There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Kobra Manifesto by Adam Hall (1976)







The Kobra Manifesto by Adam Hall (1976)



My useful political education has been entirely within the periphery and membership of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party.


The Kobra Manifesto struck several notes for me. The kidnapping of an industrialist in South America recalled the disgraceful left sectarian kidnapping of Oberdan Salustro. Mentions of Fourth International "terrorism," however distorted by bourgeois journalism, recalled the decade-long internal FI faction fight on guerilla warfare strategy. (The SWP-led LTF defended the traditional program of party-building; the IMT led by Mandel and Tariq Ali defended the get-rich-quick schemes of the IMT.)


In under 300 pages The Kobra Manifesto takes Hall's executive operator Quiller from Monaco to the U.S. by way of Khmer-encircled Phnom Penh and the jungles of the Amazon. In one shattering chapter, hot on the trail of the Kobra cell and their hostage, Quiller stows away on their international 707. In the wheel well!



Quiller's own manifesto


….Up there on the far side of the Channel there were doors opening and closing along those dim-lit passages, and the gibberish was crackling through the static and out of the scramblers in Signals while a phone rang and was picked up and someone in Monitoring sent a memo to Egerton or Mildmay or Parkis and everyone waited for the word that would start this whole thing running. Somewhere in Beirut or The Hague or the Azores they were looking for the hole, and when they'd found the hole they were going to put the ferret down, and the ferret was me.


***


"The Organism" - Quiller's euphemism for himself as a mechanism

....The organism had looked after itself without my having to do any more thinking. I'd done me necessary amount of thinking first and then given the instructions to the organism and it had taken over. With two of them coming at me from each end of the alley there'd been no point in waiting till they closed on me at their own pace. The only chance lay in immediate and very aggressive action and I had made my run flat out, choosing this end of the alley because the street at the other end had exposure zones that I wanted to leave alone.

I didn't know if the two men behind me had started running: it didn't make any difference because I was going so hard that they wouldn't gain on me. The strength of the opposition had now been halved and there were only two people to deal with. They'd both stopped and were waiting and I think one of them was pulling a gun as I reached them.

The techniques of unarmed combat taught at Norfolk are based partly on karate. I have only used them twice to save my life, once in Warsaw and once in Hong Kong. In those instances there was only one adversary. Here there were two. There is nothing new about the primordial components of speed and surprise: they are essential to any attack, by whatever technique. Two further psychological components come into play when life is actually threatened: the instinct to survive, and the ability to relax and allow the primitive animal to perform in its own right.

In civilized society the will to take life is seldom conscious. Most murders are committed by relatives or close friends of the victim and the motivation is subconscious, an expression of rage, jealousy, humiliation, so forth. The need is not to kill but to relieve the psyche of its stress, and to do it in the quickest and surest way available.

The animal will do it consciously in order to survive.

There is no name, at Norfolk, for the extended techniques based on classic karate. Most of them are psychological and the most effective is this ability to relax and leave the animal to protect itself: not by defensive tactics but by the most implacable ferocity. In brief it might be termed the invocation of blood-lust.


There is probably a spin-off involved: the instillation of fear in the adversary. As I reached the two men I was an animal totally committed to killing them and I would believe that my whole body projected a degree of menace that would give them doubts.

Doubts at the instant of lethal combat can be critical.

Basically I used the tobi-mae-geri and was in the air with my feet at the knife-edge angle when I crashed into them. The man on the right died immediately and this was to be expected because I am right-handed and since if wasn't possible to aim a specific blow at both of them I aimed it at this one and he had no chance. The most effective weapon I had for the other man was my left knee, the leg doubled, because it isn't possible to perform the tobi-mae-geri with both feet: the body has left the ground and the balance has to be maintained.


