by John Myers Myers
ISBN 0-441-76674-9
Ace Fantasy Books
The Berkely Publishing Group
200 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10016

A Silverlock Companion:
The Life and Works of John Myers Myers

edited by Fred Lerner
ISBN 0-910619-02-6
Niekas Publications, 1988
email order from <>

On the Structure of Silverlock

Way One: Chapters 1 through 4

Chapter 1: The Right Waters

It had not occurred to me until I read Sam Paik's page that the name of the tramp steamer Shandon is originally cruising on was a literary reference. (Even though Poul Anderson mentions it in his introduction to the 1984 edition.) Naglfar, however, is a ship from Norse mythology, associated with Ragnarok. A number of sources describe it as made out of dead men's nail clippings. This seems appropriate. Shandon begins the book as a dried-out, soul-dead husk — with the implication that a world that has turned away from its cultural heritage of imagination breeds such husks. The wreck of Naglfar is the Ragnarok of Shandon's old world.

After his shipwreck, Shandon is pulled onto a floating spar by a man from another shipwreck entirely, who says, "You must be as fond of swimming as the Great Silkie himself." Silkies, or selkies, are creatures who take the form of a seal when in water, and human form on the land. In the underwater kingdom of Sule Skerry they are ruled by their king, the Great Selkie.
Some references:

The other man reports his ship wrecked in the Maelstrom. He stayed afloat by clinging to a cylindrical spar. This is a reference to a famous story by Edgar Allen Poe, sometimes credited as being the first science fiction story, A Descent into the Maelstrom. I always thought Poe got the idea, however, from the myth of Scylla and Charybdis (Charybdis was the whirlpool) referred to in both the voyages of Odysseues and of Jason and the Argonauts.

Temple of the Delian OracleDelian
In his next remark, the stranger refers to the Delian. References to the Delian weave through the rest of the book. At one point in the book the party visits the Delian Oracle. Delian Apollo was the Greek god of prophecy, born on the island of Delos. (He was also worshipped as Pythian Apollo.) Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo

Aerial photograph of the temple ruins at Delphi
The temple of Pythian Apollo

After hearing the introduction, "A. Clarence Shandon", the other man strings a number of names together "although I don't usually assemble them" and introduces himself as O. Widsith Amergin Demodocus ... Boyan Taliesin Golias." For the rest of the book he goes by "Golias", although the folk in different locations address him by one of the various other names.

The Academy
Golias mentions the Academy. Thinking that he is being upstaged, Shandon refers to his University. The term University means something special to Golias, who almost chokes when Shandon says that his degree is in Business Administration. Golias is probably referring to the Academy of Plato in Athens. For an indication of how strongly the image of that Academy still affects people today, see Lost Documents of Plato.

While still in the water, the two men witness a fatal confrontation between a ship and a great white whale. Golias regards this as a signpost that they are approaching his homeland. Sam Paik has HTML'ed the complete text of Moby Dick, with hyperlinks direct to the passages cited in Silverlock. ("The whale, the whale! Up helm, up helm!" / The penultimate scene)

The Archipelago
Golias refers to the string of islands that he believes they are among as the Archipelago. The Archipelago of the Commonwealth does not, I believe, correspond to any literary Archipelago as a whole thing, but is an amalgamation of several famous islands.

P'eng Lai was one of the Taoist "Isles of the Blessed," believed to be the source of immortality. If one ate the mushrooms there, one gained youth and the power to float from island to island.

Emne is from Celtic mythology: The Voyage of Bran, Son of Febal, to the Land of the Living

Upon sighting land, Golias sings an invocation, in which he refers to Orthroerir: in Scandinavian mythology, a cup or pot where the mead of poetry was kept.

Chapter 2: The Animal Fancier

Upon reaching land, Shandon ditches his chance companion and accepts the hospitality of a lady living alone. Circe gives him his first lessons from the Commonwealth. Her island is named by Golias, Aeaea. Sam Paik has a detailed analysis of the allusions in this passage. For more literary references to Circe, see Circe's Home Page.

