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Fourth Mansions Paperback – Dec 1969

5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Wildside Pr (December 1969)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1880448963
  • ISBN-13: 978-1880448960
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.4 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 322 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,444,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Format: Paperback
An incidental remark about allegories reminded me of this little volume by R.A. Lafferty. In many ways, I think it is his finest, although all of his efforts are remarkable. Whatever your preference, 'Fourth Mansions' remains the most unusual of its genre, an allegory that refuses to take itself seriously.
When Freddy Foley, newspaperman and innocent, discovers that certain people seem to reappear at irregular intervals he insists on investigating and soon finds himself hip deep in a metaphysical odyssey. He discovers that there is not one, but four separate subcultures that share the world with humanity. The best of these are the badgers that guard the entrances of the human domain. The worst are the toads, the ones who sleep and are reborn. These are dedicated to keeping the world from evolving to the next level. Every time things get better they make sure they really get worse.
Then there are the snakes whose wild mental energy runs out of control. For them the rest of us are toys to play with, energy to use up. Finally, there are the unfledged falcons. Well intentioned, they are the premature warriors, champions of violent solutions. Best to worst they spell little good for Freddy, whose truth seeking will lead him to the tops of mountains and the cells of asylums. 'Goof gloriously,' the snakes order poor Freddy, and so he does.
Lafferty performs an unexpected deconstruction of the mythology of man's progress, and creates an entirely unique narrative for inner progress. Foley is Everyman (Foley = The Fool) on a journey towards a higher plane of being, impeded by creatures that symbolize his own weaknesses. The tale is told tongue-in-cheek, a burlesque parody of one pilgrim's progress.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sadly, I'm not the genius Lafferty was so I won't try too hard to sum up the wild and fantastic content of this great novel. Try it for yourself, it isn't too costly.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9bcb4b10) out of 5 stars 7 reviews
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9be2bf90) out of 5 stars "There is also the danger of serpents" Nov. 22 2002
By Marc Ruby™ - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
An incidental remark about allegories reminded me of this little volume by R.A. Lafferty. In many ways, I think it is his finest, although all of his efforts are remarkable. Whatever your preference, 'Fourth Mansions' remains the most unusual of its genre, an allegory that refuses to take itself seriously.
When Freddy Foley, newspaperman and innocent, discovers that certain people seem to reappear at irregular intervals he insists on investigating and soon finds himself hip deep in a metaphysical odyssey. He discovers that there is not one, but four separate subcultures that share the world with humanity. The best of these are the badgers that guard the entrances of the human domain. The worst are the toads, the ones who sleep and are reborn. These are dedicated to keeping the world from evolving to the next level. Every time things get better they make sure they really get worse.
Then there are the snakes whose wild mental energy runs out of control. For them the rest of us are toys to play with, energy to use up. Finally, there are the unfledged falcons. Well intentioned, they are the premature warriors, champions of violent solutions. Best to worst they spell little good for Freddy, whose truth seeking will lead him to the tops of mountains and the cells of asylums. 'Goof gloriously,' the snakes order poor Freddy, and so he does.
Lafferty performs an unexpected deconstruction of the mythology of man's progress, and creates an entirely unique narrative for inner progress. Foley is Everyman (Foley = The Fool) on a journey towards a higher plane of being, impeded by creatures that symbolize his own weaknesses. The tale is told tongue-in-cheek, a burlesque parody of one pilgrim's progress. Filled with more mad characters than all of 'Canterbury Tales,' the reader is often left unsure whether to laugh or take notes.
Of course, this is the great flaw of allegory; it never loses the taint of lecture. Plot serves message unforgivingly. 'Fourth Mansions' is only partly fiction as we progress from lesson to lesson. The good news is that Lafferty refuses to fall into the trap of being tedious, and, instead, allows the allegory to parody itself. Still, this is unusual entertainment, and not meant for everyone. Full of mind games and obscure symbolism made garish, it is a child of the late 60's, although I think it's intent is more valid now then it was then. Nowadays I sometimes wonder if the toads have managed to win after all.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c136918) out of 5 stars Fourth Mansions reveals Lafferty at the top of his form. Sept. 28 1999
By Gord Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
One of the quirkiest science fiction novels ever written, Fourth Mansions reveals Lafferty's story-telling prowess in novel-length form. This is the timeless tale of reporter Freddy Foley, in a way a strange sort of Everyman, on the trail of things that ought not to be known. And they will not be known if a shadowy group called the Returnees have their way. Foley's misadventures lead him to a tangled web of bored suburbanites who concoct a mindweave to snare unsupecting souls. When the weave takes on a life of its own, demanding ever bloodier sacrifice, Foley is drawn toward a meeting with destiny that will take him into the secret world of the Returnees. Along with Past Master, Arrive at Easterwine, and Annals of Klepsis, I rate this book among Lafferty's best, and reread it often to remind myself that no matter how odd the world gets, it doesn't get odder than Lafferty.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c136858) out of 5 stars Lafferty's Masterpiece Feb. 22 2007
By Iao - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
R. A. Lafferty writes like Schrodinger theorizes. FOURTH MANSIONS is perhaps the greatest novel-length work by Lafferty. Lafferty gives the impression of a sort of bumbling, provincial rube, but underneath the strategic humility is a steel-trap mind and a terrifying erudition. Lafferty seems to know everything there is to know, and he'll mention it all offhandedly. He also casually and constantly throws off words that have me scrambling for the dictionary-- but they aren't pretentious, five dollar words, they're usually gorgeous, old, almost forgotten slang terms. Lafferty was an electrical engineer who started writing at a rather advanced age. I am convinced that in his technical work he must have been involved in some pretty otherworldly stuff-- maybe he took a couple rides with Otis T. Carr or something. Unbelievably brilliant, but if you don't know what you're looking at, or if you don't have a capacious American-style sense of humor, you might not get it.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9beda744) out of 5 stars like a vintage animated cartoon made of words, w/ slapstick & monsters; it's also the weirdest theological treatise ever written Dec 6 2014
By Daniel Otto Jack Petersen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
It's really a five star book. Very much so. In some ways, it might be Lafferty's masterpiece - in terms of his novels. But I'm trying to be realistic here and not come across as too fanboy-ish, as lacking any critical distance. The truth is, as a HUGE Lafferty fan (I've been writing a whole blog dedicated to his works since 2009), this is not actually my very favourite of Lafferty's novels. I prefer Past Master, Space Chantey, The Reefs of Earth, Arrive At Easterwine, Aurelia, Annals of Klepsis, and East of Laughter and I'd recommend you read several of them in addition to Fourth Mansions to really get the measure of this author.