****

The Way to Go

....We've all got a rough idea of the way we'd like to go when it gets too hot to hold. For most of us it doesn't work out like that, although Delacorte managed it last year on the end-phase of the Bulgarian thing when he took his Mercedes through the frontier at Svelingrad into Turkey, straight through the bloody barrier flat out at a hundred and ten miles an hour with the tank on fire where they'd shot him up with a submachine-gun and the stuff still coming at him from the guard post-finished up like a sieve 'but his director in the field was there at the rendezvous and got 'him out and found the stuff on him: military installation layouts, airfield preparedness schedules, Moscow directives and fifteen long-run tapes of the Sovinformburo breakdown of the tactical manoeuvres operation, the whole beautiful bonanza right in London's lap.

That's the way we'd like to go, when we've got to….








Jay

11 December 2011







Monday, December 10, 2018

The Quiller Memorandum by Adam Hall





Not a great thriller, like Quillers 2, 3, and 4. The beginning in a theater box sticks the novel in first gear for 20 pages. The neo-Nazis reborn plot is for the retrospective reader simply tiresome.


Jay

10 December 2018














Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Prisoner in the Mask by Dennis Wheatley (1957)







The Prisoner in the Mask by Dennis Wheatley (1957)


Only Wheatley had the authorial confidence (or arrogance) to end a novel with the lines "....After a decent interval we can be married with wedding bells and live happily ever after.'"

No one in a Wheatley novel lives happily ever after. The most they can hope for are pleasurable interludes before the next pendulum swing of Fortune again lands them in the soup.

The Prisoner in the Mask is delightfully high class. The hero is Armand, Count de Quesnoy. (He will later inherit the title Duke de Richleau.) His friends are from the same titled social layer.

Some characters and themes more fully explored in later novels about the Duke are hinted at in The Prisoner in the Mask. His mastery of occult forces and "white" magic is foreshadowed in his experiences as a soldier in Madagascar, where he developes his skills in hypnotism and mind-over-matter meditation.

He meets the father of future comrade Rex Van Ryn, a wealthy banker from the U.S. who serves the same purpose as
Blenkiron in Buchan's Leithen novels: a repository of ready cash and unconditional friendship.

The novel begins at the start of the 20th century and quickly transports the Count De Quesnoy from life as a privileged teen in Tsarist Russia to the French military school St. Cyr. His is also in romantic pursuit of Angela Syveton, wife of a powerful Royalist deputy. Wheatley spends most of the novel figuring out ways to keep the Count and Angela thwarted and apart. He does a masterful job.

This is, however, a historical thriller, not a bodice-ripper. Armand is witness to the frame-up, persecution, prosecution, and imprisonment of Dreyfus, and becomes involved in conspiracy as mentor to the young François de Vendôme, whom Royalists hope to make constitutional monarch of France. The Royalists are emboldened by the sorry spectacle of the Third Republic: internally rotting from the scourges of republicanism, atheism, and a politically organized working class movement.


(Solid Marxist analysis of French politics here).

Wheatley made no secret of his conservatism and his worship of Winston Churchill. Like his author, Armand is a staunch rightist, appalled that leaders of the French Army put their reputations ahead of justice for Dreyfus and the honor of their class.

Wheatley is a master of plot vicissitudes. One damned thing after another fouls-up Armand's hopes for his country and his desire for Angela Syveton. Patriotism and eros, however, are inexhaustible engines driving forward this classic of escapism.

And who is the prisoner in the mask? That would be telling...


Jay
25 November 2018











Saturday, November 24, 2018

Sallust 8, Germany 0








They Used Dark Forces [1964] is the eighth adventure of freelance spy Gregory Sallust. (Eighth in the internal chronology of the series, not in order of publication.)  I have read all eight in the last two years and found this pop roman-fleuve richly rewarding.

Yes, Wheatley does love employing the long arm of coincidence. Yes, he overuses the word “had” when revisions to his sentence structure would have made for sharper constructions.

But these are quibbles. The joy of these novels is their depiction of the good life.


