20: Where and/or what is the hermetic garage?



Jerry no longer had any idea whether the world he inhabited was ‘real’ or ‘false’; he had long since given up worrying about it.


 (Michael Moorcock, The Final Programme p.38)




The answer to the question posed by this section may appear obvious—after the fact. But the arrival of the answer, in the course of reading, is a more gradual and less certain affair. There are two related issues, the first being that the spaces in which the action of the story takes place are related to one another in ways that defy easy understanding:

     Ignoring a splash page added later, to Marvel’s four part comic-book reprint, the story begins in an undefined interior space that appears to become, in episodes 2 & 3, a garage. The garage appears to be situated in a desert that may be contiguous with the “tundra” introduced in 2.

     Episode 3 adds the interior of a spaceship as a second location, but not until 12 are readers offered an external view of this vehicle. In the meantime, the most extensive view of its interior is the most confusing: in 5, Grubert and Malvina are in an enormous billiard room; Grubert poses on what might be a marble stairway as he leaves, and is then seen looking into a small and shabby room, cluttered with mysterious machinery, while a group of colonial soldiers pass in the background.

     Episode 3 also introduces (verbally) the detail that Grubert’s secret base has “levels”. At the end of 4—which takes place in a desert that may or may not be the same desert seen in preceding episodes—Grubert’s spy and his companion climb down a stairway and pass through a doorway in order to enter what turns out to be a railway carriage. As an additional complication, when they were on what (based on this descent) I might imagine was the upper level, they appear to have been approximately the size of mice with respect to the apparently human inhabitants. In the railway carriage, however, is a man on the same scale as they are.

     In episode 6, having left the spaceship—exactly how is not made clear, whatever the 1987 translation may suggest—Grubert, riding on the back of a malro, is making his way through a grassy, wooded region. In 9, still carried by the same creature, Grubert prepares to enter Mausoleum L33—situated, it would appear, in the middle of a lake—as a means of getting to Armjourth.

     If you don’t find this confusing, I suspect you’re not paying attention; and there’s no point trying to make it less confusing, because this perceptual and narrative disorientation is the opening movement of the Garage. If you don’t find it confusing, you’re not looking at the same story I was reading. In addressing the question raised by the title of this section, I’m not seeking to ameliorate or untangle this confusion—I’ll save that for later—only to elucidate one aspect of it:

     Is the hermetic garage simply what it appears to have been in episode 1—the location of the action? In 3, Barnier prepares to emerge from a garage that’s probably where he ruined the cableur. The lettering above the door plainly reads “Cornelius”, as in “The Hermetic Garage of Jerry Cornelius”. In 1992, Giraud drew the opening splash page for a four-part comic book reprint of the story. In that, the building from which Barnier will emerge can be seen being approached by guards before the action of the story begins.

     But what does that prove? Splash panels are not always to be trusted.

     Why, on the other hand, might I doubt that this building is the hermetic garage belonging to Jerry Cornelius, and identified by the title?

     Well, for one thing, in episode 2 Jasper tells Cornelius Barnier has taken flight—two panels before we see Barnier preparing to leave the building we subsequently see in episode 3.



Has Barnier already, at this point, fled the scene of episode 1, and does episode 2 take place somewhere else? Personally, I think the explanation is more likely to involve narrative elasticity or creative stutter: Jasper anticipates the event because what he tells Cornelius suggested to Giraud (just beginning the spontaneous invention of the story) what he would draw next.

     A more significant issue is raised by the résumé in 3, which reads, “ANYTHiNG MAY YET HAPPEN iN THE HERMETiC GARAGE”. In 5, the résumé tells us that “EVERYTHiNG’S GOiNG BADLY iN JERRY’S GARAGE”.

     The résumé was a place for Giraud to make mischief, and it seems likely the “GARAGE” referred to in these cases is just what it obviously is—the title of the story. Grubert’s subsequent statement, in 9—“WHAT I LOVE iN THE HERMETiC GARAGE iS THE iNFiNiTE VARiETY OF PASSAGEWAYS BETWEEN THE THREE LEVELS”—by no means establishes that the “GARAGE” is something located within the narrative, because, while it may appear he’s talking to the malro on whose back he’s standing, it’s just as reasonable to read what he’s saying as a whimsical meta-narrative address (an aside) to the reader.

     Further allusions to Cornelius’s garage in the résumé (episodes 15 and 24) are simply further jokes that play on the title. In 33, however, the caption to a full-page panel showing the asteroid reads: “VOiCi LE GARAGE HERMÉTiQUE!..” Is this sufficient to identify the asteroid (which has been Grubert’s secret base, his old hideout) as the “GARAGE”? Or does it merely reaffirm that the world of the Garage—which is to say, the accumulation of comic book pages under that title—is where the narrative unfolds?

     The identification of either the asteroid or the narrated world as the garage raises the question of why one or the other should be identified as belonging not to Major Grubert, but to Jerry Cornelius. Perhaps, in the obscure history of Grubert’s relations with Cornelius, Grubert—a not entirely trustworthy character—has appropriated something that wasn’t his.

     A simpler explanation, of course, is that, having started with an arbitrary and whimsical title, Giraud stuck with it, but justified it in only the most tenuous way.