About Great Books Guy


Star Trek TNG: Season 1, Episodes One and Two “Encounter at Farpoint Parts I & II”

Stardate: 41153.7
Original Air Date: September 27, 1987
Writer: DC Fontana and Gene Roddenberry
Director: Corey Allen

“Humanity is no longer a savage race!”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

By the late 1980s, there had been no new episodes of Star Trek for some two decades in spite of a highly successful run during syndication as well as a brief but slightly mediocre animated series in the 1970s. A reboot series entitled Star Trek: Phase II was announced in the late 1970s, however it ultimately failed to launch. Then, after four successful motion pictures, the return of live-action Star Trek to television finally came in 1987 with The Next Generation, a show featuring an all-new crew plus many of the original creatives, especially creator Gene Roddenberry, writer DC Fontana, and producer Robert Justman. This show was to be distinct from its predecessor in many ways, but perhaps the starkest difference is its context. While the original series was shot in the 1960s, with all manner of social commentary on the Cold War, American Imperialism, racism, the Vietnam War, youth culture and so on, The Next Generation was to be a show for a decidedly post-Cold War audience, yet one which nevertheless still retains many of the optimistic science fiction themes of the original series.         

Before Star Trek: The Next Generation was given the chance to grow and flourish into the beloved science fiction series many fans came to know, its early seasons were often beset by tumult behind the scenes. Apparently, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry attempted to rule the show like a tyrant (in part as a response to him being cut out of the movies) so he instituted a variety of rigid rules –including the infamous screenwriting injunction that none of the crewmen could face interpersonal conflicts. At the time, Roddenberry was suffering from declining health, and many of the actors found the set intense, while writers were frustrated with various roadblocks put in their way. With that being said, I still enjoy many of these early episodes and thankfully Star Trek: The Next Generation has endured. Today, many viewers regard it as one of the best science fiction shows ever made –and rightly so.  

Below is a terse list of the key members of The Next Generation crew:

  • Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the dutiful, gentlemanly captain of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D (or simply “Enterprise-D”).
    • Jean-Luc Picard is played by Patrick Stewart (1940-present), a celebrated Royal Shakespearean actor who apparently lived out of his suitcase during early filming for TNG because he was a bit skeptical of how successful the show would actually become (Gene Roddenberry was also hesitant about initially hiring Patrick Stewart because he wanted a more traditionally “masculine” actor to portray the captain). Stewart was a bit stiff as a cast member at first, but some of the other actors helped to loosen up his stuffy sense of austere professionalism, while Stewart served as a model of excellence and an advocate for other cast members. Post-Star Trek, Patrick Stewart has appeared in many popular Hollywood films like the X-Men series. He married three times and has two children. He was married from 2000-2003 to Wendy Neuss (his second wife), a Star Trek TNG producer. He is also a close friend of fellow X-Men actor, Ian McKellan, who officiated his third wedding
  • Commander William Riker(“Number One”), the first officer aboard the Enterprise-D.
    • William Riker is played by Jonathan Frakes (1952-present) an actor and film director (after the end of Star Trek TNG he directed two of the TNG films, including First Contact and Insurrection). Formerly a resident of Maine, he and his wife and two children relocated to California in 2008.   
  • Lieutenant Geordi La Forge, a blind helmsman aboard the Enterprise-D during Season 1, but the chief engineer for the rest of the series. Despite being blind since birth, Geordi wears a prosthetic VISOR to assist his “sight.”
    • Geordi La Forge is played by Levar Burton (1957-present), an actor who appeared in other noteworthy programs like Roots and the PBS children’s show Reading Rainbow. He and his wife have two children and reside in Sherman Oaks, CA. In his youth, he made the courageous decision to step away from seminary and organized religion more broadly. He has directed a variety of different Star Trek episodes spanning multiple series, more than any other cast member.  
  • Lieutenant Commander Data, a synthetic life form with artificial intelligence and sentience who is an anatomically fully functional android. He is the second officer and chief operations officer aboard the Enterprise-D.
    • Data is played by Brent Spiner (1949-present), a theater, television, and film actor as well as a musician. In 2021, he published a memoir which also doubled as a fictitious noir-esque detective story regarding a crazed, murderous fan claiming to be “Lal,” the android daughter of Data as featured in the third season episode “The Offspring.” He and his wife have one child.  
  • Lieutenant Worf, a Klingon warrior in Starfleet leader aboard the Enterprise-D.
    • Worf is played by Michael Dorn (1952-present), an actor who has appeared in a variety of television shows and movies (his first film appearance was in 1976’s Rocky as Apollo Creed’s bodyguard). He is also an accomplished pilot and it appears he does not have any children.     
  • Lieutenant Natasha “Tasha” Yar, chief of security aboard the USS Enterprise-D. The character’s concept was based upon the character of Vasquez from the film Aliens (1986).
    • Tasha Yar is played by Denise Crosby (1957-present), granddaughter of world-famous crooner Bing Crosby (whom she sadly never met). She was born out of wedlock into a fractured family and an absentee father. In adulthood, she embarked on a modeling career (posing nude for Playboy in 1979) before becoming an actor, appearing in shows like Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and The X-Files among others. Crosby married Geoffrey Edwards, son of the famous film director Blake Edwards, and then appeared in a string of her father-in-law’s films including Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther (both following the death of Peter Sellers). She and Edwards separated in 1990 and later remarried Ken Sylk and they had one son together. Crosby has described her experience on Star Trek TNG as “miserable” during the first season, and after twenty-two episodes she became the first Star Trek actor to request that her character be killed off (in “Skin of Evil” near the end of Season 1), though she later returned as both Tasha Yar and a character called Sela. She was apparently frustrated that her character, Tasha Yar, lacked depth and she feared turning into Uhura, saying only “aye, aye, captain” for years to come. The character of Tasha Yar later became the inspiration for other notable female science fiction characters, like Kara Thrace in the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica.  
  • Counselor/Lieutenant Commander Deanna Troi, a half-human, half-Betazoid with the acute ability to sense emotions, and with a romantic past linked to William Riker. Her father was a Starfleet officer.
    • Deanna Troi is played by Marina Sirtis (1955-present), an actor born in London who emigrated to Los Angeles. In 1992, she married an actor and rock guitarist named Michael Lamper. Tragically, he died in his sleep in 2019 and Sirtis emigrated back to London at that time citing his death, growing tensions in the United States, and a desire to pursue a career in the British film and television industry. She does not have children.    
  • Dr. Beverly Crusher, chief medical officer aboard the Enterprise-D. She is a widow whose husband passed away amidst tragic circumstances and she has one son, Wesley “Wes” Crusher (Wil Wheaton).  
    • Dr. Crusher is played by Gates McFadden (1949-present), a television, film, and theatre actor and choreographer. She has one son (Brent Spiner is actually her son’s godfather). During the fourth season of TNG, she wore a laboratory coat as a uniform to conceal her pregnancy.
    • Wes is played by Wil Wheaton (1972-present), an actor, gamer, comedian, audiobook narrator, and writer who has appeared in a variety of television programs and films. He was tragically forced into acting at a young age by his “abusive” parents (who are strongly politically conservative, whereas Wheaton has been a self-proclaimed moderate or liberal). He resides in Arcadia, CA with his wife and her two children from a previous relationship (Wheaton legally adopted both children). He has been open about his struggles with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and alcoholism.   

