Sunday, September 11, 2011

Speaking of Aurelia...

Gregorio and I got a little sidetracked on the 'Nine Hundred Grandmothers' thread into talking about Lafferty's neglected (I'm tempted to say 'little masterpiece') novel, Aurelia (1982). I was saying that where so many of Lafferty's novels feel like an Apocalypse, this one felt more like an Advent. Gregorio took it one step further and wondered whether it was Lafferty's attempt at the genre of 'Gospel'.

I found the book, whilst very funny at times and full of weird and sometimes grotesque wonder, also to be rather poignant and a little sad (in a 'touching' way, though not with any sentimental sense that word might imply). It almost felt like Lafferty's last will and testament or something.
Anyway, with all that rolling round my head and heart I came across the beautifully kitschy illustration by my wife below (posted today on her blog Flannery O'Kafka) and felt it resonating strongly and strangely with this novel about a young girl from another world set down on Earth in a mountainous village - who eventually receives violent rejection.

Amusingly, in this illustration there is also a cameo by Snuffles the alien ursine from Lafferty's short story of that name (or is that King Riksino, 'the cave-bear, the musk-bear', from his short story 'Frog On the Mountain'?) as well as by St Joseph who makes an appearance in Lafferty's novel East of Laughter! (My wife has read none of these, so any real resonances are unintentional on her part.)

Interestingly, Aurelia comes illustrated and I really didn't care for the sort of Mad Magazine style of drawing and felt the illustrations distracted and detracted from Lafferty's fine prose. I'm not opposed to comic book style art accompanying Lafferty's stories (in fact, I think I'd love to see some of his work translated to graphic novel format), but I'd sure love to also see more stuff like the above. Indeed, it's a collage-type style that reminds me just a bit of some of the 70s covers for Lafferty's books, such as these:

Here's hoping for a future of good art for Lafferty's re-published works!


Philip said...

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, should any reader of this blog not have a copy of "Aurelia", one is for sale on with a starting price of 99 cents and no bidders.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

What? I paid about twenty bucks for it! (It was well worth it.) Oh, for the day when it will all be readily and reasonably available to everyone.

Philip said...

$20 is not a bad price, as things go. Much of Lafferty is overpriced or even ridiculously high but some of the books are just very hard to find.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yeah, I know. I'm totally gutted (as they say here in Scotland) that the remaining 3 collections of short stories I still don't own now each cost over $50.

I actually made a list on my Amazon recently of multi-author anthologies very cheaply priced that contain otherwise uncollected Lafferty stories. For around a hundred dollars (the shipping adds up) I cold get about 17 new stories that are collected nowhere else. I've found over and over again that some of his very best stories (or at least some of *my* absolute favourites) are only to be found in these obscure anthologies. So I'm tempted to just keep chipping away at collecting those rather than buying one of the collections I'm missing.

Philip said...

What short story volumes don't you have?

I agree with buying the multi-author anthologies and/or magazine issues to get hold of non-anthologised stories. make sure you use abe and bookfinder as well as amazon. I have got most of them from one or other of these sources. Few are hard to find; most came from the US and generally cost less than the postage.

In passing, you do know about this; I look at it all the time.

While still passing, I disagree with isfdb's classification of "How Many Miles to Babylon" as a novel. It's a short story and one you will find very moving. Hard to find cheap though, unfortunately.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Ah, nice link! I was using this one:

The list of short stories on the Lafferty Devotional Page has some that aren't on the seemingly exhaustive list I was looking at. I wonder if there are discrepencies with this one you've linked to also?

I still don't have the collections Iron Tears (argh!), Golden Gate and other stories, and Through Elegant Eyes.

Yes, 'How Many Miles' keeps coming up lately and I hope to read it someday.

Philip said...

Thought so. Iron Tears seems strangely hard to find. The others are easier but tend to be overpriced but do keep an eye on I saw one of them offered - and not selling - for $14.

Might be worth running a comparison of all three lists; nice if it could be done by the computer but I don't know how to do this.

