EARTH ABIDES: the influence of a work

George R. Stewart’s great novel hit the ground running.  Since he already had a huge readership, the novel sold well.  It was quickly honored by others, winning the first International Fantasy Award in 1951.  That award was not a “popular” award, but one granted by masters of fantasy, science fiction, and futurist writing, to writers in those genres.  It was a special honor for Stewart from his peers.

Stewart’s novel is a work of true speculative science fiction.  It is not in any way the type of space opera popular in those days, but a work of fiction based on solid science and informed speculation.  Yet the book has always been considered “science fiction” and is usually shelved in the science fiction sections of bookstores.  That may seem to demean the high literary quality of Earth Abides, but it is one reason the book has never been out of print.  Science fiction readers are, in the literal sense, “fans” – that is “fanatics” – for their type of literature.  They deserve great credit for not only buying and reading the book, but for recommending it to others.

As Earth Abides captured the science fiction community, it also caught the attention of others, inspiring their comments and their own works. It could be said that Stewart’s novel was one of the most influential books of its time.

Consider the praise:

Carl Sandburg, the famous American poet, once wrote that he considered Earth Abides the best novel of its decade.

Robert Frost, another famous American poet, wrote to Stewart, Saying Stewart had “found a new type of thing to write.”

In “George R. Stewart and the American Land” Pulitzer Prize winner Wallace Stegner compared Earth Abides to Robinson Crusoe.

Stephen King called the book “Stewart’s fine novel.”

James Sallis, in the essay quoted in the previous post, compared Earth Abides to the paintings of Matisse, the music of Beethoven, and Homer’s Ulysses.

And consider the influences:

Philip Aaberg, Grammy-nominated composer and musician, considers the book one of the guiding lights that helped him through the angst of the Vietnam War era.  In part to say “thanks,” Aaberg composed a beautiful piano piece, Earth Abides.    Aaberg’s music was used in a National Geographic special, so millions have heard it – another large group of humans who have been enriched by Stewart’s novel, even if they don’t realize it.  (You can buy Aaberg’s Earth Abides here, if you’d like.)

Another musician, Jimi Hendrix, considered Earth Abides his favorite book.  Like Philip Aaberg, Hendrix wanted to honor its influence, so he apparently wrote at least one piece of music - Third Stone From the Sun – partly inspired by Stewart’s novel:

Stephen King based The Stand on Earth Abides.  In one of his essays, King acknowledges the influence of Stewart’s book on his own work.

When family reverses forced a move from the urban energy of the Los Angeles area to the near-wilderness of the high San Bernardino Mountains, future Scientist/Writer James D. Burke,like Philip Aaberg, found comfort and direction in Stewart’s work.  Dr. Burke would be the NASA-JPL Project Manager on the appropriately-named Ranger Mission, first successful US robotic mission to the moon.

Kim Stanley Robinson includes a reference to Earth Abides in The Wild Shore, the first novel of his fine Three Californias/Orange County Trilogy.   The Trilogy, an intellectual tour de force,  uses more or less the same settings, the same characters, and the same events in three alternative futures for Orange County, California.  (Available at Amazon, if you’d like a copy.)

Others may not have been so directly influenced by Earth Abides, but acknowledge it. Greg Bear and Poul Anderson, for example, told me of the respect they hold for the novel.

Finally: as far as this weblog is concerned, the most important influence of Earth Abides has been on this author.  After The Librarian placed the book in my hand, and high school friend Tom Vale and his family taught me the deeper meaning of the book, I found myself on a pilgrimage to seek the greatest and deepest truth of Earth Abides and Stewart’s other works.  (Tom and Geraldine Vale later wrote the first major work based on a George R. Stewart book, US 40 Today.)  That sauntering pilgrimage would lead to a life not unlike Stewart’s, encounters with others who felt as I did about Stewart and his work, and – eventually – to a meeting and friendship with Stewart and his family.

When the saunter led to Stewart, it also pointed toward the writing of a book about his life, and the deepest truth of his work – although I did not realize it at the time.  Since then (and also I suppose before), I have lived like Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow :

If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line—starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven.  Or you could take the King’s Highway past appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City.  But that is not the way I have done it, so far.  I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked.  Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back.  I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times.  I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order.  The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back.  Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there.  I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises.  Often I have received better than I have deserved.  Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes.  I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley.  And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led—make of that what you will.

