The faeries will be drowned! Oh Yaweh—you bastard!
The late Timothy Findley wrote a wide range of novels. The Wars tells the tale of a Canadian soldier who loses his mind during World War I. Famous Last Words presents a fictional character’s conspiracy theory version of World War II. Among his most extraordinary works ranks Not Wanted on the Voyage, a cautionary fantasy that retells the story of Noah's Ark.
Your Sunday School Teacher likely wouldn’t approve.
Not Wanted on the Voyage
Original Publication Date: 1984
Yaweh-- here, not any God you might worship, but a very human wizard-- condemns the world and sends a Flood. Only his servant, the Mengelean Noah Noyes, his fractured family, and select animals will survive. This is not so much fantasy as postmodern fable; Mrs Noyes sings twentieth-century pop songs while drinking gin, Noah’s sea-lore derives from the Great Age of Sail, and his sheep intone Latin chants from the medieval church. Findley the storyteller shapes the world as he sees fit-- and he makes it believable.
Few writers could successfully present a half-blind, sentient cat in heat as a narrative center. The author carefully studied his own cats, but he also spent time crawling around isolated locations, one eye closed, to get the animal’s perspective. On one occasion, a surprised couple taking an early-morning walk mistook him for a drug addict.
The world he creates seems fantastic, with its dog-sized unicorns, web-fingered angels, and fire-farting demons, but the feelings of the characters and problems that plague them recall our own, humorously, tragically, and horrifically. The manner in which underaged Emma is finally made ready for her husband should chill you, but it’s not far removed from the experience of many real-life women and girls.
Findley reinterprets both the Bible and the lore that barnacle-like, has encrusted it. The shrewish Mrs. Noah of the medieval mystery play, who must be dragged onto the Ark to save her life, becomes a long-suffering woman rebelling against a tyrannical religious patriarchy. She ranks among the most interesting old ladies in fiction. The angels, who, in Milton’s words can "either sex assume, or both" here appear stubbornly male, save for Lucifer, who changes either sex or clothing in order to marry one of Noah’s son. This alternative lifestyle slips by Noah, who has been told that all of his sons' wives must board the Ark.
Findley sustains his satire throughout the novel. Noah insists on a limited place for women and animals—but becomes susceptible to manipulation by his beautiful, outwardly traditional daughter-in-law. Fabulous creatures do not survive; there is no place for the hard-to-classify. Noah also destroys his own deformed lineage.
Fables, by their nature, are didactic. On occasion, Findley becomes a too obvious, a little more strident than he needs to be. He rages against autocracy, tyranny, religious fanaticism, discrimination-- and he makes his readers sympathize. I think the novel makes very clear that it attacks the God we’ve made in our image– but nevertheless some religious sensibilities will find this take on Genesis intolerable.
Others will understand Findley’s perspective entirely. At turns funny and disturbing, Not Wanted on the Voyage remains one of my favourite books.
Note: Julian Barnes’ A History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters makes a good read, but the first of those chapters seemingly plagiarizes this book. Findley wanted to sue, but felt it would merely give more attention to Barnes’ celebrated book.