Five hours after Gregory landed in England he was sitting in the lofty book-lined room that had been the scene of the beginnings and ends of all his secret missions. It looked out from the back of Carlton House Terrace to the Admiralty, the Foreign Office and the other massive buildings in which throbbed the heart of Britain’s war machine. The fact that it was raining did not depress him in the least.

Beside him on a small table were the remains of a pile of foie gras sandwiches off which he had been making a second breakfast, and nearby stood an ice-bucket in which reposed a magnum of his favourite Louis Roederer 1928. From it his silver tankard was being filled for the second time by his old friend and patron, Sir Pellinore Gwaine-Cust.



The major complaint about the Sallust novels is their unabashed admiration for European fascism.  Like John Buchan, Wheatley in his fiction has his hero fiercely extol the virtues of this anti-labor militia movement.

Here is Sallust discussing politics with his lover Sabine:



Smiling, she returned his kiss then sighed and said, ‘Oh God, how I hate this war. Just to think what a bomb has done to you and robbed us of. And the even worse things that have happened to such thousands of other people. May that filthy little Austrian that brought it on us rot in hell for all eternity.’

‘You seem to have changed your views quite a lot since last we met,’ Gregory grinned. ‘Two summers ago when we talked of these things in Budapest you were a hundred per cent pro-Nazi.’

‘Yes,’ she admitted. ‘But look what the Communists did to Hungary after the First World War. Those gutter-bred swine robbed families like mine of everything we had, and did their utmost to degrade everyone to their own filthy level. You British, with your stupid, pale-pink Liberalism, made no effort to stop them. Neither did the French. The only people who had the guts to stand up to them were the Italians and the Germans. Naturally, as German influence was so strong in Hungary I became a Nazi. What sensible person wouldn’t have? But I’m not a Nazi now. They’ve made themselves untouchables. Say that I’m a Fascist, if you like. But I’m not a Nazi.’

Gregory nodded. ‘There’s a lot to be said for the Fascists. Old Mussolini did a great job in cleaning up Italy. If only he’d stayed neutral he’d be on the top of the world today and Italy positively bulging with money made out of both sides during the war. That he got folie de grandeur and thought that with Hitler’s help he could become a modern Roman Emperor, ruling the whole Mediterranean, was one of the greatest tragedies of our time. Little Franco, too, has done a great job of work in Spain. What is more he has had the sense to keep his country out of the war, so given it a real chance to recover. Why people should cavil at him for having put the Moscow-inspired agitators and saboteurs behind bars I could never see. If he’d run his country on the lines the idiot British and French intellectuals and those crazy Americans would have liked to see, by this time Spain would have had a Communist Government. Quite a useful card for the war against Hitler. But what about afterwards, with Russian bombers based there only two hours’ flight from London and Paris? Some people simply can’t be dissuaded from trying to cut off their noses to spite their faces. But all this is beside the point. You say you’re no longer a Nazi; but you’re still working for them.’

‘Up to a point,’ she agreed thoughtfully. ‘I’d still turn in these dirty little Marxists who’d like to see Germany a Soviet Republic, whenever I could get the goods on them. But I’ve never yet given information about those of our own kind who would like to see Hitler as an ugly corpse.’




They Used Dark Forces is a strange title for the novel, as it suggests Berlin is employing dark forces to win their war.  But the they is Sallust himself, and a man named Malacou, with whom he has a telepathic bond.  The bond is developed when Malacou hides Sallust for several months as a leg injury heals.

They Used Dark Forces is more James Bond than Duke De Richleau. The telepathy allows Wheatley to unpack some contradictions, and it forms a line on which he can hang the last half of the novel.

One scene in particular contains a solid piece of uncanny business.  Sallust and Malacou, in Berlin and pretending to be occult mind-readers, are taken by their jailer to a March 1945 banquet at the home of Herman Goering.  There their performance certainly raises gooseflesh, since the dinner guests are dancing on the edge of a volcano.




