I have two stories with a common theme, and in writing both I feared that I had tread too far in blending the sacred and the profane. One of them was a story, “The Prince of Coxcombs” about a boy who goes insane, believing himself to be Christ. By the end he recovers without renouncing his faith–but I won’t tell more. The other story, “The Humor of the LORD”, is about a Country Parson who sees the “subtle humor” of the scriptures. As he speaks, two themes are relevant: 1. His eccentric views of the scriptures; and 2) the fact that he must raise his grandson because of problems the boy’s father (his “Prodigal” and his “Absalom”) has. Anyway, both stories are uniquely personal for me… but I am afraid they might be misunderstood… people would think I wrote “The Prince of Coxcombs” to make fun of Jesus or St. Francis or both, or they would think in the case of “The Humor of the LORD” that I was insulting God himself… Nonetheless, I don’t want to think I am portraying taboo subjects just to desecrate what is holy about God or what deserves respect about human beings.
I have had to edit out things that it turned out didn’t belong in stories before. In Brazil–one of my early books–I had to tear out about a third of the book because it was so disturbing. The editor I hired had recommended me to excise two characters altogether and cut two more down to bit characters in Brazil. I am forced to admit that I think it was a much better book after I took the editorial cuts. I am embarrassed thinking about what I had to cut and why… And of course I realized on my own that the ending was a mistake, not so much meaningful and thought provoking as depressing… Bearing in mind all this, I hope nobody ever looks up the beginning drafts of Brazil–and I have other books on my computer that if I could bring myself to delete them it would probably be for the best… as it is I have them in folders indicating they are not fit to be published if the public would have them–and it might not.
Of course, this brings me to one of the great editorial changes in literary history. Charles Dickens was told to rewrite the ending of Great Expectations because his original ending was too depressing. People accuse him of selling out, but having seen them both I prefer the second and believe he made the right choice. Apart from being the happier, less bitter ending, it also was more pleasing from purely artistic sensibilities… or I believe it is. It is true that you can have something tragic and beautiful–like I believe Shakespearean tragedy, Hawthorne’s best work, or Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights are. Yet Dickens’ first ending was a dour excuse for an ending… it might as well have changed.
Despite all this, I do hope that “The Prince of Coxcombs” and “The Humor of the LORD” can eventually be published as short stories or as part of a larger collection: This Land was Made for You and Me. I will take this precaution, however: I am having several friends and relatives look at “The Humor of the LORD,” to make sure it is not offensive.