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Literature / The Eye of Argon

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"Grignr slipped his right hand to his thigh, concealing a small opague object beneath the folds of the g-string wrapped about his waist. Brine wells swelled in Grignr's cold , jade squinting eyes, which grown accustomed to the gloom of the stygian pools of ebony engulfing him, were bedazzled and blinded by flickerering radiance cast forth by the second soldiers's resin torch."

Described as "the worst fantasy novella ever", The Eye of Argon is a story by then 16 year-old Jim Theis. It's the tale of Grignr, a foul-mouthed barbarian warrior who is trying to escape the dungeons of Evil Overlord Agaphim and rescue a young woman named Carthena from a pagan cult who want to sacrifice her to their idol — a statue with one eye called "The Eye of Argon". (A "scarlet emerald", complete with some interesting plumbing.)

Published in the fanzine OSFAN 7, in 1970, the story is well known for its abundant cliches, shoddy spelling, flat characters, wooden dialogue and overly colourful writing. Every woman is a "wench", eyes are "emerald orbs". Almost nothing is ever "said" — instead it is "queried" or "ejaculated" or "husked" or "stated whimsicoracally". There's an extended scene involving elderly priests groping Carthena, and a scene where Grignr has sex with (or possibly just hugs) a "half-naked harlot... with a lithe, opaque nose". One cult member randomly faints by an epileptic fit in battle, and another suffers a savage, multi-paragraph Groin Attack.


The most widely-known and circulated copy of the story comes to an abrupt and unsatisfactory halt, and for many years it was believed that the ending was lost forever (or even, in some quarters, that the story was never completed). Recent years have seen the separate discoveries of two intact copies of the fanzine in which The Eye of Argon debuted, so it is now known how the tale ends. (With multiple exclamation marks, it turns out.)

At science fiction conventions, The Eye of Argon is now a sort of parlor game. All participants sit in a circle with a hard copy of the story, and the first one starts reading aloud — pronouncing every word as it's misspelled, and including every adjective. When they finally burst into laughter, the copy is passed to the next person. If a person manages to make it through more than a page, the copy is sometimes passed anyway, on the grounds that the reader must have special training as a news anchor.


A nicely-retyped transcription, not perfect but quite a bit better, has long been in circulation, with a transcriber's note apologising for its inability to reproduce the original's equally awful typesetting and illustrations. It is now also possible to view a facsimile copy of the original publication, in all its strangely-set and oddly-illustrated glory. This facsimile does include the lost ending.

You can also purchase an authorized print edition.

As reading it raw may cause brain damage, you can settle for the MST'd version (by Adam Cadre) which naturally calls out many of the tropes listed here, or this Dramatic Reading of Chapter One on YouTube. It also got the treatment from Let's Drown Out, and a whole season of the podcast 372 Pages We'll Never Get Back reading through it from start to finish. For those who are unable to read it sober, we have the Drinking Game over here. An example of the game can be found here. Geoff Bottone actually wrote a version of the story called Grïgnyr the Ecordian, which aimed to make a compelling version of the story that Theis probably envisioned in his head.

Compare Amanda McKittrick Ros, Atlanta Nights and My Immortal.

