Wednesday, October 10, 2007

'The Seven Storey Mountain' was first published 59 years ago this month

The Path to the Mountain

"...In books that become classics the opening words often seem to be inevitable, as if they could not possibly have been otherwise--"Call me Ishmael," "Happy families are all alike," "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." After several tries, the opening of Mountain became: "On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadows of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world." There remained the job of editorial polishing--eliminating repetitions and longueurs. Merton was very cooperative about all these minor changes. "Really, the Mountain did need to be cut," he wrote a friend. "The length was impossible....When you hear your words read aloud in a refectory, it makes you wish you had never written at all."

Then a crisis arose in the midst of the editing. Merton told Naomi that a final censor was refusing permission to publish! Unaware that the author had a contract, an elderly censor from another abbey objected to Merton's "colloquial prose style," which he considered inappropriate for a monk. He urged that the book be put aside until Merton "learned to write decent English." We felt that these anonymous censors would have suppressed St. Augustine's "Confessions" if given the chance. I advised Merton to appeal (in French) to the Abbot General in France, and to our relief the Abbot General concluded that an author's style was a personal matter. This cleared the air and the censor wisely reversed his opinion. At last the Mountain could be published..."


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