The Eternal Footman

The Eternal Footman

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by James Morrow

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God's body has self-destructed and His skull is now in orbit directly above Times Square, prompting a plague of "death awareness" across the Western hemisphere. The United States begins to resemble fourteenth-century Europe during the Black Death—with some unique twenty-first-century twists—a bloody battle on a New Jersey golf course between Jews and


God's body has self-destructed and His skull is now in orbit directly above Times Square, prompting a plague of "death awareness" across the Western hemisphere. The United States begins to resemble fourteenth-century Europe during the Black Death—with some unique twenty-first-century twists—a bloody battle on a New Jersey golf course between Jews and anti-Semites; a modern theater troupe's stirring dramatization of the Gilgamesh epic; a post-death debate between Martin Luther and Erasmus; and the most chilling capitalist villain ever, Dr. Adrian Lucido, founder of a new pagan church and inventor of a cure worse than any disease. Two people fight to preserve life and sanity, Nora Burkhart, a schoolteacher who will stop at nothing to save her only son, and Gerard Korty, a brilliant sculptor struggling to create a masterwork that will heal the metaphysical wounds caused by God's abdication. The Eternal Footman brilliantly completes James Morrow's satiric trilogy begun with the World Fantasy Award-winning Towing Jehovah and continued in Blameless in Abaddon.

Editorial Reviews

Dealing with the Death of God

With the publication of The Eternal Footman, James Morrow brings to a close one of the most audacious, brilliantly sustained accomplishments in recent American literature: the Godhead Cycle. This "trilogy," which is really a set of interrelated, essentially independent theological comedies, began in 1994 with the World Fantasy Award-winning Towing Jehovah and continued, three years later, with Blameless in Abaddon. As Morrow tells us in his acknowledgments, the novels can be read singly, sequentially, or in any order at all. However you choose to do it, I strongly recommend that you read all three. They are simply too good to ignore. In Towing Jehovah, the two-mile-long corpse of God the Father is found floating in the North Atlantic. Anthony Van Horne, disgraced captain of the supertanker Carpco Valparaiso, is commissioned by the Vatican to tow the body (known thereafter as the Corpus Dei) to its final resting place in the Arctic Sea. In Blameless in Abaddon, the Corpus Dei drifts away from that final resting place and comes to the attention of a consternated world.

Shortly afterward, medical testimony indicates that God is not entirely dead. Though deeply comatose, He retains a degree of neural activity and eventually finds Himself bound over for trial in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. There, Martin Candle -- a sort of latter-day embodiment of Job -- prosecutes Him, on behalf of the world's victims, for crimes against humanity.

The Eternal Footman opens ten years after the initial discovery of the Corpus Dei, which, by this time, has begun to come apart. God's flesh has completely dissolved, while His skull -- after vomiting out its own brain -- has detached itself from the body and ascended into the heavens, where it floats above the Western Hemisphere in geosynchronous orbit, a tangible symbol of mortality. Beneath that symbol -- the governing image of this book -- Morrow has constructed a very funny, very moving comedy about love, death, and existential dread in the post-theistic age.

Morrow drives a large cast of characters -- some new, some familiar from earlier volumes -- through a picaresque plot dominated by a single, central conceit: the plague of fetches. Early in the narrative, Nora Burkhart -- a widowed ex-schoolteacher with a previously unsuspected capacity for heroism -- learns that her only son, Kevin, has literally been invaded by a lethal doppelganger named Quincy. Quincy is a fetch: the tangible manifestation of Kevin's death and the embodiment of what T. S. Eliot called the Eternal Footman. Under Quincy's parasitic influence, Kevin becomes gravely, perhaps terminally, ill. Immediately afterward, fetches begin to proliferate across the hemisphere, bringing death and despair to an already bewildered populace.

Nora's stubborn determination to save her son leads her on an odyssey across the blighted landscape of a world suffering from "theothanatopsis syndrome," a fatal preoccupation with the death of God. Nora's journey is the central thread in a complex narrative that moves from Massachusetts to Mexico and from the world of a traveling theater troupe to the drug-induced dream worlds of cities known as Deus Absconditus and Holistica. In the course of her travels, Nora's story intertwines with those of the novel's other principal participants. Included among them are Anthony Van Horne, who once towed Jehovah to His arctic tomb; Adrian Lucido, psychoanalyst, charlatan, and corrupt founder of the Church of Earthly Affirmation; and Gerard Korty, world-renowned sculptor. Much of The Eternal Footman concerns the creation of Korty's masterpiece, the "Stone Gospel," which is directly inspired by a book called Parables of the Post-Theistic Age by Towing Jehovah's Thomas Ockham. In the "Stone Gospel," Korty gives concrete form to the novel's animating humanist vision: the vision of a world no longer dominated by the vast, transcendental abstractions of the Age of Christianity. In Ockham's words, "If the coming era must have a religion, then let it be a religion of everyday miracles and quotidian epiphanies, of short eternities and little myths. In the post-theistic age, let Christianity become merely kindness, salvation transmute into art, truth defer to knowledge, and faith embrace a vibrant doubt."

