Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Neil Gaiman Presents (Vol. 3)... R. A. Lafferty's Space Chantey!

Wh-wh-what? Is it true? What does it mean? Could this revolutionise Lafferty's readership and rescue him from oblivion?

I can confirm that this re-issue indeed appears to be in print!

The rationale behind the series:

'This is the first of 6 collections in the Neil Gaiman Presents line, chosen by Gaiman to represent the origins of his views on classic heroic literature.'

'The Neil Gaiman Presents program will be devoted to returning to print long-unavailable works in affordable paperback editions personally selected by Gaiman. Each book will carry a new introduction by Gaiman, speaking to the reasons why he selected the book for this line, as well as why the book deserves a wider audience. '

I greatly look forward to Gaiman's thoughts on Space Chantey (Lafferty's completely left field take on Homer's Odyssey), urging that it deserves a wider audience!

I was disappointed at first to see that they have retained the original cover of Space Chantey, but then one site says: 'Features art by legendary underground artist Vaughn Bodé!' I looked back through my copy and was reminded that each chapter is headed by an illustration and indeed they're quite cool. (Still don't like the cover though and think it'll be a bit of a put off for some. Then again, my wife loves this cover and she's the visual artist of the two of us and I usually trust her judgment on these matters - she loves a lot of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey, which go right along with the Gaiman aesthetic I think - so perhaps at least his fans will appreciate this cover after all. Believe me, I hope my misgivings about it are unnecessary and unjustified.)


Jay Brantner said...

I just found your blog, and I must say that it's a shame it's not well-traveled. R.A. Lafferty is without a doubt the greatest American author of the last fifty years, and one could make an argument for him as the greatest American author simpliciter.

I introduced myself to Lafferty after reading "Sunbird" (which, in my opinion, is a very Lafferty-story and is one of Gaiman's best, even though I know Neil was disappointed with it). I went out and bought Nine Hundred Grandmothers. After "Land of the Great Horses" (which I still consider one of his best), I was hooked. Everything the man writes is enjoyable in some sense, the plots are fantastic, the narration hilarious, and the philosophy much deeper than you'd expect. I'm convinced that every false philosophical theory has a counterexample (intentional or unintentional) in Lafferty.

I will disagree with you a little on "Parthen." Although I enjoyed it immensely, I don't think it's among his best or is a great introduction to his work. The best introduction, in my opinion, is "Seven Day Terror," which has both Willy McGilly and Lafferty children. Willy McGilly is among my favorite characters in fiction (so is Epikt, actually), and I'm convinced that Lafferty children deserve their own place in literary criticism. They're precocious amoral devils. The closest comparison I can make is J.M. Barrie's children in Peter Pan, but even that isn't quite right.

Also, I just read "And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire" yesterday. I love your Screwtape Letters (+ Chesterton) comparison. I also find it brilliant how Lafferty wrote a scathing critique of the Emergent Church before it ever existed. This was the perfect criticism: "'I am all for relevant religion that is free and alive and where the action is, but institutional religion turns me off.' Incredible? Yes. A hog, if he could speak, wouldn't make so silly a statement: a blind mole wouldn't. And yet this statement was spoken many millions of times by young human persons of all ages. How lucky that it had been contrived, how mind-boggling that it was accepted. It gave us victory without battle and success beyond our dreams."

Anyways, just always great to find another Lafferty fan. Out of curiosity, if you had to pick a favorite, what would it be? For me, although I get chills (and guffaws, as you noted) from rereading the whole lot of them (or at least 80%), I'd have to put "What's the Name of That Town" in the top spot. As for the longer works, it's a tough call between Okla Hannali and The Reefs of Earth (which reads like a short story), with The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeney and The Fall of Rome running third and fourth.

Oh yes, and as the oldest of five children, I must say that you have the perfect number. Four more would be too many, four less would be too few.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Thanks for your stimulating comments, Jay! Always a pleasure and privilege to meet another besotted Lafferty fan! I too think he is one of the great authors. Certainly my favourite. Unfortunately his chosen (sub)genre (which he easily breaks, bends, and transcends) and the (I must confess) somewhat hit and miss nature his work sometimes displays will I think continue to make his due recognition by the wider world an uphill affair.

As to our differences of opinion on what are his best stories - I find this happens all the time among his fans! (E.g. I've heard Fourth Mansions described as both his best and worst novel by different serious fans.)

I quite enjoyed all the stories you mention but they aren't my favourite and I wouldn't have thought of recommending them as starting places (though you've got me rethinking all that!). I do love Lafferty's wryly mocking invention of the 'eminent scientist' Willy McGilly, though I wouldn't have said he's one of my favourite characters. However, dearest Epikt most certainly is one my faves, so I'm with you there!

Yes, Laff's children are wickedly wonderful (or wonderfully wicked)! They're kind of like if Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn took over the Lord of the Flies boys and went on a wild transdimensional romp through the anarchist-vs-philosophical policemen Edwardian London of Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday - or something like that! (Lafferty's hugely weirdly odd little novel Reefs of Earth is one of the more memorable on the kid front for me.)

As to my own favourite works, I used to like Lafferty's short stories far better than his novels, but lately I think they're evening out a bit. My fave novels are probably Arrive At Easterwine, Annals of Klepsis, and Past Master (Klepsis being the best for just a pleasurable read even if it's themes are perhaps not as profound as the other two).

Far and away my favourite short story is 'Configuration of the North Shore'. That one blew my mind and stirred things in me - and was a laughing joy to read! Other faves are (in the order they randomly come to mind) 'And Name My Name', 'In Deepest Glass', 'Nine Hundred Grandmothers', 'Days of Grass, Days of Straw', 'The Ultimate Creature', 'The Six Fingers of Time', 'The Hole On the Corner', 'Snuffles', 'And All the Sky Were Full of Fish', 'The Transcendent Tigers', 'And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire', 'Symposium', 'Been a Long Long Time'...

But I also really, really enjoy a lot of his stories that I know might be considered lesser works like 'Pig In a Pokey', 'Golden Trabant', 'Frog On the Mountain', 'Once On Aranea', 'The Man With Speckled Eyes', 'Old Foot Forgot', 'Barnaby's Clock', 'Bright Coins in Neverending Stream', 'Great Day in the Morning', 'The Hand With One Hundred Fingers', 'Brain Fever Season', 'Guesting Time', 'Parthen', 'Sky'...

You get the idea!

Touche' on your recognising a pre-critique of the folks at Emergent Village in Laff's 'And Walk Now Gently'! Spot on! I love the way Lafferty (consciously or not) used a quite postmodern narrative style to question and subvert so much pomo relativism. I think he would very much agree with pomo's critique and rejection of modernism, but he envisioned and explored a very different (and better I think) way forward.

Well, you add to the consistent Testimony of the Five (adults from five children families who loved it), so I have reasonable hopes for ours finding it a good thing as well.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Correction: 'And All the Skies Were Full of Fish' is the proper title of that story.

