12 November 2009

Reverend King's Great War Novelette

Going West
Basil King
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919

First published as a short story in the September 1918 issue of Pictorial Review, 'America's Greatest Woman's Magazine', Going West has nothing of the inflated style of The Inner Shrine. This appears to be such a rushed piece of work. Sentences are clipped, yet repetitive, and characters appear as incomplete and airy as the ghostly figures on the dust jacket. In the opening pages of The Inner Shrine, King writes of a few tense hours; in Going West, he covers an entire life and geneology.

A great-great grandson of a Revolutionary War veteran, the grandson of a Civil War veteran, the son of a Spanish-American War veteran, Lester is a "genial, jovial soul" who, without reservation, heads off to fight the Hun in the Great War. What's termed "irresistible fate" brings him face to face with a blonde Bavarian who has blue eyes that dance "with a kind of bloodshot fire". Lester dodges, prances, leaps and weaves, stabbing the enemy with his bayonet, but gets his face "all bashed in" just the same. Both men die.

In death, Lester finds himself not in heaven, but Oberammergau (site, perhaps uncoincidentally, of the Passion Play). His companion is not Christ, but the man he killed. Together they look over a woman and two children in prayer - the dead German's family.

Lester, it seems, has lived a life in which his thoughts were limited to the physical world; and so, unlike his enlightened companion, he is unable to "whisper" to his loved ones. He has not yet learned that all is "a matter of thought, of consciousness." The German provides guidance:

When we've learned that everything exists in a great mind, that mind itself becomes a medium of intercourse. Give up the idea that people you love live in one sphere and you in another. We all live together in one great intelligence that understands all our needs. Meet your needs not by your own efforts, but by co-operation with that intelligence, and what you want will be done.
What, I wonder, did the Anglican Church of Canada think of its retired reverend? This is a Spiritualist's story, one in which non-believers are as sceptical about the New Testament as they are about Ouija boards, one in which the living draw strength through a blanket of protection and love laid upon them by the departed. Coming in the weeks leading up to the Armistice, it all must have been most welcome.

Object: Slim, printed on heavy paper, Going West is a very handsome little book. A portion of the dust jacket image, features the comrades united in death, serves as frontispiece. Removing the jacket reveals a rather elegant cover. Quite a contrast, it serves to remind that the author was a minister of the cloth.

Access: Library and Archives Canada fails where the Toronto Public Library succeeds. Less than half of our university libraries have the book – a sign, perhaps, that King had come to be seen as an American author. Buyers should keep in mind that King was quite popular... and the Basil King collector appears to be an extinct creature. Prices vary greatly. One crazy Connecticut bookseller is asking US$150 for a copy that is no better than those going for US$20. "Unusual to find a copy of this book in this condition [Very Good] with a DJ", claims another asking US$45. In truth, it's more unusual to find a Very Good copy without a dust jacket. Pay no more than US$20, dust jacket included.


  1. Pleased to find your short articles on B. King. Perhaps news of the extinction of collectors of his works is, as Twain opined, greatly exaggerated. I have an extensive collection of King's works in jacketed 1st editions, many signed, as well as ephemera, letters, etc. Tom Vincent (one of Canada's great bibliographers) published the authoritative bibliography of King's fiction some years ago via his Loyal Colonies Press (it does not include his magazine serials or his non-fiction and omits his first published work of fiction).

    1. And I'm pleased to hear from a fellow King collector. I must admit that I haven't been exactly dogged in my pursuit. I buy the reverend's books whenever I come across them, and resort to online booksellers when the spirit moves and the wallet allows. Sadly, just three have dust jackets, and only one is signed, but I'm always on the lookout. Thank you for pointing me in the direction of Tom Vincent's bibliography. I'd not heard of it.