Soon after ten Kaindl came for them. They accompanied him down to the ground floor and into a spacious dining room. It was so large that a horseshoe table occupied less than half of it, and Gregory saw that Goering’s idea of a small dinner party consisted of at least twenty people. Most of the men were in uniforms bedecked with Knight Stars, Iron Crosses and other decorations, but three of them were in dinner jackets and the women were all in décolleté evening dresses.

The Reichsmarschall sat enthroned at the outer centre of the horseshoe. As Gregory had thought might prove the case, he was clad in a white and gold toga and had a laurel wreath on his head. He had become enormously fat, his eyes were pouched, his cheeks loose and puffy and on his sausage-like fingers there gleamed rings worth several thousand pounds. No actor in a play would have given a better representation of one of the most dissolute Roman Emperors.

Kaindl led his two charges into the centre of the horseshoe and presented them as Herr Protze and Herr Malacou. Goering ran his eyes over them and spoke:

‘Colonel Kaindl tells me that you predicted our victory in the Ardennes and other matters correctly. Let us hear now what else you can tell us of the course the war will take.’

Gregory drew a deep breath. He was standing within ten feet of Goering and had escaped immediate recognition, but at any moment some expression on his features or in his voice might give him away. With a bow, he replied:

‘Excellency, it is necessary that my colleague be seated. He will then fall into a trance and I shall interpret the communications that he receives from the entities of the outer sphere.’

A chair was brought, Malacou sat down, closed his eyes and, after taking several long breaths, began to mutter. As Gregory felt sure that everyone there must realise that Germany could not now possibly win the war, and that if he held out false hopes no-one would believe him, he said:

‘Alas, through my colleague, the entities speak of no further German victories; but the soldiers of our great Führer will fight desperately in defence of the Reich. May will be the month of decision. Overtures for peace will be made. At that time there will be dissension in the Partei. Many prominent members of it will then die, but Your Excellency will not be among them. By March the Anglo-American armies will be across the Rhine and the Russians across the Oder. In May Berlin will become a doomed city; but it seems that resistance will continue in the south with the object of obtaining better terms from the Allies than they will be willing to give in May.’

Goering shrugged his massive shoulders. ‘You tell us little that from the way things are going we might not guess for ourselves.’

Now that Gregory was, as it were, right up in the firing line, he had got back his nerve and was on the top of his form. With a smile, he replied, ‘That the views of the Herr Reichsmarschall should coincide with fore-knowledge obtained from beyond confirms the soundness of his judgement. But to obtain more than an outline of general events is not possible. I can only add that war will continue to inflict the world at least until next August, and that in that month a disaster will occur in Japan that will affect the whole world.’

‘What kind of disaster?’

‘It will be in the nature of an earthquake or a violent eruption, but there are indications that it will be brought about by man.’

Suddenly Goering’s eyes lit up. ‘Lieber Gott! Could it be that the Allies are really so far advanced in developing an atom bomb?’

Gregory shrugged. ‘That is more than I can say; but many thousands of Japanese will die in the disaster. And now, if it please Your Excellency, my colleague can be the vehicle for much more precise predictions about individuals than about generalities. Would you like to be the first to have your future told?’

Goering shook his head. ‘No. I am content to wait and see what fate sends me.’ Then he gestured to a woman on his right and added, ‘Make a start with this lady here.’ Turning to the woman, Gregory bowed and asked her for the loan of something she always carried. She gave him her gold cigarette case and he handed it to Malacou. He then fetched a chair, sat down opposite the woman and asked her to lay her hands on the table, palms up. Smilingly she did so. For a few moments he studied her hands in silence, meanwhile he conveyed to Malacou what he read in them. Malacou, who was seated behind him, was at the same time psychometrising the cigarette case and communicating his thoughts. By working simultaneously on the same subject in this way they checked their findings, and when Malacou began to mutter Gregory pretended to interpret.