I thought this was one of your most intriguing comments: 'I'm convinced that every false philosophical theory has a counterexample (intentional or unintentional) in Lafferty.'

Care to elaborate? 'Counterexample' in what sense?

Jay Brantner said...

Hmmm. . . I haven't read a lot of those stories that you mentioned. I only discovered him about 18 months ago, so I'm still working on collecting his assorted works. I have most of the short story collections, but some of them just aren't collected anywhere at all. I haven't read "In Deepest Glass," "And All the Skies Were Full of Fish," "Symposium," "Barnaby's Clock," "Great Day in the Morning," "Bright Coins in Neverending Streams," or "The Hand with One Hundred Fingers."

I liked most of your favorites, but I liked most of his stories, so I suppose this is to be expected. I actually didn't care much for "Nine Hundred Grandmothers" itself, although I think the collection contains much of his best work. A lot of people like that one, but I only find it decent. I feel similarly about "Continued on Next Rock." As far as favorite stories, although it's so hard to make a list, I'd say that these are at or near the top:

"What's the Name of That Town," "The Six Fingers of Time," "Frog on the Mountain," "Land of the Great Horses," "Seven Day Terror," "Narrow Valley," "One at a Time," "Once on Aranea," "The Transcendent Tigers," "The Man with Speckled Eyes," "Nor Limestone Islands," "This Grand Carcass Yet," "Boomer Flats," "Thieving Bear Planet," "The World as Will and Wallpaper," "Funnyfingers," "Or Little Ducks Each Day," "All Hollow Though You Be," "And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire," "The Man Who Walked Through Cracks," and "Days of Grass, Days of Straw." I could go on (there are literally 5-10 more stories that I want to add to this list just off the top of my head, but it's getting long, and they're merely great compared to the grandeur of the others), but I think those are the creamiest of the cream of the crop. As you can see, I love Willy McGilly, Lafferty children, and the Institute, and I don't much care for Barnaby Sheen and his lot (although "Slippery" was great).

I must say I wasn't able to find much cohesion in "Arrive at Easterwine," although I enjoyed the little bits of it. "Past Master" was great, but I preferred the four I listed. I'd probably have that #5 for the longer works. Haven't read Klepsis yet (or Serpent's Egg, Fourth Mansions, or East of Laughter), but all four are on my shelf awaiting their chance.

I don't know what it is about Lafferty fans that gives them such widely disparate takes on what is his best work. The little I've seen online has indicated the phenomenon to me though. Interestingly, the people I've converted in person all tend to have relatively similar tastes. My Dad likes the stories I like, my best friend likes the stories I like (although he rates "Snuffles" in his top three rather than "What's the Name of That Town," we both pair them with "Six Fingers" and "Frog on the Mountain"). Maybe it's just based on growing up in similar environments or having similar tastes. He certainly wrote enough different stuff for all the people. It's too bad that it's sci-fi/fantasy/whatever, or perhaps more people would know it. Although I think it's sci-fi in the same way that Swift was, and people know him alright. I guess the genre is different than it once was.

Jay Brantner said...

On my last point, it's obvious that Lafferty was well-read philosophically, as he has overt philosophical references all the time. "The World as Will and Wallpaper" is an obvious Schopenhauer reference, and he takes Nietzsche's theme in "Horns on Their Heads." That's not to mention how often you see Ockham, Aristotle, and the like. But he even has some really obscure ones, like "Condillac's Statue." Condillac was a real philosopher who had a famous counterexample to the idea of innate ideas. He supposed that you could take a statue and give it only one sense (smell, in his example), and it would develop all the mental faculties supposed to be innate. Lafferty, of course, had a ridiculous treatment of this example, but I think Lafferty has a lot of these counterexamples himself. "All Hollow Though You Be" has an excellent dialogue which lampoons a coherence theory of truth (and perhaps certain methods of scientific inquiry). "Old Foot Forgot" is one of my favorite reasons to disagree with Derek Parfit's theory of personal identity. While we're at it, "This Boding Itch" is a great send up of certain political philosophies. Whenever I'm studying a philosophical theory, I find a good thought experiment in Lafferty. I'm convinced that you get out of him what you put in. All of his stories are hilarious, almost all are extremely creative, and I'll wager that the vast majority have some pretty heavy themes if you look for them. Catholic authors are always heavy on the symbolism, and I'd be shocked if I got half of his metaphors and subtleties. There's always something new to find every time though.

I think those are the words that I have for the moment, but I'm sure to think of something soon that I should've said. Conversations about books tend to do that to me.

Jay Brantner said...

Oh, right, and I do agree with your point that Lafferty would've rejected both modernism and postmodernism. His best critiques are usually aimed at the latter, but that's because he was writing in the 60s and 70s, and that was the dominant culture. I'd imagine he'd go back to the medieval and follow Aquinas, which is great, because Aquinas is right about almost everything. That said, Lafferty did have some comments in The Fall of Rome that suggest he might've had some sympathy for the Protestant Reformers, even though he didn't like what they ended up doing (and who does, really? I think that the split was better than the alternative, but it was far from ideal).

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

I love the way all these stories sound listed out like this! Who could not be intrigued?

You've got some new ones in there for me. I look forward to finding them someday. Most of the ones I listed that you said you hadn't read I did indeed find in 1970s multi-author anthologies - I used to live near a second-hand bookshop that stocked loads of these dirt cheap. But yeah, some of the best Lafferty stories I own are from these obscure sources and I don't know if they're collected elsewhere. I have a few other stories like this that I've discovered in battered copies of sf mags like Galaxy and IF on sale in bargain bins. However, 'Great Day', 'Bright Coins', and 'The Hand' are all collected in Lafferty In Orbit, a collection of Lafferty stories by Damon Knight who had published all of them in his magazine of that title. It's a good collection and readily available on Amazon (though some of its stories overlap with other collections - and the formatting's not all that attractive).

So pleased you and your friend like 'Six Fingers of Time' and 'Frog on the Mountain' so much! I never hear anyone mention those and they're two of my very fave! 'Six Fingers' is begging to be made into a film. Glad you like 'Aranea' and 'Speckled Eyes' too - wasn't sure what others would think of those; they're probably not as out and out brilliant as some of Laff's stuff but the ideas and some of the scenes are just chilling and wondrous.

Yeah, I probably prefer the Institute gang over Barnaby and co., yet Barnaby has some of my favourites moments too. Oh yes, Easterwine is hugely un-cohesive and off-putting, but somehow I find it bizarrely seductive. I've often quoted from it. In fact, I need to put Epikt's 'sermon' on a blog post. I love that bit! I have to admit sometimes some of my favourite things Laff writes are because they reveal something of his philosophy-theology-worldview - e.g. Easterwine and 'Nine Hundred Grandmothers' (though the latter I also think is a well-written, strangely charming and odd little space age tale).

