Book Review: Silverlock
marks the fiftieth birthday of one of the greatest books I have ever read, a slightly
obscure piece called Silverlock. Dont get me wrong, loads of people have read
Silverlockit was originally published in 1949, and has come back into print
every five or six years. It is also the only book Ive ever seen consistently get
five stars on Amazon.com.
It is, very simply a masterpiece. I put John Myers Myers' Silverlock in the same category as Umberto Ecos Name of the Rose and Tim Powers' Last Callit's that good. The story follows the travels of A. Clarence Shandon, a rather less-than-likeable businessman from Chicago, who is shipwrecked a few days out of Baltimore. Washed up on an island, with a particular Widsith Amergin Demodocus, he finds that he is now in the Commonwealth, a land which he has never heard of. He proceeds to be part of, some of the strangest, most wonderful adventures ever put on paper.
The Commonwealth of Letters is no ordinary place, nor even an ordinary fictional place. One look at the map inside the front cover and youll find familiar places such as Robin's Camp, Job's Farm, Usher's Tarn, Ilium, Circe's Island, and Heorot. Many of these may be reached simply by taking the main road through the Commonwealth, the Watling Way (the Watling Way, incidentally, is an old Anglo-Saxon name for the Milky Way...). Along the journey, our hero encounters more characters out of classic fiction and various mythologies than you can shake a stick at. References are EVERYWHERE, from the very first page to the very last. Shandon sails out of Baltimore on the tramp steamer Naglafar (from Norse Mythology), encounters some knight chasing the Questing Beast, gives Don Quixote a lump for being an interfering old man, and scores upon scores of other delightful treats. I think my life would be complete if I ever read the book and knew, offhand, every single person Shandon Silverlock encounters, and every place he goes.
But the book is by no means an endless parade of walk-on appearances. Shandon interacts with these people, who are written faithfully to themselves, and the plot moves on. Part of the plot is Golias and Shandon attempting to help the rascally Lucius Gil ("rhymes with eel") Jones. Silverlock and the extremely competent Golias have to simultaneously keep him out of trouble (Herculean, to say the least) as they try to reunite him with his one true love. Shandon manages to learn a few things along the way....
Myers manages to take Shandon on a classic Cambellian Heros Journey, complete in every detail. But Silverlock himself is becoming the best sort of herohe's becoming a genuinely better person. And he does so in little tiny steps, through lessons learned and by watching other people.
Then there are the songs, Lordy, the songs. Myers has written other novels, but Silverlock is the best. Its obvious that the man spend years developing the intricate references in his book, the strange and complex relationships between fictional characters, and writing the songs. No one with an ounce of classical education can resist these wonderful poems. Where else could you find a vivid, raucous telling of the Alamo in Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse? The melding of these two very different cultures is handled seamlessly, and without apparent effort. Myers' mastery and love of the forms of poetry is obvious, just as his prose is sparkling and absorbing. It has taken me more then three days to write this article because I keep referring to the book, and not looking up for an hour or more.
Silverlock last saw print around 1992, and it will a damned crying shame if it's never issued again. Neither Amazon nor Barnes and Noble currently have Silverlock, so I suggest you head down to your local used book store and look for it, or snag one of the 30 copies at Abebooks.com. Its well worth the hunt and the trip. Silverlock remains one of the most extraordinary books Ive ever read.