                                                                   Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

Earth Abides led me to the writing of a book about George R. Stewart, a literary agent who has become the book’s great champion, and publication by a fine independent publisher.  McFarland Publishing is, like the publishing houses of the Earth Abides era,  run by editors and lovers of good books.

It’s also led to some educational and research programs modeled on Stewart’s pioneering Whole Earth vision, programs which include  the space agencies, land management agencies, universities, and Independent Scholars.   If you should happen to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument in the near future, for example, ask to see the “Lunar Ranger” kit.  Or view this fine film, produced by the park under the guidance of Chief of Interpretation Ted Stout and his exceptional National Park Service staff (film link is at the bottom of the page.)Lunar_Ranger_small

Thanks to Earth Abides, and George R. Stewart, it has been a productive life.  The novel has guided, through thick and thin, to some educational and literary works which, I believe, will help make this world a better place.

Where will Stewart’s great novel lead the next reader?

“Each time I read it, I’m profoundly affected…” EARTH ABIDES

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James Sallis on EARTH ABIDES:

“…Each time I read it, I’m profoundly affected, affected in a way only the greatest art—Ulysses, Matisse or Beethoven symphonies, say—affects me….

“… Art’s mission is to make our lives large again, to dredge us out of this terrible dailyness. I begin each reading of Earth Abides knowing that, once the flight’s done, I’ll be meeting a new man there at the end of the concourse. The guy who got on the flight’s okay. I like the one who gets off a lot better.”         (Quoted with permission.)

James Sallis is a fine contemporary writer – poet, detective novelist, and the author of the recently filmed Drive.  Of all the accolades given to Stewart’s great novel – and there have been many – Sallis’s seems to me the best.  He captures the power, the magnificence, and the beauty.  He also honors the transcendent, life-changing nature of the novel.  For most, to read Earth Abides is to undergo an epiphany.    (Read Sallis’s essay here.)

Sallis is not the only one who reads and re-reads the book.  The Pilgrim, Steve Williams, who went to school in Liverpool with Lennon and McCartney, has read it so many times he’s lost count – but it’s in the hundreds.  A fellow blogger who goes by the name of teepee12 tells me she reads it every couple of years. I’ve read it many times since the summer in 1956, when it was placed in my hand by The Librarian.

She was one of the best teachers encountered during my life journey, and I don’t even know her name.  To this day, and in my biography of Stewart, that perceptive woman is only known as The Librarian – but when she handed me that book she handed me my life.

I don’t want to give the plot of Stewart’s novel away, but I’ll share enough to intrigue you – if you like adventurous, ecological, philosophical,  almost-religious works of literature. As in Storm and Fire, the ecosystem is the protagonist.  But in this case, it’s not an isolated ecological event; it’s the entire ecosystem, thanks to a small virus. The lives of the few human characters are defined by how they respond to the effects of the virus.  Ish, the male protagonist, is an intellectual who tries to find meaning in the events of the book. For him it’s a quest for a faith. His wife, Em, responds by bringing new life into the post-human world. For her, it’s a duty to carry the flame of human life and culture onward, no matter what the conditions.

The greatest adventure happens in the early part of the novel, before Ish meets Em. Returning from an ecological research project in the Sierra he finds that he has returned to a post-human world. He must deal with what has happened – even questioning whether it is worth continuing to live.   But he finds his answer in the sciences of geography and ecology.  It is a remarkable opportunity for a scientist – he can study the effect of the removal of most humans from the ecosystem. (Note that this book was written a decade before the Environmental Movement and nearly two decades before the first Earth Day.)

He decides to travel the USA to see how others have fared.  (Stewart was a great wanderer of trail and road, and took the journeys he describes in the book.)  Ish begins by heading south from Berkeley, California, on US 99.  He heads east over Tehachapi Pass on California 58; then follows Route 66 until a tree blocks his way.  Eventually he reaches Manhattan; then returns on a more northerly route on US 40 until a forest fire near Emigrant Gap forces him to turn off on California 20.   Along the way, he finds a few survivors who seem to be almost stereotypes of diverse American subcultures.  Some, Ish believes, will prosper.  Others, like the couple in Manhattan who drink martinis in an apartment with no fireplace, probably won’t survive the first winter. Here, and later in the book’s sections on the evolving culture of The Tribe, Stewart is writing a wonderfully speculative anthropological work.

