Thursday, January 15, 2015
Happy Birthday Robert Silverberg
Meet Joseph Master Keilloran. In The Longest Way Home, by Robert Silverberg, Joseph wakes up one night to hear muffled bangs and booms in the distance. At first, he thinks it is the rain that has been forecast. But when he looks out the window, he sees figures racing across the grounds, and fires rising the main wing of Getfen House. He tries to call his father, half a world away in Keilloran House. But his combinant can't get a signal through. And outside, he notices that the figures outside are carrying weapons.
One of the Folk, a servant named Thustin, arrives and explains that the foreman is leading most of the household staff in a revolt. They plan to kill all the Masters. She urges him to dress, and bring anything he needs with him. Then she leads him through disused sections of the house, picking up a pack of food along the way. But she is shot as they leave the grounds, and although she survives, her wound will hamper her ability to travel. She urges him to hike through the woods toward a village of Indigenes. She believes they will shelter him from the violence of the revolt.
Joseph, confused and ill-prepared, manages to elude armed patrols of Folk, mobilized and traveling in motorized transports. Not knowing who to trust, he keeps his distance from convoys of animal-drawn wagons carrying (what look like) Folkish refugees. As he stumbles through the wilderness, he meets a Noctambulo. This curious creature has two distinctly different personalities, one that operates during the day, and another that attains consciousness during the night. Although he hardly speaks Joseph's language fluently, the Noctambulo agrees to help him reach the Indigenes. Already exhausted, his reluctant muscles strained and aching, Joseph twists his leg and collapses in pain. But he forces himself to rise, and hobbles onward with the aid of a walking stick.
Eventually he reaches the Indigenes, and indeed they take him in. But this is just the start of a great adventure for Joseph, one in which he will meet all kinds of people, confront his assumptions and beliefs about history, class, and family, and come to understand his world better. He had thought that a pleasant vacation lay in store for him, catching up with his relations on the northern continent. But the uprising, his Wanted status, his inability to communicate with his family, and the difficulty he has communicating with the Indigenes, make him realize how alone he is. He may only be fifteen years old, but whether he likes it or not--whether he wishes otherwise or not--he must become a man now.
A journey of ten thousand miles stands between him and his home. His injury and lack of resources make the distance seem impossible to traverse. But he refuses to give in to his circumstances, even if his goal seems impossible. For he is the first born son of a Master. He has been trained since birth to succeed his father as ruler of his house and lands. Even if what he learns along the way makes him question whether he desires such a future, he is determined to return home. For he is Joseph Master Keilloran, and he will not allow others to shape his future for him.
At first, The Longest Way Home seems an innocuous book, a simple story about a boy in the process of becoming a man. No evil villains enter Joseph's journey, nor does he take part in great battles. No great technology is explored, nor does the story force us to confront troublesome aspects of contemporary society. But somewhere along the way, like turned to love with regard to this book. To me, it seems like a quietly important book. It doesn't shout its significance. It doesn't seek to revolutionize. It just sets out to entertain and enlighten, and in this it succeeds magnificently. My life may be very different from Joseph's, but I've never failed to identify with him. In fact, I've read the novel three times in the last dozen years, and each time it's caused me to reflect on my life, as well as on my future.
I may not be Joseph Master Keilloran, but I can be the Master of my life, if I will only try, and refuse to give up. Thank you, Robert Silverberg, for writing The Longest Way Home, in addition to so many other novels and stories that teach us about ourselves. Congratulations to you on your eightieth birthday! May it be the best one yet!
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