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Literature / The Drawing of the Dark

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"If but we Christians have our beer, nothing's to fear."

The Drawing of the Dark is a 1979 Historical Fantasy novel by Tim Powers. It's a cheerful story of how beer saved the world. Sort of.

Set before and during the 1529 Siege of Vienna, The Drawing of the Dark stars aging Irish mercenary Brian Duffy. While visiting Venice, Duffy meets a mysterious wizard named Aurelianus Ambrosius who wants to hire him for an enormous salary to work as a bouncer at the Zimmermann Inn in Vienna, where the famous Herzwesten beer is brewed. Though Duffy has bad memories of Vienna, which is home to the girl who broke his heart, he reluctantly agrees. As he sets off for Vienna, though, he begins to experience strange events, and things only get more bizarre once he arrives. Eventually he learns that both he and the brewery are not what they seem, and that protecting the brewery from the Turkish incursion is a surprisingly important task.

The title is a multiple punny reference to important plotpoints in the book along the various different meanings of "to draw" and "dark". One can identify at least 5 possible meanings. It refers to...

  • the drawing of beer, i.e. the famous (and magical) Herzwesten Dark beer,
  • the drawing, i.e. to cause something to move towards something, of the dark (Forces) towards Vienna and the more hidden dark forces drawn to the brewery,
  • stalemating said dark forces, as in draw,
  • drawing a picture and
  • extracting the evil, as in drawing the venom from a wound.

This book was Powers' first take on what would later become his primary theme: the secret and implausibly bizarre occult history behind real-world events. It's also one of his most light-hearted novels (despite what the original cover might suggest).

Unrelated to Sarah A. Hoyt's Draw One in the Dark.

This book contains examples of:

