Sunday, April 7, 2013


This post spins off the previous one, Genius on Bended Knee, which discussed a few of the innumerable artists (composers, painters, writers) who have acknowledged that their best ideas have come to them from beyond.

By which most have meant a source divinely inspired, one which both elevated and humbled them.

Admittedly, there have also been artists inclined to strike a Faustian deal with any entity, divine or diabolical, who promises to deliver the inspirational goods.

This is the temptation inherent in plagiarism, a well-documented literary sin which seems to be on steroids in the Age of Google. You can relish plagiarism writ large in the recent film, The Words, and in Ira Levin’s earlier play and film, Deathtrap.

But here’s my sidebar on literary outsourcing: I can think of at least two best-selling historical novelists, both of an earlier generation, who asserted that their recreations of times past were born not of imagination or historical research, but were recollections of their own previous lives.

According to Wikipedia, the American writer Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985) began cranking out novels at the age of twelve, and sold 30 million copies over her lifetime. Though her interest and belief in reincarnation began relatively late in her long writing career, she became convinced that it had influenced her earlier historical fiction as well.

The title of hers I remember best growing up was Dear and Glorious Physician, subtitled “A Novel About St. Luke.”

I confess that I’ve never read Ms. Caldwell, or her equally celebrated contemporary, the English historical novelist, Joan Grant (1907-1989), who called her work the “Far Memory series.”

She became something of a literary sensation in 1937 upon the publication of her first and
most famous novel, Winged Pharaoh. Twenty years passed before the author announced that she had not invented, but “recalled” the events in the novel while in a hypnotic or trance state.

Ms. Grant later described this creative process in a memoir, Many Lifetimes.

My third example, more famous than either of these, is General George Patton. "Old Blood 'n Guts" wrote and spoke often of his own recollections of past lives, most notably in a poem recited (by George C. Scott) in the film, Patton, at the Roman ruins of Volubulis in Morocco:

        “Through the travail of ages,
        midst the pomp and toils of war,
        have I fought and strove and perished,
        countless times among the stars.
        As if through a glass and darkly,
        the age old strife I see,
        when I fought in many guises and many names,
        but always me.”

Having said all that, let me say this... I'm not particularly interested in reincarnation.

Whatever the historical method used by our contemporary bards to conjure up the past matters little to me. What I love is to be whisked away on a magic carpet of words to another time.

Among literary conjurers, Robert Louis Stevenson takes pride of place for me, speaking directly to my boyish spirit. Homer, Conan Doyle, James Fenimore Cooper, Sir Walter Scott, many other spellbinders, all had their way with me.

Recently I was delighted to discover another kindred spirit with the gift of transporting me--convincingly and authoritatively--to another age (in this case all the way back to 184 B.C.). The author is G. J. Berger, and the book—the first  in a saga—is South of Burnt Rocks: West of the Moon.

I invite any readers of adventurous inclination to join me in this first tale of a young Iberian-Celtic “she-warrior” as she makes her stand against an invading Roman army.

You will be retro-incarnated for the duration, of that I am confident.

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