But I'm not sure any of those other novels quite match the linguistic opulence and descriptive verve of Fourth Mansions. (That's how I feel about Gene Wolfe's Solar Cycle: my favourite is the last trilogy, Book of the Short Sun, but I can't deny that the first tetralogy, Book of the New Sun, is probably Wolfe's masterpiece and surely the richest in language and prose.)

Lafferty's voice in Fourth Mansions is like Charles Williams refracted through Raymond Chandler. Or Chesterton refracted through Black Elk. Or Flannery O'Connor refracted through George Orwell. Or Mark Twain refracted through Lovecraft. Or Colson Whitehead refracted through Kafka. Or Chaucer refracted through Walker Percy. Or the converse of any of those. Probably the nexus of all of them.

That's the main thing I want to say that hasn't been much mentioned by the other reviews here. That this is a delicious volume of prose style. Not in any way you might expect, though. Lafferty doesn't write like other humans. The narrative flow admittedly seems to bumble sometimes, but it's usually doing something deep at the moment it appears to be faltering a bit. And you'll probably only find that out on re-reads. But mostly the narration sings and sizzles and coruscates. It's a bit like a vintage animated cartoon made of words. Sentences seem to leap off the page and dance about in that mixture of fluidity and juddering jumpiness that early cartoons have. And it's also like old cartoons in that mixture of really silly slapstickery and really quite terrifying monstrosity they often evince in the impossible physical peregrinations they take the viewer through - where both bodies and landscape refuse to follow any known physics, yet cohere madly according to their own laws. It's very funny and very disturbing. That's Fourth Mansions.