This story provides examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Agaphim only stays in power because he has such a vast army.
  • Angrish: Prince Agaphim starts to spout "muffled, syllibant gibberish" when Grignir calls him a fat idiot.
  • Anti-Climax: After pages of over-the-top fight scenes, Grignr's final enemy is a mystical leech that sucks an absurd amount of blood from his leg only to die when burned with a torch.
  • Author Appeal: Almost every chapter contains at least a mention of breasts. Carthena even speaks "bustily".
  • Author Vocabulary Calendar: Theis seems to be fond of the word "swiveled" - or, as he misspells it, "swilveled." Also "stygian."
  • Barbarian Hero: Grignr, a very obvious Captain Ersatz of Conan the Barbarian.
  • Barbarian Longhair: The protagonist, northern barbarian Grignr, has long red hair. It's also described as "robust," but given the author's attitude towards adjectives, that could mean almost anything.
  • Battle Cry: Grignr's is "hoarsely piercing." Usually includes the phrase "by the surly beard of Mrifk!"
  • Beauty = Goodness: The prince and shamen [sic] are always described as fat and disgusting, while Grignr and Carthena are usually portrayed as attractive. Grignr is muscular and ruggedly handsome, and it's implied that he cleans up nicely.
  • BFS: Inverted. Most of the swords described are "a foot of blinding steel", which actually would make them more daggers than swords. The author might have meant "yard."
  • Booby Trap: Grignr narrowly escapes one.
  • The Caligula: Agaphim
  • Corpsing: A meta-example in the popular parlor game to see who can keep a straight face the longest while taking turns reading the story aloud. Just try it. You will fail.
  • Costume Porn: Oh, so very much, coupled with Purple Prose.
  • Crapsack World: Everyone and everything is roguish and violent.
  • Damsel in Distress: Carthena.
  • Den of Iniquity
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    • "The Stygian cloud of charcoal ebony", which amounts to "the dark cloud of black black".
    • "All that remained was a dark red blotch upon the face of the earth, blotching things up." Blotches tend to do that.
    • "The foot-trodden floor." As opposed to what?
  • Deus ex Machina: Grignir, the barbarian protagonist, is locked in combat with a bunch of cultists. During the fight, one of his opponents just collapses in the middle of the fight from an epileptic seizure.
  • Evil Chancellor: Agafnd brings the trope to mind, although he and Agaphim are on the same side. Agafnd seems to be the more devious of the two.
  • Evil Overlord: Agaphim
  • Evil vs. Evil: Carthena claims that the Cult of Argon is enemies with Agaphim and his regime.
  • Fainting: One of the shamen [sic] faints for no reason, Carthena passes out quite a few times, but Grignr—despite losing a bathtub's-worth of blood and not eating for days on end—never faints.
  • Fat Bastard: Agaphim.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Agafnd persuades Agaphim that sentencing Grignr to a life of slave labor would be more of a punishment than being tortured to death.
    Agaphim: Take this uncouth heathen to the vault of misery, and be sure that his agonies are long and drawn out...
  • Fiery Redhead: Grignr is our redheaded barbarian hero.
  • Gorn: Grignr takes a quarter of a chapter to decapitate a rat, and no gory detail is spared. Earlier, Grignr bisects a man in equal detail.
  • Groin Attack: The attack is quick, but the priest's reaction takes an entire two paragraphs.
    "Cocking her right foot backwards, she leashed it desperately outwards with the strength of a demon possessed, lodging her sandled foot squarely between the shaman's testicles."
  • Heroes Want Redheads: This may have been the author's intention; Grignr (himself a redhead) falls for Carthena, whose hair is apparently the color of orchids (more of a bright pink than a red).
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Carthena turns out to be the prostitute who serviced Grignr at the start of the story.
  • Human Sacrifice: Grignr rescues Carthena from this fate.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Carthena in the hands of the head shaman.
  • Impossible Hourglass Figure: Carthena is described as both "slender" with a "trim build" and endowed with a "bulging bosom" and "huge outcropping breasts".
  • Improvised Weapon: Grignr stabs a guard with the sharpened pelvic bone of a rat.
  • A Lady on Each Arm: Agaphim.
  • Low Fantasy
  • Moral Dissonance: Grignr and Carthena both exhibit this in spades.
  • Mundane Made Awesome:
    • The following describes Grignr's wine being kicked over:
    "A flying foot caught the mug Grignr had taken hold of, sending its blood red contents sloshing over a flickering crescent; leashing tongues of bright orange flame to the foot trodden floor."
  • Neologism: Among others, "protruberating", "nerelady", and "scozstic".
  • Noble Savage: Gringr claims to be one, although by this point in the story he's gone out of his way to steal a petty bauble.
    Grignr: My people are not tarnished by petty luxuries and baubles. They remain fierce and unconquerable in their native climes.
