R. A. Lafferty

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I sometimes tackle ideas and notions that are relatively complex, and it is very difficult to be sure that I am conveying them in the best way. Anyone who goes beyond cliche phrases and cliche ideas will have this trouble.

Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (November 7 1914 - March 18 2002) was an American science fiction and fantasy writer, famous for his original use of language, metaphor, and narrative structure, as well as for his etymological wit.

Sourced

Dates of publication of Lafferty's work may often have little relation to those of completion.
"My brain reels," moaned Homer the man. "Reality melts away."
To you who are scattered and broken, gather again and mend. Rebuild always, and again I say rebuild.
The best time to write a story is yesterday. The next best time is today.
The good stories, of course, write themselves...
  • "My brain reels," moaned Homer the man. "Reality melts away."
  • To you who are scattered and broken, gather again and mend. Rebuild always, and again I say rebuild. Renew the face of the earth. It is a loved face, but now it is covered with the webs of tired spiders.
    • Judy's letter to the dispersed members of the Church of Omaha, in "And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire" (1972)
  • I write as clearly as I am able to. I sometimes tackle ideas and notions that are relatively complex, and it is very difficult to be sure that I am conveying them in the best way. Anyone who goes beyond cliche phrases and cliche ideas will have this trouble.
    • Interview in Alien Critic (August 1973)
  • Though my short stories are the more readable, my novels do have more to say; and they will, if anyone has the patience for it, repay a rereading.
    • Interview in Alien Critic (August 1973)
  • Science Fiction has long been babbling about cosmic destructions and the ending of either physical or civilized worlds, but it has all been displaced babble. SF has been carrying on about near-future or far-future destructions and its mind-set will not allow it to realize that the destruction of our world has already happened in the quite recent past, that today is "The Day After The World Ended". ... I am speaking literally about a real happening, the end of the world in which we lived till fairly recent years. The destruction or unstructuring of that world, which is still sometimes referred to as "Western Civilization" or "Modern Civilization", happened suddenly, some time in the half century between 1912 and 1962. That world, which was "The World" for a few centuries, is gone. Though it ended quite recently, the amnesia concerning its ending is general. Several historiographers have given the opinion that these amnesias are features common to all "ends of worlds". Nobody now remembers our late world very clearly, and nobody will ever remember it clearly in the natural order of things. It can't be recollected because recollection is one of the things it took with it when it went...
    • The Day After the World Ended, notes for a speech at DeepSouthCon'79, New Orleans (21 July 1979), published in It's Down the Slippery Cellar Stairs (1995)
  • In its flexibility and in its wide-open opportunities, this is the total Utopia. Anything that you can conceive of, you can do in this non-world. Nothing can stop you except a total bankruptcy of creativity. The seedbed is waiting. All the circumstances stand ready. The fructifying minerals are literally jumping out of the ground. And nothing grows. And nothing grows. And nothing grows. Well, why doesn't it?
    • The Day After the World Ended Notes for a speech at DeepSouthCon'79, New Orleans (21 July 1979), published in It's Down the Slippery Cellar Stairs (1995)
  • The best time to write a story is yesterday. The next best time is today.
    • It's Down the Slippery Cellar Stairs (1995)
  • The good stories, of course, write themselves. And somebody wants to know who are the really good writers, and how many of them there are. There aren't any. Most of the writers are likeable frauds. Some are unlikable frauds.
    • It's Down the Slippery Cellar Stairs (1995)

Past Master (1968)

The shapes they take are both objective and subjective. One can shape them a little with one's own mind.
  • Paul, there is something very slack about a future that will take a biting satire for a vapid dream.
  • The shapes they take are both objective and subjective. One can shape them a little with one's own mind.
    • Ch. 7
  • Now then, I have given you a short fair hearing as the law requires. I do not solicit the support of your party, though, in all honesty, if it had more than one member I might.
    • Ch. 9

Space Chantey (1968)

