World of 2,000 Pages
In his real life, John Lang lived a life full of romance, adventure and intrigue in the country of Islandia, on the southern portion of Karain in the South Pacific. In his imaginary life, John Lang was “Austin Tappan Wright,” a
cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and the dashing editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Wait a second, I have that backwards - John Lang was the imaginary character. Austin Tappan Wright really was a cum laude graduate of Harvard and the editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Following Austin Wright’s untimely death at the age of 48, Mrs. Wright discovered more than 2,000 pages detailing her husband’s imaginary adventures as “John Lang” in a world as richly detailed as the Middle Earth of Tolkien – a world of vivid geography, fascinating language, complex religion and a copiously itemized history. She spent the next 10 years typing and arranging the assorted pages into a manuscript of epic proportions.
When Islandia was finally published in 1942*, Time magazine’s Robert Little wrote,
“The product of modern time, Islandia is vivid chiefly with the desire for complete escape from the actual world. It tries to make that escape so detailed, so palpable, that it will outrealize reality. It also tries to anatomize (and to dream solutions for) those pressures which have made escape so desirable.”
So careful was Austin Tappan Wright never to speak of Islandia, that a close friend of his, Leonard Bacon, confessed,
“In spite of my affection for him and what I supposed to be my knowledge of him, I hadn't the faintest inkling that he had left something behind him outside of his professional publications.”
Austin Wright was a lawyer who dreamed a fantastical place. But that didn’t make him special. The car accident that took Austin would have erased his imaginary world from human memory had it not been for the real-world woman he married, Margaret Garrad Stone, who loved him enough to spend 10 years compiling his musings into an underground classic of utopian fiction.
So if you ever read Islandia, read it for what it is – the true story of a wife’s unwavering devotion to a husband who died too soon.
* Tolkien’s first book, The Hobbit, wasn’t published until 1937. Austin Tappan Wright died in 1931.
~ Roy H. Williams
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