Summary: In Jim Theis’ “The Eye of Argon,” two soldiers (or mercenaries) confront a barbarian in a barren sward. It becomes quickly apparent from there that the barbarian, Grignr, is a faux-eloquent psychopath possessed of anger issues and probably necrophilia: he enthusiastically cuts down the soldiers (or mercenaries), taunts them while gazing lustfully at their writhing forms, and rides off on one’s horse, leaving the one not immediately killed to die slowly and painfully on his own.
Grignr heads to the city of Gorzom. He finds the seediest establishment in the city and starts to get cozy with a prostitute there, but he’s interrupted by a soldier who claims to have paid for her first; outraged by this offense, Grignr kills him and promptly gets arrested by the soldier’s buddies. He’s taken to the prince, tries to kill the prince, fails to kill the prince, and is sentenced to a stay in the dungeons and then life labor in the mines. He mopes around in the dungeons for somewhere between ten minutes and ten years, gets into the most epic fight scene in the story against a man-eating rat the size of a labrador, and immediately returns to moping.
Meanwhile, a group of shamans are preparing to sacrifice the prostitute from earlier to a statue of their god, Argon. The god has one eye, represented by a scarlet emerald with interesting plumbing. At first the prostitute is too terrified to fight back, but suddenly in vicious detail she kicks one of the shamans in the groin hard enough to rupture his testicle. The other shamans beat her up for this.
Back on Grignr’s side, the hero is hauled out of the dungeons by another two soldiers. He kills one with the rat’s sharpened pelvic bone, kills the other one also, loots their corpses, wanders off aimlessly, stumbles over a meticulously described trap in a tomb, stumbles across the shamans’ ritual, kills or maims all the shamans who don’t inexplicably suffer epileptic fits first, and rescues the woman. Also he takes the jewel out of Argon’s statue, since the statue itself is too big to steal. The epileptic shaman recovers, tries to kill them, and is caught in the trap from earlier. Grignr and Carthena, the prostitute, continue on, but stumble across the prince and his advisor (who Grignr killed earlier) having a pleasant stroll through the slimy underground passages. Grignr kills the advisor again while Carthena burns the prince to death with a torch.
Grignr and Carthena make it aboveground, whereupon the scarlet emerald turns into some kind of leech monster that latches itself onto Grignr’s leg. He burns it to death with a torch, and it becomes just a red blotch upon the earth, “blotching things up.”
Rather than beating a zombie horse and going after everything bad about Argon, I’m going to talk about what it does right.
Namely, that it’s one of the best writing guides ever published. Every error it’s possible to commit in fiction can be found somewhere in its pages—cliches, unsympathetic protagonists, unrepentant thesaurus abuse, awful pacing, lack of closure (regardless of which ending you’re going by), idiotic and non-menacing villains, anticlimactic climaxes, poor attempts at edginess, descriptions in all the wrong places, and anything else it’s possible to do wrong.
Also, for all the rest of Argon‘s unoriginality, it does happen to be probably the only story in existence where a minor villain survives an encounter with the protagonist by going through an epileptic seizure beforehand, and where the one character to succeed in putting up an actual fight against the protagonist is a giant rat presumably capable of teleporting through walls.