To the Editors:
There is an error, involving controversial figures in our culture, arising from changes made to my piece in your April issue—“Clive James’s Singing Ceremonies”—after I approved final galleys. I originally wrote, and approved for printing, the following sentence:
As Norman Moonbase I figure, along with Kingsley Amis (Kingsley Kong) and—from the North—Philip Larkin (Philip Lawks), in his 1976 mock epic Peregrine Prykke’s Pilgrimage Through the London Literary World.
This has been altered to read:
As Norman “Moonbase” Mailer I figure, along with Kingsley Amis (Kingsley Kong) and—from the North—Philip Larkin (Philip Lawks), in his 1976 mock epic Peregrine Prykke’s Pilgrimage Through the London Literary World.
The change makes nonsense of the original sentence. Norman Moonbase is not Norman Mailer. Mailer, who was politically very left wing (much opposed to the Vietnam War and one of the sponsors of Fair Play for Cuba Committee), is mentioned only once in the Prykiad: when Peregrine is told by WEE GEORGIE WIDE (George Weidenfeld), “You got a style on you like Norman Mailer.” Oddly enough, Peter Stothard also assumed—in his July 2010 Times Literary Supplement piece “Peregrine Prykke Revisiting”—that Norman Moonbase was Mailer.
A “Guide to the Characters of the London Literary World” prefaces the poem both in the 1976 edition and in James’s collection The Book of My Enemy; the description “KINGSLEY KONG and NORMAN MOONBASE, two grand old S.F. buffs of the Right” makes a nod to the Spectrum science fiction anthologies Amis and I edited in the 1960s. Some of the action in my 1956 science fiction novel (A World of Difference) takes place in a station on the Moon. And in the poem itself, we find lines describing Prykke’s introduction to “This coven of Cold Warriors and Hawks”:
He got on first-name terms with Kingsley Kong,
While Norman Moonbase taught him a rude song
About how Tony Godspell was a gremlin
Assigned to ruin Penguins by the Kremlin.
In no time these Right-Wingers
Were known to Perry Prykke as ‘Norm’ and ‘Kingers.’
Green Berets briefed to win with utmost urgency
His heart and mind and counter his insurgency,
They dived right in and did not dilly-dally:
Would Prykke attend a Bertorelli Rally?
A few pages along (in the 1976 edition), when “Prykke’s name in Bertorelli’s was now Mud” there is an illustration by Russell Davies of “The Tuesday Fascists lunching in their bunker”—figures quite easily recognizable as Tony Powell, Robert Conquest, Kingsley Amis, and Bernard Levin (reproduced later in The Daily Telegraph).
To read the editors' response, please click here.