Category Archives: Laffertyana

R.A. LAFFERTY’S PARABLES on the ABANDONMENT OF LITURGICAL LATIN and the CONCILIAR REVOLUTION from his Unpublished Manuscript “DEEP SCARS OF THUNDER”

Deep Scars of Thunder is the third book in R.A. Lafferty’s Tetralogy In A Green Tree. Only the first book and some chapters of the second have been published. The rest might not see print for decades. One reviewer of the first book in the series writes :

“My Heart Leaps Up” is a semi-autobiographical work by the great Catholic novelist R.A. Lafferty. Set between 1920 and 1928, it deals with a group of Catholic schoolchildren in Tulsa, Oklahoma—though, in true Lafferty fashion, these children also represent the eternality of the Church. Unlike most of Lafferty’s work (which fits uncomfortably within the science fiction and fantasy genres), this is a work of mainstream fiction. There are strong fantasy elements, but they fall more under the heading of “magic realism” or tall tale than under fantasy proper. As such, newcomers might find “My Heart Leaps Up” to be more accessible than more outlandish novels like “Fourth Mansions” or “Arrive at Easterwine.” (Though, truth be told, the book is only as “easy” as you make it; scratch the surface, and it is as complex, disturbing, and finely-tuned as anything in the man’s oeuvre.) In fact, I can imagine that with the proper distribution and promotion, this novel could have helped to establish Lafferty as a major American novelist. Frustratingly, “My Heart Leaps Up” is only the first installment of a much longer series. The other volumes—“Grasshoppers and Wild Honey,” “Deep Scars of Thunder,” and “Incidents of Travel in Flatland”—were written but have yet to be published. Hopefully we will see those books someday. But incomplete or not, “My Heart Leaps Up” is still an impressive work by one of America’s very greatest, though least known, writers. “My Heart Leaps Up” was originally published in the 1980’s as a series of five chapbooks, each containing two chapters apiece. The first two chapters of “Grasshoppers and Wild Honey” were also published in the early 1990’s. You should still be able to obtain these books at their original prices, so beware any used booksellers offering them for exorbitant amounts.

* * *

That great theologian, Perpetua Linneen O’Donovan, saw the new situation almost at once, and she cast it in a series of parables .

“There was once a large and happy family, each of whose members understood all the others perfectly,” one of her parables went. “There had never been such perfect understanding in the world since Pentecost Morning. In fact it was still Pentecost Morning going on in clarity and grace from one end of the world to the other. Chinese people and Tagalogs, Goanese and Nigerians, people from Belgium and Bolivia, from Austria and Australia, from Lithuania and Lebanon, from Greece and Germany, from France and Frisia, from Moravia and Mauritania, from Spain and Somiland, from Mexico and Madagascar, all understood each other perfectly, especially when they met for the wonderful morning supper that was the central act of the world.

“‘How can this be?’ the enemy asked. ‘The words are in a tongue called dead, and the running translation of them is hardly glanced at now and then. They are understanding each other outside of the bare language. Maybe there is a way to queer that understanding.’ The enemy thereupon launched a great campaign so that each should say the morning supper in his own tongue: and in the most effete and trivialized words possible. And the campaign was a success, and the people jabbered in their six hundred and sixty-six different tongues. They all understood the words they jabbered, inasmuch as words stripped down and then stripped down again can have much understanding left in them. But they didn’t understand the other six hundred and sixty-five jabbers, and they didn’t understand anything that went deeper than the jabberings. So they lost it all, by being overly concerned with the tongues that were not tongues-of-fire. They lost it completely. They wrote the end to Pentecost and to Pentecostal understanding.”

“It is a good parable, Perpetua,” Monica Sheen said. “’We understand it in all the intricate depth of it, and the words you use do not matter much.” Perpetua had been speaking about the new movement and attack on the Church, from outside and from on the fringes of the Church, to have the Mass said in the vernacular tongues. And she understood correctly the intent behind that movement.

