That is the title I’ve given to this picture (actual title unknown):
I found out about the writer (and artist, see above) Hannes Bok through Lin Carter’s book on the history of fantasy Imaginary Worlds. I’d bought that book to read during my seclusion in Wyoming last year because I was trying to enhance my “academic” background for all the SF&F reading that I do.
No, that’s not it. The reason I was reading it was because I am fascinated with critical studies and reviews, especially of genres that are typically on the fringe of those being critically studied and reviewed. Even more so, I’m fascinated by such studies and reviews that are written by authors in said genres (such as the glorious The Jewel-Hinged Jaw by Samuel R. Delany, Damon Knight’s In Search of Wonder, James Blish’s criticism written under the pseudonym William Atheling, Jr., and the book I have yet to read (having just received it) by Michael Moorcock titled Wizardy & Wild Romance).
Lin Carter’s book is not a very rigorous or even very critical study of fantasy, history or otherwise. And yet it is a wonderful resource for fantasy that you may have never heard of from the late 19th c. through the early 20th c. Some of that fantasy is deservedly unknown — the writing is poor and the characters weak and etc., etc. — but all of it is interesting when taken as a history, of each novel being a step in the evolution of the genre (evolution in this case meaning transformation rather than a “getter-better-ness”). For example, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land is amazing in so many ways — even if reading through the central part of the novel is a struggle — partly because of the way it is told, and partly because of the world Hodgson creates, so mysterious and epic and, well, reading just past the first chapter will show you why Lovecraft admired the book so much.
Hannes Bok’s The Sorcerer’s Ship is not a greatly written novel, but it has a lot that a student of fantasy can take from it. The world that Bok creates is deliberately small, almost minor in both scope and creative breadth (especially when he gets into describing the cities), but the way he approaches that world is what makes the book interesting. At various points he ends up trying to explicate what is going on, but the explanations provided simply make the story all the stranger.
Maybe that’s evident in his artistic work, such as the drawing above. The human sailor grounds the picture in some sort of reality, but what reality? Everything that is recognizable about the drawing makes the story its telling as a whole less comprehensible. And is that what I want out of writing? Incomprehension?
No, I want the wonder. I mean, how can you not look at the expressions on the man and the cat and not wonder? And that wonder, more so than any answer Bok could give us as to what they’re discussing, that’s what makes a story live.