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.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Archipelago


According to Continued on Last Rock, Archipelago was R.A. Lafferty’s first completed novel. I did not learn of its existence until about 1980/81 when I discovered a sealed hardback copy of it in a Manchester City Centre Second Hand Shop (still there to this day). It was £20.00 in an era when hardback novels weren’t yet £10.00.
The book was published by Manuscript Press, and the back page blurb explained that it was no 2. (of 2.) in a series of Unpublished Manuscripts.
My first surprise, and revelation, was a list of other works vaster than any I’d seen for Lafferty before. This was the book that listed Where Have You Been, Sandaliotos? and The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny as novels. It listed no less than fifteen unpublished novels (including one not named or yet written that, alas, I believe never achieved either state), amongst which list five would in later years appear.
And it told me that The Devil is Dead, which I’d read years before and always believed was a standalone novel, was instead part of a trilogy, and the middle part too, and Archipelago (which does explain certain otherwise confusing references in the original work) was the first book. The third book, though never released under its true title, later formed a sixth book to appear.
Archipelago is on the surface a mainstream novel. It begins in the South Pacific, at the end of the Second World War, with a group of five American soldiers winding down until being shipped back to civilian life. There are five of them, friends from before the War. Each come from different ethnic backgrounds, one Irish, one French, one Polish, one Dutch and one Italian, who is also Irish, because he is living two different lives in different recensions. There is also a sixth man, Jewish of name though not necessarily of religion or ethnicity. The five are known as the Dirty Five, but they are also something more, and their duties and trials in the world that follows are matters of legend and immortal peril, for they are Argonauts, Jason and others, and their duty is to save the World.
This is the beginning of the Episodes of the Argo mythos, one of three inter-connected strands that run all through Lafferty’s fiction that in later years he considered to all be part of an unfinished novel entitled ‘A Ghost Story’. Finnegan in particular, or John Solli, artist, as he is in one version of his life, roams the world, a famous drinker (as was Lafferty in his own life).
The Argo is both the world, and the Church, Church here being the Roman Catholic Church, that Lafferty regarded as the binding institution of the world, its teachings the bedrock from which all that is supposedly liberal and progressive is but a Devil’s diversion, worse still than Communism.
Needless to say, these are beliefs that I cannot and do not share. All of Lafferty’s thinking is in complete opposition to the basic tenets of my socio-political beliefs. Yet I still love his writings, and collect his works avidly.
Archipelago begins with its own creation myth, two men in a bar in the morning in a southern town. That is always how the world begins, according to Lafferty, and who would contradict him? The two men are Finnegan, who we already know and who is also John Solli, and Vincent Stranahan. Both men are Sergeants in the US Army, in the Pacific, and are currently on leave in Australia. Four of the Dirty Five are there, Hans, or John Schulz, who casually wins a drinking contest with a famed Australian Sergeant, one of the heroic labours of the Argonauts, and Casey, Kasimir Szymanski, who is the odd man out in the Dirty Five.
There are the Fivers, there are the Australian soldiers, Freddy Castle and Tom Shire, there are red-headed girls like Loy Larkin and Margaret Murphy, but this is only a context for Finnegan, the first man in the world, who is Jason, and Vincent, the least-outstanding member of his family and yet is Meleager, to appear before our eyes. Then there is the return to the islands, where Henry Salvatore, the Fat Frenchman, a mean Cajun who is Euphemus, and who will stand for ordination as a Priest after the War, has been standing for all.
Originally, I understand that Archipelago was a much longer book, in excess of 300,000 words, including long sections upon the War that is its initial background, all of which is cut out, and that it was rewritten three times. There is a chapter during which the American forces head towards Japan, that concentrates more upon the soldiers off duty, and which introduces Absolom Stein, who is also Hugo Stone and who is also Red in the same way that everyone else is of the Church.
The War itself ends quietly, a long way away, and the Dirty Five go home, all except for one, unnamed but not unidentifiable, who goes into Limbo in a medical ward because he cannot remember who he is. He will remember after several weeks, and go back into the world, as do all those with him, who are sane and stable except on the odd one or two points, such as Private Gregory, who is the same as Papa Diabolus, in his purple-headed glory, and who lives forever.
