All great smells […] have a reminiscent element, but with this it is reminiscent of a future. There is a pleasurable mustiness here, that’s sure, but it isn’t of a past time: it’s of a future time, long waiting, and now beginning to unfold suddenly.
-R. A. Lafferty, ‘World Abounding’ (1971)
There is indeed a whiff of something approaching in the air. Lafferty’s breakthrough into a larger audience has been ‘long waiting’ and seems as if indeed it may be about to ‘unfold suddenly’ in this the centenary year of his birth. Neil Gaiman has been talking about him a lot in podcasts recently, so much so that Lafferty’s name made it into a Wall Street Journal blog alongside Flann O’Brien. Just scant weeks after this brief article appeared, another more lengthy news piece was featured in The Guardian this past week devoted exclusively to Lafferty, citing again Neil Gaiman and also ‘our own’ (as I like to think of him) Lafferty scholar, Andrew Ferguson. This Guardian article is currently being repeatedly tweeted on Twitter and no doubt other social media networks. The article comes out in conjunction with the Lafferty panel (hosted by Ferguson and featuring Michael Swanwick) that was held last week at the London WorldCon.
In my own Lafferty news, I recently started an RALaffertyTweets account on Twitter that has garnered 80 followers in just a few weeks (seems a lot for such an obscure writer). I started it because I have been officially approved to write my dissertation this year on Lafferty (more on that in the next blog post), but it has come in handy as this article on Lafferty has broken.
All in all, it seems like exciting and auspicious times for all things Lafferty. The following from Lafferty’s story ‘The Wooly World of Barnaby Sheen’ (1973) comes to mind:
“Get ready for it, kids, don’t miss it!” Mary Mondo chirped so clearly as to be heard by every ear in the room. “This is going to be good.”
But, of course, Mary Mondo is a ghost and most of the time the people around her only slightly hear her, if at all. One can’t help but feel that this potential breakthrough for Lafferty’s work is profoundly promising, but also precarious. This moment of wider recognition for Lafferty feels a bit like the uncertain cliff-hanger endings to so many of his tales (e.g. ‘Frog On the Mountain’, ‘The Configuration of the North Shore’, Annals of Klepsis, Serpent’s Egg). But I’ll gladly take the expectant stance of the ending of his seminal 1968 novel Past Master:
Remember it? Then it happened?
Be quiet. We wait.
Well, does it happen? Does the reaction become the birthing? What does it look like?
Will we see it now, in face and rump, the new-born world?
Be quiet. We hope.
(artwork for Past Master by Leo and Diane Dillon)