He told the woman that as a child she had had a serious accident that had affected her spine, that she had married twice and that her present husband was an airman, that she had two children, a boy and a girl, both of whom had been sent out of Germany, he thought to Sweden. Then he predicted that she would survive the war, have two more children and go to live in some southern country, he thought Spain.

With astonishment, she declared him to be perfectly right about her past and Goering clapped his mighty beringed hands.

The second subject was a younger woman. Having told her accurately about her past, Gregory said, ‘You, too, will survive the war, gnädige Frau. But not without injury. I regret to say that in an air-raid you will lose your right arm. You will also become a widow, but you will marry again, an elderly man who will provide you with every comfort.’

The third was a good-looking but rather sullen-faced woman. About her, spontaneously, Malacou sent Gregory a thought. As all that mattered was to impress Goering he decided to use it. When he had told her past, he said, ‘Within six months you will become the mistress of a Russian officer.’

Her eyes blazing with anger the woman sprang to her feet and slapped his face. But Goering roared with laughter and the rest of the guests followed his lead.

When the clamour had subsided Gregory started on his next subject. She was what the French term a ‘belle laide’. Her hair was a true gold and Gregory thought that he had rarely looked into a pair of more magnificent eyes; but her mouth was a thick gash across her face, and enormous. As he looked at her he suddenly wondered if she could be Sabine’s friend, Paula von Proffin of the letter-box mouth. When his reading of her hand and the thoughts Malacou sent him tallied with what Sabine had told him of Paula he felt certain of it. Malacou also conveyed to him that she would be raped to death by Russian soldiers. Looking at her with pity he decided to give her no idea of that. Instead, after telling her that she had had a hard early life as a model, then married a banker who had left her penniless, he added, ‘Your life will not be a long one, so make the most of it. At all events you are now married to an immensely rich man who can afford to indulge you in every luxury.’

Again Goering roared with laughter. Then, leaning forward towards a middle-aged man in a dinner jacket who was seated near him, he bellowed, ‘Listen to that, Hans. And you pleading poverty before dinner. You’ll not be able to deny little Paula anything after this.’

From that Gregory surmised that her new husband must be one of the chiefs of the Hermann Goering Werk, and that was why they were among Goering’s guests.

Paula gave Gregory a ravishing smile and he turned to the next woman along the table. Among other thoughts, Malacou informed him that she had a venereal disease. So in her case he ended by saying, ‘For the present I would advise you to lead the life of a nun; otherwise you will give anyone you go to bed with a present that he will not thank you for.’

She, too, jumped up in a fury, but Gregory sprang back in time to evade the slap she aimed at him. Again the cruel laughter rang out and, bursting into tears, the woman ran from the room.

‘Well done,’ wheezed Goering. ‘Well done. I shall find you invaluable.’

So it went on through the women, then the men took their turn. Most of them were to survive, but three were to die, and Gregory told them frankly that they would give their lives for the Führer; but he refused to give them particulars or dates. One among them was a Naval Captain and Malacou told Gregory, both by telepathy and by confirming it in the muttered Turkish that at times he used to ensure that Gregory got his thoughts exactly, that the Captain was a traitor in the camp and using his position to spy on Goering.

Gregory made no mention of that, but when he had told all their fortunes he addressed the Reichsmarschall. ‘Excellency, these psychic investigations into your guests have revealed one piece of information that I have not disclosed. It is for your ear alone and important to your safety. If you would give me a few minutes in private …’

Goering’s eyes held his for a moment, then the elephantine Chief of the Luftwaffe nodded, heaved himself up from his great ivory and gold throne and said, ‘Come with me.’

Picking up the skirts of his toga, he led the way out to an ante-room. On the walls there was a fabulous collection of paintings by the Dutch Masters. A great curved table desk occupied the centre of the room. With a grunt Goering lowered himself into a chair behind it, signed to Gregory to take another, and said:

‘Well, go ahead.’

‘That Naval Captain,’ Gregory replied. ‘I don’t know his name. But my colleague is certain that he has been planted here to spy on you.’