The deeds were too bright to be viewed direct. They could only be sung by a bard gone blind from viewing suns that were suns.
  • This myth filter was necessary. The ship logs could not tell it rightly nor could any flatfooted prose. And the deeds were too bright to be viewed direct. They could only be sung by a bard gone blind from viewing suns that were suns.
    • Ch. 1
  • The war was finished. It had lasted ten equivalent years and taken ten million lives. Thus it was neither of long duration nor of serious attrition. It hadn't any great significance; it was not intended to have. It did not prove a point, since all points had long ago been proven. What it did, perhaps, was to emphasize an aspect, sharpen a concept, underline a trend.
    On the whole it was a successful operation. Economically and ecologically it was of healthy effect, and who should grumble?
    And after wars, men go home. No, no, men start for home. It's not the same.
    • Ch. 1
  • Wrong Prong, Bong Gong.
    • Instructions for the use of a "Gong" button, (which reverses the flow of time for the wielder, if he has made an error he wishes to correct).

The Reefs of Earth (1968)

  • It was their way of defying that tricky place Earth. That place will hurt you if you let it get the hop on you. They spooked the Earth spooks away with their stories. They whistled in the dark.
  • "Pirates are perhaps the greatest invention of Earth people," Elizabeth interrupted loftily, "and their pirate stories are wonderful entertainment for small children. We have to give Earth people credit for that, they invented pirates."

Fourth Mansions (1969)

It succeeded in so twisted a fashion that the Devil himself was puzzled as to whether he had gained or lost ground by it. And he isn't easily puzzled.
  • "There was a later time when sincere men tried to build an organization as wide as the world to secure the peace of the world. It had been tried before and it had failed before. Perhaps if it failed this time it would not be tried again for a very long while. The idea of the thing was attacked by good and bad men, in good faith and bad. The final realization of it was so close that it could be touched with the fingertips. A gambler wouldn't have given odds on it either way. It teetered, and it almost seemed as though it would succeed. Then members of that group interfered."
    "And it failed, O'Claire?"
    "No. It succeeded, Foley, as in the other case. It succeeded in so twisted a fashion that the Devil himself was puzzled as to whether he had gained or lost ground by it. And he isn't easily puzzled."
    • Ch. 4
  • "A newspaper man has got to know when to keep his mouth and his mind shut. You might end up dead."
    "Isn't that the usual fate of men, Harry?"
    • Ch. 8

The Flame is Green (1971)

Do not be deceived by the way men of bad faith misuse words and names...
Things are set up as contraries that are not even in the same category. Listen to me: the opposite of radical is superficial, the opposite of liberal is stingy; the opposite of conservative is destructive.
All the final answers were given in the beginning. They stand shining, above and beyond us, but they are always there to be seen.
A bridge does not abandon its first shore when it grows out in spans towards the further one.
In this growing there are no really new things or new situation. There are only things growing out right, or things growing out deformed or shriveled.
Whenever one least growing creeper touches across the interval, that means the extinction of a devil...
  • "Do not be deceived by the way men of bad faith misuse words and names," the Black Pope was saying, and now his head was quite powdered with snow. "It used to be only the English who excelled in the deception of words. Then the French went even beyond them, and now the whole world is adept at it."
    • Ch. 5
  • Things are set up as contraries that are not even in the same category. Listen to me: the opposite of radical is superficial, the opposite of liberal is stingy; the opposite of conservative is destructive. Thus I will describe myself as a radical conservative liberal; but certain of the tainted red fish will swear that there can be no such fish as that. Beware of those who use words to mean their opposites. At the same time have pity on them, for usually this trick is their only stock in trade.
    • Ch. 5
  • "There are only two possible statements that can be made about the worlds," the Black Pope of the Carlist Hills had lectured one day. "Alpha: There is a God. Omega: there is not a God. To adhere to either of these two statements strongly is to be logical at least. Not to do so is to be in the snivelling wasteland between and to have no point of contact with logic or reason."
    • Ch. 5

Unplaced by chapter:

