Mojo and the Pickle Jar
When I was at ICFA (International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts) in March, I picked up some great little pulp paperbacks, one of them barely older than my daughter (1991) with a lurid cover and weird title: Mojo and the Pickle Jar, by Douglas Bell (here is the cover art).
Because it’s a small paperback, I read it in little bits and pieces while waiting for things, and finished it while at a car repair place, getting my mother’s car checked out before Walker comes home to drive it in a couple of weeks. It’s a story rooted in the Southwest, and so I understood it better after taking a road trip with Eleanor to Tucson, Arizona last August.
During our road trip, we stopped to see Acoma Pueblo/Sky City, outside of Albuquerque, NM, and that’s the first place I heard the story of the pueblo revolts that forms the kernel of the plot of Mojo and the Pickle Jar. Historically, the harsh Spanish overlords sentenced the captured Indian rebels to years of slavery and to have one foot cut off. In the novel, as the sentence was being carried out a santo of a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Madonna arrived as a present from the King of Spain, and one of the condemned Indians wrapped his arms around her and cried to her to save him. After five days of this, the Indian died and the Madonna was seen to have teardrops and a heart of gold, in addition to now having the face of an Acoma Indian. A fictional Spanish governor ordered the santo to be taken to establish a new mission “high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains where there had never been a mission before” to get her out of the way. This background to the action of the novel is given halfway through, as if to orient the reader, who begins the story as ignorant and impetuous as young Mojo himself, racing off in a stolen Cadillac with a girl he doesn’t know.
As Mojo gets to know Juanita, he also learns more about what she initially believes is a “demon in a jar” that she is carrying around. They meet an old woman who tells them it is actually a sacred heart:
“Wait a second.” Mojo couldn’t let this pass. “If this thing is a saint’s heart, why would it help people like Juanita and me? I mean, we weren’t exactly on a mission from God when those guys in the Suburban were chasing us. Why would it help us?”
“It helped you because you were thwarting the will of Satan. That’s obvious,” Grandmother told him.
“Of course. Satan is the evil force behind drugs and drug dealers. You thwarted his will when you took the cocaine. It was his henchmen who pursued you. That’s why the heart protected you.”
Before the end of the adventure, Mojo is pursued by a terrible demon who initially tempted him into following by assuming Juanita’s shape, and then he actually walks into hell and plays cards with a demon to try to get back out. When they finally succeed in returning the heart in the jar to where it belongs, there is an epic battle between good and evil, with a “thirty-foot hunchbacked demon with bulging frog eyes who was leaning over the church” and a Madonna who “spread her arms and rose towards the demon in a revolving halo of light.”
The good end happily and the bad unhappily…more or less. And that is what pulp fiction means.