Winter's Tale (novel)

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Winter's Tale  
recent edition cover
Author(s)Mark Helprin
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Genre(s)Literary Fiction
PublisherHarcourt, Brace, Jovanovich
Publication dateOctober 20, 1983
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages672 pp (hardback edition)
ISBNISBN 0-297-78329-7 (hardback edition)
OCLC Number11499502
 
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Winter's Tale  
recent edition cover
Author(s)Mark Helprin
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Genre(s)Literary Fiction
PublisherHarcourt, Brace, Jovanovich
Publication dateOctober 20, 1983
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages672 pp (hardback edition)
ISBNISBN 0-297-78329-7 (hardback edition)
OCLC Number11499502

Winter's Tale is a 1983 novel by Mark Helprin. It takes place in a mythic New York City, in an industrial Victorian era style, and markedly different from our own. It takes place mainly near the turn of the 20th century.

Contents

Characters

Peter Lake

Peter Lake is the central character of Winter's Tale. He changes the world by sacrificing his life for a child.

A child of an immigrant couple denied admission at Governors Island, Peter Lake is set adrift in New York Harbor in a miniature model ship called City of Justice. He is found in the reeds and adopted by the Baymen of the Bayonne Marsh, who send him off to Manhattan when he comes of age. There he first becomes a mechanic and then is forced to become a burglar in a gang called the Short Tails. He soon makes a mortal enemy of their leader, Pearly Soames, and is constantly on the run from the gang. Early one winter morning Peter is on the brink of being captured and killed by the gang when he is rescued by a mysterious white horse, who becomes his guardian.

While attempting to rob a house, Peter Lake meets Beverly Penn, and they fall in love. Beverly is eccentric, free spirited and enigmatic like an exploding star, which captivates Peter initially, but her deeper nature is revealed with her impending fatal illness from consumption. Beverly never disappears from Peter's life, protecting him until the very end. His love for dying Beverly causes him to become obsessed with justice.

In yet another escape from Pearly's men, both Peter Lake and the white horse crash into the cloud wall, disappearing in it for years. When Peter Lake emerges, years later, he no longer remembers who he is and is visibly no longer of this world, seeing and hearing things that nobody else can see or hear. One night, in a dream or a vision, he is carried on a tour of all the graves of the world, observing and remembering all the dead.

In the apocalyptic chaos of burning New York, Peter Lake comes to full power, able to perform miracles. He sacrifices his life to resurrect a dead child and thus changes the world.

Peter Lake refers to himself, earlier in his life, as "Grand Central Pete".[1] In reality, there was a well-known confidence man in the late 19th century known by this name.[2]

Athansor

Athansor, the white horse, acts as a guardian angel of Peter Lake. Able to fly and possessing extraordinary endurance, the white horse appears to be an angelic being. Before the end, Peter Lake releases him to finally let him go to heaven, as Athansor had not been able to do before because of Peter Lake.

The white horse appears on the first pages of the book, saving Peter Lake who is being pursued by the Short Tails. The name of the horse is unknown to Peter Lake, but when Peter Lake visits Bayonne Marsh, the Baymen recognise the horse as Athansor, mentioned in the third song of their ten songs, learned beginning at the age of thirteen, one each decade. The Baymen arrive from everywhere to view the horse, but never explain what they know about him besides the name and the fact that he comes from the left.

Athansor is separated from Peter Lake when they both crash into the cloud wall but gets reunited with him towards the end of the story. Peter Lake releases him, and Athansor heads towards the heavenly pastures. As he gallops across Manhattan, trying to lift off, the whole island shakes under his hoofbeats.

Beverly Penn

Beverly Penn is a young girl dying from consumption who meets Peter Lake when he breaks into her house. Beverly is a visionary who can feel the universe. She writes down equations that explain the universe and mean for her that the universe shouts and growls. Beverly's father says about her that she had seen the Golden Age.

Even after her death, Beverly protects Peter Lake. Pearly Soames says that he tried but could not get to Peter Lake through Beverly's protection.