After the journey Ish meets Em.  As they grow closer, and begin a family, his quest changes to a search for faith – one that will help him, and his descendents, live in the changed world?  As the work evolves, he finds himself turning to the Old Testament, since it was the work of a small tribe like Ish and Em’s Tribe that had to survive and find meaning in an often hostile world.  (Stewart taught himself Hebrew so he could translate some of the Old Testament – notably Ecclesiastes – into English without losing the rhythm of the original.)

But the book is not a dreary religious tract by any means.  Much of the time, Ish and Em are building a small community in the Berkeley Hills.   Others join them and the “Tribe” begins to grow.  The “Americans” – those who lived before the event which begins the story – work hard to keep some of their culture alive.  But the youngsters, who will truly become a tribe, must live within the new world.  To them, a good method of hunting with bow and arrow is much more important than learning to read or going to church.

The book is an anthropological work in many ways.  The old culture tries to protect its great store of knowledge.  The younger members of the Tribe work to survive, and have little time for sitting and reading or listening to prayers.  They practice shooting their bows and arrows. Yet The Tribe will develop its own faith, as Ish is seeking his.  Both faiths, ironically, revolve around a simple American object.

During his research in the American River Canyon, Ish finds an old single-jack miner’s hammer.  It gives him a sense of security, so he carries it with him throughout the novel.  By the end of the book, the Hammer of Ish has become the most revered object the tribe possesses.  They insist that Ish must pass it on when he dies.  The person who receives the Hammer will become almost god-like – as Ish does, in the latter pages of the novel.

The Hammer of Ish is one of the great symbols in literature.  And it’s a quintessentially American symbol, designed for common tasks by the Common Man  – but it can also be used to find and mine gold.   I believe the Hammer is one of the reasons for the book’s strong effect on readers.  Like Ish, readers feel very comfortable with the Hammer; but readers feel its mythological power growing throughout the tale as it becomes a spiritual object.

Like the book, the Hammer haunts readers.  A casual mention of the Hammer in conversation often starts a discussion of the novel; and that happens more often than you might think.  One wealthy reader, the late Frank Sloss, even had a sculptor create a silver version, which sat at the center of Sloss’s vast Stewart collection.   Stewart Scholar and Artist Steve Williams was inspired to do a series of fine paintings of The Hammer:

Ish's Hammer(1)The Hammer of Ish.  (Painting Courtesy Steve Williams, Artist and Scholar.)

The book was based on solid research.  The Stewart Papers in the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley hold many letters from colleagues and companies responding to Stewart’s questions about a post-human world.  For example – how sheep and cattle would fare, how long auto batteries would last, and when rust would collapse the Bay Bridge. One of the letters is from Carl Sauer, the greatest geographer of his age and one of the greatest minds of any age, discussing the sheep/cattle question.  It, like all the letters, reveals how intrigued Stewart’s correspondents were with his questions.

The book was published in the fall of 1949.  After a few years of good sales, Random House decided to stop publication and return the rights to Stewart.  Almost immediately, one of the book’s strongest fans, Alan Ligda, contacted Stewart and asked to publish Earth Abides at his  Archive Press and Publications.  Stewart granted permission and the book quickly went into print.   Ligda’s publication sold out quickly.  Random House asked for the return of the rights, and the book returned to print with that major trade publishing house.

Thanks to Alan Ligda the novel has never been out of print.  Readers and scholars owe him a great debt.  Although he died poor and relatively young, Ligda played a major role in the story of Earth Abides.

Does Ish find his faith?  Does the Tribe survive?  Does Earth abide?  What adventures, literary and intellectual, are found along the way?  To find out, read the book.

Earth Abides has had an extraordinary literary and intellectual life.  Never out of print in the 65 years since publication, now in an audio version as well as a print version, and in 20 languages,  the book and its ideas have swept across the Earth.

The next post will discuss how the book has affected some of the finest literary minds, and how the book has influenced art, science, and thought.

The Hammer of Ish

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The Hammer of Ish

Stewart Scholar Steve William’s fine painting of Stewart’s most important literary symbol. In an interesting side note, Steve went to the Liverpool Art Institute with Lennon and McCartney.

