Tour de Force
Be that as it may, my reaction to the novel this time was different than it had been on previous readings.
My reaction this time was something like, Holy fucking shit! What a fucking tour de force!
I've been known to attempt tour de force myself. Sometimes a writer just wants to show off his skill before his audience, like a Renaissance artist producing one of those canvases that has armor, lace, flowers, porcelain, fruit, and a dead bunny, all worked beautifully into the composition.
And so, sometimes I write passages just because I can. Gabriel entering the Escher-like oneirochronon in Aristoi, Maria manipulating the Now in Angel Station, the first appearance of the Burning Woman in Metropolitan . . . while these scenes carry the plot forward, they're also intended to showcase my skill. I want you to read them and go waaaaaaaaah.
Sometimes you find an entire novel that's a tour de force. Gravity's Rainbow, say, or Lolita. Those are two successes: most often a novel-length tour de force fails.
Creatures of Light and Darkness is one damned tour de force after another. There's a part written in verse; there's another part written as a stage play. There are gods onstage. There's the amazing scene of Temporal Fugue. There's the Agnostic's Prayer. There are about a dozen point-of-view characters, not all of which are named, and one of which is the shadow of a horse.
As a novel, the book is less successful than its individual scenes. I think this is what I responded to as a young reader--- I had thought of it as dealing with some of the same themes as Lord of Light, but less successfully.
But now that I write for a living, I know how hard all of this was to pull off, and I am agog. Picture me with a tattered paperback in my hand, and my mouth hanging open. (No, on second thought, don't picture me that way at all.)
Having read CoLaD again, I wanted to know more about the book, and because Roger is no longer available to ask, I contacted his biographer, Jane Lindskold. She told me that the book was written in the mid-1960s, as an experiment, with no intent to publish. (Roger was working for the government in those days, and didn't need to publish in order to eat. He wrote a number of things without intending to publish them, though only one of them was a novel, so far as I know.)
Chronologically, this is around the time Roger began working with the Amber books. (Roger's books were not always published in the order in which he wrote them.)
We may thank Samuel R Delany for the fact the book was published at all. Roger was describing the book to him, and Chip was urging him to publish it. "But I can't publish it," said Roger, in effect. "Part of it's written in verse! Part of it's a stage play! Part of it is written from the point of view of the shadow of a horse!"
"That's exactly what the field needs!" Chip said, or words to that effect.
And he was right.
And he's more right now than ever.
Can we manage to get this book back in print, so everyone can read it and go Waaaaaaaaah?