No brief summary can do more than suggest the scope and quality of Morrow's achievement, both in The Eternal Footman and in the equally ambitious novels that preceded it. No summary can adequately convey the constant play of wit, learning, and intellectual rigor that Morrow brings to this entire astonishing enterprise. The Godhead Cycle is unlike anything that has appeared in American fiction in recent years, and it deserves serious, widespread attention. All three volumes are consummate examples of the satirist's art, and they are going to be read and remembered for a very long time.

—Bill Sheehan

Library Journal
In this dark satire of future times, God's giant corpse has inexplicably appeared on Earth and is towed to the Arctic Circle for burial. In Massachusetts, Nora Shafron's son, Kevin, has contracted a deadly plague, manifested by a nihilistic death-creature, or fetch, which takes possession of his body. Kevin is not alone--the world over, fetches are taking their humans, and vast numbers are dying. The fetch can exit its host human and communicate as a separate entity. Defying Kevin's fetch, Nora dedicates herself to finding a cure for her son, which takes them on a gripping adventure from Massachusetts to the jungles of Mexico. After lulling her into a psychedelic state, Nora's own fetch shows her a new Godless world, where there is both chaos and great promise. The vision of a possible future she sees convinces her that there's a great deal more at stake than Kevin's life. Captivating and comic; appropriate for all libraries.--Margaret A. Smith, Grace A. Dow Memorial Lib., Midland, MI Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Don D'Ammassa
Morrow plays with wildly fantastic concepts in this and the previously related volumes, and does so with a crisp, wryly humorous style that proves satire is still a valid theme in fantastic literature. The Eternal Footman is creepy as well as speculative, one of the few outstanding fantasies with a religious theme that I've ever read.
Science Fiction Chronicle
Kirkus Reviews
Lively prose and a weakness for hilariously bad "death jokes" are prominent among the pleasures offered by this otherwise overwrought satirical fantasy: the conclusion of a loose trilogy depicting a godless near-future (Towing Jehovah, 1994; Blameless in Abaddon,1996). The millennium has dawned, and God (Who died some time ago) exists only as the "Cranium Dei" (His disembodied skull), which orbits the Earth daily, as a second sun-and-moon and a celestial memento mori. Morrow's insanely ingenious plot, reminiscent, variously, of B–science-fiction movies in the 1950s, Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, and Terry Southern at his most charmingly deranged, brings together several characters unwilling to accept evidence of the planet's (and their own) mortality, and involves them with patently symbolic avatars of the new nihilism (for example, Dr. Adrian Lucido, a crack psychoanalyst who specializes in euthanasia for the unwilling—thus "preparing" people for immortality. It's probably best not to try to figure out all the twists and turns, and simply enjoy such feisty survivors as florist delivery-person Nora Shafron and her adolescent son Kevin, who's one of the first victims of a "plague" that renders humans subject to their "private demons" (Kevin's is a wisecracking ghoul named Quincy); famed sculptor Gerard Korty, whose herculean effort to render Dante's Divine Comedy into stone earns a commission from the Vatican to create a reliquary for "God's bones"—with inartistic, indeed chaotic consequences; and the captain of a tanker who's responsible for a major oil spill and experiences a most curious redemption. Besides transfiguring Dante, Morrow makes amusing use of EmilyDickinson's more morbid poems, and the grave and reverend figures of Erasmus and Luther (whom Gerard imagines in heated theological discussion). If you get a kick out of the pre-Christian epic of Gilgamesh dramatized and performed by "The Great Sumerian Traveling Circus and Repertory Company," and stuff like that, then this is the millennial novel for you. If not, there's always The Divine Comedy.

From the Publisher
“America's best satirist."—James Gunn
“Salman Rushdie, eat your heart out."—The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Morrow hilariously joins the ranks of the great satirists."—The Denver Post

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Godhead Trilogy , #3
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

James Morrow was born in Philadelphia in 1947. Besides writing, he plays with Lionel electric trains and collects videocassettes of vulgar biblical spectacles.

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Eternal Footman 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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