The Mockingbird Silenced, The Pendulum Stilled: A Short Tribute to Harper Lee and Umberto Eco

on Saturday, February 20, 2016
Sad news this morning. Harper Lee has died. Of course, my initial inclination was to give in to my rant reflex, mount the soapbox and let rip on the exploitation of modern literature's second greatest hermit. I suspect I'll still get the chance sometime soon. Death has removed the last bump in the road to publication of other early works. Last I heard, some short stories and novellas were in the offing. Thankfully, a lovely walk along the beach with my dog gave me a chance to settle my nerves and, instead, try to think of a fitting tribute to so singular an author. I'm sure many detailed and insightful tributes will be penned over the next few days but I want to leave it at this: Harper Lee wrote the perfect novel. Very few authors can boast such an amazing feat. That it was the only one she willingly published in her lifetime (I'm going to ignore last year's crass exercise in commercialism) makes it all the more remarkable. So brilliant was To Kill A Mockingbird that it also stands as the only great novel to be adapted into a great film.

I thought I could simply leave it at that. Then, as I sat down to write this, I learned of the death of another of my literary heroes. Umberto Eco also died today. And while he may not be in the perfect novel club he came pretty darn close twice. The Name of The Rose and Foucault's Pendulum are novels of immense depth and intellectual acuity. Oh, and they're bloody fun reads to boot. Like Lee, Eco added to our understanding of the world. He wielded his pen as a weapon of morality, integrity and goodness. He challenged us to think harder, to further our philosophical horizons. His body of work across genres - be it novels, works of philosophy, literary theory or semiotics - knows no equal. How he never won the Nobel Prize is beyond me and, to be frank, lessens its worth rather than Eco's.

It is fitting that we lost these two literary giants on the same day. To my mind they were bookends to the writing experience. Their output, on opposite ends of the numerical spectrum, achieved the same thing: they bettered our lives. And for that we should be thankful. Harper Lee and Umberto Eco will both be missed. More importantly, they will both, for many years to come, be read.


Post a Comment