Jackson Mead

A master bridge builder and an enigmatic figure, Jackson Mead constructed many fine bridges all around the country. He is a brilliant engineer and appears to have unlimited material resources for the job. He is eventually revealed to be an exile from heaven, whose purpose is to build one last bridge that will bring forth the end of the world as it is, letting him return to heaven. As Jackson Mead puts it, his purpose is "to tag this world with wider and wider rainbows, until the last is so perfect and eternal that it will catch the eye of the One who has abandoned us, and bring Him to right all the broken symmetries and make life once again a still and timeless dream. My purpose, Mr. Marratta, is to stop time, to bring back the dead. My purpose, in one word, is justice." Jackson Mead's rainbow bridge does not take, but he is not upset by the failure and disappears to bide time until his next attempt.

It is interesting that Jackson Mead's stated goal "to stop time and bring back the dead", in precisely these words, is widely associated with Peter Lake and in particular attributed to him on the back of the paperback edition.

Jackson Mead's character is partially based on Joseph Strauss, the engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge. Hardesty Marratta recognises Jackson Mead's face in the face of the monument to Joseph Strauss at the Golden Gate. The inscription on the monument refers to the bridge as the "eternal rainbow", a simile used by Jackson Mead.

Literary significance and reception

Winter's Tale was published in 1983. Praised on the front cover of the New York Times Book Review (NYTBR) as "funny, thoughtful, passionate...large-souled", it joined his previous four books as the lead review.[3] In May 2006, the New York Times Book Review published a list of American novels, compiled from the responses to "a short letter [from the review] to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to identify 'the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years.'" Among the twenty-two books to have received multiple votes was Helprin's Winter's Tale.[4][5]

Literary style and influence

Although many have stated that the novel has a similar feel to the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Salman Rushdie, and the book is in part a paean to New York City in the same way that Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude is a tribute to Garcia Marquez's Colombia, Helprin himself is on record (in a letter to Keith Morgan, and elsewhere) as stating that he "detests" magical realism, because "it is exhibitionistic, forced, self-conscious, and almost devoid of emotional content. Perhaps I don't like it for the same reasons that I have never taken recreational or hallucinogenic drugs. I don't believe that a story must necessarily follow the conventions of 19th-century realism, but if it departs into the realms of unreality it must be pulled there by deep conviction and the sense of the story itself, not driven there as in a mechanical literary experiment. No one ever said the Bible was 'magical realism' even though what happens in it departs from the realm of physics. Put me down as leaning in that direction rather than toward South America." A more explicit influence may be Fielding's Tom Jones and Dante's Divine Comedy.

Film adaptation

A film adaptation of the novel has been announced. Akiva Goldsman is set to direct and to write the screenplay. Russell Crowe, Will Smith, Colin Farrell, and Jessica Brown Findlay are signed to star in the movie. Actor William Hurt has signed on for the last major role.[6]

Translations

Additional translations include the French, Italian, Hebrew, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, Swedish, and others.

Footnotes

  1. ^ Helprin, Mark. Winter's Tale. p. 174. 
  2. ^ "Confidence Man Arrested. "Grand Central Pete" in custody at Denver", The New York Times (New York, NY) 26 (19): 5, February 24, 1892, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9B0DE3D91631E033A25757C2A9649C94639ED7CF 
  3. ^ 'Winter's Tale' ("Not for some time have I read a work as funny, thoughtful, passionate or large-souled. Rightly used, it could inspire as well as comfort us. Winter's Tale is a great gift at an hour of great need.")
  4. ^ "What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?". The New York Times. May 21, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/21/books/fiction-25-years.html?ex=1305864000&en=d3f9cc78ce4c00b7&ei=5088. 
  5. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Helprin#Honors_and_accomplishments
  6. ^ "William Hurt Joins Winter's Tale". http://www.movieweb.com/news/william-hurt-joins-winters-tale/. Retrieved 2012-08-08.