Myers, John Myers 1906–1988
Myers, John Myers 1906–1988
PERSONAL: Born January 11, 1906, in Northport, NY; died 1988; son of John Caldwell and Alice (McCorry) Myers; married Charlotte Shanahan, 1943; children: Anne Caldwell, Celia. Education: Attended St. Stephen's College, Middlebury College, and University of New Mexico.
CAREER: Freelance writer. Worked as newspaperman, writer of advertising copy, and farmer. Special lecturer and writer's conference director, Arizona State University, 1948–49; organized a collection of Western Americana for library, one year. Military service: U.S. Army, Armored Force, five years including World War II.
The Harp and the Blade (historical fantasy), Dutton (New York, NY), 1941, illustrated edition edited by Hank Stine and illustrated by C. Vess, Donning (Norfolk, VA), 1982.
Out on Any Limb, Dutton (New York, NY), 1942.
The Wild Yazoo, Dutton (New York, NY), 1947.
Silverlock (fantasy), Dutton (New York, NY), 1949, reprinted with introduction by Poul Anderson, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1979, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Dead Warrior (Western), Little, Brown (Boston, MA)), 1956.
I, Jack Swilling, Founder of Phoenix, Arizona (Western), Hastings House (New York, NY), 1961.
The Moon's Fire-Eating Daughter, Donning (Virginia Beach, VA), 1981.
The Alamo, Dutton (New York, NY), 1948, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln), 1973.
The Last Chance: Tombstone's Early Years, Dutton (New York, NY), 1950, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1995.
Doc Holliday, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1955, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1973.
The Deaths of the Bravos, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1962, published as Bravos of the West, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1995.
Pirate, Pawnee, and Mountain Man: The Saga of Hugh Glass, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1963, published as The Saga of Hugh Glass: Pirate, Pawnee, and Mountain Man, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1976.
Print in a Wild Land, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1967.
Maverick Zone (narrative poems), Hastings House (New York, NY), 1961.
The Chaparral Cock, Crow I, privately printed, 1967.
The Chaparral Cock, Crow II, privately printed, 1968.
(Author of preface and explanatory notes) Charles D. Poston, Building a State in Apache Land: The Story of Arizona's Founding Told by Arizona's Founder (illustrated by Larry Toschik), Aztec Press (Tempe, AZ), 1963.
(Compiler and annotator) The Westerners: A Roundup of Pioneer Reminiscences, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1969, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1997.
The Border Wardens, Prentice-Hall, 1971.
Silverlock and The Silverlock Companion, NESFA (Framingham, MA), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: John Myers Myers's popularity rests for the most part on a single book. Although Myers's writings include novels in several different genres as well as epic book-length poems and nonfiction books on the American West, he is best known for his novel Silverlock, which has gained an avid following among science-fiction and fantasy readers. As Poul Anderson stated in his foreword to the Ace edition of Silverlock: "There are few such glorious romps in all the world's literature, and surely none that surpass this one. A galloping narrative, endlessly inventive; people you must love or hate but can never be indifferent to; humor that ranges from the cat-subtle to the uproarious; discoveries, achievements, battles, feasts, drinking bouts, lovemaking, unabashed joy, celebration of life—what more do you want?" "Silverlock is not just a story," Anderson concluded, "it is an odyssey of the spirit" and is "among those books that become a part of people's lives."
Silverlock is an allegorical tale that relates the episodic adventures of a young man from Chicago, Shandon Silverlock, who is magically transported to a fabulous country known as the Commonwealth of Literature. The Commonwealth is inhabited by famous (and sometimes obscure) characters drawn from literary classics of the past, including Beowulf, Hamlet, Don Quixote, the Mad Hatter, Robinson Crusoe, and Huckleberry Finn. Silverlock must accomplish a series of quests before leaving the Commonwealth and returning to Chicago. As Silverlock's adventures unravel, Myers not only introduces these various literary characters and incorporates them into his plot, he also emulates the writing styles of the authors who first created them.
Critical response to Silverlock upon its publication in 1949 gave little indication that it would ultimately achieve the status of what a reviewer in the Washington Post Book World referred to as an "oddball classic." A commentator in Kirkus Reviews thought it "heavy footed and hard going." D.L. Morgan, writing in the Saturday Review of Literature, stated: "I find it in no part profound, and about as meaningful as it would be had Mr. Myers contrived its writing by farming out the individual episodes to freshmen in English." A reviewer for the New Yorker offered the book scant praise by calling it "a refreshing novelty, if not exactly a novel." But Clarence Gorchels in the Library Journal saw any future for the book: "Despite all its shortcomings, the uniqueness of the book may cause it to be rather widely read and talked about as a curiosity piece."
In his estimation of Silverlock for the St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, Gary Westfahl concluded: "The book's major appeal is as a game of literary Trivial Pursuit: readers are pleased and proud when they recognize one of the characters … depressed and irritated when they cannot…. Reading Silverlock is truly a pleasure, but not the sort of pleasure traditionally found in fantasy."
