A Premature Requiem for the Novel
Posted on April 9, 2016 by Simon appleby
As Jack Heckel basks in the glow of the release of the ebook version of The Pitchfork of Destiny (Amazon US, Amazon UK, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo), all the while hoping for good reviews, we have a new series of blogs that will start on tor.com on Monday, where a gentleman does some reviews… well, perhaps we will let him introduce himself.
By Mr. Dusty Jackets, OM OB FEC Bsc(Cantab) MChem(Oxon)
MscD CMAS CM CWP FWS NBCCH PLS
It was with notable dismay that I recently read of the “death of the novel.” I am making reference of course to the article in The Guardian of May the 2nd twenty hundred and fourteen by Mr. Will Self entitled, “The novel is dead (this time it’s for real).” In his article the noted novelist and journalist bemoans the demise of the novel, going so far as to pronounce that, “The literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes.”
I must at this point stop and apologize for the delay in my writing to you concerning Mr. Self’s article, however, the trains to my Vermont estate have been abysmally slow of late, which to be fair is not surprising given that the line was abandoned in nineteen hundred and forty-two. The lack of a reliable post line though has meant that the only means I have of communicating with the outside world is through hand delivery via my footman, Doddery Banks, the younger, who at sixty-seven years of age is beginning to stretch his title of “the younger” a bit beyond what strict propriety would normally allow, although to his credit his father, and my butler, Doddery Banks, the elder, is still terrorizing the staff at eighty-eight. Several of my more adventurous (some would say radical) neighbors have suggested converting future letters into an “electronic transmission” (a telegram I suppose), or uploading it to a “blog” (whatever that might be), or even sending it by motorized carriage (an absurdity on its face, though we can all admire the things that Mr. Ford is doing). I trust you know that I respect your publication too much to have taken seriously any of these suggestions.
With my thanks for your patience, I now return to the central tenet of Mr. Self’s article. As I scorn to act in any manner that might bring reproach on myself as a thoughtless Acolyte of Moros,[*] I normally ignore writings predicting the demise of anything except the “interweb” (an obvious fad much akin to the sideburn) as the mere ravings of those with less to occupy themselves than they otherwise might. However, as I reflected further I realized with some distress that Mr. Self was not alone in his dire prognostications. In fact, he joins an eminent list of literary luminaries in predicting the ruination of the novel, including, Professor Tim Parks (“Literature Without Style”, The New York Review of Books, 2013), Mr. Michael Gonda (“Where Have All the Mailers Gone?”, The Observer, 2010), Mr. Gore Vidal (“What I’ve Learned”, Esquire, 2008), Mr. John Updike (“Bech at Bay”, 1998), Mr. John Barth (“Literature of Exhaustion”, The Friday Book: Essays and Other Non-Fiction, 1984), and Mr. E. M. Forster OM, CH (“Some Books”, The BBC Talks of E.M. Forster, 1944), among many others. None other than Mssr. Jules Verne was recently[†] quoted in the London Mail as saying, “I do not think there will be any novels or romances, at all events in volume form, in fifty or a hundred years from now.”
When a man as perspicacious as Mssr. Verne warns of a future with no novels it is in one’s best interest to pay attention. I began to wonder if perhaps Mr. Self, like Mssr. Jules Verne before him was a Cassandra[‡] to my skeptic.
A sudden terror of thought gripped me. Were novels dying? Were the shelves of my library nothing more than a paper necropolis filed with the corpses of literature’s past? I roused myself from my evening lethargy and flung myself into my study. There, as you may imagine, my eyes were met with rows upon rows of spines, each neatly labelled like a grim tombstone. The first book my eyes landed on was Zelazny’s Nine Princes of Amber. I was given to wonder, was this novel dead? Have its pages, like a later day Philomela,[§] been rendered mute and unable to rage against the apparent outrages inflicted on literature by our modern times?
With shaking hand I pulled it forth and studied the blue silhouette on its cover. Fingers numb, I fumbled through the pages until there my racing mind found refuge in the following passage:
“I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.”
I exhaled a breath of relief. Mr. Zelazny had not been struck dumb. His voice, through his novel, still spoke as relevantly today as it did in nineteen hundred and seventy when it was first pressed. I looked about, nearby was Mr. Moorcock and his creation, Elric, raging at the world:
“We must be bound to one another then,” Elric murmured despairingly. “Bound by hell-forged chains and fate-haunted circumstance. Well, then—let it be thus so—and men will have cause to tremble and flee when they hear the names of Elric of Melinbone and Stormbringer, his sword. We are two of a kind—produced by an age which has deserted us. Let us give this age cause to hate us!”
On another shelf I found Ms. Le Guinn’s Wizard of Earthsea, and in it the quiet wonder as Ged discovered true magic,
“In that moment Ged understood the singing of the bird, and the language of the water falling in the basin of the fountain, and the shape of the clouds, and the beginning and end of the wind that stirred the leaves; it seemed to him that he himself was a word spoken by the sunlight.”
Around my feet a pile of books grew. Here was The Many Colored Land, the first book in the Saga of Pliocene Exile, and next to it I found Robert E. Howard’s bestial Conan. I laughed aloud at the cover of Mr. Pratchett’s Discworld novel with its elephants and turtle, remembering poor Rincewind, the worst student in the history of the Unseen University. Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth series landed next to Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and I longed for my reading chair and a glass of port so that I might dive once more into those rich worlds. I shuddered as Donaldson’s Chronicle of Thomas Covenant challenged me again to experience the adventures of one of literature’s great anti-heroes.
Book after book came into my hand until around me hung a cloud of dust, the motes dancing about in the dying light of the evening sun like a cloud of spice around God Emperor Leto II in Frank Herbert’s Dune Saga. I stopped and fell exhausted back into my chair, one last book clutched in my grasp. In the dimming light I saw that it was a reprint of Lovecraft’s The Nameless City. I opened it while around me the darkness grew and strange shadows formed and undulated in the corners of the room. With dry lips I read again the strange words of the mad poet Abdul Alhazred,
“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”
I knew then that the novel would not, could not ever die. No matter how many years of dust may accumulate outside, always within those pages a reader may find joy and terror, ugliness and beauty, hope and horror. As long as we read on, the worlds in the pages can never truly end. And, as long as we continue to find pleasure and enlightenment in their words, these books will never lose their relevance.
So, here I distinctly avow my intent to play my humble role, as best I may, to keep the novel alive. And I fervently hope you will allow your readers to join me as I clear the dust from some of my favorite literary classics of science fiction and fantasy.
Your most obedient servant,
[*] Editor’s note: Moros, and I am not making this up, is the Greek god of impending doom.
[†] Editor’s note: Submitted without further comment, the edition of the London Mail Mr. Jacket is quoting from was published in 1902.
[‡] Editor’s note: Cassandra in Greek mythology could predict the future, but was cursed by Apollo so that no one would believe her prophesies, which the editor would note is a kind of jerk move.
[§] Editor’s note: Yeah…he stumped us on this one. May I suggest Google?