Yeah, I think Lafferty fans gravitate (at least initially) toward his stories with elements they already prefer (e.g. I tend to go first for the ones with classic s.f. tropes like aliens, other planets, space travel, time travel, what have you). But mainly I like the ones that blow my mind and make me laugh or wonder the most. Which is probably true of all the fans, but they find different stories do this for them! But there's always overlap as our lists show. By the way have you read 'Configuration of the North Shore'? If you have and it's not a fave, I demand an explanation! I first read it in Gardner Dozois's Modern Classics of Fantasy and I think that's probably the best context in which to encounter it - you definitely see the originality and genius of Laff compared to all the rest. It's also collected in Lafferty In Orbit.

Yeah, I wonder if a future century will get over the s.f./fantasy/'realistic'/detective/historical fiction/etc. genre fragmentation and rediscover some things they'd labelled and filed away as special interest stuff. Like dear old Laff. Time will tell...

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Ok, so I think by 'counterexample' you mean he to some degree critiques and/or refutes 'false philosophies' (those that are antithetical to his Catholic worldview). Yeah, I very much agree. I was just reading some interviews with some other s.f. authors who also happen to be Christians, Michael Bishop and Tim Powers, and they both insist they're not inentionally imbuing their works with proseletysing messages, but that elements of their faith that they have so internalised are no doubt coming through in their art. And this is surely true of Laff. I think this natural sort of approach is why he is so well read and well liked by those who don't share his faith. And also I believe this is why he is a great example to aspiring artists who are Christians.

I do think Lafferty looked around at his world and definitely decided he would rail against what he thought was destroying it - a very respectable tack for an artist in my opinion. But he did so in a very humane and humanising way, even in all its (really quite enjoyable) 'crankiness'. And he offered his (gospel) solution with attractive humility and a devious charm, in a holistic way (not narrow one-issue politics or what have you) and through language common to all (yes, he was erudite in philosophy as in so many other things!), not religious subculture jargon.

I haven't yet noticed his possible sympathies with the Reformers but I would be pleased to discover it. As a low-church Protestant myself (the worst kind I'm afraid - a filthy 'evangelical' - though so much that goes by that name I would want to distance myself from) I can say that I too don't think the church's various splits are at all ideal even if in some ways necessary. Yes, I suspect Lafferty was rather Thomistic, but I don't know if I'd say good old Aquinas got most things right. But I am a fan, not least in terms of the school of 'classical apologetics' that can be largely traced back to him.

Jay Brantner said...

Yeah, Lafferty's titles are grand, aren't they? With four exceptions, everything I mentioned, by the way, was collected either in "Nine Hundred Grandmothers," "Iron Tears," "Strange Doings," or "Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add," which I find much better collections than "Golden Gate" and "Ringing Changes" (although none of his collections are bad). The exceptions: "All Hollow Though You Be" (collected in "Slippery and other stories"), "The Man Who Walked Through Cracks" (random sci-fi compilation), "And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire" (same), and "Days of Grass, Days of Straw" (which is in both Golden Gate and Ringing Changes). As you'd guessed, I do not own "Lafferty in Orbit," although it's not for lack of trying. I've ordered it on Amazon four separate times, but the first three times I had my order canceled by the seller with no explanation. The worst part is that the seller still has the ad on Amazon. So you won't sell it to me, but you still claim to be selling it? The fourth seller has not canceled the order yet, so I have hope.

It's really interesting how some stories are both loved and hated by different fans, much more interesting than how different fans have different favorites. The latter is to be expected. The former, not so much. The owner of the RAL devotional page, for instance, rates "Entire and Perfect Chrysolite" and "Horns on Their Heads" as lame, where I consider them above average. He also hates "Great Day in the Morning," which I've not read and you liked. But the strangest bit is his dislike for "And Limestone Islands" and "Days of Grass, Days of Straw," both of which were fantastic. The former I can understand a little bit, even though I disagree. The latter I just don't get at all. "Days of Grass, Days of Straw," along with "Boomer Flats" and "The Transcendent Tigers" are probably his only stories collected elsewhere that rival the best ones from Nine Hundred Grandmothers. I just see no downside, but the devotional page guy hates it. Quite curious. I have, by the way, read "Symposium" and "The Funny Face Murders" since my last comment. Both are wonderful. It's a shame they were never among the collected.

Like you, I tend to gravitate towards stories that either make me laugh or blow my mind. But I almost prefer the ones with more tall-tale elements (like "One at a Time," "Narrow Valley," or "Boomer Flats") more than anything else. It's really hard to say, because I do quite enjoy sci-fi (and most everything he does). But the average Lafferty tall-tale is better than the average Lafferty alien narrative. At least that's my initial impression. Like I said, it's so hard to choose among favorites. I can trace certain elements though. The friend of mine who loves his violence rates "Snuffles" in his top five, where I have it just above average. I, on the other hand, show most appreciation for a mind-blowing ending, as seen in my top movie ("The Usual Suspects") and top Lafferty story ("What's the Name of That Town"). In both cases, I still get chills watching it all unfold.

I am with you, by the way, on hoping that future generations forget all this special interest nonsense and recognize quality wherever it's found. A lot of sci-fi is genuinely special interest, but Lafferty is not a lot of sci-fi. For that matter, Battlestar Galactica (the new one) is another example of a story with no sci-fi but the setting that still gets labeled and shoved in the special interest category. Sci-fi doesn't have to be the focus, it can be the vehicle for telling a good story, as it tends to be in the sci-fi I read/watch.

Jay Brantner said...

I intentionally waited for discussion of your movie comment, because that deserves a length discussion of its own. I've come to the conclusion that 70% of Lafferty stories would make fabulous Twilight Zone episodes ("Land of the Great Horses," "Seven Day Terror," and "What's the Name of That Town" immediately come to mind) but that the vast minority would make good films. And even then, it would take a fabulous filmmaker to stay even remotely true to Lafferty's tone, particularly his humor. That said, there are four stories that come to mind that are ready-made for the big screen. The first is "Six Fingers," as you mentioned, and it probably has the best chance to be made into a movie without being butchered. The second is "Frog on the Mountain," which would be a bit of a twist on an action movie. Third is "Snuffles," which would also be a twist on an action movie, a rather psychedelic twist, I think. Finally, the shortest of the bunch, "Thieving Bear Planet" would be a great film. It could work excellently with a sort of Euro-horror style. What say you?

Also, I do say I'm surprised that few people mention "Frog" and "Six Fingers." They're both in my top three, and they're both in the top three of my Dad and my best friend. Similar tastes, I suppose? Oh, and I must get your opinion on a theory I had. You know how "Frog on the Mountain" initially has a disappointing ending? I think it fits, because anything more would be an anti-climax, but it still makes you wonder. Well, I think that Lafferty has actually ended the story in the first two paragraphs. They're meant to have an obvious single-meaning, but I think they're meant to have a second meaning. The Hebrew prophets did that all the time, and Catholic storytellers have a bit of the Hebrew prophet in them. After reading more Lafferty, I think "It had taken some doing," is too high praise to merely refer to sleeping on entry and waking up at the foot of a mountain. I'm intentionally vague in case someone reading hasn't read the story yet, but you get the idea.