It is the 24th century, 78 years after the events of the original series (the 2360s to 2370s). A newly constructed starship known as the Enterprise-D (a “galaxy class starship”) is set to embark on its maiden voyage under the nascent command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The Enterprise is sent to Deneb IV, homeworld of the Bandi people and beyond which lies the great unexplored mass of the galaxy. The Bandi have offered their remote outpost known as “Farpoint Station” to Starfleet, however before it can be accepted, the station is in need of inspection. In his inaugural captain’s log, Picard notes that the Enterprise is currently short-staffed, missing a variety of key positions, including its first officer, a role which will be filled by Commander William Riker who is scheduled to meet them at Deneb IV.

Suddenly, Counselor Troi senses a strange presence (“a powerful mind”) and an expansive grid appears before the ship (it is somewhat reminiscent of the “Tholian Web” which appears in the second season of TOS). Then a hostile omnipotent alien entity known as Q appears on the Bridge (John de Lancie). Donning several different visages, including garb from the 16th century and an American military officer’s outfit from the 1950s, Q demands that the Enterprise turn around because humans are excessively violent and have ventured too far into space. “Thou art notified that thou kind have infiltrated the galaxy too far… return to thine own solar system.” He asks that Picard and crew answer for centuries of human capriciousness: “…and 400 years before that you were murdering each other in tribal god images.”

When Q disappears, the Enterprise attempts to flee the situation. Picard orders that the saucer module be separated from the rest of the ship in order to protect the lives of the families and citizens of the Federation who are aboard. Picard transfers command to the “Battle Bridge” on the stardrive section. Meanwhile, the powerful energy force of Q (in the form of a bubble-like orb hurtling through space) catches up with the separated section of the Enterprise. Q then transports Picard and others into a mock Grand Inquisitor scenario (which Counselor notes is curiously not a dream or a simulation). It is an odd trial featuring a rowdy cohort of people who look like Mongolians, apparently it is reminiscent of a “mid-21st century” trial (there was some sort of nuclear holocaust in the 21st century –a “post atomic horror”). While serving as the presiding judge, Q accuses humanity of being a “grievously savage race.” In the course of the trial, which presents an amusing dialectic between Picard and Q, Picard requests the chance for he and his crew to prove themselves, a challenge which Q readily accepts.     

Meanwhile, the USS Hood drops Commander William Riker at FarPoint Station where he meets future crew members: Dr. Crusher, her son Wes, and Geordi La Forge. He also meets the Bandi administrator of Farpoint Station, Groppler Zorn (Michael Bell), who mentions that if Starfleet does not accept the station, Farpoint will be forced to seek an alliance with the Ferengi. It quickly becomes apparent that something strange is happening at Farpoint Station, especially after Riker asks for an apple and it suddenly appears. A similarly unusual event occurs with Dr. Crusher while she is shopping for a gold-patterned fabric.

When Riker beams aboard the Enterprise, he is greeted mostly by cold, antagonism from Captain Picard who issues a test for Riker to manually reattach the saucer to the stardrive section (he passes with flying colors in an inspiring scene reminiscent of Star Trek: The Motion Picture). We are also treated to a beautiful scene of pure nostalgia for fans –Data transports an unnamed Admiral to the USS Hood via a shuttlecraft. It turns out to be an elderly 137-year-old Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. While cantankerously grumbling about Vulcans, Bones remarks, “Well this is a new ship, but she’s got the right name… You treat her like a lady. And she’ll always bring you home” as he walks off into the distance with Data. This was DeForest Kelley’s final onscreen performance. Picard bids Bones farewell with a fond message: “Bon voyage, mon ami” but then Q reappears and delivers a 24-hour ultimatum for the Enterprise to prove itself under some critical test at Farpoint Station.

As the strange mystery of Farpoint Station unfolds, it becomes apparent that the station is harnessing geothermal energy, and that it was constructed rapidly by unknown means. Its technology is extraordinarily advanced, unrecognizable to Starfleet officers. Suddenly, there is a “perimeter alert” and an unknown saucer-shaped vessel arrives (it is twelve times the volume of the Enterprise). Despite several attempts, the vessel is unresponsive to outreach. While Q pushes Picard to confront the unknown vessel with violence, Picard decides to peacefully solve the mystery. As it turns out, the unknown vessel is actually a living creature (like a giant “space jellyfish”). It promptly attacks the station on the planet surface below and kidnaps Groppler Zorn. We learn that Groppler Zorn and the Bandi have been hiding a secret –they once captured one of these “space jellyfish” only to discover that it possesses immense power –it can convert energy into matter. This is how the Bandi managed to construct Farpoint Station so quickly and so effectively: by harnessing the energy of this imprisoned creature which, in effect, became Farpoint Station. Meanwhile the other vessel, or “space jellyfish,” has arrived to merely rescue and retrieve its imprisoned mate. Thus, Picard delivers the evacuation order for Farpoint Station and then fires an energy beam downward which releases the entrapped “space jellyfish” from captivity, allowing it to return to its partner (one is blue, the other is pink). As the two “space jellyfish” float away together, Counselor Troi senses a feeling of “great joy and gratitude.”

Since the Enterprise has passed the test, Q then reluctantly leaves the Enterprise but he “will not promise never to appear again.” Picard then instructs Farpoint Station to be rebuilt and speaks with his new first officer as the episode concludes:

Riker: “Just hoping this isn’t the usual way our missions will go.”
Picard: “Oh no, number one, I’m sure most will be much more interesting. Let’s see what’s out there… Engage!”

My Thoughts on “Encounter at Farpoint”

I was a bit dismayed to learn that many Trekkies/Trekkers regard “Encounter At Farpoint” a relatively lackluster introduction to the show. In contrast, I had a lot of fun with this episode. To be fair, it is a bit clunky and rough around the edges –indeed many of the characters seem cold and distant from one another, and often unnecessarily surly and stern for reasons unknown. Obviously, there was quite a lot of tension going on behind the scenes and, in many ways, this dual episode represents two scripts smashed together to extend the episode’s runtime (DC Fontana’s Farpoint Station narrative and Roddenberry’s Q narrative), but I still loved it –everything from the reveal of the holodeck to a surprise cameo by everyone’s favorite country doctor. In this episode, the new crew of the Enterprise-D is introduced in an exciting manner as we are whisked away to a mysterious outpost, asked to solve a hidden secret, and we are given the first appearance of Q (a character who closely resemble Trelane from “The Squire of Gothos” in the original series). I find myself both intrigued and puzzled by the character of Q –who is he and what does he want? Why does he test humanity for moral weakness? Will he ever use his godlike powers for good, or is he a-moral? Will he ever be proven correct in that humanity will eventually show itself to be a “savage race”?