Philip said...

I had a brief look at the 2 other lists of short stories you mention and I can see at once there are items on the Devotional Page which I have never heard of.

I also have the new edition of the R A Lafferty checklist though I do not particularly use it. Drawn up by Dan Knight and published by Chris Drumm, it should perhaps be correct but who knows.

The checklist has an alphabetical index so it would be relatively easy to check your two sites against it. ISFDB is chronological and so is the body of the checklist so that again simplifies things.

I will draw up a comparison in the next couple of days - idle, unemployed - and maybe send it to you. It may not be postable here.

In passing, you do know the two Lafferty papers websites. Not sure if they are 100% complete though, Andrew would know: and

My dream, by the way, is to go to Tulsa and read the unpublished parts of In a Green Tree (and other unpublished items). Will not happen for a bit though.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

I found the ISFDB site far superior for finding things easily. I added eight new books with uncollected Lafferty stories to my Amazon list!

I imagine not a few of us are Dreaming of Tulsa.

Gregorio said...

As you’ve discovered, the main difference between the ISFDB list and the Lafferty Devotional Page list seems to be that ISFDB is scrupulous about including only published items, while the Devotional Page includes unpublished material from the University of Tulsa's McFarlin Library. But what is really confusing is the fact that the Devotional Page short story page also mistakenly includes an unpublished novel in its listings: the Catholic historical novel Antonino Vescovo, one of two (the other entitled Esteban) that Lafferty wrote sometime in the period from the late 50s to the early 60s when he was still finding himself as a writer. Needless to say, I’ve also dreamed of going to Tulsa to peruse these and the numerous other unpublished works housed in the Lafferty archives.

I’ve also been meaning to comment on your wife’s illustration which I fined very interesting, particularly the central figure (Aurelia ??), which employs typical Catholic iconography of Mary and the Christ Child. This stuck me powerfully because there are very strong Marian themes and images present in Lafferty’s work -- especially in Arrive at Easterwine -- most of which garner very little notice, mostly I imagine because the Marian allusions are so allusively hidden, but which this illustration somehow captures quite beautifully even if it was not meant to do so intentionally. I thank your wife for her artistic gifts, and I hope she is moved to do more work inspired by Lafferty in the future.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Yeah, Gregorio, I'd love to see those historical novels (hadn't heard of Antonino).

Thank you for your kind comments on my wife's art - I totally botched explaining the piece in this post: this is a piece of intentionally 'kitschy' *collage* art (which, technically, is still called illustration). She's taken vintage French Nativity stamps and stamped them onto a partially painted over page from a vintage Davy Crockett children's book to create a new scene that I find at once macabre, 'sacred', comical, and moving.

Now, the materials and effect are intentionally playing with kitsch, but that doesn't mean the piece is not sincere. My wife is self-consciously, playfully (yet actually) 'sentimental' in a lot of her pieces, including this one. It perhaps makes much more sense when situated in her overall body of work. There is a lot of recurrence of children's material, vintage ephemera, and religious kitsch - the latter especially if it's something likely to be owned by an elderly Catholic woman.

Her (our) theology, you'll not be surprised, is not Marian in the full Catholic sense, but we have a longstanding love and appreciation and admiration of Catholics since they tend to be our favourite writers. And we think Mary the mother of Jesus is one of the greatest heroes of the faith.

Finally, my wife has not read Aurelia and did not at all intend this piece to relate in any way to any story by Lafferty. She had just made it and I found it very surprisingly resonating with my very recent reading of Aurelia and, as I said, also having unintentional, humorous little allusions to the alien pseudo-ursine Snuffles and to St Joseph in East of Laughter. She has only read Past Master and a very few short stories by Lafferty. Her favourite writers (in addition to Agatha Christie and Daphne Du Maurier) are Dorothy Sayers and Flannery O'Connor, so there's bound to be theological/worldview overlap with Lafferty.

Just to make oblique what was already muddy!

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