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The Northern Caves

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Works of Leonard Salby (1919-1995)

I. A Thornbush Tale (166 pp., with 19 illustrations, published 1966)

II. Chesscourt 

a. Chesscourt Manor (255 pp., published 1972)
b. The Mainspring (242 pp., published 1973)
c. The Firmament (271 pp., published 1975)
d. The Creatures of the Plains (345 pp., published 1978)
e. Nautical Dusk (435 pp., published 1980)
f. Other Mirrors (676 pp., published 1983)
g. The Sea of Glass (775 pp., self-published 1985)
h. Chesscourt Regained (844 pp., self-published 1987)

III. The Northern Caves (3642 pp., unpublished, unfinished?)

 


 

[…]

Q: Long-time readers of your work were surprised to hear, earlier this year, that you were at work on a new Chesscourt installment.  Many feel that in Chesscourt Regained you took your conceit as far as it could go -- or perhaps further.  What inspired you to return to Chesscourt?

A: It wasn't done.

Q: Can you elaborate?

A: I'm sorry, but I'd prefer to let the work speak for itself.

Q: Of course.  

Q: Moving on.  Particularly in recent years, some readers of your work have noted that you seem to have left your original audience -- that is, children -- behind.  Do you expect your new work to be accessible to the sort of young readers who, every year, discover the charms of A Thornbush Tale?

A: I expect my work to be accessible to anyone who shares my sense of life.  I imagine some children share my sense of life, but ultimately I am indifferent to the distinction.  I don't spend much time thinking about my audience.

[…]

Q: Finally, do you have anything else you wish to say to your readers?

A: I'm doing the best work I've ever done.

(Excerpt from "Chessmaster: A Chat With Leonard Salby," The Sunday Times, November 6 1988)

 


 

Complexity is, on balance, a literary virtue. "On balance" is, of course, the operative phrase, and no bit of serialized cultural detritus -- sci-fi television, detective novels, comic books -- is too thoroughly valueless to lack some corps of adoring anoraks who confuse its growing convolutions for authentic depth.

Devotees of "Chesscourt," Leonard Salby's increasingly incoherent series of monstrously overgrown children's books, are a striking example of the type, and display all the hallmarks of the cultural trainspotter's delusion in full flower. Spend any significant amount of time around a Salby enthusiast and the c-word is bound to come up, usually in conjunction with some platitude about the author's "unparalleled imagination" or the elaborate notes and diagrams he reportedly uses to keep track of the series' proliferating characters and plot lines. Other Mirrors, the latest and longest installment, is undeniably imaginative; it probably has the most dizzyingly elaborate plot ever featured in a work of children's literature. Does that make it complex? No, it makes it complicated. And between those two little words is a world of difference.

Salby's plotting builds hierarchically, inexorably, unforgivingly. Every new development serves as scaffolding for the next, and any idea or event, however minor, however many pages or books ago it was introduced, can serve as fodder for new narrative contortions. The result is a reading experience that recreates with eerie accuracy the atmosphere of the schoolroom. Salby demands academic devotion; everything will be on the test.  As Other Mirrors demands from its reader a certain drab, bureaucratic cast of mind, no child who is fully a child will enjoy it; as its sensibility never progresses beyond that of a precocious adolescent, no adult who is fully an adult will tolerate it.  Salby has written what is perhaps a definitive test of abnormal development, but he has written a dreadful novel.

(Charles Adair, capsule review of Other Mirrors, The Guardian, April 7 1983)

 


 "Don't Go Into The Caves"

(Frequently invoked motto in the post-1995 Salby fandom, typically abbreviated to "DGITC")