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The Missouri Review

Masters of Atlantis is a spoof that takes itself seriously; that is to say, the subject matter is absurd, but the tone Portis takes does not draw attention to the absurdity, as he simply repeats the tale of other people's silliness with a straight face okay, a slightly bent face. Secret societies such as the Freemasons and the Shriners were a huge fad earlier in this century, when grown men dressed up in wizard's hats and repeated psuedo-mystical gibberish mixed with bogus psuedo-science to which they swore themselves to secrecy as their underground society's 'codes'.

Naturally, Jimmerson never sees the man or the money again, but that doesn't dissuade him from establishing an American branch of the Gnomon society; the mysterious swindler becomes a legend in the society, and the book he gives Jimmerson, Codex Pappus , becomes the society's holy text.


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Codex Pappus allegedly contains the wisdom of Atlantis, from whence Portis derived the title. From that beginning, book traces the rise and fall of the Gnomon society, including rift between the competing schools of Jimmerson and Hen, and testimony to defend charges of anti-American activities -- in fact, the dialogue of the hearings is easily my favorite part of the book, reaching heights of sublime farce.

I can apply several descriptive modifiers to Portis' tone in this book: dryly witty, absurdist, low-key, all-American, casually whistling as life casually passes by. The adjective that springs to mind most readily, though, is droll.

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The Masters of Atlantis - Charles Portis - Google книги

Literature-wise, for me the last year has been the year of Jane Austen and Charles Portis. Wodehouse will likely love Portis.

Let's Play Poseidon: Master of Atlantis - 1

I earlier reported on one of his two comic road-trip books, Norwood, and have recently also read Gringos and Masters of Atlantis. Both of these books reveal a fascination in, well, kooks and the distinctive shape of American kook-ery. UFO experts, hippie devotees of Mayan mystagogy, budding alchemists, feuding Masons, potential Nation of Islam converts, Portis is interested in them.

Masters of Atlantis

And not just for comic purposes. Masters of Atlantis is the deadpan account of how a young American Lamar Jimmerson becomes convinced in that he has been given the charge of bringing the teachings of Gnomonism, the true Pythagorean science esoterically passed down over the ages from the survivors of Atlantis, to his fellow Americans, and of how he actually gathers a significant following of believers, with the help of the Great Depression and some all-American promotional methods. Think: Masonry, but a bit stranger.


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In Gringos some of the kook-characters actually begin to take full shape, revealing themselves as capable of real villainy or real heroism, and not so unlike the rest of us. In this book, however, the account of kook-ery, i.

Still, real insights into the sorts of kook-ery our culture is particularly susceptible to are there, and Portis manages to develop our sympathy for even some of the most deluded characters. The strangely sweet ending of the book, that is, the strangely motherly instinct it draws out from us, reminds us that more has been going on than laughs.