The New Skrullicism

By: Joshua Glenn
September 21, 2009

When John Holbo — an assistant professor of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore, and impresario of The Valve — jokingly introduced the world to The New Skrullicism, an invented field of literary criticism whose practitioners are dedicated to outing Skrulls masquerading as characters in great works of literature, I took it seriously. (Referencing Hamlet, for example, Holbo suggests that Gertrude’s lament concerning her “too much changed son,” is “a clear reference to the protagonist’s shape-changing abilities.”) If such a thing as hilobrow lit crit were remotely possible, I decided, this is precisely what it would look like: ’pataphysics for the humanities.

That was two years ago, but I keep running across Skrulls in literature. So I thought I’d reprint a version of the post that I published, at the time, on Brainiac (the Boston Globe Ideas section’s blog), and ask HiLobrow.com readers to chime in with more examples.

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FOOTNOTES TO JOHN HOLBO’S “NEW SKRULLICISM” ESSAY

* The Skrulls are militaristic, imperialistic, Earth-invading, shapeshifting humanoid aliens from the planet Skrullos, in the Andromeda Galaxy. Dreamed up by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, they were introduced in the 2d issue of Fantastic Four, in January 1962.

<em>Fantastic Four</em>, no. 2 (1962)
Fantastic Four, no. 2 (1962)

* The New Avengers is a Marvel comic book series launched in 2004. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, it concerns the adventures of a group of superheroes — some of whom were members of the original Avengers — whose number currently includes Doctor Strange, Echo, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Hawkeye (as Ronin), Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, and Wolverine. In recent issues, they’ve been battling a mystical ninja assassin group called The Hand, whose leader at the moment is Elektra.

new-avengers-27

* In New Avengers #31 (June 13, 2007), whose last page is billed as “the most important last page of any Marvel comic this year,” it was revealed that Elektra was, in fact, a Skrull masquerading as Elektra. In subsequent issues, an atmosphere of paranoia has descended upon the New Avengers, who realize that they may have been infiltrated, too. According to Wikipedia: “Bendis has stated in interviews that the Skrull revelation is only the start of a wider story arc that indicates many Marvel heroes are actually Skrulls.” Creepy!

NewAveng-1

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SKRULLS I’VE DISCOVERED IN LITERATURE. SO FAR.

* Jake Blount, the itinerant social reformer with a penchant for violence, in Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: “There were many things about the fellow that seemed contrary. His head was very large and well-shaped, but his neck was soft and slender a boy’s. The mustache looked false, as if it had been stuck on for a costume party and would fall off if he talked too fast. It made him seem almost middle-aged, although his face with its high, smooth forehead and wide-open eyes was young…. There was something very funny about the man, yet at the same time another feeling would not let you laugh.” (Another feeling… warning you that Blount is a Skrull.)

mccullers-lonely-550

* “OBERON: And, gentle Puck, take this transformed scalp/From off the head of this Athenian swain…”

* “MARK ANTONY: My good knave Eros, now thy captain is/Even such a body: here I am Antony:/Yet cannot hold this visible shape, my knave.”

* “FALSTAFF: … I will tell/you: he beat me grievously, in the shape of a/woman; for in the shape of man, Master Brook, I fear/not Goliath…”

* Buck Mulligan’s “shaking gurgling face,” in James Joyce’s Ulysses; or the way that Joyce has Mulligan “put on a blithe broadly smiling face.” (Why phrase it that way?)

* “Daisy took her face in her hands, as if feeling its lovely shape…” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

* In Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, the violent Lennie is described as “shapeless of face.”

* My friend Jeff Severs draws attention to T.S. Eliot’s 1917 poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “There will be time, there will be time/To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.”

* What about Led Zeppelin (“Celebration”): “Her face is cracked from smiling, all the fears that she’s been hiding,/And it seems pretty soon everybody’s gonna know.”

* The title character of Thomas Mann’s Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man. Obviously.

Confessions_of_Felix_Krull

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What do you think?

  1. This exposes the whole (aptly-named) Quirk books phenomenon for the shallow middlebrow trick that it is. Tacking on sea monsters or zombies is merely clean quirky fun; the new skrullicism exposes things worth thinking and talking about!