One reviewer complained that the characters in this novel aren't developed, nor are they distinguishable from one another. I need to re-read it to see what I think about that. I've only read it one and half times so far (gave up half way through the first time, so I can sympathise with those who don't initially like it), but I've also dipped back into many passages many times over. What I will say is that the characters are drawn extremely richly in the 'cartoonish' mode I have just described. They are sketched in an incredibly vivid manner - Chesterton especially comes to mind in this connection - that makes them quite colourful, if of uncertain depth or distinction. It's worth noting that I have thought Lafferty characters weren't too 3D in some of his short stories, only to find on re-reads how incredibly wrong I was. They were rendered in a way I hadn't encountered before, so that I missed how incredibly solid and rich they were actually given to the reader, already fully formed. That may be the case in this novel, I'm not sure yet.

What makes the mad, terrifying, hilarious quality of the prose the more remarkable is that it is the vehicle of a deeply theological meditation, which many somewhat forgivably miss on a first read. Indeed, this book might be the funniest, wildest, weirdest theological treatise ever written. It's kind of about God making 'monsters' an indispensable but dangerous element of our inner and outer ecologies, that we must learn to integrate or be devoured by. Doesn't sound like anything you ever heard in Sunday School or 'Christian movies' or the like, right? Well, Lafferty is schooling believers as much as unbelievers in this book, calling everybody who will hear to a more fun and ferocious faith than we are wont to imagine Christianity is really all about. And he's trying to put readers in touch with ancient traditions that were really all about this kind of wild faith all along. According to Lafferty, modern religion has lost its way and needs to reconnect to its rich roots in order to evolve to its true potential. That's why the book is titled after a chapter in St. Teresa of Ávila's The Interior Castle and why some of the main biblical imagery it cryptically draws on is that of the prophet Ezekiel's terrifying Cherubim (angelic beings with four-faces - Ox, Lion, Eagle, Man - which attend the throne of God). Much of modern faith is too tame, suppressing holy monstrosity and thereby fostering unholy monstrosity. That seems to be a central aspect of the 'message' of this novel. And, admittedly, it is a sort of 'preachy' or 'lecturing' novel (there are long segments of actual lecturing and preaching late in the book!), but in a way that, if you ever experienced such in a church or university seminar room, you'd be on the edge of your seat - if not cowering behind it (trembling with laughter as much as terror).

For what it's worth, I first wrote about this book some three years ago here: http://antsofgodarequeerfish.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/some-initial-thoughts-on-r-laffertys.html. The blog post has some great comments from other insightful Lafferty fans as well.
HASH(0x9be2bedc) out of 5 stars Thanks, Jen! Sept. 8 2015
By s.ferber - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Despite it having been given pride of place in Scottish critic David Pringle's "Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels," and despite the fact that it has been sitting on my bookshelf for many years, it was only last week that I finally got around to reading R.A. Lafferty's 1969 cult item "Fourth Mansions." The author's reputation for eccentricity, both in terms of subject matter as well as writing style, had long intimidated me, I suppose. But just recently, Jen, one of the managers of NYC sci-fi bookstore extraordinaire Singularity, was enthusing to me about her recent acquisition of a first edition of Lafferty's 1970 short story collection "Nine Hundred Grandmothers" for only $40, and I suppose that her enthusiasm proved contagious in my case, as I manfully dove into "Fourth Mansions" soon after. This book was Lafferty's fourth novel, released when the Iowa native was 55 (Lafferty was a latecomer to the sci-fi game, only releasing his first story at the age of 46, after decades of being an electrical engineer!), following the near-simultaneous release of 1968's "Past Master," "Reefs of Earth" and "Space Chantey." Well, to my great surprise, despite the fact that Lafferty is "one of the most madcap writers of them all" (that's Pringle talking), and notwithstanding that "faintly irritating title" (Pringle again), I found myself hugely enjoying this crazy romp of a book.