In addition to Q, there are several other compelling character threads, including the mysterious past “Imzadi” relationship between Commander Riker and Counselor Troi, as well as the shadowy past of Picard and Dr. Crusher (and, by extension, her son Wesley). And along those lines I am still a bit befuddled about Picard’s odd remark to Riker that children make him uncomfortable and he is not a “family man.” Perhaps this was added to build a potential fatherly narrative arc between Picard and Wesley, as well as a rekindled romance between Picard and Dr. Crusher. At any rate, “Encounter at Farpoint” managed to evoke a sense of wonder and awe in me.     


As has been well documented elsewhere, tensions were high behind the scenes of Star Trek TNG in these early seasons. It was Paramount who demanded that Roddenberry create a 2-hour double episode, however Roddenberry only wanted to make a 1-hour episode. They compromised with a 90-minute episode (but only after Paramount executives threatened to toss Roddenberry off the lot). This confusion left Fontana and Roddenberry with a haphazard writing project ahead of them. DC Fontana’s original working title for this episode was “Meeting at Farpoint” while Roddenberry added in the Q subplot.   

Director Corey Allen (1934-2010) was an actor and director. He played the role of Buzz Gunderson in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). His father was Carl Cohen, a Las Vegas casino industry magnate. In total, Corey Allen directed five Star Trek TNG episodes and four Star Trek DS9 episodes, among numerous other television shows. He died in 2010.    

Star Trek Trivia:

  • The planet Deneb IV is mentioned in the classic Season 1 episode of Star Trek TOS “Where No man Has Gone Before,” wherein Captain Kirk states that he has been worried about a colleague, Gary Mitchell, “ever since that night on Deneb IV.”
  • John de Lancie (1948-present) plays Q in this episode. He has continued to reprise his celebrated role of Q in many other Star Trek episodes. John de Lancie is a Shakespearean stage and screen actor who has been involved in a variety of intriguing projects over the years. He co-wrote the Star Trek novel I, Q with Peter David, along with several other Star Trek books and audiobooks. He has narrated for various major orchestras and has also appeared as a voice actor in a number of television shows and video games. He is also an accomplished sailor, and a celebrated secular activist and humanist. He and his wife have two sons.   
  • This episode features the first moment in which Captain Picard uses the term “engage!”
  • In this episode, Q uses the power of “freezing” against at least two Enterprise crewmen.
  • At one point in this episode, Picard interrogates Commander Riker about a past instance wherein the USS Hood visited Altair III and Riker refused to allow Captain Robert DeSoto onto the planet’s surface because it was too dangerous.    
  • Geordi’s VISOR appliance is described as a “remarkable piece of bio-electronic engineering” by which he “sees” much of the EM spectrum ranging from simple heat and infrared to radio waves. It is also noted that the VISOR causes him some mild pain, though he declines painkillers and rejects exploratory surgery to correct his vision.
  • When Wesley Crusher visits the bridge of the Enterprise, Picard explains that the panel on the right of the captain’s chair is used for log entries, library computer access retrieval, view screen control, and intercom and so on. The panel on the left contains the back-up conn and ops panels plus shield and armament controls. The forward view screen is controlled from the ops position (the view screen uses high-resolution, multi-spectral imaging sensors.
  • During the introduction of the holodeck, Data whistles the song “Pop goes the Weasel.”
  • The first appearance of the holodeck is a “woodland pattern” which is a duplicate of earth, based on the transporter technology, and the holodeck has thousands more patterns.
  • We learn that Picard was previously a first officer.
  • During the trial scene, it is revealed that in the year 2036 earth declared that no citizen could be held accountable for the whole of the human race.
  • The term “Imzadi” is first used in this episode to denote the relationship between Counselor Troi and Commander Riker (Imzadi means something akin to “soulmate”). The widely popular novel Imzadi takes place before the show and examines the relationship between Troi and Riker.
  • Data says he is “superior in many ways” to Riker, though he would “gladly give it up to be human.”
  • There is an odd scene in this episode in which Data is confused about the meaning of the word “snoop.”
  • During one brief but memorable moment in this episode, Dr. Crusher explains to her son Wesley that travelers like Captain Picard have no time for a family. As she does so, she gazes off into the distance as if to recall a tragic memory. But the moment quickly passes. Later, Picard also says he is “not a family man.”
  • It is revealed that Galaxy class starships computers, like the one aboard the Enterprise-D, have the ability locate anyone aboard the Enterprise.
  • This episode introduces the idea that the saucer section can separate itself from the rest of the ship. The effect is used only three more times in the TNG series, as well as in the film Star Trek Generations.
  • The cameo by “Admiral McCoy” was DeForest Kelley’s final television appearance before his death in 1999. He said it was an honor to have been invited, and he requested nothing more than the minimum pay.
  • Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part II is quoted in the trial scene (“Kill all lawyers”).
  • Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry named Captain Picard for (one or both of) the twin brothers Auguste Piccard and Jean Piccard, both 20th-century Swiss scientists. Jean-Luc Picard was originally set to be named “Julien Picard.”
  • Tasha Yar’s original working name was “Macha Hernandez” and then “Tanya.” Her surname was suggested by Robert Lewin, who drew inspiration from the Babi Yar atrocities in Ukraine during World War II.
  • The chairs aboard the Enterprise appear noticeably reclined in this episode. They are changed in later seasons.
  • This episode gives the first mention of Ferengi Alliance in Star Trek.
  • Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderfully triumphant score for Star Trek TNG was taken from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
  • Gene Roddenberry initially wanted Deanna Troi to have four breasts. Thankfully this was scrapped due to Roddenberry’s wife and DC Fontana disregarding the idea (though a three-breasted alien appears in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier a la Total Recall).
  • Michael Bell (1938-present) played Groppler Zorn in this episode. He has appeared in numerous television shows and lent his voice to various cartoons and video games. He is married to Victoria Bell, an actress, and they have one daughter, Ashley Bell, also an actress. Michael Bell has developed a reputation over the years for his union activism in Hollywood.

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

The Papacy: The End of Hohenstaufen and the Last of the Crusades (1216-1303)

The demise of Pope Innocent III struck the papacy like an anvil. Two days after the pope’s death, the cardinals all met and elected a new pope, an “elderly and frail” man who took the name of Honorius III. Descending from an aristocratic Roman family who served for many years among the Curia, his true name was Cardinal Cencio Savelli. As his first act, the pope sought to continue his predecessor’s plan for a Crusade. In order to do so, he quickly began pursuing a diplomatic balance between France, England, and Aragon –the pope dissuaded Philip Augustus from invading England in the wake of King John’s bungled foibles, and he also helped John’s son, Henry, ascend to the throne of England in 1216.

The Fifth and Sixth Crusades

Predictably, a Fifth Crusade proved as silly and incompetent as the Second, Third, and Fourth Crusades. It sought to capture the Egyptian city of Damietta in the hopes of negotiating an exchange for Jerusalem. However, the crusade was plagued by months of delays, and a feud over command of the armies between John of Brienne (titular King of Jerusalem) and the papal contingent under the Spanish Cardinal Pelagius of Santa Lucia. After some seventeen months of bombardment, Sultan Malik al-Kamil desperately offered the whole kingdom west of the Jordan to the invaders, but it was, however, foolishly refused. Pelagius pressed onward for several more years, hoping to conquer all of Egypt, but the Crusaders were soon trapped by flooding of the Nile which forced them to surrender. “The Crusade, so nearly a success, had been yet another disaster, thanks entirely to the pigheadedness of its leader” (182).  

