My selection for Patti Abbott’s Forgotten Books this week is a classic novel of science fiction, a post-apocalyptic novel first published in 1964.
Edgar Pangborn was born in 1909. His father was an attorney and dictionary editor, his mother a writer of supernatural fiction. He entered Harvard for musical studies at only fifteen, but left two years later. His next school was The New England Conservatory of Music, from which he dropped put as well. From that point, he publicly quit music and concentrated on writing, publishing his first novel at twenty-one, an entirely forgettable mystery(of note only because it was his first) in 1930 under the pseudonym Bruce Harrison. For twenty years he published in the pulps, though never under his own name. A stint in the medical corps during WWII and a time farming is sprinkled in also. It wasn’t until the 1950s that he started appearing in the science fiction and mystery magazines under his own name. In the 1960s, he began painting in oils(portraits, nudes, landscapes) and exhibiting in a number of regional shows.
He died in 1976.
In 2003, discovered in the attic of the home in which he died, was a large group of handwritten music manuscripts, all original from his early musical days: sonatas, string quartets, nocturnes, and other types of orchestral arrangements.
Now on to DAVY. It was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula and included on a list of the best science fiction novels of all time.
Set in the American Northeast in a future after civilization’s death some two hundred-fifty years before from nuclear attacks, the country has been reduced to small kingdoms and republics(Main, Conicut, Penn, Rhode, Vairmont, Katskil), the organization that rose to power in that aftermath is The Holy Murcan Church. They control everyone’s mor’ls and discourage learning as an evil that causes doubt in God’s benevolence and love. Sex was a sin, hateful, a pollution.
It was around and tacitly encouraged.
Other religious laws written into tracts was the forbidding of the use of gunpowder(as it might contain atoms) and the destruction of all mutants. Called Mues, laws provided they be killed at birth and, because there were areas that had no religious law, if one encountered a Mue he was to be killed immediately. Definition of a Mue was fluid, though: wrong color hair, legs shorter than the norm, etc., the people of Davy’s world had a depressing sameness.
Davy was raised in an orphanage until he was bonded out at nine. Not really an orphan, though, he was taken from his mother because she was a prostitute and they couldn’t have her polluting the young baby.
The story is Davy writing a book telling of his life from the advantage of a later point. It goes back and forth from the present to incidents that made him the man he is now. At fourteen, an incident causes him to go on the run and from there it becomes a coming of age story of a young boy, going on a voyage in a future world so different, but at the same time so similar to our own, carrying along his golden horn, a French Horn. It’s Pangborn’s statement on a variety of subjects that can relate to our modern world, sadly even today in a forty-five year old novel. Humorous, adventurous, I liked one blurb by Spider Robinson on this fortieth anniversary edition:
“Somewhere in Writer’s Heaven, Edgar Pangborn and Mark Twain are conversing as equals, and this book is one of the principal reasons why. DAVY is a kind of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn for a new age….”
I can see that. A young boy learning the harsh realities of a real world so far out of all he’s known before. And having a good time all the while.
DAVY was the first of four novels dealing with this future world. THE JUDGMENT OF EVE, THE COMPANY OF GLORY, and STILL I PERSIST IN WONDERING are the others. Another OF Pangborn’s novesl that gets good press is A MIRROR FOR OBSERVERS. OLD EARTH BOOKS published this fortieth edition pictured above and owns the reprint rights to all the Pangborn novels and also has an impressive roster of other old books from long ago and new authors.
Below are a number of different covers of various editions of DAVY. The first one on the left is the paperback where I first read it so many years ago.
Evan Lewis said:
I’m much relieved to see that this guy – at least on the covers – is NOT wearing a coonskin cap.
Patti Abbott said:
My husband is teaching his utopian/dystopian course this fall. Can’t wait to mention this.
George Kelley said:
I should go back and reread DAVY. I read it when it was first published. Plenty of people thought Edgar Pangborn was going to be the next Frank Herbert.
Todd Mason said:
Or, at least, the next Walter Miller, Jr. As it turns out, he had to settle for being the next Theodore Sturgeon…a greater but less widely-celebrated thing (even though Pangborn was writing fiction and music before Sturgeon was). And not only Georgia Pangborn but Edgar’s older sister Mary has published notably.