Silverlock was reissued in a hardback tandem edition with The Silverlock Companion in 2004, the first time the book had seen print in a quarter of a century. Additional material includes a memoir by the author's daughter, Cynthia Myers, previous forewords and afterwords, a new introduction by Karen Anderson, a glossary of more than 500 literary, geographical, mythological allusions found in the text, critical essays on Myers, biographical material on Myers, a detailed bibliography of the author's works, a number of Myers's own poems, and melodies and tablature for five additional poems translated into song. The volume "should be greeted with cheers, toasts, and songs by quite a company of readers, for it celebrates a beloved classic of historical fantasy by putting it in hardcover for the first time," noted Roland Green in Booklist.
Myers also wrote two other fantasy novels. The Harp and the Blade takes place in 10th-century France. It tells the story of a wandering Irish minstrel, Finnian, who becomes a fighting minstrel after a Druid priest casts a curse upon him. The curse compels Finnian to help everyone he meets. Westfahl observed that The Harp and the Blade is more an historical novel than a fantasy, though he granted that the environment Myers depicts has the feel of fantasy. Iris Berry in Books described it as a "genuinely readable … jolly swashbuckling story," and J.S. Southern in the New York Times dubbed it "the perfect escape book."
The Moon's Fire-Eating Daughter, written early in Myers's career but not published until 1981, more closely resembles Silverlock in its wealth of literary allusions. College professor George Puttenham, at the behest of Babylonian gods, undertakes a journey into fantastical lands on "the Road" of literature. In contrast to Silverlock, the fantasy landscapes that Puttenham visits are peopled with famous authors rather than characters they created. Cervantes, Goethe, Chekhov, and Henry James are only a few of the luminaries Puttenham meets in the course of his travels. Eventually he learns how to be a poet and returns to the contemporary world to wed a woman who lives in his apartment building. Westfahl pointed out that Myers makes no attempt here to emulate the styles of the authors who are mentioned. Rather, all the characters "speak in the same irritating and obfuscatory combination of pompous circumlocution and tough-guy slang." As a result, Westfahl stated that fans of Silverlock are likely to be disappointed by The Moon's Fire-Eating Daughter.
Viewing Myers's work as a whole, his primary interests as a writer have not been with the literary playfulness of Silverlock or The Moon's Fire-Eating Daughter, but with the history of the American West. Myers penned two Western novels and several nonfiction books that deal with Western history, while his epic poems are extended fictional narratives of the Old West. The Border Wardens relates the history of the U.S. Border Patrol along the Mexican border. San Francisco's Reign of Terror tells the strange story of San Francisco lawyer and politician Ned McGowan, his condemnation as a criminal by the Vigilante Committee, and his flight to avoid hanging. Print in a Wild Land is a study of how frontier printers and editors lived and worked. Reviewers have consistently recommended Myers's historical studies for library collections of Western Americana. Summing up Myers' nonfiction in Twentieth-Century Western Writers, R.E. Birney stated: "These books … are works of genuine scholarship, meticulously researched and told in a lively, colorful style. This blend of imagination and entertainment is difficult to match."
Concerning his unpublished epic poem, The Song of Raleigh's Head, Myers once told CA: "When seeking a proper starting point for my series of narrative poems about America's frontiers, I came to realize that the primary frontier town was London, and that its skookum pioneer was Sir Walter Raleigh. But this place and person refused to accept the modest length limit established by previous poems of the series, so after working on the material for several years I had nothing but disjointed fragments to show. By then it was clear that I must forfeit the subject or invest the time and effort needed to produce a full scale epic." On the same subject, he once told Twentieth-Century Western Writers: "Since I am invited to preen my feathers, I shall roundly state that [my unpublished poem] is a work of depth, scope, and melody to rank with the greatest epics by whatever predecessors."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Lerner, Fred, editor, A Silverlock Companion: The Life and Works of John Myers Myers, Niekas (Center Harbor, NH), 1988.
Myers, John Myers, Silverlock, introduction by Poul Anderson, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1979.
Myers, John Myers, Silverlock and The Silverlock Companion, NESFA (Framingham, MA), 2004.
St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Twentieth-Century Western Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1991.
Analog, April, 1983, Tom Easton, review of The Harp and the Blade, p. 103.
Atlantic Monthly, May, 1967, review of Print in a Wild Land, p. 134.
Booklist, March 15, 2004, Roland Green, review of Silverlock and The Silverlock Companion, p. 1277.
Library Journal, August, 1949, Clarence Gorchels, review of Silverlock; May 1, 1966, review of San Francisco's Reign of Terror, p. 2335; May 15, 1967, review of Print in a Wild Land, p. 1932; February 1, 1971, review of The Border Wardens, p. 494; April 15, 2004, Kathryn R. Bartelt, review of Silverlock and The Silverlock Companion, p. 86.
New Worlds, October, 1966.
New York Times, July 6, 1941, J.S. Southern, review of The Harp and the Blade, p. 5.
New York Times Book Review, March 28, 1971, review of The Border Wardens, p. 14.
Pacific Historical Review, November, 1966, review of San Francisco's Reign of Terror, p. 472.
Saturday Review of Literature, September 3, 1949, D.L. Morgan, review of Silverlock.
Southwest Review, spring, 1973, review of The Alamo, p. R5.
Time, May 12, 1967, review of Print in a Wild Land, p. 107.
Washington Post Book World, February 24, 1980, review of Silverlock.