Silverlock - John Myers Myers An odd novel. Published first in 1949, it was one of the first fantasy novels of the 20th century. It came out after The Hobbit but before The Lord of the Rings, and J.R.R. Tolkien wasn’t well known in America yet. So Silverlock doesn’t include any of the Tolkien’s influence that so many later American fantasy novelists displayed. In a way, it is a quintessential American fantasy.
The plot revolves around Shandon, a cynical, educated American, who is shipwrecked and thrust into the land of Commonwealth. This strange country doesn’t exist on any map, and it’s populated by stories. The stories intermingle without any regard for the times and ethnicity of origin: Greek myths and Arthurian legends, Cervantes and Shakespeare.
Shandon’s only companion is Golias, a native of Commonwealth and a bard, who for some inexplicable reason takes pity on Shandon and accepts the helpless stranger under his wing. Golias rescues Shandon from tough spots again and again, for no cause I could discern.
Romping through the literary mish-mash, sometimes alone, sometimes with Golias, Shandon brushes against most of the stories but doesn’t really become part of any. He dines with Robin Hood, gets under Circe’s spell, and is attacked by Don Quixote. But no story touches his heart. Even more surprising: despite his university degree, he doesn’t recognize any of the stories, as if American education didn’t include world literature. He doesn't wonder at the marvel of Commonwealth. He is not afraid of being without skills or money or home. He doesn’t try to find his place in the unfamiliar milieu. He doesn’t seem to have any emotions at all.
I can’t say that I liked this novel. It’s built as a quest, with the purpose to show Shandon that his cynicism is misplaced, but the novel never quite succeeds in its goal. Obviously, cynicism is not easy to shake off. Shandon manages to become only a slightly better person by the end. And he almost loses his new-found humanity again, would’ve lost it, if Golias didn’t rush to his rescue one last time.
The writer is as detached as his hero, so even bloody battles come out distant, with no emotional involvement, no fear, and no pain. Another similarity between the writer and his hero: their disdain for women. The female characters in the novel are either bitches or sobbing damsels in distress. The entire novel is very mucho, where the hero mostly thinks about his next meal and always enjoys drinking with his buddies. After drinking usually comes some stupidity, like in real life, and the action starts galloping in a new direction.
To give credit where it’s due, sometimes, the writing surprised a laugh out of me. Some phrases stood out as witty or wise. And there is lots of poetry in this book, songs for every occasion.
Overall, I’d recommend it to sophisticated readers, interested in the history of literature.