(Quotes from an online book review)
  • Beware of those who manufacture final answers as they go along, of those who will catch you on their catch-phrases and let you perish in the traps. All the final answers were given in the beginning. They stand shining, above and beyond us, but they are always there to be seen. They may be too bright for us, they may be too clear for us. Well then, we must clarify our own eyes. Our task is to grow out until we reach them.
  • We ourselves become the bridges out over the interval that is the world and time. It is a daring thing to fling ourselves out over that void that is black and scarlet below and green and gold above. A bridge does not abandon its first shore when it grows out in spans towards the further one.
  • In this growing there are no really new things or new situation. There are only things growing out right, or things growing out deformed or shriveled. There is nothing new about railways or foundries or lathes or steel furnaces. They also are green-growing things. There is nothing new about organizations of men or of money. All these growing things are good, if they grow towards the final answers that were given in the beginning.
  • Or let us say that we have a green thing growing forever. Everything that is done is done by it. And on it we also have the red parasite crunching forever: and everything that is undone is undone by that. The parasite will present itself as a modern thing. It will call itself the Great Change. Less often, and warily, it will call itself the Great Renewal. But it can never be another thing than the Red Failure returned. It is a disease, it is a scarlet fever, a typhoid, a diphtheria; it is the Africa disease, it is the red leprosy, it is the crab-cancer. It is the death of the individual and of the corporate soul. And incidentally, but very often, it is also the death of the individual and of the corporate body. We are asked to swear fealty to the parasite disease which the enemy sowed from the beginning. I will not do it, and I hope that you will not.
  • The devils stroll the earth again and infect with the red sickness. They must, at all cost to themselves, destroy the growing tendrils before such can touch the other side. For, whenever one least growing creeper touches across the interval, that means the extinction of a devil. It is a thing to be tested. Notice it that whenever there is the special shrilling, when there is the wild flinging out of catchwords to catch you in, when there are the weird exceptions and inclusions, when there are specious arguments and the murderous defamations, when all the volubility of the voltairians and the cuteness of the queers has been assembled to confound you, then one green growth has almost reached across to the other side, one devil is in danger of extinction. Oh, they will defend against that!
  • Listen now to a series of sayings that always come hard to brave people. Our own great movement will grow with its own impetus wherever it is not blighted. We will break up persons of blight and centers of blight. But often, and this will be the hard part for all of you to understand, we will warn and advise before we kill. And quite often we will not kill at all. Try to understand this.

Arrive at Easterwine (1971)

The narrator of this story is a conscious machine about the size of a building, with an ability to create mobile extensions of himself.
  • Gaetan had always had a terrible finality about him. Was this his great sin — that he was already completed? I will intercede for him tonight in my own not entirely mechanical way. To be completed is to be finished in so many ways! May that twinkling man Gaetan be undone a little and saved.
    • Ch. 6
  • True love is that we should hate whatever interferes with our vision of the high and the lowly.
    • Ch. 6
  • "Oh, I cannot abide these complacent clods," I exclaim. "I cannot relate to these opulent oafs who are laughing in the streets. They are not high enough or low enough. For my love I must find the poor, the deprived, the fornicators, the addicts, the drunkards, the unwashed, ..."
    "Oh, these are the poor," the clod told me. "This is the poorest street in town, Index Y-Z. It's hard to tell them apart now except that the poor spend more ostentatiously than the rich do."
    • Ch. 6

The Devil is Dead (1971)

File:Yggdrasil axis mundi 3.PNG
Put the nightmare together. If you do not wake up screaming, you have not put it together well.
  • Put the nightmare together. If you do not wake up screaming, you have not put it together well.
    • Prologue
  • Carr states that the characters of the Brunhilde are not true archetypes. Why, then they are false archetypes, and these also have their being. Kidd believes that X himself is in the process of becoming the Third Evil to fill the void left by the insufficiency of Papadiabolous and Seaworthy in the roles of devils. But Kidd is Joycean. To complicate matters, Lafferty swears that Finnegan is in no way Joycean, that he is nine hundred years earlier, out of the Yellow Book of Lecan (the Tain Bo Cuailinge), a character out of the Tain. This presupposes that Finnegan is identical with Fion McCool as well as with the more derivative Fingal, and also with Cu Chulainn. Well, Finnegan is capable of being all. To those interested in this line I recommend Thurneysen’s Die Irische Helden- und Konigsage.
    • Interglossia
  • Brannagan had been to more places than Finnegan had, including the same places. He had not only skirted the d'Entre-Casteau Islands, he had walked all over them. He had not only sailed through China Straits, he had dived in them for old wrecks. He had not only climbed the Cloudy Mountains, but had panned gold in their streams and dips.
    • Ch. 13