I'm definitely with you on "Aranea." I think it's the best of all of the exploration of an unknown planet stories that he has (beating Thieving Bear, World Abounding, and Snuffles). He does them all well, but that one was a really entertaining story put with the height of his black humour. The line from the Survival Guide was great!

Jay Brantner said...

By counterexample I meant a critique, as you say, but in a certain style. Although he rails against them with words at times, he more often depicts a sort of reductio of these philosophies. You can see this with the Institute folks in "All Hollow Though You Be" and the hippies in both "Ishmael Into the Barrens" and "And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire." He vividly depicts these ideas taken to their logical conclusion in circumstances that were not envisioned by the champions of these ideas, and he does it well.

I really do love the way he handles being a Christian artist. He lets his worldview shine though, but he doesn't preach. This is something that Catholics and Anglicans have tended to do well, but on which the majority of Protestants have completely missed the boat. I think one of the main problems is the Christian entertainment industry, which encourages poor artistry because it sells. If your message is not overt enough, people won't buy your stuff when looking for Christian art (Christian stores might not even sell it. The number of times "Jesus" is mentioned has become a sort of litmus test). If your themes are too dark, your work will be considered worldly and shunned by the Christian industry. But if the message is obvious and the stories are pat and unrealistic, the Christian stores will stock them and the people will buy them. It's really shameful. I'm so glad that Lafferty didn't market himself that way. There are very few Christian writers these days that I'll even give a passing glance (pretty much Ted Dekker, who is good but is no Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton, or Lafferty). Christian music is even worse. The hymns have been replaced by bad imitations of rock music, and the people who try to make good rock music are censured for a message that isn't overt enough. Five Iron Frenzy is pretty much the only one I'll listen to, although they are great and have several songs calling out the Christian art industry ("Litmus," "Blue Mix"). I know most of that was talk about what Lafferty isn't, but that's always an easier description than what he is. Whatever he does though, he does it well. But between the two of us, I think we've painted a decent picture. And to be fair, by the way, Christian artists are not the only ones who forget they're telling a story and end up preaching instead. Philip Pullman ruined a perfectly good trilogy this way.

Jay Brantner said...

It's interesting, by the way, that I think we might be completely opposite on our views of Aquinas. I really enjoy his philosophy, and as a friend's seminary professor says, "Aquinas would be perfect if he'd relied more on the Bible instead of Aristotle." I'm not an Aristotlean, so that gets me into trouble with ol' St. Thomas sometimes. But I'm not a big fan of classical apologetics, as I think that proofs for God's existence don't do anything except weed out atheistic red herrings. At any rate, I do think that Lafferty's philosophy was heavily influenced by Aquinas and the Catholic tradition as a whole, but he still (possibly unintentionally) has one of the most elegant statements of the driving force behind the Protestant church that I've ever seen:

"We have divine sanction and assurance that the Church will endure to the end of the world, it is said. No, we do not have assurance that it will endure in effective external form, nor in popularly recognized identity, nor by name or by ritual, nor openly at all. The reassurance that the Church will endure does not apply to the furniture of the Church in the world."
-The Fall of Rome (ch. 8, "As Good a Graveyard as Any")

I read that as saying that there is a distinction between the visible and invisible Church and that there may come a time that the visible Church goes bad. Those were the views that drove the Reformation. I also, by the way, am a filthy evangelical, although I'm a bit more high church myself. I tend to stick to the more conservative (theologically speaking, at least) Presbyterians.

It's amazing how much there is to say about one writer. I sometimes wish I were an English PhD just so that I'd have the occasion to research him for a dissertation. There's enough material (by far) to make it good, and he's obscure enough that no one's likely tried it yet.

Jay Brantner said...

Yeah, fifth post in a row and all that, but I just got another story in the mail and read it. It was an excellent story, but it brought something to mind: are there times when Lafferty's stories can be excellently written but still not cohere, even in the world he's created? Or am I missing something? I'm not thinking of just fanciful stories like "One At a Time," but ones that really just turn surreal and leave you wondering what exactly happened. The story that brought this to mind was "The Three Shadows of the Wolf," which I greatly enjoyed but which still left me doubting whether there was an explanation for what happened. I can't think of any other Lafferty examples at the moment, but I can thinking of one non-RAL example: the film The Shining. Great movie, pretty sure it didn't cohere. Almost like it was a nightmare on film. Occasionally, I get the same impression with Lafferty (maybe he was taking hints from ol' Chesterton, who wrote a pretty good nightmare in The Man Who Was Thursday). As crazy a writer as he is, I don't recall this happening often, but it does happen sometimes. Or at least I think it does. Just wondering if you'd seen any of that.

Oh, and although I don't tend to like the whole Barnaby Sheen gang, I do enjoy stories where Austro goes off by himself (or goes off with only Roy).

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Ok, sorry for the delayed response!

Ah, I don't have the collection Iron Tears so that explains why I don't know those stories. Yeah that the guy at the RAL Devo page considers 'Days of Grass, Days of Straw' to be in the category 'lame' is completely inexplicable. That is a profound and bloodily exuberant tale, one of Laff's very best I think. It definitely is a central piece in terms of Lafferty's complaint that society had taken a regrettable turn in the direction of 'thinning out'. (It's also probably my favourite one I've read to do with Native Americans.)

The funny thing is that I'm very inclined toward the tall tale settings, but those stories by Laff tend to not blow my mind as much as others ('Days of Grass' being the notable exception for me, but of course it is part s.f. in theme by means of time/dimension-travel). Also interesting is that your own top 3 faves are all of a more s.f. than tall tale nature. (I've seen a number of editors and others name one of the more tall tale stories as their favourites - e.g. 'One At a Time' or 'Narrow Valley' come up alot, so you're not the only one.)

I meant to say how pleased I am also that your friend rates 'Snuffles' in his top 3. That story is just one of the truly weirdest things I've ever read and somehow grabs me in a bizarre way. That's the thing about Lafferty: you always hear people talking about fiction that is really, oh so very strange and original etc. (e.g. P. K. Dick or the 'New Weird' gang like China Mieville et. al.) but Lafferty's writing is genuinely and truly weird or strange stuff. When I describe him as such I think people often expect him to be 'cool' and stylish weird like Harlan Ellison or Dick or something. But Lafferty is actually and truly off the beaten path marching to a literally different drummer. His stories are bizarre in a way that is neither 'so freaked it's completely inaccessible!' on the one hand or 'wow, this is so super hip and cool how freaky it is!' on the other hand. Sure, he has moments of coming across both of those ways. But overall he is just a horse of different colour - it's notoriously hard to put your finger on just why. His stories are often beautiful, profound, mind-bending, awe-inspiring, stirringly strange, hilariously weird and unsettingly odd. But they are rarely 'stylish' and 'avante garde' in the way people seem to usually understand such terms - it will never be claimed of Lafferty that 'this is fiction for the 21st century' as Neil Gaiman described China Mieville's work. It is 'genre-breaking' and 'unconventional' and 'fresh' in deeper, stranger ways I think.