“There is a further parable,” Perpetua said. “There was a man who enjoyed good health, exuberant health, wonderful health, spectacular health, he and all his household. But one day a Medical Hit Team came and nailed a quarantine sign on his door. The sign declared all that household sick unto death. ‘You must have the wrong address,’ the householder said. ‘This is our house and the address of it is Number One, Central Avenue. And there is nobody here suffering such sickness as to call for quarantine or other drastic measures.’ ‘We really don’t pay much attention,’ the leader of the Medical Hit Team said. ‘We figure that everybody is sick, and when we are on a ‘hit’ there is just no way we can miss. Ah, boys, lets just give him a couple of shots to cure that stubbornness in him. And let’s do the same to all his family. ‘I am not sick, I am not sick,’ the man still insisted. ‘OOOF! What poison did you shoot me with? Rather I should say that I was not sick. I am now.’ ‘Ah fine,’ said the hit chief. ‘Now let’s just lay him down and start taking things out of him. He’s got dogmaitis, and the false health that goes with it. Let’s start pitching those things out of him. The hit team worked that man over pretty thoroughly then. And in a very little while they had him down where he was on the balance between life and death. ‘How do you feel now?’ the hitsters asked the householder. ‘Not very good,’ the man said, ‘but if you’d just put back in me a few of those things you took out, maybe—’ ‘What we have taken out is taken out forever,’ the Captain of the Hit said.

“But it is to ourselves that the Hit Teams are coming, to take drastic liberties with our health, when our health itself is at its most exuberant and its most nearly perfect.”

“It is a good parable, Perpetua,” James Tyrone said. “Councils have always been called when the Church was very sick. The life of the Church has several times been saved by them, but always at great expense. Something vital is always given up to save the life, but in most cases it is the question whether the Council or the sickness was the worse. But now, when the Church is in such exuberant health, why should the dangerous expedient of a Council be visited upon her? There is a great misunderstanding somewhere. Or a great subversion. Who are these giggling creatures whetting axes and hatchets so noisily in the wings?”

They were all talking about the Council which the New Pope had said that he intended to call. They were all alarmed, because he had used all the code words and trick phrases of all the trick enemies of the Church in making the announcement.

“But the Church Herself cannot fail, nor can the Pope, nor can the Holy Ghost,” Beatrice Belle pointed out.

“But all three come very near to failure, again and again,” Perpetua insisted. “They put themselves to the test, and they put us to the test. Then let us respond in good faith to an attack that is in the form of riddles, all of them on the face of them in bad faith. This will come out all right finally, as it must. But we are obliged to take such steps as we can, to see that it does come out all right. We are among the effectors.”

Thereupon some of them formed the ‘Let-It-Alone-Dammit-Society’. They would try to prevent the dismantlers from dismantling the Church and the World.

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AT THE SLEEPY SAILOR : A Tribute to R.A. Lafferty

At the Sleepy Sailor Final

At the Sleepy Sailor : A Tribute to R.A. Lafferty

RA Lafferty by Patti Perret cleaned up

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Dan Knight’s Introduction to the First Issue of his Short-lived, Extremely Scarce and Very Awesome Magazine in Tribute to R.A. Lafferty : THE BOOMER FLATS GAZETTE

“We few! We happy few!”
– Henry V
Shakespeare

It was never intended that our Fellowship, the Fellowship of the Argo, of Epikt and Roadstrum, of Dana and Okla, should be an exclusive thing. The table was prepared and the bar was stocked for as big a bash as ever was seen. There was something for everyone. A magical feast. Take as much as you want. Stuff your pockets and fill your purse. It would make no difference. There would be just as much when you were done as when you started. This is fish and loaves stuff. (Are not all good stories fish and loaves stuff by their very definition?)

Well, the feast was readied and the invitations were sent out and a most peculiar thing came about. All of the folks to whom they were sent found excuses not to come. The Host was a gracious man. “Perhaps I have not worded the thing properly,” he said. So another round of invitations were prepared and dispatched. Years passed (feasts like this don’t just happen overnight, you know). The Gracious Host is still waiting. The beer is still cold and the pheasant warm. The steaks are thick, the hot sauce is the hottest around, and the bread is fresh, fresh, fresh! But the hall is still empty and perhaps it will always remain so.

Or at least almost so. They would be easy to miss in such a vast place. But here and there, sometimes alone and sometimes in small groups, figures move through the magic place. Tasting. Drinking. Stopping here and there to sample that most prodigious board. And when they meet, at the intersection of the Great Tables, there is much back slapping and laughing and joy at what they have found. Family of the Empty Hall. You can hear them if you listen close by the doors.

