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This is an illo - a larger version of which is at the bottom of this page - for the premiere issue of the new SF print magazine Darkling Plain, which takes its name from the "Dover Beach" poem by Matthew Arnold. The story "The Tower" by M. L. Ching is a re-telling of the Tower of Babel story from Genesis, chapter 11: "The people said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches heaven, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.' The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, 'If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.' So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel - because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth."
The illo (but not the story) is really about the wrath of God and the false arrogance and folly of man. Here we see the Archangel Michael about to smash the tower to bits. Michael's pose echoes that of Jesus clearing the buyers and sellers from the Temple in an El Greco painting ("Is it not written that 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it into a den of robbers!"). Mesopotamian temple-towers (called ziggurats), such as that in the lower right hand corner, were massive and had haughty names like "The House of the Link between Heaven and Earth." But here even a huge ziggurat is dwarfed by the Tower, but nonetheless both will be destroyed. The Tower itself has staircases placed to make it look like a snake's tail - a reference to the biblical prophecy of God, via his Son Jesus, crushing the Serpent's head. Also, while most paintings of the Tower show it spiraling to the right, I drew it going to the left (the so-called "sinistral" direction) to emphasize its sinister nature. (For more on this idea, see Stephen Jay Gould's essay on "Left Snails and Right Minds" in Dinosaur in a Haystack.) The little people at the bottom of the drawing are acting out various examples of stupidity, as previously catalogued in a Brueghel painting of Netherlandish proverbs. God's anger and mankind's foolishness everywhere.
Other artistic influences from this piece (in case you're wondering): The tumultuous sky, like the sky in my Willycon poster, was inspired by a J.M.W. Turner painting. And the overall composition was borrowed from a Frank R. Paul painting of one of the moons of Saturn. That's about it for influences. I hope you like this piece, as I think it's the best thing I've done so far.
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Image (c) 2001 Frank Wu
A larger version: