Elegy for Angels and Dogs

by wjw on April 29, 2009

I just signed contracts with a French publisher for my novelet “Elegy for Angels and Dogs.”
This will be printed in an edition of Roger Zelazny’s stories. Which is not as strange as it might seem, because the story is a direct sequel to Roger’s “The Graveyard Heart.”
The two were originally paired in a Tor double— the first Tor doubles were classic SF stories with sequels written by younger writers. Martin Harry Greenberg asked me specifically to write a sequel to one of Roger’s works, presumably because I had been compared to Roger in print, and was believed to write like him.
(Though I was flattered by being compared to Roger, I never actually set out to write in his style. In part I accepted the assignment to show that we didn’t write alike— you can compare the pages and plainly see that we don’t. The only imitation I ever made of Roger is in one of the story’s poems, recited by Roger’s poet character Unger.)
The protagonist of the story is a future Prince von Thurn und Taxis, a fictional scion of a perfectly genuine aristocratic family. I kept running into the Thurn und Taxis family in various places, and I must have decided I kept running into them for a reason.
There was the Pynchon novel The Crying of Lot 49, where the Thurn und Taxis and their postal monopoly under the Habsburgs were an important element. Then there were Rilke’s Duino Elegies, which I greatly admire and which were produced under the patronage of the Princess von Thurn und Taxis. (There may be more of Rilke in my story than there is Roger, now I think about it.) Then, most importantly, I found a section on Johannes von Thurn und Taxis in a book called Aristocrats, which was about modern aristocrats and their modern lives. Of the various families chronicled in the book, the TnTs seemed the most interesting and productive.
Also, my friend Bob Norton had just returned from a trip to Germany, where he’d seen the TnTs’ massive schloss in Regensburg. He remembered seeing the giant coat of arms over the door, and recalled a curious element (which you can see in the bottom center of the photo above), which he described as “a dead dog impaled by a vertical screw.” He had a photo of the dog in question, though he wasn’t able to lay his hands on it.
Still, this was enough to set my imagination going. For the title, I got the “Elegy” and “Angel” from Rilke. (Jeder Engel ist schrecklich, as the Elegies inform us) The dogs I got from the Thurn und Taxis coat of arms, and they ended up being a major element of the plot. I got a lot of literary mileage out of those skewered dogs, and I’m very pleased with the final story.
Except that the whole dog element was based on a misidentification. When Bob Norton finally found his photo of the TnT arms and showed it to me, I realized at once that his screwed dog was in fact the symbol of the Order of the Golden Fleece, a Catholic knightly order. The dead dog was in fact a dangling sheepskin.
Well, drat. I had made beautiful word-music based on a complete, and completely ridiculous, misunderstanding.
Does it matter? Not to the story. But not getting my facts straight is always something that rankles.
Not that I’d have the same problem were I to write the story today. The Thurn und Taxis family now has its own web page, complete with a visual guide to the Regensburg palace that shows it as even more elaborate and fantastic than I made it to be in my novel. (It’s roughly the size of Versailles.) It’s now also open to the public at certain points of the year, something that no doubt has sent the late Prince Johannes spinning in his crypt.
(There’s also a video by the onetime “punk princess” Gloria, mother of the current prince, once famous for her jet-setting lifestyle, Kool Aid-colored hair, and the fact she was once busted for hash possession at the Munich airport. I note that it’s Gloria who’s playing host rather than her son, the current prince. Still hogging the headlines, I see.)
At any rate, the family is far more outrageous in real life than I made them in my story, so I’m not fearing a lawsuit anytime soon.
But that dog business— that part still bugs me.
Ralf the Dog April 29, 2009 at 5:39 am

I also find the concept of a postmortem K9 getting screwed quite disturbing. I think that is the only story of yours that I have not read.

dubjay April 29, 2009 at 7:45 pm

No dogs were harmed in the production of the story.

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