Archipelago (1979)

A crisis should have thunder in it.
  • "The perfect ghost story is the story of Possession," he said, "and that is hypnotism from beyond the grave. This is possible since hypnotism is by the will, and the will is immortal. A number of notable men have been possessed, and all of their lives seem to fit a pattern: the inconsequential early years, the hiatus when they stood where Faust stood, and the decision. And then the rise to power and influence and almost universal honor after they have made the deal. But it is not themselves, it is the devils within them that gain these things. They are the possessed men who do much of the running of the world, and theirs is the most frightening story that can be imagined. But those who watch the great men do not know that they are shells inhabited by ghosts."
    • Chapter Three, Pt. 5, A "ghost story" as narrated in its entirety by a character in the novel in a small ward gathering.
  • A crisis should have thunder in it. If Finnegan and Dotty had been able to generate a crisis with thunder and lightning, things might have been different. But what if the last anchor-cable parts when no one knows it, and the drift has already begun? This is the crisis come and gone.
    • Chapter Four, Pt. 6

Quotations about Lafferty

Alphabetically by author or source
Just about everything Lafferty writes is fun, is witty, is entertaining and playful. But it is not easy, for it is a mingling of allegory with myth, and of both with something more ... ~ Gene Wolfe
  • R .A. Lafferty has always been uniquely his own man, but in this book he surpasses himself. It is wild, subtle, demonic, angelic, hilarious, tragic, poetic, a thundering melodrama and a quest into the depths of the human spirit. You'll think about it for a long time and probably go back to it more than once.
  • [Lafferty] interested me in SF again, after I had outgrown my early love for Simak and Asimov and Heinlein. What a word slinger: what a richness of idea and image, in Irish-cadenced prose! Lafferty wrote the opposite of the post-Chekhovian modern short story. Show don’t tell? The pleasure is in the telling. Rhetoric, in the grand old manner, was at the center of his game. He could go from high-faluting to just plain faluting, and back again, all in a paragraph. Like Charles Mingus, another American original, Lafferty loved the sounds he made; never satisfied with mere profundity, he was pretty, too. He was our Mingus, I think, elevating us all. ... I believe his day is yet to come; that like Melville, Lafferty will be "discovered," and his Okla Hannali will take its rightful place as one of the three or four truly great 20th century American novels.
  • Characters in Lafferty stories don't act or speak as normal folks do. Impossible things happen routinely. Indeed, the whole philosophical works are staged like a two-bit vaudeville act, with characters reminiscent of sideshow hucksters and midway card-sharps, promising marvelous prizes with one hand and taking your money with the other, leaving you wondering what the hell this thing is being put into your hands while you're being shuffled out the back door. But the prize here is the key to the kingdom, and the show is pretty funny. There is in fact no limit to Lafferty's humor — even the old banana-peel gag will be trotted out if it'll get a laugh.
  • The history of the Choctaw Indians has been told before and is still being told, but it has never been told in the way Lafferty tells it ... Hannali is a buffalo bull of a man who should become one of the enduring characters in the literature of the American Indian.
    • Dee Brown, quoted in the University of Oklahoma Press edition of Okla Hannali
  • [Lafferty is] one of the few writers who have made me laugh aloud.
  • Lafferty's first full-length work is an event. As with everything the man writes, the wind of imagination blows strongly, with the happy difference that in a novel he can reach full gale-force, Lafferty defies categorization; his work is unlike anyone else's. This is a great galloping madman of a novel, drenched in sound and color.
  • R. A. Lafferty, who died at 87 on March 18, was undoubtedly the finest writer of whatever it was that he did that ever there was. He was a genius, an oddball, a madman. His stories are without precedent...
