The Golden Book of Springfield

The Golden Book of Springfield

Fiction.

Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) was the most intensely romantic U.S. poet of his generation, a Prairie State populist called by Harriet Monroe of Poetry the most gifted and original poet we have ever printed.

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Truthfully, very few modern readers are going to consider reading this flawed book and those that do (like myself) will be attracted to it by its surface details - man in 1918 writes book about Springfield, Illinois in 2018. The point of the exercise (visionary/religious cry for world peace through a patriotic lens) is even less likely to attract modern readers. Undeniably, the book has to acknowledge advancements and changes, but they serve mostly as minor, read-between-the-lines backdrop or the details of the "local politics" narrative (which appears to be the main point, until it is cast aside). In the minor arena, we get offhand mentions of "vacuum-cleaned streets" and "soot-eaters", little to no mention of cars (lots of healthy long walks) but personal airplanes are a thing (and a dispute over them leads to the nearly inconsequential "Flying Machine Riots"), there are what sound like high-powered bullet trains ("Corn Dragon Engines") and near-jet aircraft ("Dragon-Fly Flying Machines"), and despite a preponderance of "old school" styled military forces (horse-cavalry who parade wielding thin, flexible "Avanel Blade" swords) there *is* mention of the dangerous "lens gun" (which, reportedly, Singapore now has version "two steps beyond"). Onto that backdrop, we are given the narrative of the unnamed artist in Springfield, 2018, his romance with Avanel Boone, and his observations of the local political situation (Avanel is daughter of Black Hawk Boone - head of the powerful Board Of Education and opponent of corrupt mayor Kopensky, who is the underling of corrupt capitalist/manipulator/king-maker Dr. Mayo Sims and his entourage of lackeys). The local political conflicts (and their subterranean ties to the wily, scheming university professor "The Man From Singapore" - who may be named Kling - and his petulant, jealous, beautiful daughter Maya) take up a lot more of the book, but less as an important ongoing narrative (though it seems to be at the start) and more in a symbolic purpose as it allows a way of sketching the times and the moral/social conflicts of the situation. But saying it like that gives it more respect than it earns in the actual writing - you could just as easily say that Lindsay starts with the intention of sketching Springfield in 2018 through a number of characters, sets up the situation of these characters and gives us a focus figure, sketches the overly complicated situation, then quickly gets bored with the initial presumed conceit (a bunch of future character POVs), his focus character (the romance) and then even the local political conflict and decides that all the weight should fall on allegorical religious visions.

Like the aforementioned utopias of Wells, I can and have enjoyed vintage sci-fi and adventure despite these inherent issues of the times they were written. As a piece of "enlightened" mysticism that was supposed to change the world, I had a little bit of an issue with Lindsay's possible lack of self-awareness here. Though Singapore was only a Crown Colony at the time this book was written, Lindsay has the Malay island somehow buying up half the world by 2018, its power and wealth largely coming from its trade in cocaine. Ironically, Lindsay's fantasy about the rise of the future Singapore is prophetic. But the Singapore Lindsay knew in 1920 was certainly having problems with opium, which largely impacted and victimized its own population; whereas, cocaine was touted, applauded, and abused in the Western world by Popes, Presidents, and famous explorers, thinkers, and writers from largely South American sources. It is possible Lindsay wouldn't have known the difference between cocaine and opium anyway--but he certainly knew that, by 1920, Americans were wild about their good cocaine, and the Yellow Peril was a popular antagonist in film and literature at the time. And most baffling of all, you never really understand what's in the Golden Book or why Springfield is such an important center for all this mysticism and world struggle at all. And speaking of Springfield, the author clearly was obsessed with his hometown in an unnatural way, and the inspiration for much of this work seems to come from romanticizing legendary figures from Illinois history. I am not interested in a work with an ideology I completely support, nor do I want to spend time reading something I can agree with on every point, but I do expect just some consistency in the narrative and message.

  • English

  • Uncategorized

  • Rating: 2.93
  • Publish Date: January 1st 2000 by Charles Kerr
  • Isbn10: 0882862421
  • Isbn13: 9780882862422