Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Merry Christmas and an Apocryphal Last Chapter

Christmas came a little early for this Lafferty Fan. I just received in the mail today three volumes in good (though much faded and yellowed) condition: Episodes of the Argo, The Back Door of History, and The Early Lafferty


I had to sit over lunch and read some of this bounty, so I read “Apocryphal Passage of the Last Night of Count Finnegan On Galveston Island,” the last story in Episodes of the Argo. It is the concluding chapter Lafferty wrote for The Devil is Dead but did not get to the publisher in time for it to be included in the book. It rather changes my interpretation of the ending--especially a small revelation about the character Doll. The Devil is Dead in most editions of the book ends with a poem by Doll that is cut off in mid sentence, "And they also tell the story of--" This makes a very (nice? cryptic? Joycean?) circular reference back to the Promontia (or introduction) at the beginning, which opens with "And they also tell the story of"

I've always thought that was a deliberate reference to Finnegan's Wake, where the narrative starts mid-sentence and ends with the first half of the sentence that the book starts with. Couple that with the protagonist being named Finnegan and the basic idea that he is loosely (very loosely) based on a proto-Irish folk hero Finn McCool, and I've always assumed that elements of The Devil is Dead were perhaps a deliberate reference to Finnegan's Wake.

I also had finally adjusted to the idea of Doll as standing in for Humanity, and questioning why the Neanderthals were battling each other over the fate of Humanity without ever considering whether or not the Humans would like a say in their own fate. The very last scene winds up with Doll, and by extension the Human race, stealing the show and taking a stand in the battle. In a way, it is a passing of the flag into Human hands. The new(er) last chapter undoes that.
The last chapter "The Apocryphal Passage of the Last Night of Count Finnegan on Galveston Island" reads (to me) like it was written much later, and smacks a little of an author who is too much in love with his creation--Finnegan seems a bit too invincible and too capable in this last chapter, and therefore the tension is missing.
Therefore, my guess is that he wrote this last chapter some time after finishing the book. Perhaps after looking back at it and surmising that he wanted to tie up some more of Finnegan's narrative or perhaps tie it more closely into some of the rest of the Argo cycle.