But why wait at the door?

Did I not say that the beer was cold? That the whiskey was the whiskeyist and the wine–ah, the wine, there’s been no cheap-jacking about the wine! So come. One day the Hall may indeed fill with guests. And they will require guides. The Invitation is yours. The Fellowship awaits.

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AWESOME JAPANESE LAFFERTY COVER ART scanned from Dan Knight’s Boomer Flats Gazette.

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EPIKTISTES ON TIME from Arrive at Easterwine : The Autobiography of a Ktistec Machine as conveyed to R.A. Lafferty (1971)

“There cannot be any such thing as past time, Gaetan, but this fact is hard to explain,” I issued. “Time is all one growing thing, and its deep roots are no more in the past than are its newest barks. I am concerned with growing bark as the enlivening dimension. We will discover, when the past is sufficiently thickened and understood, that we have already done the great things that seem to belong to the future, that we have already been to the stars and the deepest interior shores : we will understand that all the doings of the world are simultaneous, that all the doings of each single life are simultaneous. We will find that we are still in our in our bright childhood, that we are already in our deepest maturity, that the experience of death is contemporaneous with all our experiences, that we (like Adam) are of every age at the same time.

“We will understand that Aristotle and Augustine were later and riper in knowledge and experience than were Darwin and Freud and Marx and Einstein, those early childhood types. We will understand that Aquinas came after Descartes and Kant, that he shaped what they hewed.

“We will understand that the first man is still alive and well, and the last man has been born for a long time…”

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R.A. LAFFERTY on SECULAR LIBERALISM : “The Religion that is not called a Religion.”

Gene Wolfe has described Raphael Aloysius Lafferty as possibly “the most original writer in the history of literature.” That means when Laff speaks one should listen. The following is an extract from an interview by Darrell Schweitzer and found in his book Speaking of the Fantastic, Vol. II.

Q : You’re somewhat unusual in being one of the few science-fiction writers to use religious material. A few touch on it, and there are a lot of fake church stories like Gather, Darkness! but most writers seem to shy away from the actual substance. Why do you think that is?

Lafferty : Actually, religion is becoming more interesting, more important I believe. I think there’s a lag. Most of them just haven’t gone to that yet. There’s the idea that religion is a drag, and so forth, but that idea is probably several decades out of date.

Q : It seems to me that science fiction often covers all the ground of religion, but does so in a non-religious manner. Childhood’s End, for example.

Lafferty : Well, I think Childhood’s End was religious, but that’s more the case with fantasy than with science fiction. In fact almost all the high fantasy is really based on the Low Middle Ages of Europe, which is a very religious period. But all the religion is taken out of it, and the background of the Low Middle Ages, the Dark Ages, is used for sword and sorcery. They’ve taken the motive power out and used the furniture and costuming. I don’t know why they did that. They’re leaving out the main part.

Q : My experience is that often if a story even touches on such things, the editor will freeze up and think he’s being preached at. You can write about, say, Hindu gods with no problem, but if you touch on Christianity, even if all the characters are doubters, the editor freezes. Have you ever found this to be so?

Lafferty : Yes, that’s very much so. But you’ve got it backwards. The preachers are really those of a religion that is not called a religion, which is secular liberalism. That’s really the established religion of our country, and of our world. It doesn’t allow too much opposition. Now people who go down the secular liberal line don’t want anything that challenges it. Hinduism doesn’t challenge it because it is too distant. Christianity does, even Born-Again Christianity and the emotional ones. They have something that the secular liberal world is lacking.

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RAPHAEL ALOYSIUS LAFFERTY’S Burlesqued Black Mass in his book Past Master

In R.A. Lafferty’s Past Master, Thomas More is brought from 1535 to 2535 to save a “utopia” based upon his work. As Thomas finds out more about Astrobe, he begins to feel like a science fiction writer who lives in his own sour joke of a world. Judith Merril writes of Past Master:

“It is a minor miracle that a serious philosophical and speculative work should be written so colorfully and so lyrically. There is, happily, no way to categorize the book: it has elements of science fiction, of pure fantasy, of poetry, of historical fiction; it is sharply critical and marvelously gentle; very serious and irrepressibly funny; profoundly symbolic and gutsy-realistic by (unexpected) turns. A first-rank speculative work.”

