Thursday, April 16, 2015

But could such a world work?

It's a great moment when one finishes a Lafferty novel and finds that DOJP has already done all of the difficult work of writing intelligently about the novel. There's not much that I can add to his excellent review of Serpent's Egg

Everyone should:

-Read Serpent's Egg.

-Read Daniel's essay.

If you've done those two important things and you're still hanging around here, well, I guess I owe you some original content. I'll try to add a little to what Daniel has written. Here are a few quickly sketched out points from my reading of the novel that aren't directly addressed by Daniel.

1. The title is surely a reference to Julius Caesar.

It must be by his death, and for my part
I know no personal cause to spurn at him
But for the general. He would be crowned.
How that might change his nature, there’s the question.
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder
And that craves wary walking. Crown him that,
And then I grant we put a sting in him
That at his will he may do danger with.
Th' abuse of greatness is when it disjoins
Remorse from power. And, to speak truth of Caesar,
I have not known when his affections swayed
More than his reason. But ’tis a common proof
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber upward turns his face.
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend. So Caesar may.
Then, lest he may, prevent. And since the quarrel
Will bear no color for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus: that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities.
And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg—
Which, hatched, would as his kind grow mischievous—
And kill him in the shell.

2. Daniel does a great job of situating the plot and themes of Serpent's Egg among Lafferty's other works. I find it surprising, though, that he didn't mention Reefs of Earth. Maybe he hadn't read it yet at the time he read Serpent's Egg? The connection between the two novels (and to stories like "Seven Day Terror" and "Among the Hairy Earthmen" and "Primary Education of the Camiroi" and so many more) is that children are the protagonists. I'm not willing to put in the work right now, but I'm sure that there are many fruitful ways to compare/contrast the mischievous Puca children and the interspecies "royal" Mega-children. There is certainly a shared love of pirates. Lafferty's use of children in his fiction is screaming for a full-length treatment.

3. I'm going to hunt down the sources for the quotes that open Chapter Four. Besides interacting with his own other fiction as Daniel pointed out, it is clear that Lafferty is always doing more than navel-gazing. The beginning of Chapter Four is the clearest evidence of this as Lafferty lets several sources speak for themselves though he doesn't explicitly give his sources.

4. I want to re-read Daniel's FoL2 essay. It'd be wonderful to see Daniel re-visit Serpent's Egg and discuss what is being done with the literalization of animal imagery. Somewhat related, I did off-handedly mention on FB that I think that this novel is in some ways an answer to Wells's Island of Dr. Moreau.

5. Related to #2 above, Lafferty's plotting in Serpent's Egg is strongly reminiscent of little kid comic book/strip logic. There's a fluidity of logic that always makes sense in its context, but is highly ridiculous the moment it is divorced from its context. This is the way that little kids tell stories and also the way that the best early comics are constructed. In Serpent's Egg, this is seen in the way that Inneal constructs realities around her and it is seen in the way that all of the children talk to each other. It's also seen in the action. There's one spot where the assassins are coming after the children (as the children are putting on a circus as children do) and we're told that the assassins can't hurt the children because they don't have the proper weapons. They need to return to their lair to fetch the python-gun and angel-gun, etc. I wish I had been taking notes because this sort of thing is found throughout the novel. There were so many times where I'd slowly re-read a paragraph or two and block it out as a comic strip in my head. My hands won't translate those mind's pics properly, but I may take a stab at a Serpent's Egg strip. I started thinking that maybe I could find a talented collaborator to do the art for me.

That's all I've got for now, rambled out during slow moments this morning.

When I get a bigger chunk of time and actually have the text in front of me, I'll try to follow through with the promise of #3 above and maybe also post some examples illustrating #5.


  1. Great stuff, John! My 'review' was just a rambling impressionistic concatenation of quotes and observations - long, yes! But I didn't even *try* to deal with the book's careful structure. And I only touched on a *few* of its many themes and images. I didn't want to put in the work either! (But I will at some point - as you point out, it's way too relevant to my ecocritical reading of Lafferty to neglect a thorough treatment of it.)

    I did think ol' Shakes' JC was quoted directly somewhere in the novel. Maybe I made that up. But you showing more of the context of that quote here shows that there's a deep allusion here that needs to be fleshed out.

    You're so right that the novel needs to be carefully integrated into a study of Laff's kid protagonists. It makes a wonderful intelligent animal (and other entities) variation on that whole theme. And I *love* your idea of SE being an answer to Wells's Moreau and would love to see that idea fleshed out too.

    My favourite of your observations here is the comic strip logic. The one cited example of the angel-gun and so on makes me so excited to see that idea traced out. I definitely think you are the man for the job.

    Man, I love this novel and I'm so glad it's been written about at least twice on the internet now. Hope to hear more discussion of it.


  2. Well, your "observations" are grand and the way that you flesh out the "observations" with an abundance of quotes from the text is a good thing.

    I also love this novel. The only thing that keeps me from immediately re-reading particular Lafferty novels is not wanting to be left out of the conversation related to all of the other novels. I really am eagerly anticipating future re-reads, both careful and careless!

    If I can keep a decent pace of at least six new Lafferty novels a year, I'll have read all of his published novels well before the end of 2017!