Pope Honorius blamed the failure on Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II who declined to participate in the invasion for reasons unknown. While the pope was naturally eager to launch a sixth crusade in order to save face, led by a reluctant Frederick II, in 1222 Frederick’s wife, Empress Constance suddenly died. In her wake, an offer of marriage was made to Frederick by twelve-year-old Yolande de Brienne (“Isabella II”), the hereditary queen of Jerusalem. Despite her penniless claim to Jerusalem, which had by now been ruled by the Saracens for nearly a half century, Frederick relented and accepted the marriage. Thus, a new Crusade was urged by Pope Honorius to leave no later than Ascension Day, May 20, 1227. Any delays would result in the excommunication of the Holy Roman Emperor. This political maneuvering set in motion a series of events which angered John de Brienne after being informed he would lose his regency of Jerusalem. He was also angered at Frederick’s apparent seduction of Yolande’s cousin. Yolande was later kept under house arrest by Frederick. She gave birth to a child who died in infancy and she then died from complications related to childbirth after delivering a second child (a grave tragedy suffered by many women in those days). In addition to these woes, Frederick’s refusal to acknowledge papal authority over lands in Northern and Central Italy led to a feud between pope and emperor which hung on the edge of a knife.

Things were further complicated by the death of Pope Honorius in 1227 who was succeeded by Cardinal Ugolino of Ostia (he took the name of “Pope Gregory IX”). An elderly man in his seventies, who was unlikely to be friendly to Frederick’s machinations. In fact, Gregory IX despised Frederick II whose debauched lifestyle had now become the stuff of legend. Things came to a head when Frederick and his Germanic forces embarked on the Sixth Crusade, however an epidemic struck the troops, killing many and even infecting Frederick himself. At the last moment, he returned to the mainland but he was not accepted by Pope Gregory who accused the emperor of walking back his promise. On September 29, he excommunicated Frederick II. However, Frederick outplayed Gregory –he published a letter encouraging commitment to the cause and tolerance. And so, when the pope began to launch into another fiery tirade against the emperor on Easter Sunday 1228, there were riots in Rome, forcing the pope to seek refuge in Viterbo where he promptly excommunicated Frederick II, the first of several such excommunications. However, the pope’s flight was still a setback for papal prestige, it was an event that would take a great deal of time to overcome.

Nevertheless, Frederick returned to pursue Jerusalem for the Sixth Crusade. Under the auspices of a potential treaty resulting from the feud between brothers Sultan al-Kamil and al-Mu’azzam, Frederick proceeded to the Holy Land. But after the unexpected death of al-Mu’azzam, Frederick managed to secure a tenuous ten-year peace in Jerusalem from al-Kami. It was a bloodless conquest of the city, and then in open defiance of a papal ban, Frederick attended mass wearing his crown at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1229. However, rather than greeting this qualified victory with celebration, the Sixth Crusade was instead met with indignant outrage –Christians felt Frederick had colluded with the Sultan of Egypt, while the livid Eastern Patriarch of Jerusalem put the entire city under interdict. Church services were prohibited, pilgrims were turned away from the city, and local barons wondered why they were not consulted about this massive sea-change. The final straw came when rumors spread of Frederick’s fascination with Islam –he was fluent in Arabic and he openly visited a variety of sacred Muslim sites in the city, rubbing shoulders with both clerics and sultans. Needless to say, this did not sit well in Christendom. A violent Christian rebellion spilled out into the streets of Jerusalem, and the Templars attacked Frederick’s contingent as it moved through the city, forcing him to flee while pelted with food and garbage. Upon returning to his homeland, following only a brief stop in Cyprus, he arrived to find his kingdom in chaos. Pope Gregory had launched a war against Frederick’s territories –installing a puppet emperor (Otto of Brunswick) in Germany, and sending armies to Southern Italy and Sicily while spreading rumors of Frederick’s death. The pope also issued an edict which released all the emperor’s subjects from their oaths of allegiance. It was an open civil war between church and state. In time, Frederick’s triumphant return restabilized the crisis in Southern Italy, and after a long, grueling series of negotiations, Frederick finally accepted a peace treaty with the pope in 1230 in exchange for lifting his status as an excommunicate. For now, the tempestuous relationship between pope and emperor, which had so ceaselessly roiled medieval Europe, was brought to heel.

For nine years, the uneasy peace was kept –Emperor Frederick II would send aid to put down uprisings in Rome, while Pope Gregory IX would smooth over the clerics of Lombardy if theological disagreements proved too great. But once Gregory failed to assuage the Lombards, Frederick decided to call upon the German princes to smash the Lombards, a tactical move which was considered threatening to the papacy. After all, what was to stop Frederick from invading Rome if he had stampeded through Northern Italy? The peace quickly deteriorated, and Frederick was once again excommunicated as his forces marched on Rome, surrounding the city, blocking all entry by land or sea. By now, Gregory was in his late eighties, struggling with kidney disease, and his death came imminently on August 22, 1241. With the aging pope now gone, Frederick returned to Germany, claiming his quarrel was not with the church, but rather with a maniacal pope.

Aside from his public spats with the Holy Roman Emperor, Gregory IX is often remembered today for instituting the Papal Inquisition for prosecuting “heresy” (the first of many such brutal Inquisitions) and for publishing the Liber Extra in 1234, the first complete collection of papal decretals which was canonized by the church for centuries until the early 20th century. Among the many decretals was the doctrine of perpetua servitus iudaeorum (or “perpetual servitude of the Jews”), which decreed that all Jews were condemned to political servitude throughout Christendom as well as in the Holy Roman Empire. This led to centuries of utterly abhorrent treatment of Jews throughout Europe leading up until the 19th century and the rise of liberalism. Powerful echoes of this disgraceful legacy continue even into the present-day.

At any rate, Pope Gregory IX was succeeded by the aged and frail Celestine IV who had served only seventeen days as head of the church before dying prior to his own coronation. The next pope was to be the Genoese Cardinal Sinibaldo Fieschi who became Pope Innocent IV in June 1243. Within two years, Innocent IV convened a General Council at Lyons and formally deposed Frederick, but the name Hohenstaufen simply would not fade out of German memory. In desperation, Innocent IV sought to bribe numerous German princes to support his anti-kings, however the papal coffers were nearly empty and creditors were lining up demanding payment for his predecessor Gregory IX’s foolish ventures abroad. Then in 1250, Frederick was stricken with dysentery while on a hunting trip in Apulia. He died a few days later at the age of fifty-five. His body was taken to Palermo Cathedral where he was buried inside the sarcophagus of his grandfather the Norman King of Sicily, Roger II. In spite of his death, superstitious rumors and conspiracies spread like wildfire that Frederick was still alive merely hiding out in the mountains, waiting for the right moment to reclaim his throne.  

