The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: More than Melchisedech


As an e-Book, 2015

More than Melchisedech was the last novel of R.A.Lafferty to be published. It is the third part of The Devil is Dead trilogy. It was not published as such: it appeared as three hardback novels entitled, respectively, ‘Tales of Chicago’, ‘Tales of Midnight’ and ‘Argo’. But it is, nonetheless, More than Melchisedech and, unless and subject to the publication of those novels listed in the by now infamous Archipelago checklist, it is the last.
Hope then, for Esteban, for Mantis, for Iron Tongue of Midnight, for When All The World was Young, for Dark Shine, and those books already mentioned, of the Coscuin Chronicles and In a Green Tree, and hope for the chance one day and soon to add to this series of blogs.
But this is where the story ends.
More than Melchisedech is about Melchisedech Duffey, the Boy King, the Boy Magician. It’s closer in tone and content to Archipelago than to The Devil is Dead, since the latter is a Finnegan novel, and a fantasia in its way, whilst Finnegan is merely primus inter pares amongst the Dirty Five, and the others of whom Duffy is by some means a creator.
The original Melchisedech appears in the book of Genesis where he makes a brief appearance as King of Salem. Lafferty equates Duffey, who is basically Irish, with the King of Salem but basically presents him as a character without parents or birth, at the beginning of what will be a circular life that breaks down into three phases, each represented in the three books published.
‘Tales of Chicago’ deals with Duffey’s childhood and schooling, the latter to a far greater extent, since Duffey’s childhood is indefinite, and far too extensive, spent with too many pseudo-relatives, to have any fixed existence or narrative. He is pursued by three slant-faced killers, older boys with knives whose intention is to kill him, a task they will eventually accomplish when the story has moved far beyond any earthly confines represented in this or the second phase. Duffey becomes part of a group of friends, one of whom is a magician whereas Duffey is magic, able to produce gold by banging his hands together, and aided by invisible giant hands that he can call upon to do his bidding.
And yet this is a realistic phase, realistic so far as the grand Tall Tales tradition is concerned. Duffey’s coterie is a precocious group of boys and girls entirely reminiscent, though more far-fetched, of the children of My Heart Leaps Up.
Beyond Duffey’s schooling, at age sixteen, he arrives in Chicago and makes his first, and overwhelming business, a multifarious affair of impossible successes, dazzling in its ease and speed, and which brings him into contact with people to whom he gives talismans, talismans fated to be given to their children, amongst whom are the Dirty Five and the women who love them.
‘Tales of Midnight’ moves us into the realm of Archipelago, using Vincent Stranahan’s wedding to Theresa ‘Showboat’ Piccone as the catalyst to bring Duffey among the Duffeys in St Louis, to translate Duffey’s career to that town and the printing house that is the home of the Pelican Press in its mission to fight the Church’s fight against Casey Symansky’s The Crock.
It’s also the foreground of the battle for the world as Lafferty re-introduces the belief that the Devil was imprisoned for a thousand years, and that that imprisonment ended in 1945, when in an occasion of ceremony he was released from his cell at Yalta, to resume his place in the world.
But it is in ‘Argo’ that Lafferty moves beyond any mundane ties, taking Duffey beyond his earthly time, through Seven Contingent Years that he has already, seemingly, lived in non-consecutive fashion earlier in the book, and seven possible worlds in which fates symbolic of what Lafferty saw as the world in which he and we lived are played out, before he steps (again) into the boat that sails through time, correcting and directing.
This is the Argo, a central point in Lafferty’s thoughts, beliefs and writings. The Argo is a thing of myth but it is also the Church, and many are Argo Masters in their time. For now, and in this time, these are three: Melchisedech Duffey, Biloxi Brannagan (who we met in The Devil is Dead) and Kasmir Gorshak, who is Casey and who is the Antichrist.
‘Argo’ takes the book out beyond all anchors, gliding and eliding. We have gone beyond anything in the mundane world, though the Argo moves into and out of the world in which intervention is required to maintain the course, but it does so from beyond. Duffey has been unreal in the real and now he is outside it. He is killed, his flesh hacked off and burnt to ashes, ashes he has carried in a cigar case for much of the story, but just as his story has no beginning, it also has no end save return to the beginning, to renew the cycle.
There are, in fact, two endings, each with their similarities, distinguished by different fonts, and an afterword from the author which in his last published book becomes a farewell word to his readers, readers of the unfinished and encompassing ‘A Ghost Story’ that was all of R.A. Lafferty’s work.
More than Melchisedech cannot be described in ordinary writings without repeating its every event and moment. Its waters are deep yet shine clear. In the end, it was Raphael Aloysius Lafferty writing for himself to explain what he saw, and not all of what he saw is what we ourselves can see.