A. Clarence Shandon is a man of limited vision and less patience with anything he is unfamiliar with. When a storm sinks the ship he is on and he finds himself adrift, he also finds he has no particular reason to live. But a seemingly chance encounter with another castaway, floating in the water with him, gives him if not hope, at least some direction. Golias – Boyan Taliesin Golias – insists that they are approaching a place called "The Commonwealth", and there they will land… and, perhaps, survive.
Golias' descriptions of this Commonwealth are strange, as are his remarks about himself, but Shandon ignores the oddities as the behavior of a man unhinged. Little does he realize what journey he has embarked upon…
Silverlock, by John Meyers Meyers, is one of the great classics of fantastic literature, though it is surprisingly little-known outside of fandom these days. Named after Shandon, who becomes known as "Silverlock" for the silver-gray lock of hair above his forehead, it is on the surface the story of a not-terribly-likeable man who is separated from everything he knew, and finds himself in a strange land indeed, one with magic and monsters and warriors, a land with strange rules and even stranger destinies awaiting those cast upon it. In this journey, Shandon Silverlock discovers a part of himself long suppressed in his native Chicago, and becomes in his own way a hero, a warrior, and perhaps a poet.
But Silverlock is much more than its surface. Readers of my own Grand Central Arena will of course have noticed many references to various classics, and less-classics, of science fiction and fantasy; Silverlock does the same, but on a far grander scale, for it is nothing more or less than a creation of the land of great myth and fiction made solid, and the references begin on the first page; the vessel that sinks is named Naglfar, which those familiar with Norse mythology know to be the vessel of Hel, made from the fingernails of the dead.
Later, Shandon sees a ship sunk by a huge whale (Moby Dick), falls afoul of the sorceress Circe (Greek Mythology), is given a lesson in the geography of the Commonwealth that refers to everything from King Arthur to Norse myth, and encounters characters ranging from Robin Hood and Puck to the Green Man, the Mad Tea Party, and even journeys to Dante's Inferno.
Shandon's journey is no aimless wandering, although often Shandon himself thinks it is. Nearly a dead husk of a man at first, without any care or interests beyond the most immediate needs, Shandon first learns to have some loyalty to Golias, who helps him despite Shandon's at-first complete disregard for Golias' feelings or needs, and then, slowly, begins to open up to the wonder of the world around him.
Again, this is a matter of layers; on this layer, the story is about the journey of a man to become aware of wonder, for it is clear that Shandon Silverlock is traveling through the land of the fantastic in order to become a part of that world – perhaps a writer, a modern bard, himself – and can only do so by finding the wondrous within himself.
On yet another layer, this is a pure love letter to the imaginations of the past. We are Shandon Silverlock, at some point or another on his journey. We enter the Commonwealth whenever we open a book that sparks our imagination and wonder, that brings us a step closer to understanding what wonder is.
I first read Silverlock quite a few years ago; I think the copy I owned is one of the things I lost in the floods. But recently, I purchased an electronic copy and re-read it. Like all great books, there were details I had missed in the first read that came out clearly to me on the second. I have deliberately avoided looking closely at sites that describe all of the references; I enjoy finding new ones on re-reading; for instance, I hadn't noticed the close encounter with the Ancient Mariner the first time through, and I wasn't aware of the mythology of the Green Man either, so both of those were new to my experience of Silverlock; I also was able to appreciate his encounter with Don Quixote more than when I was much younger.
The toughest part of the novel is the beginning. As I have said, Shandon begins as a rather unpleasant man, and we have to spend a fair amount of time in his company. It is also not clear what the actual purpose of the novel is at first, and, at least in my opinion, things take a bit to really get rolling. But by the time the plot begins to move significantly, Shandon has started to show signs of … well, if not growing up, at least opening his eyes and becoming less of a dick. At that point, Silverlock really comes into its own; it drags you along on Shandon's journey like a freight train, unstoppable and irresistable.
This is one of the rarest of novels,a book that continues to give and give and give, more with every reading. I look forward to the next reading, and wonder what new gems await me … and Shandon Silverlock… as we both travel through the unending, magnificent Commonwealth of the Imagination.