Click on the copyrighted image to go to Steve’s site.

George R. Stewart, 1948: Taking Stock

By 1949, George R. Stewart was successful beyond any possible imaginings he might have had in the early 1930s.  In those days, early in his writing and professorial career, he seemed stuck in a low-level academic position, held there by a particularly unpleasant English Department Head who had taken a dislike to him.  His only books were the sort of composition books expected of English professors – one on the Technique of English Verse, another on English composition.  His marriage was a great success – Ted (Theodosia) Stewart supported him as his best friend, and encouraged him to keep at the writing.  Although he would not have won any awards as parent of the year, his children were doing acceptably.

The situation with the English Department Head turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  Since he was apparently not going anywhere in the Department, he turned to writing instead – the writing of books that appealed to both scholars and the general literate audience – books that would sell, and sell well.  Since he enjoyed wilderness and history and the strange beauty of American names, he decided to write about those things.  Since many of his favorite colleagues were in the geography, history, or science departments, he decided to write about those areas of knowledge.

His first best-selling book, Ordeal By Hunger, introduced the Whole Earth Perspective – the understanding of Earth as one place, and as a system of ecological systems.  His first novel, East of the Giants, was about California history and told from the viewpoint of an independent California woman.    Storm was the first ecological (or geographic) novel.  Names on the Land – a remarkable and never-equaled book – was the first in the history of the Earth to tell the tale of national place-naming.   And Fire carried the ecological, geographic, cross-discipline methods used in Storm to new heights.

His influence was beginning to be felt, and honored.  He became a character in a radio play.  Disney invited him to the studio to help develop new types of films (and later made Storm and Fire into Disney movies.)  Stewart’s influence on his friend Wallace Stegner encouraged Stegner to begin writing the environmental/history works that would define much of Stegner’s later creative life.  Stewart won awards – both the silver and gold medals of the California Commonwealth Club.

During his service in World War II, writing up the Submarine Sailing Directions for the Navy, he had an encounter which showed him the influence of his work.  During a flight to Hawaii, he met Vic Moitoret, a young Navy meteorologist who enthusiastically shook Stewart’s hand and then told him a war story.  Moitoret kept a small diary of the books he’d read which he felt most influenced his life and career.  One of those was Storm.   Moritoret survived two aircraft carrier sinkings, once in shark-infested waters.  But he never lost that diary, which he showed  Stewart.  It was, in a way, a talisman or charm.  Later, Moitoret, who had gone to UC Berkeley and then on to the Naval Academy, would become the Chief Hydrographer of the US Navy.

Moitoret’s story was a great honoring of Stewart’s work.  Stewart received a high professional honor as well – he was invited to join the faculty of Columbia University – a high honor indeed.

Stewart did not go to Columbia.  His nemesis was no longer the Department Head, and the University admired him.  Besides, he loved the wild nature of the West.  And at any rate, he didn’t have the time for a major career move.

He had begun work on a third ecological novel.  This one would expand the ideas and the literary devices developed in Fire and Storm. This time, the protagonist would not be an event of the ecosystem, nor human character revealed by how someone reacted to a fire or a storm.  This time, the protagonist would be the ecosystem itself.  And the characters of its primary human characters would be revealed over the span of lifetimes.

By 1948, Stewart had achieved great things.  Now, he would achieve a pinnacle of human thought and literature of the late third millennium.

FIRE – Stewart’s Second Ecological/Geographical Novel

Time for a slight change in focus.

Although I consider Stewart  an ecological author – that is, one who defines human character by how individuals relate to the ecosystem – a good friend who is a distinguished geographer reminds me that Stewart can also be considered a geographic author – one who writes about the land as a character in the work.  Stewart probably considered himself more geographer than ecologist or environmentalist until the Environmental Movement came to have such an influence on the world, even though he was one of those who laid the thought-foundation for that Movement.  But whether we consider him a geographic or ecological novelist, his second novel about “the land” fits well under both definitions.

Fire is the story of another ecosystem event.  This tim. it’s a huge fire in the Sierra Nevada, north of the Donner Pass region.  As in Storm, the fire becomes the protagonist, and human character is defined by how his characters respond to the great fire.  Again, he names the fire – Spitcat – although this time he also names most of the humans as well.