And if I were to say 'Snuffles' is about a giant, intelligent bear on another planet that is perhaps the spirit of that planet (or something like that) and who rather magnanimously hunts down and kills the astronautical explorers of the story one by one, whilst having chummy philosophical discussion with them along the way ... well, it just doesn't do justice to how WEIRD this story is. Lafferty is his own thing.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

So glad you judge some of Lafferty's work cinema-worthy! I'd really like to get all his fans going about this topic - whether you can even bring Lafferty to the screen and if so, which stories? I definitely think his short stories would be more amenable than his novels because you can directorially take your time with the short stories. As much as I'd love to a see a stab at a Past Master movie, I worry whether it could capture both the scope and the essence of that novel. 'Six Fingers' was definitely the first one that ever got me thinking about this possibility and still remains the most viable and obvious to me. The super-slow-mo-practically-frozen time moments would in the right hands be AMAZING. (Think of the guy in the car that he pulls up the emergency break on and his face heads for the steering wheel and agonisingly slowly is crushed into it, slow-mo trickles of blood flying outward...! Or the slipping a shoe and sock off a walking man in a crowded street scene!)

Not so sure about 'Frog' and 'Snuffles' - a movie would almost certainly cheese those up and utterly fail to capture the strangeness, humour, and unsettling nature of those stories. Never read 'Thieving Bear Planet' but something that would require 'Euro-horror style' sounds intriguing to say the least! (Which brings to mind the recent Swedish film Let The Right One In... something of this beautiful-poetic-atmospheric but definitely horrific directorial style along with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and the Coen brothers might just do the trick of doing justice to all Lafferty is about, including his black humour. Though you'd need somebody who really gets the sort of dimension-bending 'fantasy' Lafferty does - someone who won't just turn it into a 'trip' fest.)

In addition to live-action films, I'd love to see the likes of Tim Burton or Studio Ghibli take a stab at a stop-motion animation or 'japanimation' versions (respectively) of some of his stories.

To be honest it's hard to imagine almost anyone bringing things like 'Configuration of the North Shore', 'Days of Grass, Days of Straw', 'In Deepest Glass', 'And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire', etc. to the screen without just ending up plain dumb and catching almost nothing of what Lafferty literarily creates through his elemental-mythic-tall-tale storytelling. But I want it to happen, don't misunderstand me. I'd love a huge-budget but tasteful film (oxymoron?) of 'Transcendent Tigers' to be made - complete with vastly awesome and terrifying scenes of the miles-wide holes in the various geographical locations created by the devilish wee girl and her pins and globe trick.

Agreed about the Hebrew Prophet-esque layered meanings in Lafferty!

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yes, reductio ad absurdum! That's an excellent way to describe how Lafferty critiques and subverts what he considers false philosophies (and an excellent and important part of an overall apologetic strategy - more on that in another comment to come). Ah, Laff's send up of the 'hippies' is one of my favourite elements - though I think there are not a few of a 'hippy' persuasion who are big fans of his in spite of this (or due to not detecting the satire?). But he sends up the 'punk' sort of folks and approach too (of whom I'm in much more natural sympathy) - but I very much appreciate this as I also have deep criticisms of this movement I am to some degree a part of. So perhaps Lafferty's hippy fans appreciate him for the same reasons I do as a sort of 'punk' type.

This is where I think Lafferty is so much like Chesterton with the 'you know, Orthodoxy is actually so much more radical and wild than poor old Heresy' point of view. (Indeed, it must be said that he's like the un-boxable Jesus himself in this regard.) Lafferty was exploring whether their was another kind of ancient-future (sorry to borrow a pop-emergent term) sort of counterculture that was more effectively 'revolutionary' in the right way about the right things than any other going counter-culture so far, hippy or punk or alternative or what have you. Indeed, more radical and liberating than Left or Right or Libertarian and the rest, as Lafferty made clear at moments here and there in his works.

I'll mostly just shout a loud and revivalistic AMEN! to your thoughts on the 'Christian entertainment industry' and so forth. It's all just so sadly true and lamentable. Like Lafferty often recommends in his works (e.g. the endings of 'And Walk Now Gently' and Past Master just to name a few), we need to rebuild and renew, not merely moan about it. (Which I did not at all think you were doing, just to be clear.) I love that too about Lafferty, that he wanted to be a Queer Builder, an Ant of God, as he says in 'And Walk Now', not just the 'cranky old man from Tulsa' he called himself. He looked backward for wisdom, certainly, but also wanted to move forward in the here and now with hope for a livable future.

I'm glad you can point to examples in, say, music like Five Iron Frenzy (a band many of my friends always loved but I never even really heard - though apparently their drummer said my earlier band, Blaster the Rocket Man, was his favourite!). I appreciate the likes of Soul-Junk and Danielson Familie, even though the styles they play are not what I would normally go for. It's just that they are so very creative and original and lyricise about their Christian faith in such a open but utterly thought-provoking way. There are many others - I just don't really keep up. Things just have to rather randomly cross my path.

And I couldn't agree more that non-Christians can be just as tactlessly, tastelessly preachy and narrowly moralistic as Christians. And they can be like Lafferty too, where they are putting across a definite worldview and ethical system, but in a way that is listenable to 'non-believers' - Neil Gaiman and Ursula Le Guin come to my mind as examples I have read, appreciated, and debated with as I entered their worlds.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Ok, I should back up at this point and confess I've read only wee bits and pieces of Aquinas myself - and heard of some of his concepts from various contemporary theologians and philosophers. And what bits I've read and heard I've found in many ways amenable to my own approach to faith and reason (though I also would not consider myself Aristotelian, and would rather a theologian, ancient or modern, follow the Scriptures over and above any philosopher or system of philosophy). I do love many of the contemporary restatements of classical arguments for God's existence (and newer innovative ones on the demonstrable existence of objective moral values or human reason and/or consciousness and how these things are best explained by personalistic theism). But I also value presuppositional apologetics for reminding us that we're all bringing assumptions to these evidences and reasonings and helping us root those out and test them.

I would really like to see someone draw out how much and just how Lafferty is influenced by Aquinas - especially as Lafferty often seems not all that rationalistic and logic-chopping like Aquinas was. I don't think Lafferty was some sort of Kierkegaardian fideist or a postmodernist where all meaning is linguistically in 'infinite play' or something. I think that Lafferty was deeply 'rational' in a holistic sense, but by no means 'rationalistic', in a way that depends only on human reason and a very 'positivist' view of human reason at that. I would love to see someone mine Lafferty's epistemology as much as we can see it in action in his work. I wonder if it had elements of both rationalism and phenomonalism, two different ways of circumventing reductionistic empiricism.

I like the quote and see what you mean about visible/invisible church. You see this in the comments of the Pope on Astrobe in Past Master, and in 'And Walk Now Gently'.

