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Keith Call

Ruler of a Thousand Worlds

The odyssey of Robert Silverberg, virtuoso of speculative fiction, from prodigy to jaded prizewinner to wily old wizard.

Enchantment seizes us, all of us somehow. J. I. Packer calls it "that tang of the transcendent in the everyday." C. S. Lewis called it sehnsucht, the sweet haunting heart's desire, satisfied in the divine alone. It comes suddenly, unbidden—to Lewis, kindled by cobwebs in morning light and the smell of bonfires; to Packer, by locomotives and jazz.

For me it was Ray Bradbury, drilling me between the eyes when that spot was tenderest with Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury wrote of small-town Illinois in summer, of tree-lined avenues and lemonade stands. I hailed from such a place, same state even. He wrote of diabolical carnivals rolling in at midnight, bringing sheer hell. Me, I once got yelled at by a nasty-looking carnie when I was five, for no reason. Bradbury wrote of white things nestled in crawl spaces and attics. Well, my uncle had in his basement a huge, black multiarmed boiler that hadn't engulfed anything in its cold belly for decades. Except for sleepless little boys, I thought, lying wide awake upstairs just above it. Oh no oh no oh no …

He was my voice when I was too bashful or dim to speak for myself. It was Bradbury who assured me that those cornfields surrounding us weren't just cornfields; they were wonderland, midwestern magic. Just look closely, kid, just look closely. I did. He was right.

Later I would traverse those very cornfields, not to the college of magicians but to Moody Bible Institute in the spired city of Chicago, and it was there of all places that I discovered a whole new complement of fever dreams to pile atop the older ones.

Theological study was well and good, but some days it seemed much better instead to slip out and purchase a paperback. One, a science fantasy quest chosen primarily for its cover, was Lord Valentine's Castle, by Robert Silverberg. Here was young Valentine, exiled prince, battling vicious monsters. I too did that; mine were New Testament Greek and a smelly Canadian up the hall who ...

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