There is more than one history of the world—John Crowley, Aegypt
This wasn’t the quote I was going to use. I was going to list the quote about how the writer with a novel is, like God, is outside of time. There’s something about this quote, though. Just. . . something.
“. . . As the pages had silted up Kraft had seemingly begun making the worst of fictional errors, like the introduction of new major characters at late stages of the story, unpacked and sent out on new adventures while the old main characters sit lifeless somewhere offstage, or stumble to keep up.” (Endless Things,p 189)
See where I’ve emphasized? I’ve done that because, six pages later, John Crowley does exactly that. Out of the blue he introduces a character, a major, important character with two other pretty important characters in tow. I’m startled. I’m confused. “What? Wait. . . What?”
Let me explain where we are in the course of the story. Aegypt is a four-book cycle. Endless Things is book four, and this passage occurs about two-thirds of the way through it. So. . . two-thirds of the way through the last quarter of the story, we meet a character of vital importance to Pierce Moffett, our main character.
Then Crowley turns the dial on the kaleidoscope a quarter turn. This very important character isn’t—exactly—new. We haven’t met her before, but we have seen her, at that momentous full moon party back in Book One, Aegypt (now retitled The Solitudes). She is one of the three women Pierce sees rising out of the dark water of the Blackbury River, on that full moon night in the 1970s before the world changed; the three women who use variations of the same name.
Crowley clicks the kaleidoscope one more time, and shows us that we weren’t where we thought we were, or when we thought we were. We thought we were in Italy in the late 1970s. We’re not. Instead, we’re somewhere in the southeastern US, in the late 1980s.
And Crowley plays fair the whole time. I don’t feel like I did in that “ice-queen Cone” moment of Satanic Verses, wracked with doubt and anger, thinking to Rushdie, “You wrote this whole book—this book—for that one cheap pun??” No, with Crowley, it’s, “Oh. I see. I get it.” And he did this to us before, in Love and Sleep, with that. . . boy. And that was fair, too. Creepy, and wrong, but fair.
I haven’t finished Endless Things yet. I don’t know how I’m going to feel when the cycle. . . completes? Circles back around? Whatever it’s going to do, I know it won’t end. Look at the name of the book.
I already know (or perhaps “deeply fear” would describe it better) that I’m going to have to dig out my battered, well-thumbed, pencil-lined copy of Aegypt—or more likely just buy a new copy—and find the hardcover copies of Love and Sleep and Demonomania—oh, no! They’re in boxes in the storage unit!—and start at the beginning, start over. And maybe that’s what the title means.
Crowley plays with time, and runs this four-book saga on multiple timelines throughout; the “present” of the story, the 1970s and forward; Pierce’s childhood; the timeline of Fellowes Kraft, a novelist who was popular in the 1950s; and the adventures of Dr. John Dee and Giordano Bruno in the sixteenth century. As a writer who can barely keep a single, linear present-time story on track, I bow to his genius. He doesn’t use mystery-style clues or technical tricks to move the story through time. He does it by being completely focused on the where and the when, and by being such a virtuoso of prose that he can make words do whatever he wants. He also develops and hones a type of narrative distance that allows him to create point of view shifts that make it all seem like a story someone is telling us—like it was all a dream we dreamed in an afternoon.
It reminds me of that other quote, the one about the novelist like God, being outside of the time of the novel. There is more than one history of the world. Does Crowley juggle all of them?
Sounds like an intellectual version of “Lost.”
Not enough cute, shirtless guys. Seriously, it isn’t quite, because the fantastical elements–and there are many–are the more traditional Western ones; elves, fairies, angels and so on. No number sequences, vanishing temples and magnetic vorteces (sp?). It’s not fantasy, though, even with those trappings. I don’t know what it is.
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