Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Horse-Drawn Book Store.

Read/Watch 'em in Order #81

Christopher Morley was a successful novelist, journalist, editor and poet. Probably the coolest thing about him was that he was a founding member of the Baker Street Irregulars. The picture below is Morley flanked by fellow Irregulars Fletcher Pratt and Rex Stout.

The second coolest thing about Morley is that he wrote the novel Parnassus on Wheels in 1917. This is one of the most pleasant and delightful books ever written.

The novel is narrated by Helen McGill, a fat unmarried woman in her late '30s. Helen lives on a farm with her brother Andrew, who has written several successful and critically acclaimed books. This annoys Helen to no end, since it distracts Andrew from the work that needs to be done on the farm.

So when a short, red-bearded man named Roger Mifflin rides up in a unique horse-drawn wagon, Helen immediately realizes that Mifflin is bringing potential trouble with him.

Mifflin's wagon is named Parnassus--after the mountain on which the Oracle of Delphi lived and thus is s source of wisdom. Mifflin's wisdom is contained in the books he sells--his wagon is pretty much a second-hand bookshop, serving farm areas which don't have easy access to many books.

It's how he makes his living, but we soon discover it's also his passion:

"Lord!" he said, "when you sell a man a book you don't sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night—there's all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean. Jiminy! If I were the baker or the butcher or the broom huckster, people would run to the gate when I came by—just waiting for my stuff. And here I go loaded with everlasting salvation—yes, ma'am, salvation for their little, stunted minds—and it's hard to make 'em see it. That's what makes it worth while—I'm doing something that nobody else from Nazareth, Maine, to Walla Walla, Washington, has ever thought of. It's a new field, but by the bones of Whitman it's worth while. That's what this country needs—more books!"

He's been doing this for a number of years, but now he wants to sell out, return to Brooklyn and write a book of his own. He figures Andrew McGill might want to buy it.

Helen is afraid that's true, so--on an impulse--she buys it herself and decides its time she had a vacation (and perhaps an adventure) of her own.

Mifflin travels with her on her first day as the new owner of Parnassus, intending to show her the ropes and then move on. But it's soon apparent that he's reluctant to leave his wagon of books--and perhaps unwilling to leave Helen as the two get to know each other.

They do have adventures--recovering the wagon when its stolen by hobos and dealing with Mifflin being unjustly imprisoned. But the story never depends on suspense or any serious danger to keep us reading--it settles for telling a very pleasant and engrossing story written in straightforward prose, while also taking time to extol the importance of simply reading good book.

If you are a lover of books, this novel is required reading.

Morley wrote a sequel a few years later, so I've decided to make these two part of the "In Order" series. We still have at least one Solar Queen novel to cover and two more Nick Carter movies, so I am mixing things up quite a bit. Hopefully civilization can stand the strain.

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