A broad grin spread over the Reichsmarschall’s fat face. ‘I know it. He is my Naval Attaché, but in the pay of Himmler. I keep him on a string. Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t. As long as he is here Himmler won’t send anyone else to spy on me. I feed him with what I want that crazy fool to know.’

Gregory smiled. ‘Then my warning is redundant, Herr Reichsmarschall. But Herr Malacou and I are deeply grateful for the way in which you have rescued us from prison and are anxious to be of service to you in any way we can.’

For a moment Goering studied Gregory’s face intently, then he said, ‘Tell me, Herr Protze, how much of this clever act of yours is trickery? There are no means by which your predictions about the future can be checked, but all my guests are well-known people; so you and this Oriental fellow for whom you appear to act as manager might have obtained particulars about their pasts from ordinary sources.’

‘No,’ Gregory replied firmly. ‘I assure Your Excellency that Herr Malacou is a genuine

mystic. After all, both of us have been confined at Sachsenhausen for the past four months; so what possible opportunity could we have had to ferret out facts about the lives of your guests?’

Goering nodded. ‘Yes. You certainly seem to have a point there. The Führer and Himmler swear by this sort of thing; but I never have. I’m still convinced that the occult has nothing to do with it. My belief is that you have only the ability to read people’s thoughts about themselves, and make up the rest. Still, that’s neither here nor there. The two of you provided us with an excellent entertainment, and in these days we haven’t much to laugh about. You may go now. Tell Colonel Kaindl to give you a glass of wine and to protect you from those angry women, and that I’ll rejoin my guests presently. I’ve a few notes I wish to make.’



Wheatley’s friendly portrait of Goering, like his favorable opinion of Churchill in the Sallust novels, is a perfect example of authorial bad taste. But once we accept the use of historical figures in popular fiction, I suppose portraying them all as slavering one-dimensional monsters would be a greater abuse of reality. Perhaps.



Jay
24 November 2018





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Thursday, November 22, 2018

Dickson McCunn 1-3 by John McCunn





...."There," said Mr. Heritage, nodding after the departing figure. "I dare say you have been telling yourself stories about that chap—life in the bush, stock-riding and the rest of it. But probably he's a bank-clerk from Melbourne. . . . Your romanticism is one vast self-delusion and it blinds your eye to the real thing. We have got to clear it out and with it all the damnable humbug of the Kelt."

Mr. McCunn, who spelt the word with a soft "C," was puzzled. "I thought a kelt was a kind of a no-weel fish," he interposed.

But the other, in the flood-tide of his argument, ignored the interruption. "That's the value of the war," he went on. "It has burst up all the old conventions, and we've got to finish the destruction before we can build. It is the same with literature and religion and society and politics. At them with the axe, say I. I have no use for priests and pedants. I've no use for upper classes and middle classes. There's only one class that matters, the plain man, the workers, who live close to life."

"The place for you," said Dickson dryly, "is in Russia among the Bolsheviks."

Mr. Heritage approved. "They are doing a great work in their own fashion. We needn't imitate all their methods—they're a trifle crude and have too many Jews among them—but they've got hold of the right end of the stick. They seek truth and reality."

Mr. McCunn was slowly being roused....



*     * *



I can't be the only Marxist reading and enjoying the stories and novels of John Buchan.

His devotion to monarchy, respect for fascism, and oft-expressed Jew-hatred were not rare for intellectuals and politicians of his class. Capitalism faced its most profound crises and organized working class opposition in the 1930s. The political stance of Buchan and his cohort certainly reflected this.

It is not the job of the reader to try dead authors under a "foreign code of conduct" to borrow a phrase from Auden.

Buchan's skills as a storyteller, his inventiveness and generosity to characters, the perfect shaping he achieves with landscapes he chases his characters over, are fecund and deeply satisfying. He dramatizes persuasively and punctuates his tales with increasingly potent climaxes.