  2. Holy crap, you’re right. I should’ve talked about that in this post. Hope our readers will chime in.

  3. Acolytes of Skrull Theology (“He Loves You”) will recognize the Anti-Skrullian theme in this story from the Gospel of Mark, where an Earthly prophet castigates our kinsmen and transforms them into beasts of the filed — much as the latter day Saviour of Science (Reed Richards, Mr Fantastic) transformed three of our brave warriors into moo-cows.

    Healing of a Demoniac
    5:1 So 1 they came to the other side of the lake, to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 5:2 Just as Jesus 3 was getting out of the boat, a man with an unclean spirit 4 came from the tombs and met him. 5 5:3 He lived among the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 5:4 For his hands and feet had often been bound with chains and shackles, 6 but 7 he had torn the chains apart and broken the shackles in pieces. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5:5 Each night and every day among the tombs and in the mountains, he would cry out and cut himself with stones. 5:6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him. 5:7 Then 8 he cried out with a loud voice, “Leave me alone, 9 Jesus, Son of the Most High God! I implore you by God 10 – do not torment me!” 5:8 (For Jesus 11 had said to him, “Come out of that man, you unclean spirit!”) 12 5:9 Jesus 13 asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “My name is Legion, 14 for we are many.” 5:10 He begged Jesus 15 repeatedly not to send them out of the region. 5:11 There on the hillside, 16 a great herd of pigs was feeding. 5:12 And the demonic spirits 17 begged him, “Send us into the pigs. Let us enter them.” 5:13 Jesus 18 gave them permission. 19 So 20 the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs. Then the herd rushed down the steep slope into the lake, and about two thousand were drowned in the lake.

    Note how the later Gospel of Matthew plays down the shape-shifting powers to which Mark clearly alludes. Matthew’s work was directed towards a Jewish rather than Roman community. Mention and knowledge of Skrulls was forbidden to all but the highest priests and most learned rabbis, and could only be referenced by Kabalistic code embedded within future languages. Immediately proceeding this event, the Jesus Prophet quiets a rainstorm, which can also be translated as a ‘squall’ from the original Aramaic , which would, in Bronx-accented English of centuries later, become a deliberate phonetic suggestion of the word ‘Skrull’. A portent of things to come, both on behalf of Jesus and Reed Richards.

    8:28 When he came to the other side, to the region of the Gadarenes, 50 two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were extremely violent, so that no one was able to pass by that way. 8:29 They 51 cried out, “Son of God, leave us alone! 52 Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 53 8:30 A 54 large herd of pigs was feeding some distance from them. 8:31 Then the demons begged him, 55 “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” 8:32 And he said, 56 “Go!” So 57 they came out and went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep slope into the lake and drowned in the water. 8:33 The 58 herdsmen ran off, went into the town, 59 and told everything that had happened to the demon-possessed men. 8:34 Then 60 the entire town 61 came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

    Of course every Skrull child knows that the Earth region of the Gadarenes was entirely populated by Skrulls and, having seen the human propensity for turning us into farm creatures, were not keen on Jesus’ next act of retribution on our person. One account suggests that Jesus was considering turning the entire Skrull community into tiny ants with full-size-chicken heads, just to show them who was boss. Here endeth the first lesson.

  4. Skrulls in WB Yeats:

    The wild swans at Coole. All Skrulls. Stuck in swan-form. And then systematically replaced over time with other Skrull swans. Cheap Skrull trickery to befuddle Yeats before he completed his Cosmic Axis of Understanding and had to turn over the reins to Jack Kirby.

  5. Nice one, Greg. Don’t forget the cherubim in Ezekiel:

    “And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.”

    If you replace “cherubim” with “Skrull” everywhere you find the word in the text, the Bible makes a lot more sense.

  6. Loretta Lynn, “Another You” — very suspicious.

    He looks like you he talks like you and when he whispers my name
    It sounds so much like you’re talkin’ I feel you’re holdin’ me again
    There’s a feeling with him I found that makes your mem’ry stay around
    Yes it just might be I found me another you
    Oh yes it just might be I found me another you

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