Every two years or so, WC indulges himself in a re-read of John Myers Myers masterwork Silverlock. This is a review WC wrote back in 2010, lightly revised and re-posted here because this novel still doesn’t get the fame it deserves. And it would make a spiffy holiday present to a bibliophile.
Silverlock is half Pilgrim’s Progress, half Divine Comedy, half outright allegory and complete fun. A. Clarence Shandon (BA, Business Admin, Chicago), the Silverlock of the title, is not a very nice person as the story opens. Shipwrecked, he is saved by Widsith Amerigin Demodocus Taliesin Golias, who is more than a bard. He is a Maker. And from the moment he meets Golias, Silverlock falls into stories, one after another. He lands on the great island of the Commonwealth, which at one level is the Commonwealth of letters, literature, stories. And on another is simply a grand romp through the great stories of western culture.
For Silverlock, who is as ignorant of literature as a fish, it’s initially simply something that happens to him. He is, in Golias’s kind phrase, “Not well informed.” Nor are we. Whether it’s hanging out with Robin Hood, wandering into the scenes of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream,” or quaffing mead with Beowulf, or even his own quests; it’s initially all the same. But gradually the stories he lives and the stories he hears, and Golias’s own example, transform him into a better person. Sometimes the transformations are literal, or literally brutal – he spends instructive time as a pig after annoying Circe, for example – and sometimes they are more subtle. But Silverlock’s experiences with literature make him a much better person.
WC could tell you that “Silverlock” is an allegory, that Myers is telling you that literature has the power to transform, and make a person better, and that life without literature is not worth living. But that’s like saying “Hamlet” is a story about a depressed prince. Saying this book is an allegory is implying it’s cod liver oil. It’s not. This book is masterful as pure, sweet entertainment; the encounters with Don Quixote, Izaak Walton and a couple of dozen others are amusing even if you have never heard of any of them.
Sure, what makes the book even more fun is trying to recognize the characters and situations Silverlock encounters. Some are easy: Captain Ahab and the Great White Whale; Circe from “Odysseus;” drifting down a river on Huck Finn’s raft. Others are much harder. Myers is a scholar of western literature, and isn’t shy about his scholarship. But that’s a game to play afterwards. There’s no time when you are wrapped up in the story itself.
Myers’ point is that literature is transforming. And this book will transform you. You will have great fun reading it – it’s a ripping good story – but there’s a real danger that Silverlock’s encounter with Bercilak will send you to read “Gawain and the Green Knight,” or that the visit to the Deiphobe will send you off to the enchantments of Greek myth, or that the hysterically funny encounter with the Dean of Knights Errant will make you finally read “Don Quixote.” The dangers are real in the Commonwealth, and not the least of them is the danger of being transformed by the experience of reading this book.
Understand that when Silverlock’s guide, Golias, tells a story, or composes a poem in the course of this book, he is Making, he is creating new and wonderful characters that Silverlock or anyone else just might encounter as they wander through the Commonwealth. WC promises you that John Myers Myers is himself a Maker. Silverlock is Making at its best.
WC’s very highest recommendation.
For those who enjoy researching and tracking down the references themselves, get the paperback edition. For those who would prefer a guide to Myers’ extraordinary number of literary references, get the NESFA Edition, which meticulously documents all of them.