The Decline of the Hohenstaufen

The death of Frederick II left the Holy Roman Empire in the hands of Frederick’s children (both legitimate and illegitimate), and the death of Innocent IV in 1254 also hailed a new pope, Alexander IV, one whom many hopes would reconquer Italy from Frederick’s heirs, but the “easygoing and ineffectual” Alexander died in 1261 with little to show. After months of inconclusive deliberations, the cardinals selected an outsider –the son of a cobbler named Jacques Pantaleon, Patriarch of Jerusalem, who took the papal name of Urban IV (John Julius Norwich describes Urban IV as a “cold, cruel, and vastly ambitious opportunist”). Through some clever maneuvering, Urban IV sought to exploit the wealthy brother of King Louis IX of France, Charles of Anjou, in pursuit of Southern Italy and Sicily (during this whole period, neither Urban IV nor his successor Clement IV ever set foot in Rome out of fear for their lives). Charles’s troops came down hard and ultimately annihilated Frederick’s shadow over the south. Echoes of the Hohenstaufen attempted to regain what was lost, such as the teenaged Conradin’s bloody invasion of Italy but this only ended with his capture and public beheading in 1268. This was the end of the Hohenstaufen dynasty.  

However, since an imperialist is rarely satisfied with his own lands, Charles of Anjou sought to expand his empire across the Italian peninsula, hoping to place a puppet pope in power, and reconquer Constantinople in order to return it to the Latin faith, all while seeking an expansive Christian empire stretching across the Mediterranean. His ambitions proved to be a greater threat to the papacy than Frederick II.

Meanwhile, turnover continued among the enfeebled, senile papacy. Pope Urban IV served three years on the throne before passing in 1264, and he was followed by Clement IV who also served three years before passing in 1268. With Charles’s influence, the cardinals were deadlocked for a three-year Interregnum where there was no pope on the throne of St. Peter until they hastily selected Tedaldo Visconti, Archdeacon of Liege, who took the name of Gregory X, a pope who managed to institute a temporary union between east and west with the Council of Lyons in 1274. But by 1281, four more popes had come and gone until Charles finally was granted his chosen pope: a Frenchman named Simon de Brie who became Pope Martin IV. The new pope allowed Charles to launch an invasion of Constantinople (the Greeks had recovered the city from the Franks only twenty years earlier in 1282). However, the full-scale invasion of Byzantium was prevented when an uprising broke out in Palermo. Tumult in Sicily continued to threaten Charles’s rule and he died some twenty years later. “Martin had promptly proclaimed a Crusade against the Aragonese, but nobody took it very seriously; and it was a sad and disappointed pontiff who –having in March 1285 dined too well on milk-fed eels from Lake Bolsena—followed his friend Charles to the grave” (195).

John Julius Norwich notes that the “principal task of the next two popes was to expel the House of Aragon from South Italy and to restore that of Anjou” (196). The first was Honorius IV, a seventy-five-year-old Roman from a distinguished family who was suffering from gout in his old age which prevented him from mobility (he could neither stand up by himself, nor raise his own arms without aid). He reigned for a meager two years before passing, and this led to another gap year in the papacy after which the cardinals returned and elected the first Franciscan pope in 1288 –Girolamo Masci who took the name of Pope Nicholas IV. However, Nicholas’s efforts in Sicily only resulted in more failure, and he also lost the lands won by Crusaders in Jerusalem, the city of Acre (the de facto capital of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem) which fell to the Mamluk Sultan Qalawun in 1291. By now, the city had devolved into infighting, and “from its beginnings it had been a monument to intolerance and territorial ambition, its story one of steady physical and moral decline accompanied by monumental incompetence” (196).

Following Nicholas’s death in 1292, the twelve humble surviving cardinals who did not succumb to the plague which was raging at the time, deliberated from some twenty-seven months before picking “one of the most unsuitable men” to ever become pope –Pietro da Morrone who took the name of Celestine V, an eighty-five-year-old hermetic peasant who, upon learning of his appointment, faced a panic attack at his remote hermitage in Abruzzi. After a prolonged period of prayer, he reluctantly accepted his new role. This delicate, agonized old man served mostly as the political stooge of Charles II. He took up residence in a tiny wooden cell, refusing to see his cardinals, whose worldliness and sophistication utterly terrified him. He mostly ignored the duties of the papacy –political, diplomatic, and administrative—and could not even speak Latin. He lasted a mere five months before abdicating his position (spurred on by Cardinal Benedetto Caetani who may have installed a speaking tube into the pope’s cell through which the conniving cardinal imitated the voice of God condemning hellfire if the pope did not abdicate), leaving the papacy a mockery as he returned in rags to his beloved mountain hermitage. He was later caricatured by Dante in The Inferno as a cowardly figure, even though he was just a simple hermit who was unfit for the politics of governing an imperial theocracy.

Unsurprisingly, Cardinal Benedetto Caetini who took the name of Boniface VIII, was “by far the most able, the most strong-willed, and the most ambitious.” Born in Anagni to an aristocratic well-connected family, Boniface VIII was in his early sixties when he ascended to the papacy. His first act was to orchestrate a vast procession into Rome with his predecessor, Celestine (much to the former pope’s horror), due to his popularity among the faithful. A chase was ordered to locate Celestine and it took some time, but the aging hermit was soon captured at which time he uttered his famous prophecy of Boniface VIII: “You have entered like a fox, you will reign like a lion –and you will die like a dog.” Boniface responded by imprisoning Celestine in a remote castle at Fumone where the former pope died ten months later at the age of ninety.

Pope Boniface VIII was unlike his predecessor in every way –worldly, scholarly, erudite, and political. He founded the Sapienza University in Rome, codified canon law, and reinstituted the Vaitan Library and Archives. However, while he succeeded as a strong-willed governor (an office which was badly needed if the papacy was to survive), Boniface lacked the more tender, spiritual, and otherworldly concerns of the Christian faith. His vision of papal supremacy was to be extended over the emerging nations of Europe.

He declared that the year 1300 was a “Holy Year” in which pardons were to be granted for all Christians who visited the sacred sites of St. Peter’s or the Lateran. As a result, some 200,000 pilgrims descended upon Rome, greatly enriching the city and elevating the pope’s prestige. One such pilgrim was none other than the famed Italian poet Dante (he later satirized the hellish crowds he experienced at Ponte Sant’Angelo in The Inferno). However, there few if any crowns among the hordes in Rome that year. Boniface had successfully alienated a great many –including King Charles and Edward I of England when the pope claimed Scotland as a papal fiefdom, as well as political foibles in Poland and Hungary, but perhaps his most notorious enemy was the French king, Philip the Fair, with whom the pope sparred over taxation (which served as the prelude to the Hundred Years War) and he expanded the notion of “Papal Absolutism” across all peoples. Boniface’s troubles continued to mount when he lost the support of various constituencies, like the Colonna family and the Fraticelli (a Franciscan branch which believed strongly in the values of poverty and asceticism). The pope was accused of every sin imaginable –like idolatry (resulting from all the statues he erected of himself), as well as simony, avarice, and even pedophilia. These rumors among the peasants were only all-too easily exploited by powerful interests in the halls of Boniface’s many enemies, especially in France. “Within three or four years of his accession, Boniface VIII was probably the most widely detested pope there had ever been” (200). Before the pope could excommunicate King Philip of France, he was briefly captured in Anagni during a failed kidnapping plot that was only stopped in order to prevent the outbreak of a violent bloodbath. About a month later, Boniface returned to Rome where he died on October 12, 1303. Today, Pope Boniface VIII is often infamously remembered as the pope who was placed upside down in a furnace inside Dante’s eighth circle of hell.    

