James Jones, Denise Lapachet Barney, and George R. Stewart

Not long ago, old friend and Stewart fan Denise Lapachet Barney sent a text:

“Looks like James Jones was familiar with the work of GRS!  (Jones also wrote “From Here to Eternity”)”

Attached to the text was an image of a page from James Jones’ Some Came Running.

some came running cover

… it was Gwen who came up with the idea of patterning it somewhat on the idea of George R. Stewart’s book, “Storm”.  There too, she said, the people were only incidental; the protagonist was the storm itself.  Of course, it was not a deep book, wasnt [sic] even meant to be one.  …Did Dave know the book?  There was a copy of it here someplace that he could take home with him to study.  The main point was that the life of the storm, from its birth in Pacific to its death across the mountains, formed the framework and the continuity.

Bob agreed excitedly.  And so did Dave; he took it up and began at once to elaborate it.  It was really ludicrously simple.  All he had to do was take an organization, preferably a green one, and follow it through some campaign from its first combat to—Well, to the end:  the end of the campaign, or the relief of the or the relief of the organization, or—perhaps—to the final replacement of the last man who had been with the original outfit.  ….

I haven’t read Jones’ novel and I don’t know the context of the passage – that is, for what the characters are considering STORM as a model**.   Still, it is an homage to his work by an author who won many awards, who saw this novel (and From Here to Eternity) filmed and receiving several academy award nominations (and at least one academy award for From Here to Eternity).

Jones’ characters are offhandedly critical about Stewart’s novel, commenting that it wasn’t a deep book.  I’d disagree; I think the reason for the criticism is founded on differences between the two authors’ approach to their work.  Jones clearly follows Shakespeare’s idea that the world is simply a stage for human interaction while Stewart believes the world is THE protagonist in all human drama.  And Stewart is, ultimately, a great optimist while Jones’s work carries a dark pessimism woven throughout.  Yet Jones’ view of Storm is similar to that of distinguished Stewart-inspired JPL/NASA Scientist, James D. Burke, who found the novel’s emphasis on the storm as the protagonist that encouraged humans to work together toward a noble goal.

James Jones is one of a group of distinguished writers, artists, and scientists influenced by George R. Stewart who acknowledge him in their work:  Dr. James D. Burke, William Least Heat Moon, Stephen King, Larry McMurtry, Christopher Priest, Wallace Stegner, Philip Aaberg, Jimi Hendrix, Ursula LeGuin, and others.

Congratulations and thanks  to Denise for this discovery.  She joins the Fellowship of Stewart Scholars.


1 thought on “James Jones, Denise Lapachet Barney, and George R. Stewart

  1. To clarify the context of the passage a bit…

    Dave (Hirsh) was forced to leave his small hometown in Illinois when he was a senior in high school because of a scandal. Nineteen years have passed and he has returned home. After knocking around some, he had some success with his first and second novels and short stories–not enough to be considered a “major” author, but enough to be noticed. He was in the Army in WWII and has since given up writing.

    Gwen (French) was two years behind Dave in high school and now teaches at the local college. She is writing a paper on Dave and a couple of other local authors who, after initial success, have given up writing. She and her father, Bob (a retired professor and a poet), think they can help Dave get back to writing.

    Tired of the solemn and portentous novels that have recently been published about WWII, Dave has an idea to write about the War, but in a humorous way. He’s not sure how to begin–how to format the story. Gwen comes up with “Storm” as an example where the main character is not the people, but the environment itself. Dave finds himself becoming excited–this is exactly the hook he’s been looking for.

    BTW, James Jones deliberately leaves out apostrophes or the last consonant in a word or has irregular punctuation in an effort to convey the way the characters talk and think. Most of them have only a high school education. If they have gone on, it’s to a trade school (or for the women, a secretarial school).

    The novel, “Some Came Running,” took Jones 6 years to write and is 1200+ pages. After the movie (starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine) came out an abridged version was released–which was still 600 pages long! And now there’s an “authorized re-edited” version that’s about 1000 pages. Currently I’m about a quarter of the way through the unabridged version.

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