Mother London

POSTED: December 1, 2020

I finished reading Michael Moorcock’s Mother London recently, and I liked it a lot. I do not want to write a full review, but I do want to point out a particular attention to detail that caught my eye.

On page 485 of the paperback edition, Moorcock writes

I went back to my flat in Colville Terrace to lay out my collection of toy soldiers while listening to Ives’s Holiday Symphonyand Copeland’s Billy the Kid. My aunt Iris has already thrown away all my uncle’s record collection when she had his cat put down so I had nothing specific I could play. I put on The New Riders of the Purple Sage and The Pure Prairie League and took from the shelf where I kept my small collection of such books a copy of Tex of the Bar-20 and read for my own pleasure and the spirit of my Uncle Jim a scene where Tex teaches Miss Saunders the art of pistol shooting while the two discuss the nature of reality in relation to the writings of Kant and Spencer, little knowing that in a short while Tex will have to resort to his twin sixguns in order to defend himself against Bud Haines, the hired killer, in Williams’s Hotel, Windsor, Kansas.

Ho ho ho, I thought to myself. Very droll.

A couple of evenings later it occurred to me that the Bar-20 featured in the Hopalong Cassidy books and films. I wondered if the book Moorcock described actually existed. I searched Project Gutenberg and, sure enough, many of the Hopalong Cassidy novels by Clarence E. Mulford featured there. I downloaded Tex, the tenth novel in the series.

“You have not frightened me,” she answered. “I have been frightened for a long time. We are so helpless!Things which bother me, I dare not speak to him about them, for he only would get into trouble and to no avail. He cannot pick and choose; and I must stand by him, no matter where he goes, or what he does. Is there mercy in heaven, is there justice in God, that we should be so circumscribed, forced by ills hard enough in themselves to bear, into still greater ills? Jerry’s lungs would be tragedy enough for us to bear; but when I look around at times and see–do you believe in God, Mr. Jones?”

“What I may or may not believe in is no aid to you, Miss Saunders,” replied Tex, amazed at his reaction to her distress. It was all he could do to keep from taking her in his arms. It was a lucky thing for Henry Williams that he finally abandoned the idea of following them. “If you have been taught to believe in a Divine Power, then don’t you turn away from it. To say there is no God is to be as dogmatic as to say there is; for every reasoning being must admit a First Cause. It isonly when we characterize it, and attempt to give It attributes that differences of opinions arise. I am not going to enter into any discussion with you on subjects of this nature, Miss Saunders. Nor am I going to tell you what my convictions are. They do not concern us. If you have any religious belief, cling to it: this is when it should begin paying dividends.”

“Have you read Kant?”

“Yes; and Spencer tears him apart.”

“You are familiar with Spencer?”

“As I am with my own name. To my way of thinking his is the greatest mind humanity ever produced–but, with your permission, we will change the subject.”

“Not just yet, please,” she said. “You admire his logical reasoning?”

“I refuse to answer,” he smiled. “Here, let me give you an example of logical reasoning, Miss Saunders. Here are two coins,” he said, digging two double eaglesout of his pocket, “which, along with thousands of others, we will say, were struck from one die. You and I would say that they are identical, especially after the most thorough and minute examination failed to disclose any differences. I hardly believe that any man, no matter how much he may be aided by instruments of precision, can take two freshly minted coins from the same die and find any difference. But what does pure logic say?”

“Certainly not that there is any difference?” she challenged in frank surprise.

He chuckled. “That is just what it claims, and here is the reasoning: No one will deny that the die wears out with use, which is the same as saying that the impressions change it. To deny that they do is to say that it does not wear out, which is absurd. Therefore each impression, being a part of the total impressions, must have done its share in the changing. And each impression, having changed it, must be different from those preceding and following it. Now, if the die changes, as we have just proved that it does, so must the coins struck off from it, for to say otherwise is to claim that effects are not produced by causes, and that a changed die will not make changed coins. Therefore, there are no two coins absolutely alike, never have been, and never can be,even at the moment they leave the die. Put them into circulation and the hypothetical differences rapidly increase, since no two of the coins can possibly receive the same treatment in their travelings. There you have it, in pure logic: but does it get you any place? On the strength of it, would you persist in denying that these coins are dissimilar? Are they so practically? And it is from practical logic that we draw the deductions by which we think and move and live. So you take my word that it will be better for you to cling to whatever faith you may have. If it is not practical enough for you, I’ll look after that end for you; and between your faith and the cunning of my gun-hand I’ll warrant that your brother will come to no harm. Shall we lunch at the C Bar, or in that little clump of burned and sickly timber on the bank of that dried-up creek?”

It turned out that Michael Moorcock had made nothing up in this allusion. It turns out that he knew more than I credited him for and aligned two unrelated elements into a surprising whole.

I always knew he tended (like Ken Campbell) to do this. I just hadn’t realised how much!