A writer so powerful he drove readers to madness.
Hubbard explained to his agent that he ultimately decided to withdraw the book from publication because the first people who read it were so shattered by the revelations that they had lost their minds. The last time he showed Excalibur to a publisher, he said, the reader brought the manuscript into the room, set it on the publisher’s desk, then jumped out the window of the skyscraper.
–Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief
It is with great pleasure that I submit to you my manuscript, Excalibur. A caveat: After a misunderstanding with Scribner’s, in which the sickly, jaundiced star chamber refused to publish Excalibur on the grounds that the revelations contained therein were so startling that Max Perkins contracted literary shingles and everyone else in the office developed incurable trenchmouth, I have thus reassessed the magnitude of my work and endeavor the good people at Seger & Sons to recognize that they are dealing with a veritable mother lode of shattering insight. So, you’ve been warned. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to working with you.
L. Ron Hubbard
Seger & Sons Publishing
New York : London : Paris
Dr. Mr. Hubbard,
It is very clear to all of us here at Seger & Sons that you have labored over this manuscript, and we do appreciate your efforts. I am afraid, however, that we must pass on Excalibur, despite its alleged merit. Alas, we are dealing with a minor tragedy here, so do not take it too personally: two days ago, one of our readers, Gibby, jumped through the window of a skyscraper. He laid your manuscript on my desk, did a little pirouette and hurled himself through the glass.
You see, at first, we all found Excalibur wonderfully appealing. Your gripping tale of “King Arthur and The Robots of Destiny” drew us in and held us, as good science fiction must. And the language! Your sentences seemed so foreign, alien even, though completely intelligible and alive. We were thrilled with your characterization of a dwarf spearing a horse! The prose was haunting; exiting, lively and true to some faraway epoch in the future. This epoch, however, turned out to be the 15th century, from whence you stole it.
Yes, your tale of chivalry and robots was ferociously compelling–magnificent even–but none of us had read Le Morte d’Arthur, except for Gibby, who informed us before he went airborne that your manuscript is essentially the same as Sir Thomas Malory’s, the deft swap of Sir Galahad for Oooglaark, notwithstanding. You can not just change the word ‘knights’ to ‘robots’ and ‘the Round Table’ to ‘of Destiny,’ and call it a new story. That kind of thing screams “amateur night” to a publisher.
I do appreciate the improvements you make on Malory’s original when in Chapter #4, I believe it is, King Arthur wins a three-legged sack race with an ex-gigolo called Thetan (good character–consider expanding) and in Chapter #7 when Merlin is characterized as priapic tax-assessor-cum-commodore. But please. This is a reputable science fiction publishing house, sir. Your claim of having worked on this tome for “like, a billion years,” rings a little counterfeit. Remember what T.S. Eliot says: “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal. Bad writers take out payday loans and blow them on the ponies.”
Moreover, revelations such as, “Sailing is yachting for the weak and the ugly” are not the teleological barnburners you are going for. Ditto your frantic treatise on Xenu (Damsel in distress? Robot? This character doesn’t know who or what it wants to be). But, to your credit, when the regatta honoring the Pentecost goes south and you launch into space opera, I could barely hang on. During the space aria, however, when you abandon all form and provide us with a partial list of essential boating knots, you lost me altogether. I don’t give a sloop’s poop about learning to tie the Poacher’s knot or a Portuguese sinnet; I want to be moved.
Finally, the rest of your manuscript–like your argument that “red hair and ascots are common among the new world order”–is hollow. I think you know this, which frustrates me, Ron. Why not just write about fat camp, or feeling boobs for the first time?
I know this is your labor of love, but for me and your classmates in workshop, it’s more like a labor of Hercules. Specifically, the labor where he has to clean all the shit out of the barn.
But please don’t be discouraged! Even though Gibby refused to read Martian Meals: Healthy Living and Lo-Cal Recipes for the Red Planet, remarking that to read another one of your submissions would be “worse than jumping out of this here window,” I think he is just down on publishing in general. He claims books are dead. He says all the money is in Hollywood.
I say I am glad we office on the ground floor.
VP, Seger & Sons
photo James Stafford