  • No Ending: The most widely-circulated copy of the story ends abruptly during Grignr's final battle. Some people continue to believe that this is how the original version actually ended.
  • Overdrawn at the Blood Bank: At the end of the story, a leech... thing sucks a ridiculous amount of Grignr's blood.
  • Produce Pelting: Agaphim is "often assaulted by hurtling stones and rotting fruits" when he leaves his palace.
  • Purple Prose, Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, and Delusions of Eloquence: Theis seemed to have an aversion to common words, and had access to a thesaurus. There's wenches and females, but never women, and the sun was "half way through its daily rotation," but it's never noon. He always refers to mounts, but never horses, though it's implied when one of the mounts whinnies. At least the title is concise and looks like a normal title, apart from sharing the name of a noble gas.
  • Religion of Evil: The worshippers of Argon.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: The original version had some atrocious spelling, although less faithful transcriptions sometimes correct these.
  • Said Bookism: So very, very, very much.
  • Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: Grignr.
  • The Stoner: The illustration on Page 32 of the facsimile (presumably of Agaphim the evil prince) shows him smoking something that looks like a joint.
  • Stripperiffic: Both male and female examples exist: Grignr wears a g-string (with folds), while Carthena wears beads.
  • Talking Is a Free Action
    "Prepare to embrace your creators in the stygian haunts of hell, barbarian", gasped the first soldier.
  • Thong of Shielding: Grignr wears a G-string, which apparently has folds. Theis was probably envisioning a loincloth.
  • Title Drop: at the end of chapter 3½.
  • Unexplained Recovery: Counselor Agafnd dies twice.
  • The Unpronounceable: You try pronouncing "Grignr", "Agafnd" or "Mrifk". This gets particularly amusing when already consonant-heavy words lose their few vowels through typos - the aforementioned Agafnd becomes "Agfnd" at one point. One gets the impression that the author has an irrational dislike of vowels.
  • Unusual Chapter Numbers: There are two fractional chapters: Chapters 3½ and 7½. The former is the first chapter to break away from Grignr's POV to check in on Carthena and the cultists, while the latter is a brief flashback to the epileptic shaman's awakening.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Mrifk". In addition, while "slut" is a real word, using it as an insult against men is somewhat antiquated, and that version still doesn't quite work in context as it meant "slovenly person", which isn't really any of the insultees' salient characteristics.
  • Vampiric Draining: The blob at the end sucks blood like a leech.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot:
    "The vile stench of the Shaman's hot fetid breath over came the nauseated female with a deep soul searing sickness, causing her to wrench her head backwards and regurgitate a slimy, orangewhite stream of swelling gore over the richly woven purple robe of the enthused acolyte."
  • Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: "Sayeth the king" would be correct, except that it's the wrong tense. Carthena starts out talking this way, and Grignr does too shortly thereafter, when up 'til that point, he only talked in vulgarities.
  • You Keep Using That Word:
    • Many instances: Gringr is constantly described as wearing a g-string, with folds; Carthena speaks "bustily", at another point her nose is both "lithe" and "opaque".
    • For whatever reason, Gringr is called a "slut" by male slavers.
  • You Talk Too Much: Grignr doesn't say this to Carthena, but he thinks it—even though she doesn't seem to be any more talkative than he is.

Adam Cadre's Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan-MSTing presentation has examples of:

  • Fate Worse than Death: The straight lines from the original story are not left un-riffed. It happens so frequently it's lampshaded.
    Carthena: The prince would surely have submitted them to the most ghastly of tortures—
    Crow: Insert joke about having to read THE EYE OF ARGON here.
  • Heroic BSoD: The abrupt, non-existent ending leaves Crow utterly broken, and the others are forced to leave him behind in the theater. Fortunately, he recovers.
  • MST: One of the classics, written by Adam Cadre in 1996.
    Story: "The paunchy noble's sagging round face flushed suddenly pale,"
    Crow: "It flushed pale? Did it blanch red after that?"
    Story: "then pastily lit up to a lustrous cherry red radiance."
    Crow: "Hold me."
  • Running Gag:
    Story: "[some bit of Purple Prose, such as 'crimson droplets of escaping life fluid']"
    Crow: "You mean [the normal word, such as 'blood']?"
    Mike: "Let's not jump to conclusions."
  • Shout-Out: To Magic: The Gathering: "Tor Giant?"
  • Tarot Troubles: Tom Servo is reading Crow's future with a pack of Tarot cards he found somewhere. Poor Crow gets nine Deaths and a Tor Giant.


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