But it is not until Chapter 4 that everyone gathers together and the book reaches its more-or-less climax, long before halfway. For Vincent Stranahan is to be married to the little urchin, Theresa ‘Showboat’ Piccone, and everyone is in town, which is St Louis. There are the rest of the Dirty Five, including Hans, who is Orpheus, and his bride Marie Monohan, Casey, who is Peleus, with his girl Mary Catherine. There is the patriarch, Melchisedech Duffey, there is Dorothy ‘Dotty’ Yekouris, the Beautiful Barmaid, who is Finnegan’s girl, but their meeting is an ending, Mary Virginia, who would have been Henry’s girl, and more.
This is Vincent and Theresa’s wedding, but it is also Finnegan and Showboat’s first meeting, one that both have dreaded, knowing as they do that their relationship is special. Indeed, they will marry and live together twelve years, and have three children but this not in an world recognisable by what is known of either’s life, not even Finnegan, who lives many lives all at the same time and not one after another.
Of the marriage and the meeting comes the Bark, or Barque, in opposition to the Crock. The Crock is Casey’s paper, printed and distributed to a small but vitally influential audience of 25,000. Duffey used to work with Casey on the Crock, but he has been ousted and replaced by new backers for Casey, the weak link, the proto-pinko. Duffey, with Dotty’s practical experience and a board of editors drawn from the Dirty Five and their girls (Finnegan in absentio, wandering, drinking, on the biggest and most permanent tear, including the period of The Devil is Dead) sets up the Bark, to save the Church for loss, to speak to that same 25,000.
In a sense, the story ends there. This whole story is being told against the background of the post-War period, the late Forties into the early Fifties, the Red Menace, the Communist threat. Lafferty doesn’t make overt reference to the times, relying on his audience’s memories and knowledge for true understanding.
There is no ending, not to this story. There are no endings. Lafferty explores extensively the Dirty Five, one by one, drawing upon their pasts to light their presents, placing each of them in their mythical personae, even when, as with Henry, they are barely present in their own story. In one sense, the book is a ghost story,each person split, most obviously in the case of Casey and Stein, who are rather halves of a whole than persons by themselves.
The book covers a wide area of study, not all of it directly relevant to this introduction of the Argo mythos, but all of it involved. For an ending, Lafferty draws upon The Devil is Dead, and the death of Finnegan, caught in cross-fire between Niccolo Croutos, the left-footed killer, and Dotty, defending him. Eight, nine shots, and nobody’s missed yet. And a brief statement that all stories are improved by destroying their first and last scrolls. The world began on a morning and ends on an afternoon. There are no endings.
There are many ways of reading Archipelago, and none of them conventionally. It is not a novel in the sense of a story. It is in some part a primer, for things to be written. It is in its way an off-angle picture of a time that even when it was first published was a history. It begins in War Physical and concerns itself with War Spiritual. It is funny and it is melancholy, staunch in support of its cause, faithful in its belief in its necessity, yet recognising the precariousness of its position. In shape, in style, in tone and texture, it has nothing to do with The Devil is Dead yet more than Finnegan, the wanderer, the Teras, connects these two books, because they are two faces of a coin with more faces than two.
It would be close to twenty years before I would read the final part of the Trilogy.

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: The Devil is Dead


When first I discovered R.A.Lafferty, in Fourth Mansions, my thought was to read as much of his other works as I could get my hands on, and the first place to which I turned was the library. In this, I was in a time of fortune, for there was a British publisher of science fiction books, Dobson Books, who had great belief in Lafferty, and there were books to borrow, and re-read, and relish for a good while longer in the Seventies.
Looking at the other authors listed on the back of the dustjacket, one has to ask why? Dobsons billed themselves as publishing fantasy and SF, but The Devil is Dead was neither, or if it was it was some amalgam whose proportions had hitherto never been mixed in this degree, but the names we read are Anderson, Campbell, Laumer, Pohl, Harrison, Vance, Asimov, and these are not writers whose works sit easily on the same shelf as Ray Lafferty.
Of those I could borrow in that first glorious period, The Devil is Dead is second only to Fourth Mansions in terms of ease of reading. It is of structure a thriller, a thriller constructed around a conspiracy and the planned thwarting thereof, in which respect it is more conventional than other of Lafferty’s works. But it is only a thriller as to half its length, after which it drifts, it eddies, it meanders, deliberately so, and ends in a dramatic manner, on a half-finished line, with nothing resolved yet everything satisfactory.
How else could it end? It begins with a Prologue, or Promantia, forewarning of what things lie within in terms that mystify as much as they intrigue and yet which are no more that an accurate depiction of its contents, with a reference to Richard Burton (the explorer, not the Welsh actor), and with some strange suggestions. It describes the story as a do-it-yourself thriller or nightmare, to be arranged as you will. It cautions that, having put the nightmare together, if you do not wake up screaming, you have not put it together well.