  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: A recurring theme. Magical alcohol is even more effective at this.
  • Bar Brawl: What Duffy thinks he's at the Zimmermann to prevent—though after a few weeks, he begins taking bets on them instead, and/or starting his own, much to the dismay of the manager.
  • Blade Lock: Averted (hypothetically) when Aurelianus attempts to explain to Duffy, using Blade Lock as a metaphor, why epic magic is impossible when there's another powerful wizard of opposing alignment in the room. Duffy, a gritty old soldier, remarks: "I wouldn't just stand there straining. I'd knee the bastard and spit in his eyes."
  • Call to Adventure: Comes in several versions as the story progresses. Duffy's first clue that he might be The Chosen One is the manner in which people keep trying to attack him, bribe him, or give him mysterious hints. He's not interested in unraveling any of this at first, but when the calls persist, he finally goes to Aurelianus and demands an explanation.
  • Celtic Mythology: A surprising amount, considering that the book is set in Vienna. For example, legendary Irish Hero Finn Mac Cool is supposedly buried beneath the Herzwesten brewing vats. How he got there, instead of being in the cave near Dublin of legend, is given a brief gloss. Aurelianus even claims that the name "Vienna" derives from "Finn". (The names may actually be related.)
    • Reference is also made to the (very real) "beaker people", about whom not much is known except they lived a long time ago, made beakers, and left them all over Europe.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Not quite, but pretty close. Justified since Protestantism is still brand new.
  • Creator In-Joke: The opening epigraph (shown at the top of the page) is a quote from William Ashbless, a fictional romantic poet invented by Powers and fellow author James P. Blaylock while at college. References to Ashbless appear in many works by both authors.
  • Dead All Along: One minor character who's after the Dark beer turns out to be a centuries-old ghost.
  • Drinking on Duty: Not really that shocking, since Duffy's working for a brewery, but the Zimmermann's manager, Werner, is not thrilled with the amount he drinks, nor with his sometimes drunken means of dealing with problems that arise.
  • Fantastic Drug: Aurelianus smokes snakes! Snakes "cured with the proper—ahh—herbs and spices".
  • Fisher King: The first of several appearances of the Fisher King in Powers' works. This time, waiting for some health-giving beer.
  • Grand Theft Me: Duffy gets this more and more as the book goes on, though unusually, it's not necessarily a bad thing. The first time it happens, it saves his life.
  • Historical Domain Character: John Zapolya, the soon-to-be King of Hungary, shows up at the Zimmermann in disguise for a not-so-friendly chat with Duffy. Not to mention Suleiman and Martin Luther, who are both mentioned in passing.
  • Horny Vikings: A small group of middle-aged Danes sails up the Danube to Vienna, following a very confused prophecy. They're even more confused once they arrive, since no one in town but Aurelianus (and Duffy's alter ego) speaks a Nordic language.
  • Irish Priest: One makes a brief appearance in Duffy's reminiscence: back when he was a young altar boy, he horrified the local priest by going nuts and shouting about pagan rituals during Christmas Mass. The priest then tried to exorcise him. Duffy stopped going to church after that.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Duffy starts off sour and cynical, and most of the events of the story only make him more so, but he remains determined to do the Right Thing throughout. At least when he's sober.
  • MacGuffin Title: Not one, but two MacGuffins (and a borderline pun).
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Aurelianus is a wizard of sorts (in fact he's Merlin), but at one point he is called on to perform some juggling tricks to amuse crying children.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Aurelianus Ambrosius, reminiscent of Ambrosius Aurelianus, a Welsh warleader and one of the sources for the legend of Merlin.
    • Herzwesten beer—the name loosely translates as "heart of the west". Pointed out by Aurelianus, who sees symbols in everything (and is usually right).
  • Mundane Made Awesome: It's not just a fine Austrian beer; it's the beer that will save the West!
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: After an assault by the defenders of Vienna against a position of Turks that had got too close to the main city wall. One of the armored knights died from wounds taken in the charge. The commander had originally brought out some explosives to take down the small wall there, but instead jury-rigged them to the knight's corpse so he could trick the Turks into thinking he had left defenders behind and catch them in the explosion. It worked too, naturally.
  • Old Flame: The unfortunate Epiphany ("Piff") Hallstadt, née Vogel, who Duffy once thought he was going to marry. Now she's widowed and works at the Zimmermann Inn.
  • Prophecy Pileup: Duffy seems to be fulfilling a prophecy that King Arthur will return to save the West—though he's not yet aware of it—when some anachronistic Vikings sail into Vienna with a prophecy that the ancient Norse hero Sigmund will return to stave off Ragnarok, and Duffy seems to be the man who fits.
  • Public Domain Artifact: Aurelianus offers Duffy/Arthur his legendary sword, Calad Bolg (Excalibur). Duffy, a modern soldier of the 16th century, is unimpressed by such an archaic design, and prefers his own sword.
  • Refused by the Call: A background character believes he is the reincarnation of King Arthur, who has been summoned to Vienna to resist the forces of Suleiman. He continually tries to foist his tactical opinions on the local leaders, and reawaken the memories of his True Companions. Sadly, while he was right about King Arthur's reincarnation, it was not him, and by the end of the story he is a drunken pitiful wretch, and somehow cobbles together a set of armor and a horse and charges alone against the Turkish army. It ends exactly the way you would expect, poor guy.
  • Serious Business: Beer brewing takes on literally mythic proportions.
  • Shout-Out: While on his way to Vienna, Duffy camps with some folks he met along the way, and entertains them with some music, including something called "Blaylock's Wilde Mann", a reference to Powers' good friend, author James P. Blaylock.
  • Translation Convention: With 16th-century Italian and German dialects (the main language of the story), Old Norse, Welsh, Latin, and several other tongues. An added twist is that Duffy himself is subject to this trope; he doesn't actually "know" most of the languages he gets involved with, but he understands them anyway. As you might expect, there is a plot-based reason for this: he's a reincarnation of an ancient hero, who speaks several dead languages but no contemporary ones.
  • Wizard Classic: Aurelianus is about as close to this as you can get with a work set in 16th century Europe, rather than a vague Standard Fantasy Setting.