Eden was no fan of perfection. She swam in trivia, in the failures of the world. Her favorite music created by blues musicians from the 1920s who had never quite made it big, and who had died in obscurity, and her favorite television shows all canceled after only a few episodes ten years earlier. She read and re-read fifty-year-old books from defunct publishing houses, and she solicited type-written manuscripts from the survivors of deceased writers who had never found a venue for their work; she velobound these drafts and read them on the subway, or carried them into the park…. She recited passages out loud to Alice, breathlessly; she looked up every few moments and smiled a joyous smile of discovery.
The best movies, Eden always insisted, were all half-completed, things so daring and uncompromising that production had to be shut down for lack of financial backing. Eden bought bootleg videotapes of movies that were never finished. She had a substantial collection. She would watch these films alone in the dark, and she would imagine what each might have been, and sometimes she would cry.
— From In Love With Alice, by Alon Preiss
There is something so sad and moving about a brilliant, unfinished work.
Here are a few, which you can enjoy in an unfinished state and imagine what could have been:
Dragon’s Winter, by Elizabeth A. Lynn
In 1998, the acclaimed SF/fantasy author Elizabeth A. Lynn broke a long silence when Ace published this novel, an expansive and beautifully written saga about a shape-shifting warlord in a barbaric, medieval land, a book that, like all her books, contained spare, lyrical language and characters who were sexually flexible, to say the least. (Lynn is often described as writer who engages with gay themes, but her characters are not so much gay as they are highly adaptable.)
No less than George R.R. Martin hailed Lynn’s return, adding, “It’s been far too long since fantasy readers have had a new book by Elizabeth A. Lynn to savor. I hope we don’t have to wait as long for the next one.”
Lynn wrote a sequel, which ended on a cliff-hanger and cannily set up the series for a smashing finale.
Then … nothing. Till 2015, when she wrote, in a comment on Watt O’Hugh author Steven S. Drachman’s website, “[I am] indeed fine — but I do not think the rest of [the] story will ever be told. I regret it. I am delighted that you enjoyed Dragon’s Winter and Dragon’s Treasure.”
She is now a martial arts instructor in San Francisco, and a really great one. Her work is on YouTube. (Here, for example.)
The Thief and the Cobbler
A great masterwork of animation by Roger Rabbit animator Richard Williams, on which he labored for 30 years before, in rapid succession: 1) Warner Bros agreed to fund its completion, 2) Disney stole the whole idea and many of the characters and released Aladdin before Williams could finish his more ambitious film, 3) Warner Bros fired him and sold the movie to Miramax; 4) Miramax chopped the movie to pieces, threw away half of what Williams had completed, and paid a Korean animation studio to finish it on the cheap, and 5) the distributor dumped the film in theaters the last week of August under a different title.
Happily, an animator named Garrett Gilchrist (who also created the Chickadee Prince logo) pieced together what he could for an unofficial fan version and called it The Recobbled Cut; Gilchrist’s version includes the existing footage, the original soundtrack, tracings and storyboards, and which you can watch on the web. The excellent documentary, Persistence of Vision, by Kevin Schreck, provides a great introduction to Williams’ story.
The Chosen Ones
Speaking of which: Gilchrist himself created a web-comic called The Chosen Ones, which was an alien-invasion story filled with satire, social commentary and great illustration. All of a sudden, the chapters stopped coming, with much of the story left untold. Now even the website has stopped functioning. Gilchrist, however, is still alive, and so there is always hope.
The Prophet’s Wife
The Prophet’s Wife was Rabbi Milton Steinberg’s novel about a Biblical prophet and his prostitute wife. OK, it was kind of about a Biblical prophet and his prostitute wife. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a sexy page-turner! Especially considering that it was written by an Orthodox rabbi. But it also had great metaphoric power (or so they tell me) in its implications for the human race. The beautiful harlot’s betrayal of her husband (the Prophet Hosea) mirrors humanity’s descent into wickedness, our infidelity to our better nature (or, if you wish, our infidelity to God). So how the novel is to end is of great cosmic significance! If Hosea patches things up with the little lady, then humanity deserves to survive. If Hosea abandons her, then humanity deserves to be abandoned to a cold, empty and lifeless universe.
Steinberg, who ran the Zichron Ephraim synagogue in New York city after the death of founding rabbi Bernard Drachman, died in 1950, at the young age of 46, without finishing his book or ever indicating how he intended it to end. Various writers undertook the project at various times, but the essential question of the ending was too daunting.
Finally, just a few years ago, the gigantic tome was published as Steinberg had left it, and our fate still hangs in the balance. It is very strange, because the question that no one could answer is really just this: Is there any good left at all in Humankind, and do we deserve to live? One might hope the answer would have been Yes. Now we will never know.
A parallel universe story about a minor god who doesn’t want to be forgotten (and hence disappear), Noragami, an acclaimed and popular anime, made it to Season 2, ended on a cliffhanger, and then … what? Rumors and speculation about a new season have gone on for years. This is a show with good animation, compelling characters, beautiful music and a devoted fan base, and maybe there is hope.
David Bowie’s “Outside”
Like Noragami, Outside is not obscure, but unlike Noragami, this brilliant, ambitious epic saga is destined for oblivion. Remember, this David Bowie/Brian Eno recording, the tale of a dystopian future world (1999!), was subtitled, The diary of Nathan Adler or the art-ritual murder of Baby Grace Blue: A non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-cycle, and it was clearly hyped as merely the first chapter of a much longer story. Outside was a multi-media piece that included the recorded songs along with a written book, packaged with the CD.
Bowie promised that a new record would be produced every year till the Millennium, when an elaborate concert would tie the whole thing up. Nothing came of it till 2015, when Eno and Bowie discussed finally finishing the tale. Unfortunately, Bowie died in early 2016, and that was that.
The Button: Book I of II
The Button: Book I of II, by Vlad Vaslyn, is an exciting modern fantasy/horror novel, and those of us who love it have been waiting many years for Book II. The author promises to finish this. Let’s hold him to it.
Oblivioni is a blog about “Obscure or Overlooked Books, Movies, People, Television, Artwork and Whatever.” Read more here.
Featured image by Aaron Burden/Unsplash.