Friday, March 6, 2015

R.I.P. J.B. Pick (1921-2015)

Though his passing six weeks ago seems to have been ignored by the London press, there are two fine obituaries of John Barclay Pick in the Scottish press, one in The Scotsman and the other in the Herald Scotsman.

Here I wish to praise two particular aspects of Pick's literary work. He was the first critic to champion the greatness of David Lindsay (1876-1945), and for his work on Lindsay we should all be very grateful. His first article on Lindsay appeared as long ago as 1951, and he had several important articles and introductions appear in the 1960s through the 1980s.  I think Pick's last writing on Lindsay appeared in his story of the metaphysical tradition in Scottish fiction, The Great Shadow House (1993), which contains two chapters on Lindsay, and which takes its title from a variant of a passage in chapter eighteen of the manuscript of Lindsay's The Witch, referring to the universe as "the vast shadow-house of earth and sky" (later referred to by Lindsay more simply as "the great shadow-house").

Besides Pick's work on Lindsay, I'd like to call attention to one of his novels, published in the UK as The Fat Valley (1959) and in the US as The Last Valley (1960).  Not only is it a fine and haunting novel set in the 1637-38 in southern Germany during the Thirty Years War, it is, as C.P. Snow suggested, "an excellent example of the historical novel used as a symbol of our present condition."  It has only a very slight literary tinge of Lindsay, but it shares its roots in each writer's dissatisfaction with reality. It was also made into a fine film, under the US book title, starring Michael Caine and Omar Sharif, directed by James Clavell, and released in 1970. It's well worth watching, a fine adaptation of the novel. 

I exchanged a few letters with Pick back in the early 1980s. He was very kind and helpful  to me, and in response to one of my queries about other writers whom I should read (besides Lindsay and Neil Gunn, about whom Pick had also written), he recommended John Cowper Powys, beginning for me another enthusiasm. I've felt grateful to him for many years. 

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