“The Fifty Year Sword,” the novella by Mark Z. Danielewski, seems to be the stuff of urban legend. The book was first published on Halloween 2005, in the Netherlands, with only 1,000 copies printed in English. The following year, another 1,000 copies in English were printed and that was it. Sccores of fans have only heard of it but have not been able to easily get to read it. That changes with the wide release on October 16, 2012. For those familiar with Mr. Danielewski’s work, particularly his “House of Leaves,” they know to expect intriguing play with narrative, words and graphics. And that is exactly what they get with this novella.
Mr. Danielewski is definitely not a writer who just holds with tradition. We can also see that he deeply respects the art of visual storytelling. The elements he incorporates have a sacred quality to them. You’ll be swept up by the ethereal embroidery artwork that intermingles with the text. You’ll also be caught up by the spontaneity: words seem to bubble up and spit out at just the right moment. As a ghost story for adults, this novella feels like Edgar Alan Poe at a poetry slam, just to give you an idea.
The story begins with the adults gathering to do their duty and attend the fiftieth birthday party for cantankerous Belinda Kite, someone they don’t particularly care for. We then shift our focus to the children who will be in attendance, a spooky set of five orphans who are chaperoned by befuddled Chintana and someone only known as, The Social Worker. Finally, we turn our attention to the truly spooky character at the center of it all, The Storyteller, who is inextricably linked to the eponymous sword and to the fate of each partygoer.
Part of the magic here is the word play, from creative spelling down to how the words are presented on the page. The same spirit of “House of Leaves” is here where typography will literary follow what transpires within the story. For those new to Mr. Danielewski, there will be that satisfying “shock of the new.” Some enjoyable new words you’ll find are Chinata’s choices: indacitation, torpididor and annahiliation. Characters here don’t just speak, they “sputstuttersob” or have a “rumbidilling” voice. They don’t simply creep around. They “diminishide.” Here is an example of what can happens to words in this world:
“‘the w orld there w as
”‘con st antly
“‘sev er ed.
This is how it looks on its actual page:
This passage is describing The Forest of Falling Notes which is part of The Storyteller’s journey that he is retelling to the five orphans as they sit in a cramp little parlor. It is dimly lit by five candles that reveal a most curious box with five latches. What is or is not significant about The Storyteller and his story will remain unclear in this absorbing ghost tale that becomes more mysterious, and haunting, to the very end.
“The Fifty Year Sword” is published by Random House. Visit Random House and learn about the special limited edition of “The Fifty Year Sword.”