Monday, April 22, 2019

The Passing of Greatness

Last week, Gene Wolfe passed away. While I have yet to familiarize myself thoroughly with his work, his mastery of English rhythm and breadth of vocabulary shown in The Shadow of the Torturer was impressive. In language, Wolfe wrote a fantasy version of Poul Anderson's "Uncleftish Beholding". but where Anderson's experiment was in Germanic English, Wolfe wrote his fantasy in vivid vernacular English--no slang, no loanwords beyond English's already established wanton thefts, and no neologisms. The effect is so glorious that my mere mechanical description diminishes the creativity and poetry of the novel. For that alone, a treasure has passed.

For others in the writing world, Wolfe's death hit hard. Brian Niemeier was one of the few to attend Wolfe's funeral:
If the public mourning for Mr. Wolfe lacked breadth, the outpouring of palpable grief and hope made up for it in depth. Everyone present was profoundly affected by the sight of the great man lying in repose in his American flag-draped casket. Snapshots of a long life well-lived with family and friends adorned a bulletin board nearby. 
Neil Gaiman was in attendance. He'd planned to come into town and say hello to his longtime friend that Wednesday. He ended up saying his final goodbyes instead. His presence clearly meant a lot to Mr. Wolfe's family. 
Mr. Gaiman is the last SFF rock star. He has enjoyed a level of notoriety that was largely denied to Mr. Wolfe due to circumstance, a fickle twist of fate, or an unready public. 
Neil's comment: "I'm not worthy to untie Gene's boots...He was the best of us." 
A simple funeral followed the visitation. The pastor of the Catholic parish my family belongs to presided. It wasn't a funeral Mass, but at least the mourners--many of whom probably hadn't set foot in a church in years--had the Word proclaimed to them and even got a brief lesson in Catholic sacramentality.
 Rest in Peace, Mr. Wolfe. And may your final witness bear fruit.


Also departed in the same week are Kazuhiko Kato, known better as the creator of Lupin III, Monkey Punch, and Kazou Koike, the writer of Lone Wolf and Cub, Mad Bull, and Crying Freeman. I have spent a short labor of love discussing Lupin III with enthusiasm, if not always with accuracy. Few artists have created a character as iconic as Lupin III; Kato shepherded his beloved character's popularity for fifty years. Meanwhile, not only did Koike find success with his own works, he created a college for manga artists and writers. Notable alumni include Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2, Inu-Yasha), Testuo Hara (Fist of the North Star), Hideyuki Kikuchi (Vampire Hunter D), and Yujii Hori (the Dragon Quest video game series).In a rare poetic grace offered by life, these two professional rivals passed within the same week.

The Greats, of which Wolfe, KAto, and Koike all are, are passing. Learn from them while you can.

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