September 7th, 2020

agent

The Things That Are Not There; The Book of Merlyn; On the Map

The Things That Are Not There, by CJ Henderson is hard-boiled private eye mashed with the Cthulhu Mythos. This is I guess the first of a series and ultimately this first story brings together a Doc Savage like crew of improbable people to fight the mythos. Not my cup of tea. More interesting was trying to figure out when it was set/written. It seemed contemporary, but there were no cell phones. Check pub date: 2006. Hmmm.... maybe it's set historical, but it doesn't read like something that's being set in a different time. And then Oriental is used to describe something that's not a rug. A deeper dive shows that it was first published in 1992 under a pen-name. Even that date is pushing it for unpreferred nomenclature.

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The Book of Merlyn by TH White was originally a fifth book of The Once & Future King. On the whole, I think the publishers were right to 'exclude' it, though some of the best parts were inserted into the earlier parts of the book. It is a bit too polemical as an antiwar manifesto, as perhaps could only be the case when the pacifist White was facing WWII.

Pray for Thomas Mallory, Knight, and his humble disciple, who now voluntarily lays aside his books to fight for his kind.

The story, such as it is, is Arthur on the eve of The Battle of Camlann with Mordred, is reunited with Merlyn and some of his other animal tutors, who rag mercilessly on the human race for being horrible warlike monsters. The episodes of Arthur with the ants and the geese are here, and they fit somewhat better philosophically in this argument about warfare and nature, but are much better put into the Sword in the Stone, which I guess White did in later editions when it was clear 'Merlyn' was not going to be published at all.

The version I have is apparently the first publication of it in this form, published by the University of Texas from the TH White papers kept there. The introductory essays are also illuminating, particularly about White's sadistic streak that brings to mind Agravaine. Also, for an academic press, the illustrations by Trevor Stubley are surprising and excellent.

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On the Map, by Simon Garfield

An enjoyable romp through mapmaking from the very beginnings to Google Earth and Skyrim. Lots of entertaining details.