Galapagos Regained Reviewed

Galapagos Regained by James Morrow

Review by Bill Ectric

Galapagos Regained Book Cover  James Morrow, Author                                                                                            James Morrow

James Morrow writes with a great sense of fun and wonder. In Galapagos Regained, he regales us with a surreal 1850s adventure that is equal parts historical fiction, metaphysical treatise, and Pirates of the Caribbean spree. Fictional characters interact with actual historical figures, including Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Gregor Mendel, Rosalind Franklin, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Samuel Wilberforce. The fact that some of these notable individuals were not contemporaries is resolved by a time/space anomaly, localized in a Turkish hookah den, which apparently acts as a hub for historical figures to weave in and out through swirling clouds of cannabis smoke.

The novels’ conflict revolves around a debate between Biblical Creationists and Scientific Evolutionists. The Percy Bysshe Shelley Society pledges a £10,000 award to anyone who can either prove or disprove the existence of God. Two competing groups embark on expeditions – one to Mount Ararat in search of Noah’s Ark to confirm the Genesis flood; the other to Galapagos, hoping to discredit the Genesis creation story with evidence of evolution. Morrow is a scientific humanist and a critic of the Church, but his satire is not unkind. He seems to understand the mindset of people on either side of the argument. Almost everyone in this novel, atheist or Christian, mystic or scientist, fictional or historical, is vividly human. For the most part, they are capable of civilized debates and peaceful coexistence. I say “for the most part” because anytime money and power are at stake, blood will be shed, and this exploit is no exception.

Morrow chose to write this book in a style reminiscent of 19th century authors, without sacrificing ease of readability, which helps to set the mood and is often quite entertaining. Chapters have titles like “The Pigeon Priest Moves From His Parsonage to a Madhouse, Even as Our Heroine Arranges to Circumnavigate a Continent,” and “Recruited into an Unlikely Army, Our Heroine Ponders the Doctrine of Just War and Savors the Virtues of Hallucinogenic Snuff.” The combination of style and subject matter triggered my memory of an M. R. James short story, “Two Doctors,” written in 1919, in which a doctor asks a minister if he believes in the existence of satyrs, given that those mythical creatures are mentioned in some versions of the Bible. The minister replies, “I am not seldom called abroad pretty late; but I have no mind of meeting a satyr in our Islington lanes in all the years I have been here; and if you have had the better luck, I am sure the Royal Society would be glad to know of it.”

At least one character in Galapagos Regained observes that neither the existence of an ark nor evidence of evolution can ultimately prove or disprove God’s existence. It is the twists and turns of the quest that make the book such a pleasure to read. There are strange encounters, a hot air balloon, high chicanery, romantic interludes, philosophical enigmas, and even a couple of mind-flips that reminded me of Philip K. Dick’s VALIS. Galapagos Regained is the best book I’ve read so far in 2015.

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Penny Dreadful: Edward Pettit on Varney the Vampire

Left: Front wrapper from the 1853 edition of Varney the Vampire; Right: The 2007 Zittaw Press edition

In his Book Reviews, Edward Pettit, The Philly Poe Guy, tells us, “Years ago I discovered Varney the Vampire, or the Feast of Blood, a penny dreadful from the Victorian age, the first full-length vampire novel in English (I’ve never discovered whether there were any vampire novels in other languages that predate it). My discovery was a three volume Arno Press edition, a facsimile of the original 1847 edition with a plethora of illustrations throughout the text.”

But Pettit found the print in that Arno Press edition difficult to read, being small and almost illegible in places.  “Happily,” he says, “Zittaw Press has published a new complete edition of Varney, edited by Curt Herr. 

Here is Pettit’s entire Review

Mysteries of London

 G. W. M. Reynolds  (July 23, 1814 – June 19, 1879) is not as famous today as Dickens or Thackery, but during his lifetime, he was arguably more popular. His serial The Mysteries of London (1844), sold 40,000 copies a week in installments known as “penny dreadfuls” before it was issued in bound volumes.

Wikipedia tells us, “The Mysteries of London and its sequel The Mysteries of the Court of London are among the seminal works of the Victorian ‘urban mysteries’ genre, a style of sensational fiction which adapted elements of the Gothic novel – with its haunted castles, innocent noble damsels in distress and nefarious villains – to produce stories which instead focussed on the shocks of life after the Industrial Revolution: the poverty, crime, and violence of a great metropolis, complete with detailed and often sympathetic descriptions of the lives of lower-class lawbreakers and extensive glossaries of thieves’ cant, all interwoven with a frank sexuality not usually found in popular fiction of the time. Although Reynolds was unusual in his religious skepticism (one of the main characters in The Mysteries of London was a clergyman turned libertine) and political radicalism, his tales were aimed squarely at the tastes of his mostly middle- and lower-class audience; they featured hump-backed dwarves, harridans and grave-robbers who groped past against a background of workhouses, jails, execution yards, thieves’ kitchens and cemeteries.”

You can read the entire text of Mysteries of London at the Victorian London web site.