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.
I haven’t read Jones’ novel I don’t know the context of this 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, writing that it wasn’t a deep book. I’d disagree, and I think the reason for the criticism is founded on two 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 that the world (as Jones admits) is THE protagonist in all human drama. And Stewart is, ultimately, a great optimist while Jones’s work carries a dark pessimism woven throughout. In Earth Abides, a novel about one of the greatest tragedies that might happen to humanity, Stewart ends on a note of hope. Jones ends his novel with tragedy.
Yet Jones’ view of Storm is remarkably similar to that of distinguished Stewart-inspired JPL/NASA Scientist, James D. Burke.
Jones’ characters discuss Storm:
… 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. ….
Dr. Burke, who was the Project Manager for the first US robotic missions to the moon, the Ranger missions, which successfully photographed several potential landing, described Stewart’s influence on his life and career in a remarkably similar way as this quote from my George R. Stewart biography shows:
When he was 12, Burke’s family moved to a cabin in the California transverse ranges, not far from the place young Stewart first felt the touch of the ancient on his long ago mountain hike. In the mountains, Burke discovered Storm and it changed his life: “All the senses were enlarged by the book. (Remember, I was living in the forest at this time.) Love of driving snow; Love of rough wood and bark; Love of the taste of watercress. Love of forest scent, of the smell of hot sunshine on the pine bark, of wind in pine.” Dr. Burke explained how the novel’s descriptions of highway workers, power plant operators, telephone linemen and others, gave him a love for work and achievement, much “celebrated in the book.” Stewart’s interdisciplinary approach also influenced young Burke and “connections became the stuff of a lifetime.”
James Jones now joins the band of writers, artists, and scientists who were influenced enough by George R. Stewart to acknowledge him in their work: William Least Heat Moon, Stephen King, Larry McMurtry, Christopher Priest, Wallace Stegner, Philip Aaberg, Jimi Hendrix, Urusla LeGuin, and the others.
Congratulations and thanks to Denise for this discovery. She joins the Fellowship of Stewart Scholars.
I do have one complaint – I’ll have to revise the GRS biography to add this new, important information.
**From Denise Lapachet Barney:
To clarify the context of the passage a bit…