Regular readers know that my grasp of matters ornithological is second to none, so it is only fitting that I have been asked to compile an anthology of fictional works with the word â€œowlâ€ in the title. It might be argued that such a task is purely bibliographical and requires no specialist ornithological knowledge, but I will defend my ramparts, as one must in this world of rascals and cut-throats and people who claim to know rather more about birds than I do. I am used by now to lippy slanderers who accuse me of almost fathomless bird ignorance, and though I have been known to quail and sob, I try my best to turn my becardiganed back on my detractors and get on with the job. So I am pleased to announce that work on the anthology is almost complete.
One of the works I turned up, and one I am annoyed about, and want to take issue with today, is Margaret Cravenâ€™s 1967 bestseller I Heard The Owl Call My Name. Now, really! Granted it is a work of fiction, but when did you ever hear an owl hoot â€œMargaret Craven, Margaret Cravenâ€? That is simply not the kind of call an owl makes, and to pretend otherwise is to be living in a foolâ€™s paradise. Of course, as a fictioneer, Ms Craven has the right to bend the world to her whim, and I am not asking for blinkered stodge, but there are limits to what the reader will accept. And before you start arguing that maybe the name the owl calls is not that of the author, but that of her protagonist, bear in mind in that case that the owl is calling out the name â€œBrianâ€. I think you will agree that is equally as idiotic an approximation of an owl sound as â€œMargaret Cravenâ€.
I Heard The Owl Call My Name became a bestseller some years after its initial publication, in the early 1970s, alongside such empty-headed slop as Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. Coincidentally, my other current project is a wholesale rewriting of the latter entitled Roman Catholicism And The Art Of Booster Jetpack Maintenance, in which the narrator is a futuristic science fiction Jesuit priest. Whether it will sell as ludicrous a number of copies as Robert M Pirsigâ€™s mystic drivel is another matter.
Speaking of futuristic science fiction jesuit priests and onithologically related book titles put me in mind of a paperback novel I read many years ago about a Jesuit Linguist who lead a mission to a distant planet to make contact with an intelligent alien species. It’s called “The Sparrow” written by Mary Doria Russel. A heady mixture of sex, violence, technical wizardry, linguistics and theology.
Even more excitingly, the synopsis of the “The Sparrow” ends with:
“This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.”
Truly the hand of Dobson is everywhere…
I think I will have to read “The Sparrow”. How can one resist a novel in which “a Vatican inquest is convened to coax an explanation from the physically mutilated and emotionally devastated priest”, who is also a “disgrace to his faith”?