Sunday, October 27, 2002

Remembrances: John Drew

Recent comments from John Drew:
The John Bellairs I knew at Chicago forty years ago would have stammered his way into hilarity at the idea he would ever have been the subject of a biography. I am sure John would fervently hope and pray that your project is some kind of spoof, preferably a work of hagiography. Perhaps it is? The Canonization of St. John of Main Street? Poor old John, sitting up there playing his harp and adjusting his halo, what would he say about your project?

A couple years ago I decided to get back in touch with John and thumbing through a reference book in the University Library here, was shocked - as one is about any contemporary, let alone friend - to find the entry against his name end-stopped with the date 1991.

I suppose I first encountered John because we were both taking courses together for an A.M. in English (although we may both have been Woodrow Wilson Fellows or initially housed in International House?). Anyway, John was a frequent visitor to the apartment on 59th Street to which I quickly moved from IH. I took that apartment together with Lew Macfarlane - able simultaneously to do the washing up, listen to baseball, and absorb Russian political thought - and John Moriarty, who was a rather more serious sort of Roman Catholic than John. Sooner or later we were joined by Dale Fitschen, from Roosevelt, also a Catholic (and thus, like John Moriarty, especially well attuned to savuoring John's elaborations). John would come across for a meal and/or chat together with a quite a different friend of his, also taking an A.M. in English, Richard Perry. Richard was a southerner with an old-fashioned idea of the South and he and John were both anglophiliacs in a literary sort of way.

John visited my wife and I in Kent in England one summer in the middle or late 1960's and I cannot now tell whether Saint Fidgeta or something like it was already in the making (or in the mind) in Chicago. I do not know where my copy of the book now is - it contained a long scrawly message from John in that elongated handwriting of his that looked like holly and caused you to wonder if he suffered from the same eye condition as El Greco. The message contained a medievalish cartoon or two, probably of some outlandish saint of indeterminate gender who looked as if they might have had a non-speaking role in the Quixote.

On one occasion, after too much drink, I remember the two of us had to restrain Richard who, in a dark devilish mood, determined to a do a John Hersey in reverse and bomb London. God, it's all as remote and melancholy as something out of The Lord of the Rings (which I suspect John then talked about).

I didn't know John had written so many books but it was on the cards that he would and to find out about it all was one reason I had wanted to get in touch with him a couple years ago. I don't suppose any of his books will end up on the UC's graduate English course and I don't suppose he'd want them to!

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