Sci-fi Grand Master John C. Wright has put forth a wonderful notion he names the BOOK OF GOLD, a novel that comes to a young reader when they need it most. Breaking through whatever gloom enshrouds them, said golden book beats back the darkness with the pure sunshine of wonder. Even if the precious reprieve from whatever malaise ails the youth lasts but a few hours, it is long enough to fill their young lungs with the fresh air of hope and maybe even orient their furtive steps in a new promising direction.
The post is written to encourage writers who may find themselves wondering why they are even bothering with putting words to paper. Persevere through the self-doubt, Mr. Wright admonishes us, and think not of ourselves but of a reader we will probably never meet this side of heaven.
“If you only write one book in your whole life, and only sell 600 copies or less, nonetheless, I assure you, I solemnly assure you, that this book will be someone’s absolutely favorite book of all time, and it will come to him on some dark day and give him sunlight, and open his eyes and fill his heart and make him see things in life even you never suspected, and will be his most precious tale, and it will live in his heart like the Book of Gold…”
———- Thus saith the Grand Master before providing an example from his own life.
Reading Mr. Wright’s post, my memory turned fondly to many a golden book that served as guiding stars through my own troubled youth. However, I might not have encountered any of those literary luminaries if I hadn’t first stumbled upon The Golden Tale that is, Leiningen Versus the Ants by CARL STEPHENSON.
This adventure yarn, weighing in at just under 9K words, was first written in German in 1937. Its Austrian author then translated the work into English himself so that he could publish it in America a year later.
This is the short story that made an avid reader out of me. I don’t recall precisely how young I was when I first read this thrilling tale of man vs nature, but it lit a love of reading in me that the subsequent years of public education, the travesty of modern literature and my own misadventures in dissolution could not snuff out. It was either in fourth or fifth grade, while I was still struggling with the English language, that I came across the story. I do distinctly recall lightly underlining several words in pencil so that I could look them up when I was done reading.
And when I was done reading and defining these new words for myself, I immediately re-read the yarn from start-to-finish. It was even better the second time around!
Over the years I’ve reread the story maybe a half-dozen times, most recently this past weekend after Mr. Wright’s post summoned its friendly ghost from happy memory. I’m pleased to report that it has lost none of its appeal.
I could not have articulated the reason for its appeal when I was a child. As an adult, I can clearly identify its PULP AESTHETIC as that which so thrillingly tickled the sweet spot in my boy’s imagination. One could even say it so deeply imprinted my imagination with the pulp aesthetic that all of my future reading in fiction has been nothing less than repeated attempts to discover the same thrill and wonder in other works. And happily, I have been fortunate to find them here and there to varying degrees in many a tale, short and novel-length.
Googling the story for this post, I discovered that it was turned into a movie way back in 1954, featuring a very young Charleston Heston. I must look it up.