Yesterday’s Weirdness Is Tomorrow’s Reason Why (Part 2)

Posted in R.I.P., HST on August 21st, 2005 by bill
marlin.jpg Dr. Thompson's image — his well-deserved and long-cultivated image — as the drug-crazed wildman of American letters tended to obscure what a canny writer he was, at least when he was on top of his game. Case in point: The Curse of Lono at first seems to be very loosely organized, filled with odd tangents and sidebars on Hawaiian history that at best could be called background, and at worst filler. So we get the following data on the Hawaiian god Lono, for instance: King Lono, ruler of all the islands in a time long before the Hawaiians had a written language, was not made in the same mold as Jesus, although he seems to have had the same basically decent instincts. He was a wise ruler and his reign is remembered in legend as a time of peace, happiness and great abundance in the kingdom — the Good Old Days, as it were, before the white man came — which may have something to do with his elevation to the status of a god in the wake of his disappearance. Lono was also a chronic brawler with an ungovernable temper, a keen eye for the naked side of life and a taste for strong drink at all times.
And a hysterically funny, but not apparently significant incident where the Doctor acquires an ancient Samoan war club:

"What do you have?" I asked him. "I need something to pulverize an aloe plant." There was a pause, then he was back on the line. "I have a fine cutlery set — seventy-seven pieces, with a beautiful butcher knife." "I can get that from room service," I said. "What else do you have?" There was another long pause. In the background I could hear a woman yelling something about "crazy..." and "chopping our heads off." "You're fired!" he screamed. "I'm tired of your stupid whining. It's none of your business what they buy. Get out of here! I should have fired you a long time ago." There were more sounds of brief scuffling and a babble of angry voices, then he was back. "I think I have what you need," he said smoothly. "It's a carved Samoan war club. Solid ebony, with eight power points. You could pulverize a palm tree with it." "How much does it weigh?" I asked.... "It's very heavy, sir. My scale won't handle it." He chuckled. "Yes sir, this thing is heavy. I'd guess about ten pounds. It swings like a sledgehammer. There's nothing in the world you couldn't kill with it." "What's the price?" I asked. "One-fifty." "One-fifty?" I said. "For a stick?" There was no reply for a moment. "No sir," he said finally. "This thing I have in my hands is not a stick. It's a Samoan war club, perhaps three hundred years old. It's also an extremely brutal weapon," he added. "I could break down your door with it." "Never mind that," I said. "Send it up to the suite immediately."
This is followed by a section on the Honolulu Marathon (see Part 1) and a lengthy description of a vacation on Kona gone horribly wrong, where Thompson's "sunny seaside compound" turns out to be a group of shacks lashed day and night by vicious surf. After that the narrative wanders a bit — OK, a lot — dealing with marijuana smuggling, a flea-ridden dog, and high-speed driving on a mountain road before finally getting to the big finish. Along the way Thompson has befriended a local charter captain, who takes him out to fish for marlin. And they find one...

A terrible blood-lust came on me when I saw him leaping right beside the boat, so close that he almost leaped right into it, and when the captain up on the bridge started screaming "Get the bat! Get the bat! He's gone wild!" I sprang out of the goddamn fighting chair and, instead of grabbing that silly little aluminum baseball bat they normally use to finish off these bastards with ten or fifteen whacks.... That's when I reached into my kitbag and brought out the war club and kicked Steve out of the way and then, with a terrible shriek, I hit the beast with a running shot that dropped it back into the water like a stone and caused about sixty seconds of absolute silence in the cockpit. They weren't ready for it. The last time anybody killed a big marlin in Hawaii with a short-handled Samoan war club was about three hundred years ago.
And this is where it all starts to coalesce...the business with the war club leads the Doctor to a revelation:
I am Lono. Yeah, that's me, Ralph. I am the one they've been waiting for all these years. Captain Cook was just another drunken sailor who got lucky in the South Seas.... The trouble began on the day I caught the fish — or, more specifically, it began when I came into the harbor on the flying bridge of the Humdinger and started bellowing at the crowd on the dock about "filthy drunken sons of missionaries" and "lying scum" and "doomed pig-fuckers" and all those other things I mentioned in my last update letter. What I didn't tell you, old sport, is that I was also screaming, "I am Lono!" in a thundering voice that could be heard by every Kanaka on the whole waterfront, from the Hilton to the King Kam — and that many of these people were deeply disturbed by the spectacle. I don't know what got into me, Ralph — I didn't mean to say it — at least not that loud, with all those natives listening. Because they are superstitious people, as you know, and they take their legends seriously.... The word traveled swiftly up and down the coast, and by nightfall the downtown streets were crowded with people who had come from as far away as South Point and the Waipio Valley to see for themselves if the rumor really was true — that Lono had, in fact, returned in the form of a huge drunken maniac who dragged fish out of the sea with his bare hands and beat them to death on the dock with a short-handled Samoan war club.