The following extract is an hilarious episode lampooning, one might surmise, the liturgical changes happening in 1968 when the book was written. This scribe highly recommends delving into the Lafferty canon for his Catholic imagination is on par with Dante or Shakespeare.


___But one thing seemed to be lacking on Astrobe, and it puzzled Thomas.
___“Where do the people attend mass?” he asked as he stood in the middle of golden Cosmopolis.
___“They don’t, Thomas ; they havn’t for centuries,” Paul told him. “Oh, there are a very few who do sometimes. I do myself on occasions, but I am a freak and usually classed as a criminal. And in Cathead there has been a new appearance of the thing, along with other oddities. But not one person in ten thousand on Astrobe has ever attended.
___“Are there no churches at all, then?”
___“In Cathead and the Barrio and the feral strips there are a very few that might still be called by the name. Such buildings as remain in Cosmopolis and the other Cities are under the department of antiquities. Some of them have period statuary that is of interest to the specialist. While mass itself cannot be found in any of them here, the replica can be played on demand.”
___“Let us go to one of them.”
___After groping about in some rather obscure streets that Paul knew imperfectly, they found one. It was quite small and tucked away in a corner. They entered. There was the sense of total emptiness. There was no Presence.
___“I wonder what time is the next mass.” Thomas said. “Or the mass that is not quite a mass. I’m not sure that I understand you on it.”
___“Oh, put in a stoimenof d’or in the slot, and push the button. Then the mass will begin.”
___Thomas did. And it did.
___The priest came up out of the floor. He was not human, unless he was zombie human. He was probably not even a programmed person. He may have been a mechanical device. He wore a pearl-gray derby hat, swish-boy sideburns, and common green shorts or breechcloth. His depilated torso was hermaphroditic. He or it smoked a long weedjy-weed cigarette in a period holder. He began to jerk and to intone with dreadful dissonance.
___Then a number of other contrivances arrived from somewhere, intoning in mock chorus to the priest, and twanging instruments.
___“For the love of Saint Jack, what are those, Paul?” Thomas asked in bewilderment. “Are those not the instruments described by Dante as played in lowest Hell? Why the whole thing has turned into a dirty burlesque, Paul, played out with unclean puppets. Why, Paul why?”
___“Oh, it had really turned into such a thing before it died, Thomas. This is what the Church and the Mass had become when it was taken over by the government as a curiosity and an antique.”


___Well, the replica mass ran its short course to the jerking and bawling of the ancient ritual guitar. At sermon time was given a straight news-broadcast, so that one should not be out of contact with the world for the entire fifteen minutes.
___At the Consecration, a sign lit up : “Brought to you Courtesy of Grailo Grape-Ape, the Finest of the Bogus Wines.
___The bread was ancient-style hot-dog rolls. The puppets or mechanisms danced up orgasmically and used the old vein needle before taking the rolls.
___“How do you stop the dirty little thing?” Thomas asked.
___“Push the Stop button,” Paul said. “Here, I’ll do it.” And he stopped it.
___“Why, I wonder how it all came about,” Thomas said. “That snake on a stick, is it meant to be the Christ? Is that leering whore holding the deformed monkey meant to be the Virgin? A dirty little burlesque, a dreary bit of devil worship. But even dirty burlesques are not made out of nothing. Had the mass really fallen so low?”
___“So I have read, Thomas. It fell to just this low estate before it became ritually frozen.”

More Praise for Past Master :

“Marvelously inventive…. Profound wit and high adventure are urged on by the Lafferty madness that till now we have only seen in his short stories. The vision is peppered with nightmare: witches, lazarus-lions, hydras, porche’s-panthers, programmed killers that never fail, and a burlesqued black mass. One hears of black comedy? There are places in PAST MASTER where humor goes positively ultraviolet.” – Samuel R. Delany

“I read it in one sitting; I couldn’t put it down. Lafferty has the power which sets fires behind your eyeballs. There is warmth, illumination and a certain joy attendant upon the experience. He’s good.” – Roger Zelazny

“Lafferty’s first full-length work is an event. As with everything the man writes, the wind of imagination blows strongly, with the happy difference that in a novel he can reach full gale-force, Lafferty defies categorization; his work is unlike anyone else’s. This is a great galloping madman of a novel, drenched in sound and color.” – Harlan Ellison

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