“This novella is a fascinating literary alien…”
The quote on the jacket of our edition comes with the promise of something entirely different and that promise is upheld. How is it possible to describe The Man who Walked to the Moon in traditional literary terms? Even classifying it into one genre is nearly impossible since it fits in none and yet all of them at the same time. McCord’s novella at times feels like a nature-lover’s guide to hiking, at times a nerve-wracking thriller before plunging the reader into a historical war story or even delving into the fantastical… So many facets to such a concise novella.
The premise is simple, almost banal, in its exposition. A man walks alone to the summit of the Moon, a uniquely uninteresting mountain in the middle of the Nevadan desert. Fleeting glimpses offer insights in his present and past life, but new questions arise even before old ones are answered. Who is this William Gasper, solitary hiker extraordinaire? As far as nature enthusiasts go, he definitely knows more than the casual Sunday walker… He survives on what he finds, knows the landscapes by heart and hikes with a SIG and a sniping rifle.
Followed by shadows and dreams, Gasper walks to the summit of the Moon and back, embarking the reader on a mystical inner journey. Old memories, supernatural visions, pursuits and assassinations… How much can happen on a simple 135-page hike?
1. An overpowering sense of curiosity keeps the reader turning pages, following Gasper’s every step along his ascension. The author easily and quickly grips attention by exposing dozens of unanswered questions and absolutely strange personality traits in the shady protagonist. The intrigue of this unknown hiker as he climbs the Moon, thinking that he is perhaps followed, is enough of a thrill to make this a page-turner.
2. McCord brilliantly captures a walker’s train of thought, so much so that it feels as if the reader will begin to walk as they read. Those who spend time outdoors know what it’s like to be lost in your own thoughts while your boots rhythmically strike rock and earth… Reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s infamous stream of consciousness, Gasper’s trek and the continuous flow of his mind are as engrossing as they are strange.
3. Very quickly, through the protagonist’s incessant thoughts, the reader is given glimpses into his violent backstory. Boy, soldier, assassin, walker, Gasper has been many things throughout his unusual life and his experiences have left him with an inexhaustible wealth of memories, as well as certain skills. From witty stories from his childhood to brutal nightmares from his time spent in the US military, William Gasper has seen it all and through his eyes, so has the reader.
4. A beautifully wrought and incredibly useful train of thought can still be boring if the protagonist is a dimwitted, clinically depressed fifty year-old… William Gasper is fifty and he is, arguably, depressed, but he happens to be intelligent beyond expectations. He explains this comes from his many hours spent reading the old philosophers and scientists, but there is more to it than that. His thoughts, despite the darkness inhabiting him, are profound and insightful. He contemplates the purpose of Man, the beauty of Nature, the existence of gods, the histories and philosophies, physics and mathematics, until it seems nothing is out of his reach. In another life, William Gasper could have been a scholar, a teacher, a brilliant mind of his time.
5. Alongside his physical abilities and quick mind, Gasper also harbors a seed of madness, which he very carefully nurtures. His life has been haunted for decades by a Sorceress named Cerridwen and her pet Palug, whom he interacts with in ‘reality’. Every encounter between Gasper and the Sorceress is so realistic that one almost becomes insane with him, wondering if she is real or not, his ally or his enemy, and this until the very end… The presence of Cerridwen (who is in fact a figure from Welsh mythology) adds to the fantastical and mythical element of the novella, keeping the reader wondrous and awe-inspired.
1. With as many questions as there are, the answers are hardly satisfying. There is no doubt as to the author’s intentions of keeping an impenetrable shroud of mystery around William Gasper, which is the point of the novella, but surely there were certain hints that could have served to explain this man’s purpose. Why are people after him? How has he survived thus far? Where will he go next? Of course, one must keep in mind that The Man who Walked to the Moon is written intentionally in novella form and the mystery is part of it all. But still, frustration… Come back, Gasper.
2. Intimately linked with the previous point, the lack of answers to the many questions that arise throughout William’s trek up to the Moon remove the sense of purpose of the protagonist. There are no reasons for his actions except that he likes hiking and being alone; there is no end-goal even following his various shady encounters; there are few motivations. Once again, a true literary analysis of this story would undoubtedly remove all questioning about purpose and whether purpose is crucial to a story. The last few lines of McCord’s book may reveal the much-sought answer, but to earn them the reader must struggle along with Gasper as he treks to the Moon and back…