I'm a fan of Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian, so I'm sympathetic to your theological background. Mine is more low-church, charismatic, post-Jesus Movement, 'Calminian' if any of that means anything to you. (I come from the Calvary Chapel churches in the USA.) I believe in historic, orthodox Christianity but though 'conservative' would to a large degree describe my theology, I'm wary of that freighted word. I like Thomas Oden's term 'paleo-orthodoxy' (somehow I think Laff might have liked that too) - what some call 'Great Tradition' Christianity. But I'm definitely of an evangelical, 'biblicist' and personal faith variety.

Oh and I've met a chap through email who's doing a PhD on Lafferty at Tulsa University! I hope to interview him here in the future...

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yeah, good comparison with The Shining - nightmarish is definitely a way to describe some of Lafferty's stuff. But very vigorous nightmare (yes, like Chesterton), rather than merely grim and gruesome, like say Poe or Lovecraft. Though of course Lafferty can be lyrically grotesque. Actually 'Snuffles' is a story that strikes me this way - I think it cohered in Laff's mind, but I don't really get it - I just love it!


Jay Brantner said...

So I guess the longer the comment, the more intimidating it is to respond (and thus more time between responses). Apologies. Definitely with you on Lafferty being his own thing (I understand the Dick comparisons, but Lafferty isn't Dick), and your thoughts on what could be cinema-worthy. I also share your worry about making them a trip-fest, although Frog and Snuffles could be good if there were a director who avoided this. One worry I have is that in taking a short story to the big screen (which is what would have to happen, there's too much in the novels) is that the screenplay-writer/director would try to fill in too many holes. It's the holes that make the story. And I can't share your enthusiasm for Let the Right One In. It had the potential to be a good movie, but I thought the director majored in holding the wide shots for too long. I hadn't ever thought about having someone like Tim Burton do something. He's done some good things, although his Alice was not quite up to Alice standards, so he makes me a little nervous.

Don't have a lot to add to your bit on preaching, philosophy, and general entertainment. I think you pretty much hit it. And I was once Calminian, but have moved more Calvinist the more I've studied. And my friend that I mentioned said that Lafferty/Chesterton/Sayers is right about Orthodoxy. . . he's taking a class on the trinity. And it's wild.

I really want to read that dissertation when it's finished.

I have been able to read several new Lafferty stories in the last couple weeks: "Symposium" (awesome!), "Smoe and the Implicit Clay" (quite good), "And Mad Undancing Bears" (also good), and "The Funny Face Murders" (tremendous!). Sadly, my copy of "Lafferty in Orbit" is still in the shipping process, as it has been for a couple weeks now. I'm getting worried. In the interim, I'm reading Fourth Mansions for the first time. Through about a third of it, it has potential to be my favourite Lafferty novel, but we shall see.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Ha! I know - we're trying to get briefer and briefer with our comments. I take it you haven't read 'Configuration' then? It's in Lafferty in Orbit, so you'll finally have it there. I'm about halfway through The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny and LOVING it! Definitely some of the best Laff stuff I've run into - everything from great 1920s tall tales of a reporter out-boxing a world champion to weird and wonderful creation myths about the Panther (Pan-Therion,the All-Animal) belching dreams and all that. 'In the Days of Silent Radio' - what an amazing phrase! And it all comes across so urgent about Hell's designs upon the earth and the like, in such a rambunctious and infectious way. I remember you said this was one of your favourites. I also liked Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis?, the first novella in this two-tale book (entitled Apocalypses for those who don't know). I've been putting off reading it for a long time, but now it's one of my faves.

'Symposium' was one of the early stories I read that really got me interested in Laff theologically/apologetically - he seems to be posing tough questions to those who hold to a materialistic 'unguided' origin to life in this story - in a very entertaining and humourous and inventive way! I've not read Smoe and Funny Face - what are those collected in?

Undancing Bears is a classic example of a somewhat second-rate sort of Lafferty tale that nevertheless has some of his more interesting ideas (the hide-wearing desert monks vs. rock'n'roller bikers with amplifiers round their necks - character names like 'Doctor Rockter' - and very Christian themes like a conversion right there in the midst of the story: the biker Whole-Hog McCloud rises from his wrestling match with the monk as Whole-Man McCloud and is baptised. Wow. Only Lafferty could pull that off like that. But the story overall is not a great one.

But I find Lafferty well worth wading through to mine both philosophical themes as well as wonderful moments of wonder and humour. I've yet to read anything by him that wasn't on some level well worth reading.

Just finished reading Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport by Richard Mouw (president of Fuller Theological Seminary) tonight. Best presentation of the doctrine I've read - it's more existential than exegetical but I'm familiar with the biblical case and have rarely read something so 'warm' by a Calvinist, so this was refreshing - a genuine page-turner too! I'm still not convinced by it as a total system but I love the humility and generosity (yet tenacity) with which Mouw holds and commends his convictions. And I definitely think you dear Calvies bring a welcome emphasis on theocentricity to the table, for which I'm always thankful. Piper, Stott, Packer, Carson, Schaeffer, Driscoll, Keller - to name but a few - have always comprised some of my main spiritual sustenance. So I've drunk fairly deeply at the Calvinist well and am better for it. But I also need the likes of say John Wesley and A. W. Tozer to round out the meal.

Someone once said that Lafferty was very influenced by Augustine's City of God - I wonder if that's conjecture or if Laff ever sites his theological influences?

Jay Brantner said...

Well, Charles Wesley still writes the best hymns, no matter where you stand on theology!

Smoe is collected in "Future Power," ed. Jack Dann, and Funny Face is in "New Terrors II" (Ramsey Campbell). Smoe has Epiktistes in it, so it can't be all bad. Funny Face has Austro when he's at his best--namely, when the rest of the gang (except for Roy) aren't around. It's just so hilarious.

I thought "Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis" was a good novel, but not up there with The Fall of Rome, Okla Hannali, The Reefs of Earth, or Three Armageddons. As you can imagine from that top four, I love Ennis Sweeney! I really do think I might have to add Fourth Mansions soon though. Also, I love how Lafferty reuses characters. Selim Elia is the night watchman at the museum in "Fourth Mansions" and is also Oriad's boyfriend in "Funnyfingers." I feel like those are the gems that the author just throws in without expecting many people to catch them.

And, I don't know if you know this yet, but a free copy of "The Transcendent Tigers" is back online! I just read it again, and it just rockets up my favourites list. I understood it way more this time. And I think I can finally remember what "homoeoteleutic" means.

Jay Brantner said...

Okay, I just finished Fourth Mansions, and I think it is Lafferty's best novel (unless you count Bad Jo. . . The Reefs of Earth, which is really a short story with novel length). Not only is it hilarious, well-told, insightful, and creative, all in typical Lafferty style, it really hangs together more than the majority of his novels. He does have a hard time ending the novels compared to the short stories, so it's very common for him to end with things going a little crazy and you wondering what happens next. That said, when things go a little crazy this time, you can still follow that they are things. And it's still entertaining. And I still feel like it's saying something. Great book, I highly recommend you read it, if you haven't already. And I have no idea why people say that it doesn't make sense or that you have to read Interior Castle first. It hangs together and makes sense WAY more than The Devil is Dead or Arrive at Easterwine.