And it admits: Is that not an odd introduction? I don’t understand it at all. We are not even on the third page by now.
It begins with Finnegan, who is bugle-nosed and not necessarily of human beings, who is sometimes called Count Finnegan, and whose real name is John (Giovanni) Solli. He has an upper life with other friends but this is Finnegan in his lower life. He wakes to find himself drinking with an eccentric millionaire, Saxon X. Seaworthy. He cannot remember, not yet, how they have met or what they have done together, though it comes to him later that they have buried a dead body together, and that the body of Papadiabolus, who is the Devil, and who walks along the street the morning after his burial. It is not always serious to die, the first time it happens.
(If you have not, by this point, begun craving to read this book, turn away: it is not for you. If you have, start saving your pennies: it may be had for as little as £39.37, but not in many places.)
Seaworthy is setting out on a cruise, in his yacht, and Finnegan, who is also an artist, is to go aboard as one of his seamen, though really it is his double or fetch, Dopey the Seaman, Doppio del Pinne, who is to go aboard and Finnegan be killed but in some manner about which no-one is certain something slips, and it is Dopey who disappears, or dies, or doesn’t.
But by being aboard, Finnegan becomes part of a band himself, opponents to Seaworthy and those he surrounds himself with. The voyage is long and winding, calling at all ports and shore-towns and moving on, and all such ports and shore-towns erupt in riots and murder two to three days later. There is the echo of the Red Revolution in the Coscuin Chronicles, transplanted a century forward in time (the period is given only as some years ago, but the inference is of the early Fifties).
There are games being played, and not all who die remain dead, so much so that Finnegan will complain of it as tiresome. Something is being implanted that is set to overturn the world, and its proponents are Seaworthy and other, including his captain, Orestes Gonof. This should number Papa D, but this is not the real Papadiabolus. Finnegan ‘sees’ his real face and paints it into a mural, but no-one recognises the face until the man is dead.
For the raid that is coming, that attempts to end this voyage of the damned, is a failure, and all die, including Anastasia Demetriades, who is cousin to Finnegan in a manner older than he thinks, and love and solace. There is a scene in this book, that I had read times before in other works but did not recognise for what it is until reading The Devil is Dead, which inspired me to write an equivalent in my own, then, first novel. I call it One Last Golden Afternoon, that final time that two people have to simply enjoy being two people in their world, with no cares other than the afternoon, before it all goes wrong for ever.
The failed raid, the deaths of Anastasia, of the second Papadiabolus and the loose and louche raiding party mark the end of the thriller, the end of the plot-driven story. Finnegan survives, but from then on he is hunted, he and Mr X, who is known to all as Mr X, and also Dolores ‘Doll’ Delancey, a human girl who comes into the middle of this with no seeming part, but who becomes one of the three journeyers, as Lafferty consciously denies his story any further momentum without yet rendering it tedious or static.
They separate, for a year, during which time Finnegan spends a considerable period in the Terrestrial Paradise, of which Lafferty gives the exact co-ordinates, in latitude and longitude.
The final scene is the meeting of these three, in a graveyard. Here is explained the relationship of Papadiabolus to Papadiabolus and how one cannot die three times. Here we learn the name under which the Devil is buried, a name that we recognise from The Flame is Green, but not I, twenty years before I read the latter. And here Doll speaks doggerel, reciting of the events we have read and ending abruptly.
I would have read The Devil is Dead in or about 1974, and had my own copy later that decade. It would be almost another decade before I learned that it was not a stand-alone book, but rather a part of the ‘Devil is Dead’ Trilogy, and not even the first part but the second. And it would be nearly thirty years after that that I would learn that the book is not complete. That there is a final chapter, in which Finnegan is called out by Seaworthy, which was excluded from the book because it apparently arrived too late at the printers (I find this explanation must suspicious and difficult to believe except that this is Lafferty, in which everything is believable, especially if outlandish).
This final piece, titled ‘Apochryphal Passage of the Last Night of Count Finnegan On Galveston Island (Unaccountably Omitted from the Standard Version of The Devil is Dead‘) saw print in the 1990 United Mythologies chapbook Episodes of the Argo (335 copies, of which mine is numbered 73.) This is the first time I have read it as part of the text, but it is a physically severed part of the text, as well as a late interloper. A non-standard version is required.
We shall encounter the other two books in this once-unsuspected Trilogy, but they too are distant in time and space. We will need to be patient.