Not Wanted on the Voyage Book Three

“…and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lifted up above the earth.”  Genesis 7:17

The opening  is a dramatic scene with rain falling and water rising simultaneously and a detailed description of the interior plan of the ark and its four decks with the “Well of darkness…right at the centre of the ark and its depth was the depth of the lower three decks.” Places must be found, hiding places, for Crowe and Mottyl who have come aboard in Mrs. Noyes’ apron with the apples. Mottyl has begun to give birth and a place must be found quickly: Lucy and Ham are instrumental in helping Mrs. Noyes with this secreting away of two of the beings classified as “not wanted on the voyage”. In the midst of all this business, Japeth appears and informs his mother that she and the others are wanted for a meeting: “He wants you up, now,” he said.

Mrs. Noyes has lost none of her spirit: “I assume you mean your father,” said Mrs. Noyes. “And – if you do – then please call him by name.”

The meeting does not go well from the beginning. On one side of the table sat Noah, Hannah, Shem and Japeth and, on the other, Mrs. Noyes, Emma, Ham and Lucy.  It occurred to Mrs. Noyes that there was a distinct division based on power apparent in the seating arrangement. The meeting ended with Mrs. Noyes’ dramatic departure and these words: “WE ARE A FAMILY!!!” Mrs. Noyes bellowed. “NOT A TOWN COUNCIL!” Upon further reflection, she remains genuinely puzzled: “What does it mean?” she said. “I don’t understand. We were a family….”

Mrs. Noyes is called into Noah’s presence again shortly after this meeting and it is then revealed that things on the upper deck are not running quite as Noah might wish. Mrs. Noyes helps him out on this occasion probably because of patterns set over several hundred years but this reader found she was disappointed in the apparent co-operation of Mrs. Noyes.Not Wanted

While the above meetings have been going on, Mottyl has had an unexpected adventure and accident while out looking for a place to make scat and as a result has been separated from her kittens at a crucial time  – supper time! You might recall that Mottyl is almost completely blind now and is, as well, a stowaway. She is injured after her accident and wakes up unable to move. It is then that she meets one of the other animals  – a very large animal. And so, through Mottyl’s experience, Findley makes us more aware of the experience of the animals on the ark. He writes of Hippo’s need for water and Rhino’s need for a dust wallow. Mottyl’s story is a wonderfully positive experience which feeds the needs we all have for hope. Then Mrs. Noyes realizes Mottyl has been gone too long and she has no gin to tide her over “the tensions crowding around her: the horror of the ark itself – the loss of her cat – the loss of her place in the scheme of things.”  I love her thoughts when she is at her low point: “If only I had imagined I would be here, I would have filled whole bins with gin jars….”

Time passes and changes occur: “Although Noah was quite unaware of it, Hannah was gradually gaining more control over his daily routine – the kind of control a nurse will exert when dealing with an elderly, confused patient. Sometimes they simply sat together for hours – silent and still.” Below decks everyone is very busy with the labour of caring for the animals. Mrs. Noyes begins to sleepwalk and comforts the bears.

Then comes a pirate attack! and a massacre! then domestic violence, mutilation, and sacrifice.

Desolation and heartbreak. And finally, transformation.

I will borrow Lucy’s words to close out the discussion of this third book: “All that was magical and wonderful has been left behind us – drowned – in my world that was before your world – and in your world that was before this…. So I am starting a rumour, here and now, of yet another world. I don’t know when it will present itself – I don’t know where it will be. But – as with all those other worlds now past – when it is ready, I intend to go there.”

And Mrs. Noyes, passing lit candle ends from the depths of her pockets hand to hand, says to Lucy:

“Even if it takes a thousand years – we want to come with you…Wherever you may be going.”

Not Wanted on the Voyage Book Two

The epigraph for Book Two: “Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of everything that creepeth upon the earth, there went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah.”  Genesis 7:8

And so Book Two begins as the ark is being built at the top of the Hill where Noah’s family has its family altar. Thinking on the picture my mind calls up from childhood story books and Sunday school lessons etc the experience of reading this second book makes me shake my head in amazement that I never questioned or tried to imagine all the complications of the undertaking involved. I must have made an assumption that because the event was orchestrated by God then it must have been an easy thing to organize. And I never gave a moment’s thought to the matter of what would become of all the animals who could not be included through no fault of their own and certainly I never imagined the carnage that might be involved never mind the cold-bloodedness and lack of compassion inherent therein.

The labour force for the ark was another aspect of the situation that I didn’t think about: I probably saw illustrations with Shem and Ham and Japeth and Noah all working together and inspired by their love and devotion to Yahweh. In this novel we see a much more realistic labour force which includes Emma’s father and brothers.  I was emotionally rocked by Mrs. Noyes’ experience riding on the lumber wagon with Emma’s father:

“Oh, I do wish,” said Mrs. Noyes; “that Emma was allowed to come and see you. And it’s crazy that I have to bring her to you this way – so secretive and brief. But he simply won’t allow it and we have to be obedient…”

“So I noticed,” said Emma’s father – and he looked at Mrs. Noyes and gave her a wonderful smile.