Chapter 3: A Map of the Commonwealth

The rescue from Circe takes the pair to another island where Shandon once more deserts Golias, this time with the awakening of shame. He doesn't stay away long, however, after circumnavigating the island and finding no indication of human presence other than the print in the sand of a large naked foot — reminiscent of Robinson Crusoe.

(Map) During Shandon's brainstorming about a way to get off the island, Golias comments, "the most marvelous craft that ever floated was a raft." He is certainly not the only man to get dreamy-eyed over The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

At one point Golias says, "Everything always comes from the East and goes West." This, I think, alludes to general cultural history. Shandon persuades Golias to draw him a map of the Commonwealth. One of the oldest landmarks on the map is the farthermost eastern point; the farthermost western point is about the most recent area of literature to still be considered part of the Commonwealth.

Original Edmund Dulac Watercolor for "Stories from the Arabian Nights"

The closest point to the Archipelago is "Deryabar, at the tip of Ever-After Peninsula." I believe Ever-After Peninsula, like the Archipelago, is a name made up by Myers himself. Deryabar is a city in the Stories of the Arabian Nights, "The History of the Princess of Deryabar " (aka "The Story of the Wicked Half-Brothers.") || Deryabar || Princess of Deryabar ||

The farthest western point of the Commonwealth is Pike County, the site of the legendary Hatfield-McCoy Feud. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill play fast and loose with geography and hang out there, too.

The northern shore of the Commonwealth sweeps from the Boss of Arden up to Utgard. The Boss of Arden is a reference to Shakespeare and medieval romance.

Utgard refers to Norse mythology. It is the home of the elder gods, the gods supplanted by Odin and his crew.

The southernmost point of the Commonwealth is Adamastor's Haunt, which is rather appropriate. In Portuguese myth Adamastor, originally one of the giants of Olympus, turned into the Cape of Storms as the result of unrequited love for the sea nymph Thetis.

There is only one highway that stretches throughout the Commonwealth: Watling Street. Similarly, there is only one river, Long River. Long River symbolizes every river, Nile, Congo, Amazon, Missouri and more, as Watling Street stands for every road in literature. The specific term "Long River", however, comes from the Chinese.

Broceliande Forest "floods all unsettled areas from the Boss of Arden to the Warlock Mountains." Again, one strong image of Forest is extended to stand for All Forest. In Broceliande, Shandon will encounter Brian Boru, Tam Lin, Puck, Robin Hood, and the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, among other things — rather more than the original contents of Broceliande. The original Broceliande was home to one of the greatest archetypes in fantasy, however — the Arthurian Saga. A number of excellent Arthurian links are collected at Bretagne, Brocéliande, Merlin, Morgaine, et Viviane. My Own Plug: Rhiannon Speaks.

The Warlock Mountains and the Titans: These are the major mountain ranges of the Commonwealth. Again, I don't believe these are the names of specific literary locales, but rather arbitrary names intended to sum up the whole mystique of mountains.

A "warlock" is a male magic user; the term is used freely in literature to label everything from a male Wiccan (devotee of a nature religion) to a power-hungry sorcerer (a magic-user whose powers come from demons) or necromancer (one whose powers come from the dead or the life-force of the dying.) Magic-users in literature often live in remote and hard-to-reach places: deep forests, mountain caves, or ice-bound wildernesses.

The Titans were the opposition party to the Greek gods. The familiar Greek gods, headed by Zeus, were usurpers; the original party of gods was headed by Cronus, the father of Zeus. Gaea, still worshipped as the earth Mother, was one of the Titans; so was Oceanus. Greek Mythology Gods Titans

Midwater or Gitche Gumee: "By the shores of Gitchee Gumee ..." starts the "Song of Hiawatha", Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's tribute to a legendary chieftain of the Iroquois. Generations of schoolchildren have recited it; no wonder it is etched on the landscape of the Commonwealth.

Ilium: An alternate name for Troy; also said to be the name of the fortress inside the city. From the Iliad, by Homer.

Carlion: A city in the Arthurian Legend.

Thebes: Ancient Egyptian city, center of mystical power, also important to the Greeks; where Alexander was crowned Lord of the Two Lands.

Valentia: The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says "The southern part of Scotland was so called from the Emperor Valens."

