Saturday, August 24, 2013

Thomas Wms Malkin of Allestone, worldbuilder

So, reading the Harry Bauer book (SEASONED TO TASTE) introduced me to an interesting historical figure I'd never come across before: Thomas Wms Malkin, who appears in two of Bauer's pieces ("These Are My Jewels", p. 6-7, about biographies by parents of their own children, and "Reading Readiness", p. 16-20, entirely devoted to T.W.M.).  Through these I learn that more than two hundred years ago Malkin was an inventor of an imaginary world with its own maps, stories, history, and invented language:

". . . Malkin devised a language for his fanciful island 
and compiled a dictionary for his imaginary subjects. 
Appended to the history was a table of Remarkable Events"
 (Bauer p. 19) 

 When he died in 1802, young Malkin was even working on a comic opera set in his imaginary world of ALLESTONE ("The Entertaining Assembly") and finding it rather heavy going. Which was not surprising, because he was six and a half years old at the time.

Now, there are plenty of us who at one time or another create our own world (just speak to any DM*). A few go far beyond what's needed for the particular story he or she is writing at the time, so that world-building becomes a major creative enterprise in itself: two well-known examples being Austin Tappen Wright's Islandia (which, I gather, he made no attempt to publish in his lifetime) and J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth (which only made it into print more than twenty years after he'd begun work on it). And there are quite a few juvenalia featuring invented worlds, such as C. S. Lewis's Boxon and E. R. Eddison's world of THE WORM OUROBOROS (which he identified with Mercury -- in the sense that all there are 'mercurial', rather than its being a hot bare place brightened by the sun). But while Boxon, like most such worlds, was deliberately abandoned by the Lewis brothers when they grew up, Eddison's imaginary world persisted: drawings survive in the Bodleian of recognizable scenes from THE WORM made when ERE was ten. Which category Malkin's ALLESTONE wd have fallen into is impossible to tell, but there's certainly enough of interest here to make me wonder what he might have made of it, given the chance.**

As is often the case with things, once they're brought to yr attention you find you have material on them ready to hand. For example, it'd passed unnoticed to me that the map Th.Wms.Malkin drew of ALLESTONE is in J. B. Post's ATLAS OF FANTASY, a work I've had for years but obviously never looked closely enough at (I only noticed this time because I'd been looking for Bernard Sleigh's map of faerie, which featured prominently in this year's Guest of Honor speech by Doug Anderson at MythCon***).

Since Thomas Wms died so young, you'd have thought he'd have been wholly forgotten. The reason he was not was that his father, Benjamin Malkin, wrote a biography of his gifted son in 1806, his own version of 'A Spring Harvest'. And therein lies another tale. Today that biography is famous, not for preserving the memory of young Thomas, but because the frontispiece, a portrait of young Th Wms, was made by a friend of his father's, an unknown artist by the name of William Blake. In fact, according to what I've read, Malkin Sr. devotes a good deal of his preface to a sketch of Blake's life and work, making it a major source of information on Blake's biography from during Blake's lifetime. In the process, he included several of Blake's poems, publishing for the first time now-famous pieces like THE TYGER ("Tyger, Tyger, burning bright . . . "). I've even seen it claimed that it was through Malkins' work that Wordsworth and Coleridge first learned of Blake's work.

All this makes Malkin Sr's book about his son sound all the more interesting, esp. since Bauer notes that  Malkin Sr. includes "numerous stories, fables, and parables", as well as "The epic of Allestone, written in a series of disconnected letters"  and "the history of his island kingdom". Finding a copy of the original book wd be prohibitively expensive, but fortunately the book is available through warious print-on-demand services, though one warns the reader of "very fine print" (a chilling phrase). So I'll probably be picking this up, come September; if so, and once I've had a chance to look through it, and assuming that look-see turns up something of interest, I'll post again.


current reading: THE RING GOES SOUTH ("Farewell to Lorien")
current audiobook: The Great Courses: The Western Canon. by Prof. John M. Bowers (Univ. of Nevada), a series with a number of Tolkien references along the way.

*(Not to mention those half of all fantasy writers who write Coleridgean rather than Wordsworthian fantasy)

**for a sample of one of young Th.Wms' stories, see the (extended) write-up under the entry for Benjamin Malkin's book, which purports to include one of his stories in its entirity:

***Sleigh's map being (poorly) reproduced on pages 92-97 of Post's book


Brer said... has a great detailed reproduction of Sleigh's map that you can zoom in on.

Bluejay said...

You can now read the complete Father's Memoirs of His Child and admire Blake's illustrations at