For this reading I used John Julius Norwich’s 2011 single volume history of the papacy Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy.

1956 Pulitzer Prize Review: Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor

One of the longest Pulitzer Prize-winning novels, MacKinlay Kantor’s nearly 800-page tome Andersonville is a dense modernist examination of the monstrously inhumane Confederate prisoner of war camp of the same name which once housed some 45,000 Union prisoners during the American Civil War. Often regarded as Mr. Kantor’s greatest achievement, Andersonville took approximately two decades of research to complete, during which Kantor sought to capture numerous different perspectives throughout the book. Indeed, despite being a work of historical fiction, Mr. Kantor decided to include a detailed Bibliography at the end of Andersonville, which demonstrates his thorough research efforts.

As with other Pulitzer Prize-winning novels, like The Grapes of Wrath, All the King’s Men, and Tales of the South Pacific, Andersonville explores an extraordinary historical epoch through the fictive lens of literature. In this respect, its verisimilitude is only matched by its sheer breadth. However, straddling the fence between fiction and history serves as a double-edged sword for Andersonville. At certain points, it veers far too heavily into fond, sympathetic portrayals of white slave-owning southerners, and in other cases it fails to capture the full nuance of Confederate treatment of Union POWs. It is a tricky issue, especially in our day and age wherein scores of Americans have allowed their minds to be polluted by neo-Confederate propaganda splashed across the internet.       

At any rate, Andersonville takes us on a journey back to the final fourteen months of the Civil War as a new prison camp is constructed in rural Georgia dubbed “Camp Sumter” (commonly known as “Andersonville”). As recounted in the novel, black slaves are ordered to build a large stockade of pine logs enclosing a 27-acre open-air prison with no shelter under the summer heat or the winter cold. It is surrounded by tall sentry towers and a “deadline” zone which divides the inner prison from the outer wall where numerous prisoners are later shot dead while attempting to escape. After the first prisoners begin to arrive by train, it becomes apparent that Andersonville will not be a place with a decent chance of survival. As time passes, in desperation, numerous prisoners attempt to fake their own deaths or tunnel under the camp walls in the hopes of returning home. A small creek weaves its way through the middle of the camp, but it is quickly used as a bath and a latrine by both prisoners and guards alike, and the creek is soon relegated to a swampy cesspool of stench and disease. Eventually, the guards allow some prisoners to dig wells in search of fresh water. With minimal fresh food and a poisoned water supply, prisoners at Andersonville suffer agonizing deaths due to scurvy, dropsy, gangrene, diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, dysentery, and other diseases. If I had to read about one more prisoner who was forced to eat their own feces, or who died of grotesque diarrheal conditions, I was about ready to set aside this novel. As the war comes to an end and the Confederacy continued to collapse, food grows scarce and many prisoners at Andersonville face starvation (though the guards at Andersonville face no such malnutrition problems). Bands of prisoners eagerly steal clothes and food from other prisoners. A gang of six known as the “Raiders” begin stealing food from the bread wagon and causing general mayhem for fellow prisoners (they are eventually hanged following a trial). As 1865 approaches and more Southern strongholds fall to the Union, prisoners housed at other camps are increasingly transferred to Andersonville until the camp is filled well beyond capacity. The situation inside the prison grows dire. By the war’s end, some 13,000 Union soldiers had died at Andersonville (out of a total of 45,000 prisoners) and thousands more would continue to die within a year or two of being liberated. By all accounts, Andersonville was an atrocious place. First-hand accounts invoke an odious stench emanating from inside the prison, piles of bodies left in unmarked graves surrounding the camp, and various personal writings recall images of emaciated skeletal men stumbling around, their teeth falling out, covered in vermin and disease. To be sure, there were also terrible Union prison camps during the Civil War, but none matched the sheer barbarism of Andersonville.

Each chapter in the novel Andersonville presents a brief vignette with a distinct perspective on the unfolding situation at Andersonville –we are given personal reflections from numerous prisoners, Confederate guards, nearby residents, soldiers on both sides, as well as high-ranking military officers. Chapter after chapter in Andersonville dives into the background of each character –their family, career, and upbringing—only for them to die by chapter’s end. Some of the various characters include the following: plump and squat Reverend Cato Dillard who hates the North along with his wife Effie (no surviving children, but five of eight grandchildren serve in the Confederate army); a prisoner named Eben “Ebe” Dolliver who is a bird-lover originally from Iowa (sadly, he is forced to kill and eat a bird in order to survive); a corporal in the First Rhode Island Cavalry named Edward Blamey who is captured and sent to Camp Sumter; a somewhat notorious prisoner named William “Willie” Collins who is hanged as one of the six Raiders; the Puckett family under Captain Oxford Puckett and his son “Flory”; John Winder who is the former provost-marshal of Richmond and Confederate general in charge of POWs; General Howell Cobb who is a one-time cabinet officer and now serving as commander of the department of Georgia and of the reserve troops; a crippled and deranged prisoner named Chickamauga who is tragically beaten by other prisoners and becomes an informer for the Confederates but he is tragically shot and killed by guards while attempting to cross the “deadline”; Bill Rickson and Al Munn along with a group of six or eight “hyenas” who are hanged as punishment for being part of the villainous “Raiders” inside the camp; Boston Corbett (the future killer of John Wilkes Booth); the Tebbs family; a Confederate drummer boy dubbed Red Cap; an armless prisoner named Nazareth Stricker who manages to escape before running into a legless Confederate veteran; the elderly and imprisoned Father Peter Whelan; a twenty-one year old prisoner from the Ninth Michigan Cavalry named Johnny Ransom who can barely walk while suffering from scurvy but later escapes from prison (he later publishes a famous diary recounting his experience); Robert Hall Chilton who was the Confederate Inspector General (upon receiving written reports from field surgeons about the atrocious conditions at the camp and he wondered in print if history would judge the Confederacy for such egregious inhumanity); Colonel Chandler; Nathan Dreyfoos (a leader among the prisoners who tries and executes the Raiders); a prisoner named Eric Torrosian who is killed; Willie Mann of the Twenty-Ninth Missouri Volunteers; a prisoner known as Old Tom Gusset Saddler of the Ninth Ohio Cavalry; twenty-six year old Judah Hansom who is one of the many men who tried to escape Andersonville by digging a tunnel, and many other characters.

The protagonists we return to time and again are the Claffey family. Ira Claffey (whose name means “watcher” in Hebrew) is a fifty-one-year-old plantation owner who resides near the Andersonville prison along Sweetwater creek. His slaves, who are portrayed as generally amiable and happy-go-lucky, include names like Coffee, Jem, Naomi, and Jonas. Ira is highly respected in the community as a former member of the State Legislature. He had eight children, but only four survived past childhood (as was common in those days). His three sons all died in the war (the youngest ws named Moses, the middle-child was named Badger, and the eldest was named Sutherland “Suthy” who died at Gettysburg). Ira’s wife, Veronica, has fallen into a deep state of mourning (she eventually dies) and his daughter, Lucy, is a lonely girl with an ongoing sensual desire to marry a man. In time, the Claffey family is visited by Captain Harrell “Harry” Elkins, an awkward and shy man who served alongside one of the Claffey sons, Sutherland “Suthy,” before he was killed. With ambitions of being a surgeon and physician, Elkins is initially summoned to Andersonville to inspect the health and safety of the prison, but his job quickly turns into round the clock care for the sick and dying as hospital beds run scarce and bodies begin to pile up in unmarked graves. As you might suspect, before the novel ends Lucy Claffey marries Harry Elkins.