Parouart: (from Fred Lerner) Paris, in the medieval French thieves' argot of the Coquillards. Francois Villon, 1431-1463, wrote many of his poems in this jargon. Villon books at

Argos: A kingdom of the Heroic Age of Greece. Argos, Greek Mythology Link

Troynovaunt "New Troy" London. The poem In Honour of the City of London, by William Dunbar, from The Oxford Book of English Verse, uses the name. The source is The Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, who describes a history of the Bretons tracing them back to Troy. Geoffrey was "a bold and unrepentant revisionist." (Argument from a believer.)

Gotham: Fred Lerner's book forced me to recognize that this is not a reference to Batman, Defender of Gotham. After all, Silverlock was published in 1949. Gotham was around long before Bruce Wayne, however, as a village in Nottinghamshire which successfully avoided an expensive visit from the King and his Court by putting on a show of foolish behavior, such as trying to drown an eel in a pool of water. Washington Irving applied the name "Gotham" to New York City (in the Salmagundi Papers) — I'm not sure whether he thought they were pretending, or not. All about the Merry Tales of Gotham, by Alfred Stapleton, is a modern edition of the 16th-century tale attributed to Andrew Borde.

Red Branch: Order of chivalry which had its seat in Emain Macha. Heroes of the Red Branch and CuChulain strive for the Championship of Ireland. With CuChulain and Conor passes away the glory of the Red Branch. The Craeb Ruad (crâv' roo'ah), the great assembly hall at Emain Macha; now Creevroe, a townland near the River Callan not far from Navan, the ancient site of Emain Macha. (From Encyclopedia of the Celts) Also see The Ulster Cycle

Swallow Barn: Swallow Barn; or, A Sojourn in the Old Dominion by Kennedy, John Pendleton. Philadelphia: Carey & Lea, 1832. Describing a Virginia plantation seen through the eyes of a visiting New Yorker, the novel displayed both Southern pride and the period's mounting secessionist feelings.

Headlong Hall: A novel by Thomas Peacock published in 1816, in which a group of characters gossip and converse while eating and drinking to abandon. "Dinner with Andre," but a lot livelier.

Chapter 4: Driving for the Mainland

Shandon and his companion are becalmed, when they see a ship sail past them driven by a mysterious force, with all hands on deck apparently dead except one man at the helm with a bird slung about his neck. This image is directly from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

When Golias guesses that the Ancient Mariner's ship is powered by a spirit, Shandon asks if Golias could get one of those, and Golias says, "I have many names, but none of the is Glendower." In Henry IV, Part I, Glendower, trying to impress the Prince, says, "I can call spirits from the vasty deep." Henry replies, "Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?" (Another copy of Henry IV, Part 1 on line — it's a bit erratic, but nicely footnoted when working.)

by chance, by choice, or by oracle: I do not know yet whether this is a reference to myth or story, or if it just seemed to John Myers Myers to be an appropriate way of organizing things.

When Shandon and Golias spot another approaching ship, Golias says, "It could be the Argo, or Prydwen." The Argo was a ship of fifty oars constructed by the ancient Greek hero Jason to go after the Golden Fleece. See Jason and the Argonauts. Prydwen was a ship of King Arthur.

The Helge askThe oncoming ship turns out to be neither of these, but it is, as Golias guesses third, an ask — a Viking ship.

The commander of the ship is Brodir Hardsark. Brodir figures in the history of Brian Boru, the most famous high king of Ireland.

The captain of another ship accompanying Brodir is Sigtrygg, the name of a Norse king.

A skald was a Norse bard.

In preparation for battle, Shandon is given a byrnie, a torso-covering item of chain mail.

Shandon, having no armor of his own, is asked if he is a berserker. Berserkers were Norse warriors who attacked in manic frenzy and did not wear armor.

This chapter ends with a rowing song by Golias. East of Agamemnon ...

More to come ...

East of Agamemnon ...
Way One: Chapters 5-9
Way One:Chapter 10: At Heorot
The Ballad of Bowie Gizzardsbane
Way Two: The Way of Choice
Way Three: The Way of Oracle
Index of Chapters and References
Commonwealth Home Page
The Women of the Commonwealth
All links current as of January 20, 2002