  • And I love it as a reader. He [Robert Aickman] will bring on atmosphere. He will construct these perfect, dark, doomed little stories, what he called "strange stories." I find the same with Lafferty. We were talking about Lafferty earlier as somebody who I'd love to read. I am hoping someone will do the complete short stories of R.A. Lafferty. What is interesting is that when you read the early Lafferty, the closer he comes to what one might consider a normal story, the less successful he is ... And Lafferty is something played in an Irish bar on an instrument that you're not quite sure what it is and you're humming the tune but you don't remember the words as you walk out.
  • [In these stories, Lafferty mostly] seems to be writing about places that are not on the map but are real just the same. Lafferty was a traveler in his youth, and he may have glimpsed some of these places on the watery horizon; whether he was sober at the time is not the issue right now. ... [Lafferty] has a reading knowledge of all the languages of the Latin, German, and Slavic families, as well as Gaelic and Greek. The army sent him to Morotai, New Guinea and the Philippines, and at one time he could speak pretty good Passar Malay and Tagalog. He turned to writing about six years ago, as a substitute for serious drinking. The tavernkeepers weep while we rejoice: Lafferty's stories are full of a warm, Bacchic glow, recollected in sobriety — euphoria, comradeship, nostalgia, and the ever-renewed belief that something wonderful may happen.
    • Damon Knight, in the introduction to Lafferty in Orbit (1991)
  • The works of R. A. Lafferty (1914-2002) are not too far out be reviewed by an ordinary human being. However, one must reach into an awkwardly positioned dimension to lay hold of them.
  • [R. A. Lafferty] has to be the maddest, the most colorful, the most unexpected writer alive.
    • Theodore Sturgeon, quoted in the first edition of Does Anyone Else Have Something Further to Add?
  • R. A. Lafferty is unique, in the old, unspoiled sense of the word. A genius as wild and joyful, delightful and unpredictable as his comes along but once in a lifetime — this lifetime. Cherish him. If there were no Lafferty, we would lack the imagination to invent him.
  • It's an American classic.
    • Voice Literary Supplement on Okla Hannali
  • What special magic does Lafferty offer? The simple answer has always been his use of language. Well what of it — the field has many who can make a phrase sing or sing a phrase that's the thing. The true answer lies in that his stories sound like they're folk tales. Now I said something very precise there. Lafferty doesn't use the language of folktales, and only rarely uses their rhythm. But he lives so well within the langauge of his creation that his language — particularly in the combination of slightly archaic folk speech and outrageous etymologies for his words — sounds like language that some one has said somewhere. Yevgeny Zamyatin developed the concept of a "prose foot" as way of internal pacing of fiction. He saw it as a kind of rhythmic device that by causing the reader to remember an earlier part of the narrative became a force for a choral (as in pertaining to choruses) cohesion that bound the story together in a different way than plot mechanics. This method, which I can't detect in Zamyatin's works (since Russian is Greek to me) is the core of Lafferty's work. He has has invented the post-modern equivalent of the Homeric epithet.
  • No true reader who has read as much as a single story by Raphael Aloysius Lafferty needs to be told that he is our most original writer. ... Just about everything Lafferty writes is fun, is witty, is entertaining and playful. But it is not easy, for it is a mingling of allegory with myth, and of both with something more ... In fact, he may not be just ours, but the most original writer in the history of literature.
    • Gene Wolfe, in the introduction to Episodes of the Argo (1990), later published in Castle of Days (1995).
  • Lafferty has the power which sets fire behind your eyeballs. There is warmth, illumination, and a certain joy attendant upon the experience. He's good.
    • Roger Zelazny, in a cover blurb for Nine Hundred Grandmothers (1970)

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