The other chief character whom we return to frequently throughout Andersonville is the historical figure of Captain Henry Wirz, the Swiss-born, German-speaking leader of Camp Sumter/Andersonville. “He was a round-shouldered thin-faced man, past forty, sallow of skin,  and with blood vessels apparent in his pale eyeballs which suggested constant pain, sleeplessness, a constriction of various forces clamoring for release” (30). Wirz is portrayed as an essentially helpless and somewhat indifferent figure amidst an abhorrent crisis which he is woefully unprepared to handle. He faces the growing logistical problem of what to do with all the sick and dying people inside the prison, even as new prisoners continue to arrive from throughout the south owing to a failure to manage food shortages and resource scarcity. After the prison is finally liberated, Wirz is one of the only Confederates to be tried and hanged at the war’s end. Unfortunately, like the Caffeys, Wirz is also portrayed in a fairly sympathetic light, lamenting the fact that he was only following orders as the Andersonville situation grew dire (Kantor drew inspiration for some of these scenes from the horrors he witnessed when liberating a Nazi concentration camp during World War II). To this day, there are certain revisionists who still regard Henry Wirz as a noble “martyr” who died for the supposed “lost cause.” At any rate, the novel ends as Ira Claffey is forced by the “Yankee Nationalists” to free his slaves and Abraham Lincoln is assassinated. In response, Claffey’s teary-eyed slaves begin shrieking and protesting, “We all belong to you, like it say in the Scriptures!” And Ira wonders “Would the National Government establish schools quickly for these dogged capricious beasts now designated as humans?” The novel ends as it began, with quiet reflections of Ira Claffey, who alludes to the fact that Lucy may soon be expecting a child. He compares the Rebel institution of southern slavery in the south to wage slavery he believes exists in Yankee factories. He laments the many lost lives that will never return home now that the tumult of war has passed over the land like a fierce storm.

Interestingly enough, Kantor used many direct quotes from real Civil War prison memoirs which are woven throughout the novel, such as the writings of John McElroy (who appears as a character in the novel). Kantor’s prose, particularly his limited use of punctuation and quotation marks, is a striking stylistic choice and it has been cited by Cormac McCarthy as a strong influence on his novels. And since the Civil War continues to be a controversial topic in American society, Andersonville, despite some efforts to convey a certain degree of nuance, has likewise remained controversial since its first publication. It was frequently challenged by school board members due to its use of vulgar and obscene language. In 1967, the father of an Amherst High School student claimed that the book was “1 percent history and 99 percent filth” and could not be read by his daughter. He called for the dismissal of the teacher who had assigned the book for her class to read. It was also banned by four Amarillo, Texas high schools as well as Amarillo College. Despite not approaching anything close to anti-Confederate in tone or content, Andersonville was regularly banned throughout the country. In an afterward to the novel, Kantor claims that he rejects the postwar revisionist “War Between the States” language, however his portrayal of happy slaves, and benevolent slave-owners, as well as sympathetic portraits of prison camp leaders calls to mind the nostalgia-bait found in another controversial Pulitzer Prize-winner, Gone With The Wind. Kantor did later sell the motion picture rights for Andersonville to a major Hollywood studio in the 1950s, but a film was never produced. And perhaps that is for the best.

The following are some notable quotations I found while reading:

“I was no secessionist” (11).

“On the afternoon of February fourteenth the eight surviving members of the Moon Hotel mess were counted out of Belle Isle with exactly five hundred and ninety-two other prisoners. Wishful gossip in camp suggested that they were about to be exchanged, perhaps aboard a warship at some coastal port, but most of the wiser guessed the truth. They would be sent South, possibly to Savannah or Charleston…” (84-85).

“…the Camp Sumter for which they were bound was in Georgia, not South Carolina, and was brand new –no prisoners had ever been kept there before. This was wonderful, for there would be no lice. Georgia in February would be Heaven compared to Virginia” (85).

“Ira Claffey was shocked speechless at the thought of a general abolition of slavery. He imagined hordes of illiterates trooping the highways with no roofs to lie beneath at night, with no one to buy food for them, with no money and without sufficient knowledge to buy sustenance for themselves. Worse than that, he saw them exploited as tools of unscrupulous white men who might fetter them in an industrial slavery in cities, where sun and comfort of wild places would be denied them… He did not see them or their descendants made respectable, dwelling in homes comparable to those of the whites, schooled, taught to work in trades or even in professions, making a satisfactory economic way as individuals and as a mass. He did not see how that transformation could be achieved in a thousand years, let alone a hundred. And the thought of black men given uniforms and arms and trained to make targets of the whites against whom they were marched” (97).

“Blamey watched the creek, and stiffened with disgust: some people were squatted down, there, doing their business. Fine business indeed –didn’t they realize that that was the only source of drinking water in the entire place?” (118).

“More and more the power of Andersonville poured over Ira Claffey like a glistening dark tide; it was there, reaching around him, it was sticky (he thought of molasses leaking from a barrel but the tide was not sweet)… Once more to the stockade the next day, wondering, staring, absorbing increased terror of the thing. The mean strength in number of the prisoners rose to ten thousand during April, the graves were said to be over nine hundred” (164).

“About the time of the arrival of the elegantly garbed prisoners from North Carolina, the quantity of rations began to decline, the quality had been non-existent for a long while. Men estimated as to whether they were getting one-quarter or one-third as much food as they needed to keep them going” (233).

“The farther advanced the summer, the death rate increases, until they die off by scores. I walk around to see friends of a few days ago and am told, Dead. Men stand it nobly, and apparently ordinarily well, when all at once they go. Like a horse, that will stand up until he drops dead… Was ever before in this world anything so terrible happening? Many entirely naked… Sores afflict us now, and The Lord only knows what next. Scurvy and scurvy sores, dropsy, not the least thing to eat can be called fit for any one, much less a sick man, water that to drink is poison, no shelter…” (350, written by Johnny Ransom from Michigan who is suffering from scurvy).

“Ira believed that a new Nation was made. It was one which he had prayed not to see; but here it was. His own fields, were he allowed to retain them, extended to Maine and Texas and to the Oregon country; because granule of soil lay next to granule of soil, and small roots were intertwined, and fences broke down in one patch of woods but rose in the next; and rivers were not bottomless, there were earth and rocks beneath, the rocks touched, it was the land, it was all the American land and the American waters belonging principally to America and not to individual planters, and not to New York or Georgia, as had been so cruelly demonstrated” (759).  

