The Green Light of Justice

by C. Richard Davies

The story of Alan Scott begins, as so many stories do, with the Guardians. They have been known by many names -- Arisians; Preservers; Elder Gods; Organians -- but Guardians will suit our purposes best, as it describes their most salient feature. For a very long time -- perhaps billions of years, as they are possibly the oldest surviving culture in this part of the cosmos -- they have been engaged in a self-appointed mission to protect the civilizations of this universe from threats originating from within and from without.

According to one well-known account of their activities, at a certain point early in their history the Guardians became concerned about the threat posed by "magic" to their aims and goals. Thus, they used their mighty psychic powers to draw much of the universe's magic into a single form, known variously as the Starheart and the Green Flame of Life. This nexus of magical energy was then cast out into the stars and eventually fell to Earth, where fate brought it into the possession of Alan Scott, to serve as the source of his power.

This story, like many others told about the Guardians, is a lie. First of all, what is known as magic is simply the use of sciences and technologies which are sufficiently advanced beyond the observer's frame of reference. From the perspective of twentieth century terrestrials, the Guardians own powers -- and those of their agents -- *are* magic, just as much of the daily activity of such terrestrials would be magical in the eyes of their remote ancestors.

Secondly, even if the Guardians were able to somehow collect the energy which powered a certain form of "magic", it is ridiculous in the extreme to believe that such a gathering of power -- which the Guardians believed to be detrimental to their plans -- would then be set free to wander the cosmos.[1]

Therefore, if there is in fact a connection between Alan Scott's power source and the Guardians -- and it is clear that there is one, considering the alias he chose and that which many of the Guardian's agents employ -- it remains to be discovered.

Or does it? One apparently unlikely possibility presents itself in a comic books story published in 1991, which claimed that Alan Scott's powers were similar to those of the Guardians' agents due to a key component of the meteorite from which his power source was constructed: the ring, power battery and bones of a most unusual agent of the Guardians. This agent, an extraterrestrial who by an astounding coincidence resembled an archetypical Asian dragon, became corrupt and perished after the Guardians altered his power source so that his powers were unable to affect vegetable matter instead of all matter which reflected visible light in the yellow spectrum.

On the face of it, this seems extremely improbable. After all, if the Guardians were able to so casually alter the limitations of their agents, why would they not have done it to all of them long since? And yet this story contains a gem-like idea hidden beneath the dross of inept plotting commissioned by moronic editors.

This basic idea can be summarized as follows: an agent of the Guardians was killed on Earth, in China, sometime in the first century of the common era, or the first century before it. Question: what would have become of the agent's power source after his (her? its?) death? One might expect the Guardians to recover it if it was not given to another qualified user, but consider that there was a considerable interval between the death of the Green Lantern dubbed Abin Sur and the Guardians' first contact with Hal Jordan. Possibly the extremely patient Guardians were willing to let the power source remain on Earth until it came into the possession of one qualified to use it.

What they apparently did not anticipate was that it would come into the possession of one qualified to use such power, and experienced in doing so. His name is now lost, but many centuries later he was known as the Ancient One when he trained Dr. Stephen Strange in the arts of magic. At that time he was living a simple life as a village sage in China, and was studying the strange artifact he had recently discovered, when a small band of criminals -- not superstitious fanatics, as the original story suggested -- and tried to do him injury.

As one might expect, the Not-Yet-Ancient-As-All-That One used his magic to defend himself. As he certainly did not expect, the power source amplified those capabilities many times over, such that he incinerated the robbers instantly.[2]

Some accounts suggest that the powers of the Guardians' agents cannot be used in an act which will cause the death of another being. Such suggestions are juvenile in the extreme; no rational police force would deny its agents the possibility of returning lethal force in kind, if no other options existed. Furthermore, the Ancient One was not specifically trained in the use of the power source, he was unable to shape a giant boxing glove with which to hit the robbers, nor a glowing barrier to englobe them. He had no other options but to go with what he knew would work.

However, having destroyed his immediate enemies, the Ancient One probably felt somewhat horrified at how easy it had been, and so continued his studies with the aim of gaining greater control over this new power. And it was during this period that he demonstrated how much he deserved the title, Sorcerer Supreme, which would one day be his, as he modified the power source in ways that the Guardians had never even imagined.

First, he altered its primary limitation. Due to a necessary impurity in its construction, energy drawn from the power source was unable to affect anything coloured yellow. Somehow, in his studies and experiments, the Ancient One changed the power source so that its power would be unable to affect vegetable matter, living or dead.

Why this limitation? It is significant to note that one of the five elements in traditional Asian metaphysics is "wood". It is possible that this element is metaphysically associated with the colour green, just as it is possible (and somewhat more likely) that the golden hue of yellow is associated with the element "metal". Thus, the Ancient One altered the limitation for reasons both aesthetic (to cause it to act in accordance with its colour) and pragmatic (so as to protect him from enemies which used metallic weaponry of all colours, which were far more likely to be a serious threat than wooden weapons.)