Jay Brantner said...

I've now had four sellers in a row cancel my order of Lafferty in Orbit. I'm beginning to think I might never get this book.

Jay Brantner said...

Well, my copy of Lafferty in Orbit is finally here! I had four sellers cancel orders of between 26 and 28 dollars, but a new seller came online selling it for $6.50. I jumped on that, and it was here in three days. I still have two stories left to read, but of the ones I hadn't previously read, three stand out as excellent: "Great Day in the Morning," "Royal Licorice," and of course "Configuration of the North Shore." You were right, it was fantastic. My only complaint is that the editor has done one of the most abysmal jobs I've ever seen. Typos abound, and the penultimate page of "Configuration of the North Shore" had SIX typos or spelling/grammar mistakes. Six. On one page. Pathetic. But yeah, I loved the story. Definitely one of his best.

Jay Brantner said...

Okay, so Lafferty in Orbit must just get better towards the end. I admit that I really liked "When All the Lands Pour Out Again" and "The Only Tune He Could Play." Yes, you could see the ending coming in the latter, but that didn't stop "Seven Day Terror" from being fantastic, now did it?

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yeah, that's the problem with Orbit. I think it's got some of Lafferty's very best stuff, but it just looks so shabby in that presentation with all the typos and the size of the printed area being made originally for an obviously smaller book and not reformated to this new size, etc. It detracts from the greatness of the stories. That's why I wish so bad some big publisher (or a small but stylish publisher) would just get busy reprinting all this stuff for a new generation in packaging that reflects the greatness of the writing!

I like all the stories you mentioned too. How ingeniously 'anti-pomo/relativist' is 'Great Day in the Morning'?! I was in a discussion thread about Laff once long ago and we were trying to define 'postmodern' and someone said pithily: 'a man with two watches that tell two different times' or something like that. In trying to ascertain whether Laff himself was pomo or not, someone said: 'I think Lafferty was definitely a one watch man.' And some time later I read this story where it uses this very imagery of time pieces keeping time or not!

Andrew said...

Guess I'll pitch in on this way too late, and will get the self-promo out of the way by linking to the aforementioned MA diss on Lafferty, available at (Be warned, it's 60 pages, but the bibliography is definitely worth a look.)

For my favorites:
Stories: "Days of Grass, Days of Straw", "Continued on Next Rock", "Narrow Valley", "Cliffs That Laughed", "One at a Time"
Novels: Space Chantey, Okla Hannali, Annals of Klepsis, Archipelago, Three Armageddons, and increasingly Serpent's Egg
Essay: "The Day After the World Ended"— an incredibly important philosophical statement on SF, really cannot be underestimated in respect to his work but to larger philosophical questions, most especially that of postmodernity

As for short stories vs. novels, Lafferty said his stories were better, but his novels had more to say, and he seemed to expect that the latter would get a deeper look later on. I believe he's right, and am trying to do my part towards that expectation. Not to Mention Camels, for instance, is a work of great profundity, but it takes a lot of training in media studies _and_ comparative theology (a rare blend) to start digging out what he's buried there.

Re: Lafferty's uniqueness, Michael Swanwick had it best, I think, in writing that Ray completely reinvented language from the ground up to suit his purposes. I'm sure the both of you are familiar with the feeling that Lafferty is rewiring your brain as you read—the way he uses words, and especially how he evokes the cadences and effects of oral poetry, while still writing prose demonstrating the full awareness of what writing does to consciousness, is an accomplishment that puts him, to my mind, among the very greatest authors of his century. Swanwick lists Joyce and Amos Tutuola; I might add Flann O'Brien and the very best of Burroughs or Ballard.

The Hebrew-prophet point is well-taken here: Lafferty quite definitely uses a prophetic view of time, in which all is eternally present—Hebrew actually has a "prophetic present" tense lacking in English—and that can be seen especially in a story like "And Name My Name". Northrop Frye, drawing on Blake and others, called this sort of thing "kerygmatic", from Greek kerygma, or "proclamation"; Lafferty uses the same word in the beginning of Space Chantey, once again showing that he knew precisely what he was about. As a side note, a knowledge of Greek, or at least a good solid lexicon, adds immensely to one's enjoyment of Lafferty.

On Lafferty and philosophy: he was self-taught, and tremendously well at that. If he seems to be engaging with a philosophical idea, chances are very good that he is doing so consciously. (Which is not to say that there is no unconscious content in his stories; on the contrary, he seems to write in a way that goes straight through to the unconscious. See Don Webb's short article "Effective Arcanum" for more.) Another great counter to the hippie philosophy is "Flaming Ducks and Giant's Bread", which actually gives Lafferty's vantage point on Woodstock et al.

Like Dan, Annals of Klepsis is one of my faves (actually use the cover as my Twitter icon, @epiktistes) but I disagree that it's not as profound as Past Master, at least (which, like Lafferty, I view as a extremely interesting failure). Klepsis is a fable about the arrival of modernism, and with it the arrogant view that history begins anew with it, when actually — for Lafferty, at least — it marked the end of a certain world and the dubious beginnings of another. Besides, how many authors have the audacity to end a novel on an emdash?

Andrew said...

(cont’d) That story, as well as "Snuffles," are major components of my document mentioned above, so I will restrict my comments on that to saying that 1) both demonstrate something very important about Ray's work: his stories are always as much about how stories get told as they are about the story itself, and 2) both, especially "Snuffles" (and the Laestrygonians incident of Space Chantey) demonstrate the importance of the grotesque in his work.

I too once rated his twist ending stories among his very best—and still rate "What's the Name of that Town?" among them—but I think I now find more daring his stories where he tells you what's going to happen, and then proceeds to show you exactly that, and yet it is still mindblowing.

Thanks for thoughts on two stories I'd always found a bit below par: "Frog on the Mountain" and, to a lesser extent, "Six Fingers of Time". I'm still not convinced by "Once on Aranea", which Damon Knight among others rejected. Not to say it's not a good story, just don't see it as topping "Snuffles".

"Symposium" reminds me of Calvino's Cosmicomics (which I expect any Lafferty fan would enjoy). He started a sequel to that, but sadly got no farther than a single handwritten page.

For cohesion in Easterwine, try looking up Sheryl Smith's article "Arrive at Easterwine: Some Arrant Roadmapping." Not easy to find right now, but I'm hoping to reprint it in the volume of essays I'm pulling together. I think the Barnaby Sheen & Austro stories are actually a match for the Institute cycle on the whole, but it must be remembered that both those series are taking place in Lafferty's contemporary Tulsa, and that those groups of people would be acquainted with each other (even beyond the crossover impulse in, e.g., "All Hollow Though You Be"). The Sheen stories also benefit from a reading of the entire In a Green Tree series, which shows all the characters, Laff excepted, from kindergarten on. "You Can't Go Back" is also a Sheen story, though the names are changed for some reason.

