17 May 2021

He and His Arrow

Quest for Pajaro
Edward Maxwell [pseud Ted Allan]
London: Heinemann, 1957
116 pages

Before the title page, the reader encounters this:

It has the appearance of a publisher's note, but I suspect it was written by Allan. Either way, the fiction has already begun.

Quest for Pajaro is told in the first person. It's narrator, Edward Maxwell, is a son of great wealth and privilege. As a very young man, he designed and flew experimental aircraft. When came the Second World War, he joined the Royal Air Force, eventually becoming Chief of Staff to Air Vice Marshal Sir Matthew Brown Frew (right).

The war now over, Maxwell has settled into early middle age, living on the Buckinghamshire estate left by his parents. Of his personal life, he has only this to say: "I was married at the age of twenty-four, divorced a year later, and the less said about that unfortunate incident the better. At the age of thirty-seven I had still not found any woman I cared to share my life with."

Maxwell may be a bit off women , but his youthful enthusiasm for experimental aircraft has continued unabated, manifesting itself in an sleek jet he calls the "Arrow." The name will cause the Canadian reader to pause and brush away a tear. 

The Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow

Ted Allan was living in the UK when Quest for Pajaro was written, but I don't imagine for a minute that he wasn't following news from home about the real life Arrow, the most advanced jet aircraft of its day.

If anything, Maxwell's Arrow is even more remarkable in that it is both jet and rocket propelled. On the evening before the first test flight, which he himself is to pilot, our hero invites mathematician friend Alan Ryerman to discuss the project over dinner. A good amount of gobbledygook follows, much of it speculation as to what might happen if the Arrow cracks the "thermal barrier." Ryerman raises the intriguing possibility that his host might simply disappear. This speculation has to do with the speed Maxwell expects to achieve, combined with the speed of the Earth's rotation, the speed of our planet as it circles the sun, the speed of our solar system in the Milky Way, the speed of the galaxy itself, and... well, you get the idea.

As I say, gobbledygook. It's to Allan's credit that he keeps it brief.

The next morning's test flight begins just as hoped. Maxwell passes Mach I, then fires up the rockets. He sees a full circle rainbow, and immediately becomes confused as to whether the cloud ceiling is up or down. Then the clouds disappear, as does colour and all sense of motion. And then he blacks out. 

Maxwell regains consciousness in a one-room hut belonging to a Basque goat-herd and his wife. Their only child, an exquisitely beautiful daughter named Angelita, nurses our hero back to health. Just shy of twenty-one, at birth she suffered a brain injury which has rendered her mute.

There's a something of the fairy tale about Angelita. Though incapable of speech, she's able to communicate with birds through cooing and whistling. Her only friends, they fly in and out of the hut as in a Disney movie, and are talkative companions on walks.

Maxwell tells Pedro, the goat-herd, that he needs to send a telegram, only to be told that this remote corner of the Pyrenees has no such service. He offers to take a letter to Pajaro, the closest village, from which it will eventually make its way to San Bettino, then San Sebastian, and then to whichever destination it is addressed.

Maxwell accepts, sending a letter to Ryerman detailing his location. Days pass, during which our bedridden hero and Angelika become increasingly close. Eventually, Maxwell's letter is returned marked with "the careless script of officialdom" that the recipient is deceased. The cancellation date reads "19 Mayo, 1977."

It's only then that our hero realizes he's somehow flown into the future. The Arrow took off on the morning of 15 May 1956, months before the exquisite Angelika was even born! 

Bruce Petty's jacket illustration, itself exquisite, is more appropriate to a romance novel than a work of science fiction. But then, Quest for Pajaro is more a love story than a tale about a man and his plane. It's Maxwell love for Angelita – come now, you can't pretend you didn't see that coming – that drives the second half of the book. There's really something for everyone, fans of travel adventure included.

Much as I liked Quest for Pajaro, by the end I couldn't help but think it was better suited to the screen than the page. And so, it came as no surprise to discover that it had once been optioned. Thirteen days after the launch of "satellite moon" Sputnik, Queen of Hollywood gossip Louella Parsons reported: 

The Calgary Herald, 17 October 1957
The film has yet to be made, of course, but I'd love to see it done today as a period piece that moves between 1956 and 1977.

I wonder whether Ted Allan's papers, held at Simon Fraser University and Library and Archives Canada, contain a script. If so, I wouldn't be surprised if it pre-dates the novel.

Quest for Pajaro enjoyed just one printing. I purchased my copy earlier this year from a Wallingford, Oxfordshire bookseller. Price: £4. Until a few weeks ago, when I began encouraging friends to add the book to their collections, copies could be purchased on the cheap. As of this writing, the least expensive with jacket is being offered by an Australian bookseller at A$40.00. Not one of the listings identifies Ted Allan as Edward Maxwell.

The fiction that Maxwell is a real person is given a bit of a twist on the dust jacket's front flap:

Ted Allan wasn't a well-known writer when Quest for Pajaro appeared in bookshops. His previous books were This Time a Better Earth (London: Heinemann, 1939), a pseudonymously-published pulp titled Love is a Long Shot (Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949), and The Scalpel, The Sword (Boston: Little, Brown, 1952), a biography of Norman Bethune, co-authored by Sydney Gordon. He was, however, managing to support his family through work for the BBC and CBC.

The Gazette (Montreal)
27 September 1975
Looking back on his career, I'm not sure Ted Allan was ever a "well-known writer," though my thirteen-year-old self knew his name through Lies My Father Told Me (1975), which I first saw in first run at Cinema Place Ville Marie. I liked the film so much that my mother presented me with son Norman Allan's novelization as an Easter gift.

Was Lies My Father Told Me the high-point of Ted Allan's career? He was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, while the film itself received a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. I have no argument with those who instead point to Allan's script for the John Cassevetes film Love Streams, winner of the 1984 Golden Bear.

How is it Love Streams is so forgotten?

Ten Allan was an interesting man and an accomplished writer. One correspondent suggests that Allan's life would make for a riveting biography. Sadly, the days in which the flush publishers would be interested in such a project are long past.

Still, I hold out hope that Ted Allan will better recognized by people twenty-one years in the future than he is today.

Coincidence: The Arrow was rolled out to the public on 4 October 1957 (below), the very same day Sputnik was launched.

What exciting times!

Object and Access: A bland black hardcover in dust jacket by Bruce Petty. My Lord, his work is wonderful. Here's another example:

Pray for a Brave Heart
Helen MacInnes
London: Collins, 1955
Library and Archives Canada and three Canadian universities hold copies of Quest for Pajaro.

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  1. How conpelling eould you say you found the romance? I recently read "This Time A Better Earth", and while I enjoyed it I found the romance subplot the weakest link. Maybe Allen improved on that here.

    1. Good question, Eric. Though the romance isn't compelling, I was lulled into acceptance. Maxwell, the battered hero, is nursed back to health by rural beauty Angelita. Convention dictates that the two must fall in love.

      I didn't quibble because Quest for Pajaro is so very short. That said, I was irked by the brevity of their romance. If memory serves, their relationship lasts all of three weeks - during which time they fall in love and Maxwell proposes. It all seems a bit fast, particularly for a man who lets it be known that he was done with women after his disastrous early marriage.

      What I found most affecting in their romance came at the very end of the novel. Maxwell's love for Angelita leads to a conclusion that is anything but conventional. I didn't see it coming... or maybe I did. One thing is for certain, the ending is not what I anticipated.