On My Shelves: Silverlock



     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.






  1. Raymond Schumann says:


    Years ago I read something by Jim Baen. I can’t find it for an exact quote. He described hearing about Silverlock from Poul and Karen Anderson, Jerry Pournell, and Larry Niven. Jim asked, “Sounds interesting. Who published it?”

    “Why, Ace. But it’s long out of print.”

    Baen ended up saying, “Seldom have I been surrounded by people I most respect in the field, telling me it was my duty to reissue a book. Given the respect bordering on awe I have for these people, of course I agreed. Still, it was a first for me. Usually I read a book before making such a promise. I didn’t really think they’d break both my arms if I refused.”

    This poem was the back page blurb on the Ace edition of the book that was published in 1966. It was not included in later printings, perhaps because they cost far more than seventy five cents. (Those were the days!) The Ace 1978 paperback reissue sold for $6.99.

    I’ve got to say that, as blurbs go, this one is damned classy. It has all the earmarks of a John Myers Myers ditty.

    “L in Long River” is what it says. I wonder if it was a misprint?

    Do you know your Silverlock alphabet?

    A’s the abyss, and a man to the Devil
    B is the great Beowulf, holding high revel
    C is lithe Circe, without inhibitions
    D is the Delian, ordained of missions
    E’s Euphenspiegel, a prankster and jiber
    F is Fjoine, a royal imbiber
    G’s des Grieux, made a cuckold by Lucius
    H is Houynyhm, wise as Confucius
    I is Innini, a dangerous trollop
    J’s Friar John of the powerful wallop
    K’s Karenina, poor passionate Anna
    L in Long River, as pleasing as manna
    M is the Murgatroyds, desperately haunted
    N is fair Nimue, desperately wanted
    O is the Oracle, shaking and wailing
    P is Prometheus, whose liver is ailing
    Q is Quixote, the champion of ladies
    R’s Rhadamanthus, a justice in Hades
    S is Semiramis, queenly but lusty
    T is young Tamlane, whose lover is trusty
    U is dark Usher, the site of the tower
    V is Van Kortland, as bold as Glendower
    W’s Watling Street, road of adventure
    X is bright Xanadu, grand beyond censure
    Y’s lady Yang, and enchantment while riding
    Z’s mighty Zeus, and a mystic cow-hiding.

    There is the alphabet, listing each letter
    Yet not listing episodes, matching or better

    Encountered by dozens, with Shandon as leader
    But shared, even-Stephen, with you as the reader
    For SILVERLOCK tells of his marvelous journey
    Through JOHN MYERS MYERS, who has power of attorney
    To pass it to you with the imprint of Ace;
    At every good bookstore, six bits on the face.


  2. I am always surprised by how many of your ‘on my shelves’ entries are also on my shelves (although I guess since we are of the same generation and both North American SF/fantasy fans that should not be so surprising). I found Silverlock in first year university and had fellow fans recognize it too — I’m sure there are still references or allusions that I’ve missed.

  3. great review of one of my all time favorite books. i have the companion book which presumably lists all the refs and allusions but, like you, i want to dip in again and again to try to up my percentage of ‘hits’. i bet i got less than 25% of them the first readthrough and might be up to only 40-50% by now with subsequent readings.

    i stole the protagonist’ name for my d&d wizard character, only adding an archaic ‘e’ onto the end, viz: silverlocke. and when d&d moved to the real pagan world i’ve kept it as my ‘magickal’ name to this day and is how i’m known in those circles.

    thanks again for this review,

    /guy (aka silverlocke aka /s~)

  4. oh, i forgot the most important comment i meant to leave. i’m a native texan and golias alamo ballad is pure genius and i’m not ashamed to say it brings me to real tears at every re-reading. i don’t hesitate to say that in my opinion it’s the cherry on top. i’m a huge poetry fan and there’s just literally (!) nothing like it i’ve encountered anywhere and not having been exposed to any old ‘ballads’ except the old chestnut beowulf.


Your comments or questions welcomed!