The book focuses a little on ecology than Storm does, opening and closing with events that reveal the interrelationships in the ecosystem.   It opens with a lightning strike, and closes with the fire-opened serotinous cones dropping their seeds to the ash-enriched, now-sunlit earth.   In one of the strongest passages, the old Ranger and the young Chief Ranger talk about the effect of the fire on one of the most beautiful parts of the forest – a glen, frequented by deer.  The old ranger is broken-hearted to see the glen burned over, and the deer killed.  It has been his wilderness temple.   But the young Chief Ranger tells him that seeing something as beautiful depends on our place in the ecosystem.  To a rabbit the brushy landscape that will replace the glen for a while is a place of great beauty.  The old Ranger, who grew up in the forest  is a Man of the Forest – he only knows that he has lost what he loves the most.  The Chief Ranger, college-educated, is the spokesman for the ecological view of Earth.  In their conversation, the reader, for the first time, feels the drama of the dawning of the ecological view of the world.

Fire is the only novel in which he repeated himself.  That is, he used similar techniques to tell a similar eco/geographic story, and set the story in what appears to be the same landscape, the central Sierra Nevada, where Storm is set. But Stewart challenged himself in writing the book. Although the novel is set in a national forest just north of Tahoe,  that forest does not exist. To make it seem real, he asked his son Jack to create a map of the forest, sprinkled with names on creeks and mountains and ridges and lakes; then had famous impressionist painter David Park sculpt and paint a model of the forest.  Working from the excellent map and model, he could easily visual the terrain of the fictional Ponderosa National Forest, and thus the events on that terrain.

People still look for the Ponderosa National Forest, but it is only to be found – like Middle Earth – between the pages of a book.

The book, like Storm before it, was both a best-seller and a Book-of-the Month Club selection.  And, like Storm, it would be filmed.  There are two versions of Fire – one, so corrupted by the Hollywood studio which bought the rights that it is unrecognizable, became Red Skies In Montana.  The other version was a TV movie done by Walt Disney.  While somewhat lightweight, A Fire Called Jeremiah kept the ecological focus of the book.

Disney was quite a fan of Stewart’s work.  Before Fire was written, Disney invited him to the studio to work as a consultant.  Stewart spent a few days there, working up ideas for educational films and a series of proposed series of films about American folklore.  Although never credited, I believe his influence can be seen in the folklore films – Song of the South, Johnny Appleseed, and the others – and the True-Life Adventure films.  Stewart and Disney had lunch together during Stewart’s studio time; and Disney sent a warm letter to Stewart after his visit.

With the publication and massive readership of Storm and Fire, Stewart had begun laying an intellectual foundation for the paradigm shift which led to the Environmental Movement, and the acceptance of environmental thinking by most people today.   But it was his next book which would cement that paradigm shift into the consciousness of humankind.  That third ecological novel, now considered one of the great American novel, and never out of print, is one of the great intellectual and literary accomplishments of the 20th century – and perhaps of the second millennium.

MAN: An Autobiography

Once again, George R. Stewart invented a new type of literature – the pre-history and history of humankind as autobiography.  His subject, Man, explains that he considers all those listings of kings and caesars and pharaohs,  of wars and kingdoms, and of endless dates, as trivial gossip.  So Man tells his story in general terms, emphasizing major changes and trends rather than Ozymandias-istic minutiae.

The book was published in 1946 – only a year after Names On The Land – which gives some idea of how prolific and hard-working Stewart was.  In this case, both books were new types of literature, in which he had to do unprecedented research, and then create a precise, readable work based on that research.

The book was a best-seller.  But it was the first of Stewart’s books to bring about a major controversy.  Many fundamentalist readers were upset about Man’s description of his evolution.  The book received more negative letters than anything Stewart had written until that time.

The book gets little attention today – Stewart was apparently trying to find a general pattern to human history separate from specific dates, names, and events.  Since he wrote it for a general literate audience, that search for pattern seems to be somewhat lost in the story.  The idea is sound, and worth more exploration, and the book deserves more attention.

