broke her Vow Of Chastity long ago and has had many lovers. The fact that she is now having it off with the King seals the doom of Al-Kyris.
    • Edris is the one who really has this, since she's "God's Maiden" and seems to remain so after she joins with Theos.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: What the snake goddess Nagaya demands as the price of her favor. Niphrata, the court musican whose unrequited love for Sah-luma has broken her heart, volunteers to be one.
  • Vision Quest: Theos is on one initially.
  • World Building: Corelli outdid herself with Al-Kyris. Many chapters are filled with explanations of Kyrisian culture, education, dress, crafts and entertainment.

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