Dani Zweig's Belated Reviews : archive

Belated Reviews #14: "Silverlock"
by John Myers Myers

"Silverlock" (****-), by John Myers Myers, is as much a game as a fantasy. It is the story of A. Clarence Shandon, an obnoxious Chicagonian who is washed ashore in the Commonwealth of Letters, and his adventures there. Those adventures, in themselves, make an enjoyable book, but half the fun in reading "Silverlock" is to identify the people and places he encounters, because every single one of them is borrowed from previous literature.

Myers is fair, and provides a nice mix of characters, from the obscure to the readily identifiable, from those freely named to those whose identities are only hinted at. (I though I was well-read, but when I read "Silverlock" I recognized fewer than a third of the characters.) Characters such as (to give you a handful at which to try your hand) Lucius, who accidentally changes himself into a donkey with a magic ointment; Janet, who attempts to win her bespelled lover back at Miles Cross; Pangloss, who is sure that his being taken by slavers is all for the best; Miss Emma Watson (surely you remember her?); and Sir Despard Murgatroyd, who's cursed to perform an evil deed every day.

You'll notice a third aspect to the book: Most of the people and places (all but one (two?) in the above examples) come from those classics which are antecedents of modern fantasy -- the great works of imagination that came before a genre was set aside for them. In a way, "Silverlock" is a tour of the bedrock upon which modern fantasy is built.

Reviews and introductions don't do the book justice. (The 1985 Ace reprint has *two* introductions, and they seem to do the book more harm than good.) Yes, it's as much a game as a novel, but it's a good game (thrilling, in a way) and a good novel, and well worth the time. Perhaps it's just that the framework seems flimsy: A story about a man who enters a place called the Commonwealth of Letters and meets people from other books does sound a bit as if it belongs on Sesame Street or, at best, as if it's like "The Never-Ending Story" -- a cute idea that doesn't work so well in practice. What makes "Silverlock" more than that is the skill and knowledge which Myers brings to it, and that's not something a review or introduction can readily convey.

The more you bring to this book the more you'll take from it. Conversely, a reader who has read little enough might not see what the fuss is about. And I recently had a friend for whom this was *not* an issue dislike it because of the character's obnoxious attitude towards women (though it improves). You may not like it either -- but if you enjoy reading, there's a good chance you will.

"Silverlock" was written in 1949. "The Moon's Fire-Eating Daughter", written in 1981, is a thematic sequel, but readers who loved the firstbook tend to be disappointed by the second.


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Dani Zweig