That's not to say, of course, that I can honestly claim to have fully understood it. "Fourth Mansions" is loosely based on St. Teresa of Avila's "Interior Castle," a guide for the development of the human spirit, which came out in 1577. Although the book is described on the Amazon site as "one of the most celebrated works on mystical theology in existence," I must admit that I have not read it, and wonder just how many people have today. The plot of Lafferty's novel is so outré and bizarre that I despair of even describing it; any such description will surely not give justice to the loopiness of the entire conceit. Suffice it to say that our hero, young reporter Freddy Foley, learns that the U.S. Secretary of State's right-hand man, Carmody Overlark, bears a remarkable resemblance to both an Egyptian civil servant of 1350 B.C. AND a Mamluk officer of around 500 years ago; the thought occurs to Freddy that all three might somehow be the same man! This thought has been placed in Freddy's mind by a septet of mental mutants (three very strange couples plus Freddy's teenage girlfriend, Bedelia Bencher), the so-called Harvesters, whose "mind-weaving" sets some very strange events in motion, as they attempt to mutate further and overthrow the world. And eventually, Freddy learns that the mundane events of our unknowing planet have long been influenced by another "secret society," the so-called "returnees," who live for a while, then hibernate for centuries, and then come back again to take over the bodies of other men! Not to mention a third secret society comprised of the "patricks," dedicated to fighting the returnees! And before long, poor Freddy is caught up in the cross machinations of all three of these groups, only to find himself thrown summarily into the nuthouse, while the world is racked with plague, hysteria and civil war....

Anyway, those readers who deem David Lindsay's "A Voyage to Arcturus" (1920) the strangest science fiction novel ever written might want to revise their opinion after reading Lafferty's "Fourth Mansions." But despite its way-out plot (there is simply no way for the reader to ever predict what is coming from sentence to sentence!), the author, remarkably, maintains absolute control, and the book manages to hang together. Often, seemingly meaningless lines and bits of business attain significance a hundred pages later on. Conversely, the strangest things are mentioned in passing sometimes, never to be dealt with again in any sort of depth. (For example, the author tells us offhandedly that the Harvesters have just inducted Baubo, a demon from hell, into their group. In most stories, this would be kind of a big deal; here, it is just a brief aside of casual strangeness. Then there is the matter of the "plappergeists," the fascinating half dog/half ape familiars of the patricks that can only be seen out of the corners of one's eyes; they are mentioned a few times in passing but the reader is certainly left mystified by them, and wanting more.) Perhaps the single best thing that "Fourth Mansions" has going for it, though, besides its wild story line and its author's seemingly limitless imagination, is Lafferty's manifest great joy in writing and his love affair with the English language; in that regard, he is reminiscent, for me, of a writer such as Mark Helprin, whose novels almost read like poetry (I say this despite the fact that "The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction" mentions Lafferty's "labored singing prose"). Thus, in telling us of one of the Harvester couples, Lafferty writes: "There was sometimes a frightening gaiety about this couple, something of serpentine mottled green humor, wholly uncontrollable under-strata of recklessness bursting up in artesian fountains of water that was frosty with forbidden minerals...." Wow! And like most authors who are in love with language, Lafferty is not afraid to make up his own words to suit the occasion; thus, "intengent," "gangeroo," "actionist" and so on. Despite the fact that the book's range of literary reference is fairly formidable (besides the St. Teresa book, Milton's "Paradise Lost" and "Lycidas," G.K. Chesterton's essay "The Nightmare," and Shakespeare's "Othello" and "Henry IV, Part 2" are also mentioned), "Fourth Mansions" is very often laugh-out-loud funny. Freddy does a lot of maturing as the book proceeds (a partial benefit of his brain having been touched by the Harvester mind-weave), and he never seems to be at a loss for a clever comeback or amusing one-liner.

A hugely entertaining, maddeningly bewildering, beautifully written mindblower in the best sense, "Fourth Mansions" is certainly like no other book that I have yet to come across. Pringle tells us that Lafferty's work is "full of blarney and mysticism," and the book in question certainly is that. But really, how could I possibly dislike ANY book that references my favorite author, H. Rider Haggard, repeatedly, and that uses my favorite word in the English language, "chthonic," no less than three times? Thanks for the inspiration, Jen!

(By the way, this review originally appeared on the Fantasy Literature website, a most excellent destination for all fans of R.A. Lafferty....)

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