Re: Lafferty and Aquinas, the novel Aurelia (originally To Aurelia, with Horns) is essentially a resetting of the Summa, placing in the role of Thomas a teenage Camiroi girl. Lafferty himself was formally educated, such as it was, in an Augustinian academy (most clearly seen in "The All-at-Once Man", and that, with a healthy dose of Rabelaisian earthiness and carnivalistic nose-tweaking, pretty much sums up his own approach to the Church.

Lafferty and movies/TV: he unsuccessfully tried to adapt several stories as TV screenplays, only selling "John Salt", which never aired. I don't think many of his works would translate to a live-action setting, likely on purpose (see his comments on "Flatland" in the "Day After the World Ended" speech, and compare to the "flattening" effect of film projection). I am convinced, however, that Okla Hannali would be a tremendous film, if only someone would fall in love with it and do it justice. That death scene is one of the best in literature, and would translate wonderfully to film. As for "Six Fingers"—maybe that is a cinematic story, which would explain why I don't see it as among his best. I emphatically agree that many of his stories would make terrific animated films, in the hands of a Studio Ghibli or that guy that did The Triplets of Belleville.

Wow, that's just way too much for now. Anyway, I'd still be up for an interview, whatever that entails, and soon hope I can share good news about the possibility of reprints and never-before-prints. Left my email on your other and more recently updated blog, but as I'd love to talk to anyone about Lafferty, here it is again: af3pj at virginia dot edu. (And this one, unlike the Tulsa one, appears to be permanent.)

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Andrew, so good to hear from you again, especially on this thread! Be encouraged that your hard work on Lafferty is paying off. You'll be the first, true scholar of Lafferty and the world will bless your name for it! I look forward to your introduction the Penguin Classics collection of Lafferty short stories in the future. (Could this world ever be that just? 'Be quiet. We watch... Be quiet. We wait... Be quiet. We hope.')

Point by point engagement with your comments will have to await another day, but let me at least say that I'm thrilled about your thoughts on Klepsis and Snuffles as those are two of my very favourites. To be honest, I'm not at all surprised to hear you say they're actually very important and meaningful. I sensed that on something of a mythopoeic level, but couldn't grasp them consciously yet (having not even really tried to either).

Speaking of 'great authors' in whose company Lafferty should be counted, have you read any Cormac McCarthy? The regional, linguistic, and syntactical resonances between the authors are marked and interesting I think. Very similar feels at times. McCarthy deals a fair bit with Native Americans too, so maybe that's at least where some of where it's coming from - that and the southwest region.

Also, I think Gene Wolfe is in this category and comparisons with this fellow Catholic author would be very fruitful. And Walker Percy! That's another author I naturally found myself experiencing resonances to Lafferty whilst reading. He's got a novel called Love In the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World. The main character is intentionally called Tom More and you can imagine the possible interconnections to Lafferty's Past Master. But there are a lot of resonances with Lafferty's thought in general.

Flesheater said...

I just found a copy of this at half price books (the original printing) for 30 cents. So stoked.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Nice! 30 cents! I thought I found a steal in finding his short story collection, Strange Doings, for 79 cents, ha! (I already owned that collection so it wasn't as exciting as it could be.) Let me know what you think of Space Chantey. The short stories are still probably the best place to start. But Space Chantey is really readable (for Lafferty) and lots of great fun and weird adventure.

Flesheater said...

Yeah I haven't had much luck finding anything by him, I thought living in Oklahoma I might have a good chance, but it hasn't proven easy. I did find some short stories online though. I really liked "the man who never was" but "thus we frustrate charlemagne" was a bit hard to follow.

Have you read Gaiman's try at writing like lafferty? it's called "sunbird" and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yeah, Amazon is probably the best bet for a Lafferty short story collection right now. I haven't read 'The Man Who Never Was'. 'Charlemagne' is a classic but yeah, it's a weird one. It's a rich and original take on the classic s.f. theme of time travelling interference in the past that changes the present.

No, I still haven't read that Gaiman story, but I want to. I've read Gaiman's American Gods and Anansi Boys and you can totally feel Lafferty's influence in those works (as well as Gene Wolfe's).

Kevin Cheek said...

I was just browsing Amazon and found:

Neil Gaiman Presents Volume 3: Space Chantey [Paperback]
Out of Print--Limited Availability.


The conversation on this thread lasted longer than the edition of the book!

For that matter, why doesn't Gollancz create a series of SF Masterworks editions of Lafferty's work, like they've done for Cordwainer Smith, Philip K. Dick, etc?

Kevin Cheek said...

I posed the above question to Golancz. This was their response:

"Thank you for your email. Unfortunately such is the number of SF authors out there and the difficulties in negotiating rights for many books that there are a lot of titles which cannot be put on the SF Masterworks list or which we have not got around to considering yet. We are looking into the possibility of publishing some of R.A. Lafferty’s books as eBooks in the future, though this is still in the preliminary stages."

Well, eBooks are better than no books, so there is some faint hope.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yes, Kevin, I need to update with a new post that apparently the proposed Neil Gaiman presents Lafferty book was abandoned before realised. LAME.

Good work on chasing up Gollancz! They seem to have managed to dredge up tons of more obscure stuff in s.f. land for the Masterworks series and I've always wondered why they haven't done so with Lafferty, who is at least still critically acclaimed and beloved by his fellow s.f. authors, older and newer (from Ellison to Gaiman).

So amazing and hopeful to hear their at least considering getting Laff in 'print' again to one degree or another, in one format or another.

Thanks for sharing that breaking news, Kevin!

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

correction: "they're"

Kevin Cheek said...

Perhaps if we mounted a mass letter-writing campaign to Golancz. I looked up Orion Books, the owners of Golancz ( ), to the About Orion page, to the Contact us page, and sent the e-mail to the Publicity, Website, and Sales addresses. There are at least four of us currently conversing on your blog. If we could just add another 9996 or so people, we might convince them there's a large enough audience to justify the cost of publication.

Of course, it might also help if someone could find the press release from a couple years ago about who was purchasing the publishing rights for the entire Lafferty estate.

Kevin Cheek said...

Hi, did anyone else contact Golancz or any other publishers? Do you have any more information on why the edition of Space Chantey was stillborn? I'm assuming it was because of economic contraction. Neither that nor _Neil Gaiman Presents Volume 2: Votan by John James_ appear to have seen the light of day. I can find no other Neil Gaiman Presents titles mentioned online.

Kevin Cheek said...


And I quote:
Hugo Award Winer
Exclusive Rights to Publish
His 29 Novels and 225 Short Stories
in Print, Audio, Cinema, Etc.
Current bid is $70000
(919) 286-9519

Anyone got an extra $70K lying around?

'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)