*    * *



Richard Usborne wrote a monograph titled Clubland Heroes: A Nostalgic Study of Some Recurrent Characters in the Romantic Fiction of Dornford Yates, John Buchan and Sapper in 1974. Buchan's heroes Hannay and Leithen are certainly citizens of Clubland.

Buchan's Dickson McCunn and his Gorbals Diehards (resourceful street urchins akin to Baker Street Irregulars) are far from clubland. McCunn is a retired department store owner with a Romantic imagination who stumbles upon increasingly fantastic Bolshy plots to foil. Foil them he and the Diehards (in their childhood years and young adulthood) do.

In Huntingtower (1922) they protect tsarist jewels from recapture and liberate an imprisoned princess.  Castle Gay (1930) is set in Scotland against the background of a roiling local election. Here McCunn and a couple of grown-up Diehards give a retiring media magnate something akin to Saki's "unrest cure."

1935's The House of the Four Winds is  Buchan's Zenda, a charming and busy thriller (which also recalls "Blind Corner" by Dornford Yates) with McCunn, Jaikey, and other Diehards making sure Evallonia gets the Mussolini-inspired regime it deserves after a decade of insidious republican rule.

The Bolsheviks were the enemy of the bourgeoisie in the interwar period, and again after the WW2 Big Three alliance broke up. To men of Buchan's class, the militant working class represented anarchy and nihilism amok. Thus the great fondness among writers like Buchan and Dennis Wheatley for fascism.

The Dickson McCunn trilogy expresses this temper through homely and witty conterpositions and thrilling buildups/climaxes. Who, who can resist?


Jay
22 November 2018



Saturday, November 17, 2018

Manly Wade Wellman



The week of Halloween this year I read seven books by Manly Wade Wellman.


Wellman slips in close to sublimity in many stories and novels, and produced consistently high quality popular fiction for decades.

The Silver John stories feel so eloquently timeless that details of everyday life come as a shock. Paper plates and plastic flatware? I assumed these stories were set in interbellum North Carolina sometime between the Coolidge and Roosevelt regimes. Turns out the fictional timeline is coincident with the time of composition.

John is not a nomad or accursed wanderer. But after brutal soldiering in Korea, his travelling and his oft-repeated revulsion over the war externalize a feeling of ethical homelessness.

One of the strengths of the Silver John stories is the absence of occult detective mummery. John never gets hired to solve a mystery. His interest in the people he meets, his sense of solidarity toward them, leads John to taking a hand in solving their problems. The threats to these rural toilers come from boss-type exploiters: witch men, real estate megalomaniacs, Shonokins, and Bonapartist magnates. John's conjurations protect himself and friends and are usually nothing more than recitations from a respected book. Along with judicious strumming of his silver-string guitar and strategic handling of a silver coin.

The guitar itself is a lovely metaphor for modesty, harmony, and resilience. A violin would be pretentious, a banjo vulgar. The guitar is the sublime expression of John's ethic.

John is not a lonesome traveller. Men skeptical and rancorous toward him - like the construction worker in The Hanging Stones - are won to his side pretty quick.

Wellman is very specific in the way he depicts the uncanny in these stories. Violence and violent death are rare. Supernatural agency is employed for material reasons: land theft, subordination of young women. John interposes himself sharply and decisively in these showdowns. No Harry Potter fireworks, just native wit and careful application of pressure.

In such conflicts John does not come on like a messiah or great white hope. He seeks unity and his reputation as a wise man precedes him. Vetoes of friends' ideas are judicious and tactical.

"One Other" and "Call Me From the Valley," two personal favorites, strike sharply the Machenean note. Though Wellman does not use the term "perichoresis," when John and Annalinda talk at the edge of the bottomless pool atop Hark Mountain, the soap-bubble analogy serves the same purpose.

Wellman's Silver John stories surpass the work of many of his contemporaries by virtue of his skill handling unique and compelling subject-matter. The novel

After Dark expresses this aesthetic perfectly .




Jay

17 November 2018