NAMES ON THE LAND

Wallace Stegner’s  fine essay, “George R. Stewart and the American Land,” originally written for a re-issue of Stewart’s Names On The Land is now more easily found in Stegner’s last work, Where The Bluebird Sings To The Lemonade Springs.  Written a year after Stewart’s death, the essay is a consideration of  Stewart and his work.  But the focus is on Stewart’s unprecedented work about American place-naming.  In another essay, Stegner described Names on the Land as an unprecedented book – “Nobody ever wrote a book like this before…”  fine praise from a great writer, who recognized the quality and uniqueness of Stewart’s book.

Stewart described the book like this:  “There’s no model for that book… It is absolutely on its own.” Others had collected the meanings of place names.  But no one before Stewart had attempted to write a national history of place-naming – that is, a history which explained why we Americans chose to name places in certain ways at certain times in our history.  As usual, Stewart wrote the book with the general literate reader in mind, as well as the scholar, so although it is meticulously-researched, the book is also beautifully written and easy-to-read.

It begins, thus:

Once, from eastern ocean to western ocean, the land stretched away without names.  Nameless headlands split the surf; nameless lakes reflected nameless mountains; and nameless rivers flowed through nameless valleys into nameless bays.

Read those opening words and you know the author has done his share of historical research, and he understands the music of language.

Stewart begins with the words of Those Who Preceded Europeans, the Native people – the people whose names still sprinkle the land, east to west,  from Massachusetts to Mississippi to Tuolumne, and north to south from Dakota to Arkansas to Acoma.  As each different language group settles, and sprinkles names on the land, he tells their story.

Names often reflect culture.  The Spanish usually named places for the Catholic saint whose day was being celebrated on the day the Spanish “discovered” the place. The San Andreas Fault is so named because the Portola Expedition found a small lake in the fault valley on the feast day of Saint Andrew.  The French also named for Saints – St. Louis – but also for more earthy things – Grand Tetons.  Americans heading west by wagon, however, were more practical, naming landmarks in a way that would help those who followed:  Pilot Peak was a landmark to steer your wagon toward, but Stinking Water Pass was not the place to drink or fill water containers (you waited for the next pass, Sweetwater).

In some cases, original names were so modified by later settlers that original meanings are lost – “Purgatoire River” became “Picketwire” to the cowboys, for example. In the mixed American culture, names often combined languages’ words and grammar – thus “the Alamo” and Paso Robles (rather than the proper Spanish name, “El Paso de los Robles”).

When all was said and done, we had names to inspire us, and the world.  Many of the names were so beautiful in sound and spelling, and so poignant in history, that they became legendary: Golden Gate, Yosemite, Florida, Montana, the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, Route 66,  Mt. Shasta, Death Valley, the Great Plains, the Colorado River, the Rio Grande, the Missouri, Hollywood, Annapolis, and on and on.  Others were simple American names, often given with a touch of good American humor.  Bug Tussle, Cutlips, Accident, Nameless, Difficult, Nipple Butte, Show Low, Weedpatch, Punkin Center, and their kin are spread across this land.

Stewart’s book was a major success, even inspiring a program in the literate radio detective series,  “The Ghost Town Mortuary” in The Casebook of Gregory Hood. (An actor portraying Stewart helps Hood locate a kidnapper’s hideout when he identifies the one-word message from the victim as the name of a town.)  The book has been reprinted several times, most recently by The New York Review of Books Press.

Stewart once said that Names on the Land would never be translated  because of all his books it was the most specific to our nation’s use of plac name words.  But if current plans work out,  it is going to be translated, into Chinese.  Translator Junlin Pan, and Meng Kai, Geographic Editor of China’s most prestigious publishing house, Commercial Press,  have accepted the challenge.  The Chinese people are deeply interested in America – in how we have accomplished what we have accomplished – and are trying to learn as much about our culture as possible.  Names on the Land is certainly as good an introduction to American culture as anything every written, so it’s a good – if difficult – work to translate.

I’m sure that if George R. Stewart were alive he would be following the Chinese publishing project with keen interest. Of all the books he wrote,  Names on the Land  was his personal favorite.  It was as challenging for him to research and write the book as it will be for Junlin Pan to do a  translation that captures the nuances, the cross-linguist nature, and the wry humor of the names on our land, as sung in Stewart’s fine book.  I wish Junlin Pan and the Commercial Press all the best, and I wait with bated breath for the result.