Mrs. Noyes blushed. She was being as about as disobedient as a wife could be – riding this way with another man on a lumber wagon. Still – she burst out laughing – it was worth every minute. Just to hear that Lotte and Emma’s mother were still there and thriving – just to hear Emma’s rare, rare laughter in the rear of the wagon – just to have sat these few brief moments beside this tall, sane, loving man – yes, it was worth every minute of jeopardy and danger.”

And this is followed not long after by: “There were no more meetings with Emma’s father or her brothers. Japeth had become suspicious… Emma was kept in the watchful eye of Hannah and, at nightfall, she was locked in her room.”

And then, “The ark was completed on a day of dust storms. Nothing had ever been so ugly. As it sat deserted on its hillside, its poop deck and its castle were shapeless and its colour was a horror, made worse by the great running streams of pitch, oozing down its sides like so much incredible frosting on a poison cake.”

Not exactly the stuff of children’s picture books of stories from the bible. I loved this book for its irreverence when I was younger (it was first published in 1984 when I was in my early 40s) but I treasure it now for much more. The loading of the animals takes place. Imagine how it would have been. Imagine much worse. “The sound of the great parade and round-up was heard on the other side of the forest and it went on for one night and two days.” One must read this with all the maturity of one’s years and consider whether or not this event took place at all.

Mrs. Noyes’ story and Mottyl’s story constitute much of the remainder of Book Two and they too must be read closely and perhaps more than once to be fully appreciated. It is also Lotte’s story: Lotte was Emma’s sister. Like Mottyl,  Lotte was definitely not wanted on the voyage. Not Wanted

“Mrs. Noyes knew all about such things since, many years before, she too had had such a child as Lotte – and had done what most people did in that event.”

There is a great deal to ponder after reading this second book. I will take a break before I return to Book Three. Even the description of the rain and how it changes bring a heady dose of reality to the old story: what must it have been like to be on the ark?  How did it feel if one really comprehended what was happening?

I adore the scene near the end of Book Two in which Mrs. Noyes succumbs to the influence of the three jars of gin which Japeth did not smash at Noah’s direction and sits at the piano bench and “played “The Riddle”  and she played “The Foggy, Foggy Dew. “ She played “On Top of Old Smokey,” “Scarborough Fair” and “Bendemeer Stream.”  She played “Careless Love” and “Home, Sweet Home”;  “The Bluebells of Scotland,” “Clementine,” “Au Claire de la Lune,” “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes,” Auld Lang Syne,” etc. I laughed loudly as the list of songs grew and I realized that Mrs. Noyes , had she indeed been Noah’s spouse, knew not a single one of these songs. And then she finishes up with “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” before launching into her three absolute favourite favourites: “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen,” “My Lord, What a Morning” and the rousing, thumping shout of “The Holy City.”  Everything after this is anti-climactic for me: the hero(ine) has been clearly established.

Anne Geddes Bailey on Not Wanted on the Voyage

“Reading…is a political act. The more you read, the more political you become. The more you read, the more dangerous you become.”  (Timothy Findley, 1992 Spry Lecture in the Introduction to Timothy Findley and the Aesthetics of Fascism by Anne Geddes Bailey ISBN 0-88922-386-6 TALONBOOKS)

All statements to follow are quoted from Bailey’s book and are chosen for the help they provide in expanding our understanding of this particular novel.T Findley Aesthetics

“With the publication of Not Wanted on the Voyage, Findley’s work moves away from a focussed critique of fascist politics and modernist aesthetics and begins a wholesale attack on authoritarian social and cultural institutions which many of us who live in western cultures hold dear. In this novel, Findley does not merely challenge the authority of a medical institution, as he does in The Last of the Crazy People, or a historical political system, as he does in his three war novels, but instead assails the highest authority of western civilization – the God of Judaism and Christianity. Findley uses as his subject one of the best known of biblical stories, Noah’s Ark, which over the centuries has been the subject of dozens of plays, poems, novels, children’s books, paintings, cartoons, and even comedy routines.  By choosing the Genesis story of the flood as his subject, Findley is able to parody and critique the social and political authority of Judeo-Christian myth, making his readers conscious of the underlying ideological assumptions of myths culturally important in western society. As Northrop Frye contends, “man lives, not directly or nakedly in nature like the animals, but within a mythological universe, a body of assumptions and beliefs developed from his existential concerns”. Findley wants his readers to pay attention to those assumptions and beliefs which both bind us together in common cultural experience and lock us into cultural and ideological patterns which justify patriarchal violence and tyranny.”