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Tom Chaney: Here be Dragons - Back in Kentucky

Of Writers And Their Books: Here be Dragons. A review of Divine Right's Trip by Gurney Norman wherein Divine Right and Estelle try to shed "unnatural social constraint" as did Huck Finn. This column first appeared 4 May 2008.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Joyful Spring!

By Tom Chaney

Here be Dragons

All of the aging flower children in these parts should remember Urge, the 1963 VW Microbus that carried Divine Right (D.R.; David Ray) Davenport back to the hills of eastern Kentucky from the wiles of California through the pages of The Last Whole Earth Catalog along about 1971.

Rocky Mountain High was nothing compared to the reverse migration trip back home. Why, in the first chapter Divine Right is looking 'for a J' and talking about how even Urge appreciated dope. "One time just before crossing the Canadian border he'd stashed an ounce of prime Afghan hash in Urge's crank case and Urge had obviously loved it. Within a mile Urge's headlights had started flashing on and off, his horn spontaneously bleated tones of joy. At least it had seemed that way."

So, from the book's beginning its title Divine Right's Trip [by Gurney Norman, Gnomon Press, 1990] has at least two meanings -- and several more by the time D.R. parks Urge behind Mrs. Godsey's store at the foot of the Trace Fork holler where his uncle Emmit Collier is dying in the old home place now threatened by overburden from the strip mines above.

D.R. and his chick Estelle meet a series of weird characters as their trip gradually assumes an eastern focus -- from the hitchhiker who never speaks till he gets out: "Did you ever read about St. George and the Dragon?" he asks D.R. who shakes his head, no. "It's far out.... " says the kid as he and his dog head back in the rain the way they came -- to the Lone Outdoorsman mounting his motor cycle to ride from motor home to rest room in the RV park.

But the trip is also a quest, as Ed McClanahan observes in the fine afterword to the Gnomon edition.

Divine Right and Estelle are trying to shed "unnatural social constraint" as did Huck Finn. Without realizing it fully D.R. is seeking "his homeland, and rest, and peace."

He has come close to losing his direction to parlous adversity.

When they get to Cincinnati the quest gains focus. D.R. learns of the illness of Emmit, loses Estelle, but heads into the mountains of home.

Missing his way, he is guided by a coal miner named Virgil.

In the depths of the dark shaft of an abandoned mine, he faces his dragon and, like Beowulf, slays it.

He comes home to the "yellow earth of a churned-up land."

D.R. and his new neighbor Leonard get Emmit to the hospital in Blaine, Kentucky, where D.R. nurses him through the ravages of kidney failure.

Divine Right takes over Emmit's project to save the land with rabbit manure. Leonard teaches him about the satisfaction of hard labor. And he finds Estelle, persuading her to come to Trace Fork.

The novel ends with a celebratory wedding in the hollow. California flower people and eastern Kentucky hill folks merge there on Trace Fork. Swami High-Time reads from the book of James. Reverend Bagby reads from the Book of Tao.

And the Anaheim Flash pronounces D.R. and Estelle " husband and wife. 'And I pronounce everybody at this wedding hereby married to one another.'

" The Flash reaches into the bag at his feet then, and from it he begins to fling rice out over the gathered people. "

Kentucky has produced only one Gurney Norman - friend of Wendell Berry, Ed McClanahan, Bobbie Ann Mason, and others.

Ah! The "vast private joy" of Kentucky tales well told.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2013-05-05 03:58:34
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