The second and probably less dramatic modification made to the power source was the awakening of a consciousness within it. All the Guardians' power sources contain what we would consider artificial intelligences equipped with encyclopedic data bases to provide information to the agents. But the Ancient One's experiments caused this intelligence to develop self-awareness and a vague personality, if not complete self-volition; it retained obedience to its designated owner.

After some time, the Ancient One was forced to stop his researches, and for unknown reasons chose not to take the power source with him when he abandoned his home, located not far from the city of Samarkand. Perhaps he felt that his own powers would suffice to deal with whatever menace he went to confront, and that bringing the power source would be magical overkill. Perhaps he also believed that he would be gone only a short time. Regardless, he did take steps to make sure that no one would be able to steal the power source, or any of his other magical and mundane treasure. But he was not to return to this home for a very long time, long after it had fallen to ruins. We do not know why.

In his absence, an African magician learned of the power hidden in the sorcerer's former home, and determined to seize it for himself. Since he knew well that the Ancient One would not leave such a prize unguarded, the magician sought out a suitable pawn ...

The story of Aladdin and the magic lamp is sufficiently well-known that it need not be repeated here.[3] But perhaps one observation should be made. Alan Scott's name is known to be Ladd; indeed, while the authors of the accounts of his adventures were beginning to adapt them, they considered calling him Alan Ladd to further disguise his identity. If one rearranges the syllables of that name, one gets "Al-ladd-an". This is probably a bizarre linguistic coincidence. Probably.

In any event, after Aladdin abandoned the power supply, setting aside sorcery to lead an exemplary life as an Islamic gentleman and ruler, one possibly apocryphal account states that it was sealed inside a box, in a chest, inside a room, within a cave, behind a locked door, the key of which had been thrown into the sea. However, locks can be picked, caves explored, rooms entered, chests broken, and boxes opened -- and frequently are, as any reader of adventure stories will agree. Which of the many folk tales about magical lanterns actually relate to the power source is unguessable; as the original story states, it passed through many hands, some good and some evil, over the next millennium.

Finally, in the early twentieth century, the power source came into the hands of adventurers Terry Lee and Pat Ryan. The exact circumstances of this acquisition remain shadowy, as they either never related it to their biographer, Milton Caniff, or else he did not feel it suitable for publication. Thus, no speculation regarding this particular exploit will be made here.

The power source was then sold as an antique or artifact, and again passed through many hands, until at last it came into the hands of a madman. Some clarifying points must be made here. It has been stated that this anonymous man was a prisoner in an institution known as Arkham Asylum. In the somewhat romanticized accounts of the adventures of Bruce Wayne, this institution has generally been portrayed as being on the outskirts of Gotham City (i.e. New York.) This is not the case; the name Arkham clearly points to the fact that it adjoins Salem, Massachusetts, which was known as Arkham in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, his associates and their followers. As such it is unlikely that his insanity had begun, as one account states, in the New York stock market crash of 1929. It is far more likely that he glimpsed something no human mind could comprehend, and slipped into the embrace of madness to escape a reality too horrible to contemplate.

Furthermore, the power source used by agents of the Guardians has certain inherent restrictions as to the sort of user it will accept, further evidence of its artificial intelligence. Despite certain statements made over the years, such strictures probably are not "completely honest and without fear". The latter is impossible for any sentient being, as fear is an emotional reaction to the experience of danger. The former restriction is contraindicated by certain actions of Hall Jordan and other agents -- chiefly those involved in maintaining a secret, cover identity. It is far more likely that the restrictions are complete honesty concerning one's own character, and surpassing courage; which, one must admit, do not sound nearly as impressive.

If the madman who possessed the power source was able to become its "owner" -- in the sense that it recognized him as a valid user -- then considering the restrictions listed above, it is increasingly improbable that he was just a simple businessman. Considering the location of his confinement, it is increasingly probable that he was one of the small number of unsung heroes of the twentieth century who had become aware of the lurking horrors described in the Necronomicon and similar texts, and taken up the Herculean task of defeating them. We may never know his name, much less his probably horrible fate.

How do we know that the prisoner of the asylum became the user of the power source? We know this because he was able to make the power source change its shape. While the published account of this event portrays him using tools to turn the Persian lantern into a railway lantern. This is extraordinarily unlikely; the extraterrestrial materials from which it had been constructed would probably have worn down any tool he could bring to bear.[4]

However, those same materials also possessed a property known as psycho- interactive flexibility; in layman's terms, the ability to alter their shape in accordance with a designated user's will. This would be necessary for purposes of camouflage, so that the power source would seem to be an artifact of the agent's culture. The shape of the Persian lamp was unfamiliar to the madman, so under his unconscious prodding it changed shape to become the railway lantern.