On the 1956 Pulitzer Prize Decision
Apparently, while Andersonville won the Pulitzer Prize in 1956, one of MacKinlay Kantor’s few disappointments was that it lost the National Book Award to Ten North Frederick by John O’Hara. The 1956 Pulitzer Jury consisted of two returning members from the prior year:

  • Carlos Baker (1909-1987) was notable man of letters. He was a former Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature at Princeton (his PhD dissertation explored the influence of Spencer on Shelley’s poetry). He wrote a critically lauded biography of Ernest Hemingway which was nevertheless criticized by Hemingway’s third wife Martha Gellhorn. Baker also wrote well-regarded biographies of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Baker was the teacher of A. Scott Berg, the contemporary biographer who has written bestselling books about Max Perkins, Samuel Goldwyn, Katharine Hepburn, Woodrow Wilson, Charles Lindbergh (which later won the Pulitzer).    
  • Francis “Brownie” Brown (1904-1995) served as editor of the New York Times Book Review from 1949-1971. During his tenure, he oversaw expansive changes to the Book Review as the American writing industry expanded drastically with rapid increases of public literacy. He commissioned contributions by important American writers like James Baldwin and Saul Bellow, and penned several historical/biographical books.

Apparently the two men wrote the following to the Pulitzer Board at Columbia: “Andersonville, a historical novel in the grand manner, recaptures the tragedy and drama not only of the prison stockade from which it takes its name, but of the Civil War itself.” Kantor’s grandson later reiterated an anecdote about how, at the time, his grandfather met for drinks with his friend Mike Cowles, who served on the Pulitzer Advisory Board, and Cowles accidentally shared news that Kantor was likely going to win the Pulitzer –and that it was a “unanimous” decision. This was an astounding bit of news that Kantor simply pretended he already knew.  

Who is MacKinlay Kantor?
Benjamin McKinlay “MacKinlay” Kantor (1904-1977) was born and raised in Webster City, Iowa, a town located in central Iowa. His mother was the editor of the local paper, the Webster City Daily News, and his father (who was Swedish and Jewish) struggled to maintain a job –he was a notorious con artist before ultimately abandoning the family. As such, MacKinlay Kantor was mostly raised at his grandparents’ home in Webster City. While still a young boy, he began adopting his middle name “McKinlay” with an added “a” (as in “MacKinlay” or simply “Mack”) because it sounded more “Scottish.” This was also his pen name. While attending the local public school, he frequented the library and here he began writing short stories.  

He spent time in Chicago and married Florence Irene Layne, a woman he had known for a mere three months, and they eventually had two children together –both Kantor’s son and grandson later wrote biographies of their famous family member, MacKinlay Kantor. At any rate, in order to support his young family, Kantor published a variety of stories in pulp magazines, including plenty of crime and mystery tales. He moved his family from the Midwest to New Jersey where the Kantors were early residents in the experimental community of “Free Acre” (which was founded on an unorthodox school of thought regarding land taxation). His first novel was published in 1928 (the first of over thirty novels published throughout his career), and he continued writing pulp fiction throughout the 1930s, as well as embarking upon his first foray into Civil War writing.

During World War II, Mr. Kantor served as a war correspondent for a Los Angeles newspaper, during which time he manned a machine gun (apparently against regulations) and he joined the party that liberated Buchenwald concentration camp on April 14, 1945. This latter experience would later influence his writing of Andersonville (1955). When he returned to the United States, he was hired by Samuel Goldwyn to write a screenplay about veterans returning home from war. The result was his blank-verse novel entitled Glory for Me (published in 1945) which was made into the Academy Award-winning film The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), however according to legend, Mr. Kantor was extremely disappointed in the film, at one point even storming off the lot during filming. Kantor went on to write several more scripts and his novels continued to sell well, particular after his Pulitzer Prize win in 1955, and as the money flooded in, he settled into a comfortably excessive lifestyle which failed to abate when the royalty checks stopped rolling in. This led to financial troubles late in life.  

He conducted research far and wide for his novels, including among the New York Police Department as well as interviews with various war widows. But none of his short stories, screenplays, or novels would ever reach the critical success of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Andersonville. After smoking a pipe and struggling with alcoholism for many years, he died of a heart attack in 1977 at the age of 73 at his home in Sarasota, Florida. His grandson later recounted Kantor’s final moments as his eyes popped open and he uttered: “Horrible… horrible…”

Kantor, MacKinlay. Andersonville. A Plume Book (Published by the Penguin Group), New York, NY, 1993.

Click here to return to my survey of the Pulitzer Prize Winners.

On Charles Beaumont’s “In His Image”

Charles Beaumont’s fascinating short story “In His Image” is a wonderful bit of American science fiction with a shocking twist ending (a perfect addition to The Twilight Zone). Peter “Pete” Nolan is experiencing strange situations. We begin with him pushing a woman in front of a subway train as she rambles on about reading the Bible. Later, it is revealed that Pete is in love with a woman named Jess, and they are to be married. They depart together from the city and arrive at his house, but now something has changed. The whole area seems different, and no one seems to recognize Pete. Mrs. Cook, for example, has apparently been dead for three years even though Pete remembers seeing her only a week and a half ago. Somehow his whole hometown of Coeurville, New York seems to have aged twenty years. Pete also possesses the inexplicable urge to kill Jess. Why? He accidentally injures himself while picking up a rock and gazes down at his arm:

“He carefully pulled a flap of skin down three inches below the wrist, and focused his eyes. Beneath the flap of skin, where veins ought to have been, and cartilage, and bone, were hundreds of tiny flexible rods, jointed and gleaming, and infinitesimal springs, turning, and bright yellow coils” (152).

Pete’s story is about a “perfect artificial man” who suddenly becomes aware of his own artificiality. When he meets his creator, Walter, Pete learns that he was somewhat accidentally created albeit with flaws, especially with the impetus to start killing humans. Pete demands that Walter create a new version, one that can be happily married to Jess, blissfully unaware of the problems associated with the original Pete… In a brief coda, Pete and Jess are now happily married as they toast to their new life together. Outside, a newspaperman shouts: “Subway killer still at large!”  

Beaumont, Charles. Perchance to Dream and other Short Stories. Penguin Classics. New York, NY (2015).  

Note: In the Foreword to this essay collection, Ray Bradbury offers some lovely reflections on the life of Charles “Chuck” Beaumont, from initially meeting a sixteen-year-old Beaumont at a bookstore in Los Angeles (talking about Terry and the Pirates comic collection, Buck RogersTarzan, and Prince Valiant), to helping Beaumont publish his first short story and embark upon a successful literary career –“His life revolved around a special desk which he had designed and had built by one of the finest cabinetmakers in the West. His files were beautifully stashed, labeled, and stuffed with a half-million notions, idle fancies, half-grown or full-grown dreams…” (xiii). His was a life that was cut short too soon –a great tragedy for American science fiction.

Ray Bradbury offers the following reflections on Charles Beaumont’s funeral:

“The friends of Charles Beaumont, at gravesite, felt… above all that a time was over, and things would never be the same. Our old group would meet less often, and then fall away. What was central to it, the binding force, the conversational fire, the great runner, jumper, and yeller, was gone” (xiv).  

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

Click here for my review of “In His Image” Twilight Zone episode