Alejandro Jodorowsky is as good with words as he is with images. His psychomagical storytelling always translates into a surreal experience where folklore and mysticism crash into each other to create a new thing. In Albina and the Dog-Men, released earlier this year by Restless Books, the author/director/screenwriter/poet/musician/actor/etcetera creates a violent, hypersexual mythology to explore magic, beauty, desire, and the nature of relationships. The result is a maelstrom of fantastic visions, a celebration of language in its most bizarre forms, and a literary explosion of surreal events and dreamlike imagery.
Albina and the Dog-Men is set in Peru and Chile. It follows the adventurous journey of two women who inhabit opposite ends of the beauty spectrum: Crabby, a bearded Lithuanian recluse whose physical attributes earned her that name, and Albina, a voluptuous goddess with unblemished milk-white skin and a perfect body whose beauty, femininity, and curvy physique drive men insane. Albina falls into Crabby’s rough arms when the woman helps her escape an attack by mysterious fighting monks. The two women become friends immediately and Crabby takes care of Albina’s wounds and even helps her learn to walk again after the vicious attack, which seems to have taken her memory. Once she’s is back on her feet, the men in town quickly notice the beautiful woman and become obsessed with her, and that leads to the two women starting a business together. Everything is well for a while, but then Drumfoot, the city inspector, shows up to their business and threatens to take Albina away. To protect herself, she drugs him and bites him, changing him into a bloodthirsty dog-man. What follows is a fantastic tale in which the two women go on the run from Drumfoot on a bicycle built for two while Albina’s nature, past, and the thing she does to men, are slowly revealed.
That Jodorowsky is a poet is evident in every page of this novel. The onslaught of ideas and perennially changing spaces and moods push against the boundaries of traditional storytelling and only work because desire, survival, and transmutation are strong cohesive elements that hold the narrative together. Albina contains a woman, a goddess, and a monster, and that multiplicity helps the narrative jump around wildly while still retaining an untouched core and a bit of mystery. The quest to find a sacred cactus to cure Albina of her ailment and the subsequent discovery of her true nature take the novel from weird territory into that of the surreal, but the struggle of the woman’s Self and the unwelcome Otherness that invades and mutates her are the driving motors behind the action:
This is what I am, a form inhabited by alien content. I live on the surface of myself, like the foam that crowns a wave before it breaks. When I try to get inside myself, to go toward the lucid center, I turn into a dark magma, into nothing. Even though you tell me I turn into a bitch, I think I don’t really undergo a transformation but instead disappear to make room for something that that is in no way me. But the sad part is that the thing I am not is more me than my emptiness.
Albina and the Dog-Men works on two levels. On the surface, it is a very poetic adventure that explores desire and friendship with a lot of wittiness and occasional dips into sex, violence, and even scatological humor. However, just below the surface, it is a dark dream pregnant with horror, self-doubt, and fear; a story packed with philosophical questions about being and the kind of folktale storytelling that belongs around a fire. Between killer bees, an armadillo that becomes a guide, dog-men, witches, and enchanted parrots, there is enough in this novel to keep readers intrigued and to prove, once again, that Jodorowsky possess, even now that he’s an octogenarian, one of the most gifted imaginations of any author/director.
She was awakened by some prolonged, soft barks, as delicate as the fluttering of the wings of a sugar swallow. Albina arose from her dream still in the form of a temple. She saw herself composed of many levels, with towers of white stone and walls covered with carved reliefs depicting groups of men and women making love in complicated positions. The temple emerged from the center of a swampy lake covered with large, fragrant lotus flowers. Above her central entry there was a monumental silver T on which a copper asp lay dying, held in place by three golden nails.
Albina and the Dog-Men is a literary hybrid that shares DNA with feverish dreams, the bizarre imagery that has made Jodorowsky’s film work so enduring, folktales, religious parables, and absurdist literature. At once smart, otherworldly, profound, and fantastic, this novel is a wonderfully entertaining and unapologetically lyrical glimpse into the mind of one of the most talented artists currently walking the imaginary dividing line between visual and textual storytelling.
Albina and the Dog-Men
by Alejandro Jodorowsky; translated by Alfred MacAdam
Restless Books; 224 p.