At some point after this metamorphosis, the intelligence of the lantern detected a hidden desire in the mind of its owner; the desire to once more be sane. And it was then that the significance of the Ancient One's modifications became apparent; without a conscious command from its owner, the power source used its telepathic faculties to begin repairing the damage done to his mind.

When it was done, there was a time, however brief, when within the walls of Arkham Asylum stood a man fully cognizant of the horrors hidden in the shadows of the world, yet determined to do what he could to slow their seemingly inevitable victory, and equipped with one of the most powerful weapons in the cosmos. But he did not use it. The same utter honesty which earned him the right to use the power forced him to realize that he could not be trusted to do so wisely. And so he refused it, and the power source obeyed its programming and erased his memory of the way in which he had regained his sanity, and of its offer.

The power source may have passed through other hands after this, but its shape remained constant. Eventually it chanced to be on the same train car as a young engineer and entrepreneur, Alan Scott. He was a member of the Wold Newton family; a descendant of one of Simon MacNichols' many daughters. The same branch of the family gave the world the detective Shell Scott, whose adventures were chronicled by Richard S. Prather. [5]

Alan Scott's subsequent use of the power source -- which provided him with a ring-shaped talisman to permit him to use its abilities without carrying it with him -- has been well-documented, although it is beyond the scope of this essay to determine which of the many stories about him are completely accurate. Did he in fact battle the immortal Kane, at that point using the alias Vandal Savage? Did he eventually father two children, both further mutated by his exposure to the extraterrestrial power source? Does he still, to this day, battle the forces of evil, having realized that his ring and power battery acted as focuses for a power which was always within him? Who knows?

One final comment must be made. This essay has studiously avoided applying the term "Green Lantern" to the agents of the Guardians whose exploits have been related under that name. There are three reasons for this. First, as Mr. Alan Moore pointed out, not all members of the "Green Lantern Corps" would be members of species which primarily perceive the universe through the medium of sight, and their languages would thus not translate the term for the corps into "Green Lantern". Secondly, as noted elsewhere, the power source and talisman do not necessarily resemble a ring and a lantern. And finally, it is quite probable that many agents of the Guardians operate under the alias Green Lantern, just as in a continuum located not far from this one, there are many Gray Lensmen. But just as only one in that continuum is known to members of his Civilization as *the* Gray Lensman, so too does only one wielder of the emerald light deserve to be called *the* Green Lantern.

And his name is Alan Scott.


[1] The first version of this account suggested that the Guardians sent the Starheart into a parallel reality, where it came to a different Earth. Since we are well aware that Alan Scott and Hal Jordan were natives of the same reality -- which was certainly not created by merging a number of parallel universes together -- we can regard such suggestions as balderdash.

[2] Because of the Ancient One's training in the use of occult energy, he did not need to use a talisman that an agent would have needed; his own willpower sufficed.

[3] With regards to the magic ring which Aladdin also obtained during his adventures, it should be pointed out that comments made by the spirit of this device strongly suggest that it is different, in power and in origin, from the "spirit of the lamp". It was *not* the ring-shaped talisman used by humanoid agents of the Guardians.

[4] Considering that he was an inmate in an asylum for the violently insane, one must wonder why he was permitted tools in the first place. Perhaps someone -- or someTHING -- hoped that he would use them in a self-destructive fashion.

[5] When Philip Jose Farmer stated, in Tarzan Alive!, that Shell Scott was probably not a member of the Wold Newton family, he had not yet researched the family of the fourth coachman. One can scarcely blame him; after four years of research, a complete account of the descendants of Simon MacNichols' eight daughters has yet to be completed.

Other Notes:

By and large, this was written "in character" as an historian of the thirtieth century of my WNU timeline. So certain statements, made as fact, about the nature of magic or the origins of that universe, are really only opinions. As far as the purported author of this work would know, what he has written is true.

But many of the truths to which we cling depend greatly on our own point of view.

I didn't identify the Arkham Asylum inmate from the original Green Lantern story with a name (possibly as one of Lovecraft's hopelessly mad protagonists) because I wanted him to stand in as one of the hundreds of thousands of investigators who've been lost in Call of Cthulhu campaigns over the years since that game was released. Payback is due.


Larry Niven, author of Ganthet's Tale and "The Green Lantern Bible" (partially available to the public in Playgrounds of the Mind) for a somewhat harder science fiction view of the Guardians.

Warren Ellis, for his portrait of a fused Green Lantern Corps and Lensman organization in an issue of Planetary.

Art Bollmann, for pointing me in the direction of Playgrounds of the Mind for information on a different subject.

Michael Norwitz, for the connection between Aladdin and Alan Scott. (And who knows? Maybe the Scotts -- or his branch -- had Persian ancestry.)

Mark Brown, for encouragement.

Al Schroeder, for inspiration.

Return to the Wold Newton Superhero Universe.