Authors: James Jones
|Open Road Media (2011)|
—There was an almost
standard remark the night
medic on duty would make to
the newly arrived patients
at the hospital. He said,
“If you want anything, just
whistle for it.”
This book is dedicated to every man
who served in the US Armed Forces in
World War II—whether he survived
or not; whether he made a fortune
serving, or not; whether he fought
or not; whether he did time or not;
whether he went crazy, or didn’t.
Bounce, and dance; bounce, and dance;
Jiggle on your strings.
Whistle toward the graveyard.
Nobody knows who or what moves your batten.
You’ll not find out.
—Ancient French Jingle
Trans. from the French by
Introductory Note by Willie Morris
James Jones died in the hospital in Southampton, Long Island, New York, on May 9, 1977, of congestive heart failure. He was fifty-five.
was to have had thirty-four chapters. Jones had completed somewhat more than half of Chapter 31 when he again became seriously ill. However, he had already plotted in considerable, and indeed almost finished detail his remaining material.
I was his friend and neighbor, and in tape recordings and conversations with me over several months prior to his death, he left no doubt of his intentions for the concluding three chapters. As late as two days before he died, he was speaking into a tape recorder in the hospital.
He planned for these last chapters to be relatively short. The ending of
was firmly in his mind. All he lacked was time. Had he lived another month, I believe he would have written these chapters to his satisfaction. But he leaves what is essentially, by any judgment, a finished work.
In his note about this book, Jones has described his intentions on the scope of this work. This is the third novel in his war trilogy:
From Here to Eternity
(1951) being the first, then
The Thin Red Line
(1962), and now
He was obsessed by
. He worked on it off and on for a very long time. He kept coming back to it, and it kept “turning on its spit in my head for nearly thirty years.” After his first attack in 1970, he had two recurrences of his serious heart ailment, and I sensed he had a premonition that he was fighting against time to complete this book. For the last two years, in the attic of his farmhouse in Sagaponack, Long Island, he worked twelve to fourteen hours a day on it. He survived another attack in January 1977, and between then and his death he went back to writing several hours a day. As a precaution he also made the tape recordings and the notes.
Jones wished to have a few introductory words about why the name of his city in
is Luxor, rather than Memphis, Tennessee. In his notes and in an earlier essay, he wrote:
Luxor in fact does not exist. There is no town of Luxor, Tennessee. There is no Luxor in the United States.
Luxor is really Memphis. I spent eight months there in 1943 in the Kennedy General Army Hospital. I was 22.
But Luxor is also Nashville. When I was sent back to duty from Kennedy General, I went to Camp Campbell, Kentucky, which was close to Nashville. Nashville supplanted Memphis as our liberty town. Luxor has recognizable traces of both. In my book I did not want to break off with the characters, love affairs, habitudes, hangouts, familiarities, and personal relationships of Memphis. For these reasons I was obliged to turn the real Camp Campbell into my Camp O’Bruyerre, and place it near Memphis.
So I have called my city Luxor and used the Memphis that I remembered. Or imagined I remembered. People who know Memphis will find my city disturbingly familiar. And then suddenly and even more disturbingly, not familiar at all. They should not think of it as Memphis, but as Luxor. Sole owner and Prop., Jas. Jones, who must also take full responsibility.
A brief explanation about the Epilogue:
In Chapter 31, there is a set of asterisks. This is the point that Jones reached in Chapter 31. As reconstructed from his own thoughts and language, and at his request, I have put down in considerable detail his intentions for the concluding three and a half chapters. Nothing has been included that he did not expressly wish for these chapters. The last, indented section of the Epilogue is the author’s own words, from a recording made only a few days before he died.
I first began actual work on
in 1968, but the book goes back a much longer time than that. It was conceived as far back as 1947, when I was still first writing to Maxwell Perkins about my characters Warden and Prewitt, and the book I wanted to write about World War II. When I was beginning
From Here to Eternity,
then still untitled, I meant for that book to carry its people from the peacetime Army on through Guadalcanal and New Georgia, to the return of the wounded to the United States. A time span corresponding to my own experience. But long before I reached the middle of it I realized such an ambitious scope of such dimension wasn’t practicable. Neither the dramatic necessities of the novel itself, nor the amount of sheer space required, would allow such a plan.
The idea of a trilogy occurred to me then.
still untitled and—as a novel—unconceived, was a part of it. So when I began
The Thin Red Line
(some eleven years later) the plan for a trilogy was already there. And
as a concept, would be the third part of it.
Which of course it should be. It was always my intention with this trilogy that each novel should stand by itself as a work alone. In a way that, for example, John Dos Passos’ three novels in his fine
trilogy do not.
The 42nd Parallel, 1919,
The Big Money
will not stand alone as novels.
is one large novel, not a trilogy.
I intended to write the third volume immediately after I finished
The Thin Red Line.
Other things, other novels, got in the way. Each time I put it aside it seemed to further refine itself. So that each time I took it up again I had to begin all over. My own personal experiments with style and viewpoint affected the actual writing itself.
One of the problems I came up against, with the trilogy as a whole, appeared as soon as I began
The Thin Red Line
in 1959. In the original conception, first as a single novel, and then as a trilogy, the major characters such as 1st/Sgt Warden, Pvt Prewitt and Mess/Sgt Stark were meant to continue throughout the entire work. Unfortunately the dramatic structure—I might even say, the spiritual content—of the first book demanded that Prewitt be killed in the end of it. The import of the book would have been emasculated if Prewitt did not die.
When the smoke cleared, and I wrote End to
From Here to Eternity,
the only end it seemed to me it could have had, there I stood with no Prewitt character.
It may seem like a silly problem now. It wasn’t then. Prewitt was meant from the beginning to carry an important role in the second book, and in the third. I could not just resurrect him. And have him there again, in the flesh, wearing the same name.
I solved the problem by changing the names. All of the names. But I changed them in such a way that a cryptic key, a marked similarity, continued to exist, as a reference point, with the old set of names. It seems like an easy solution now, but it was not at the time.
The Thin Red Line
1st/Sgt Warden became 1st/Sgt Welsh, Pvt Prewitt became Pvt Witt, Mess/Sgt Stark became Mess/Sgt Storm. While remaining the same people as before. In
Welsh becomes Mart Winch, Witt becomes Bobby Prell, Storm becomes John Strange.
After publication of
The Thin Red Line,
a few astute readers noted the similarity of names, and wrote to ask me if the similarity was intentional. When they did, I wrote back saying that it was, and explaining why. So far as I know, no critic and no book reviewer ever noticed the name similarity.
There is not much else to add. Except to say that when
is completed, it will surely be the end of something. At least for me. The publication of
will mark the end of a long job of work for me. Conceived in 1946, and begun in the spring of 1947, it will have taken me nearly thirty years to complete. It will say just about everything I have ever had to say, or will ever have to say, on the human condition of war and what it means to us, as against what we claim it means to us.
Paris, 15 November 1973BOOK ONE
E GOT THE WORD
that the four of them were coming a month before they arrived. Scattered all across the country in the different hospitals as we were, it was amazing how fast word of any change in the company got back to us. When it did, we passed it back and forth among ourselves by letter or post card. We had our own private network of communications flung all across the map of the nation.