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.


  1. Kevin, you luck dog! These are all items I still don't have in my collection. It's fascinating to hear you discuss this apocryphal ending to Devil, but it's been too long since I've read it to interact. Enjoy your early Christmas presents! (As I know you will.)

  2. The story was indeed written after the bulk of the manuscript, but not that long after—it was genuinely meant to be inserted into the book as originally published, but the publisher failed to make the insertion (probably since the proofing had already been done).

    It's also worth thinking of the connection to the biblical apocrypha—the chapter is canonical, as it were, but its relation to the rest of the canonical text is complicated. I think it's possible to read it as Finnegan's ego strongly influencing the narrative, which might place him in graver peril than at any other point in the legend. You can kill the body, but etc.

    Virginia Kidd also thought the Finnegan character and Argo Legend more particularly was riffing off Finnegans Wake (she was mad for the book), but Lafferty claimed not to be much influenced by Joyce. I'm hoping to write a great deal more on this but it will probably be another year or two since I'll only be glossing it in the bio.

    Beautiful finds, by the way!