Saturday, November 22, 2014

'The world turns in its sleep, and parts of the world have moments of wakefulness' (brief review of the short story 'And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire')

Well, I tried to post the following as a comment on the short story section of the R. A. Lafferty Devotional Page (where all of Lafferty's stories are listed out with the webmaster's rating & opinion of the story and the option for you to comment).  But though I'm registered, it refuses to work for me.  So here's a brief off-the-top-of-my-head review of one of my fave stories by Laff (from which this blog gets its name).

UPDATE (23 Nov 2014):  Well, looky here!  A whole new place to discuss each and every one of Lafferty's 200+ short stories!  Nice!  (The creator of this new Lafferty website is working very hard to make an exhaustive, interwoven, interactive, one-stop, poly-crosslinked site of Laffertian lore and treasure - show him your support and make use of the site!)

The story 'review':
"To you who are scattered and broken, gather again and mend. Rebuild always, and again I say rebuild. Renew the face of the earth. It is a loved face, but now it is covered with the webs of tired spiders."

Lafferty's short story "And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire" (1972) is funny, wise, nicely styled; a well-imagined philosophical post-apocalypse (in a Laffertian folklorish tone, of course).  It's written in Lafferty's Oklahoma regional mode, what I call 'buffalopunk' (which infuses most everything he writes to one degree or another). 

I rate the story 'excellent'.  [The RAL Devotional Page has only the three ratings:  lame, ok, excellent.]

This story was one of the earliest I read by Laff that got me searching out all his stuff.  Some of his fans don't like it when he gets explicitly theological, but I tend to love it.  Some will only barely notice that this story is theological and some will find it too glaring.  I think it's beautifully done.  It's kind of like a Chestertonian Screwtape Letters written by Mark Twain. (That description should alert you to the presence of biting satire.  But the tone of the story is still very warm and invitational and hopeful, even humble, and not merely acerbic.)

If more 'religious believers' in the modern world had the kind of life-affirming, ecologically rich (pay attention to the cattle, landscape, birds, and bees), constructive, beautiful, creatively countercultural, and good-humoured worldview this story exhibits, there wouldn't be so much 'secular' or 'pagan' overreaction to religion, with its own oppressive and reductive counter-fundamentalisms.    

"There was, of course, the acre of fire, the field of fire.  This acre was large enough to contain all that needed to be contained:  it is always there, wherever reality is.  There are tides that come and go; but even the lowest ebbing may not mean the end of the world.  And then there are the times and tides of clarity, the jubilees, the sabbaticals.  There is reassurance given.  The world turns in its sleep, and parts of the world have moments of wakefulness."


Ross said...

Can you identify any other "buffalopunk" writers, or is Lafferty alone in the field? Excellent posting, as always. Thank you.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Now that is a very wonderful question. (Hi Ross, good to hear from you again.) No one really springs to mind, but I'll be thinking about it.

There are other writers that feature a 'gonzo' sort of approach to Southwestern regionalism I suppose: e.g. Joe R. Landsdale and Stephen Graham Jones (mainly Texas tales for both of them, I think). I suppose Michael Bishop sometimes does a sort of something'-punk' with his native South. (His could maybe be called kudzu-punk.) But I don't know that any of them feature the deep weave of local ecology, blue-collar erudition, and myth that Laff does with Oklahoma, especially as those elements are roped to Laff's romping vision and narration. Once you start looking for it, you see that references to the landscape, flora, fauna, and material objects and know-how are deeply replete in Laff's works.

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