Friday, 4 February 2011
Prequel to Nowhere
I have speculated occasionally in this blog on what the elements of a ‘sequel’ to News from Nowhere might consist in (Old Hammond coming out of retirement, say, and re-engaging in political struggle); but J.J. Abrams’ wonderful recent Star Trek film, which tells the ‘back story’ of how the original Enterprise crew of Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Uhura, etc, first came together, suddenly opens a new Morrisian possibility to us: what would a prequel to News from Nowhere look like?
There certainly already are prequels within the utopian tradition. Several years after his environmental masterpiece Ecotopia (1975), Ernest Callenbach published Ecotopia Emerging (1981), which fleshes out in more detail how the Ecotopian society on the west coast of America first came into being. One might argue that Morris himself has already provided us with a prequel of this kind in chapter XVII of News from Nowhere on ‘How the Change Came’, which vividly narrates the civil war of 1952 onwards and the early days of the new socialist society. The French scholar Paul Meier has written particularly well about this, the immediate Morrow of the Revolution.
That may be so politically, but we have always valued News from Nowhere for its personal immediacy as well as its social content, and therefore we shall want a prequel at the level of character as well as politics. Such a work would need to answer many questions: how did Old Hammond become Old Hammond, what was he in his long-past youthful and middle-aged phases? Who exactly was the man for whom Clara abandoned Dick Hammond, and how did that painful episode play itself out in detail? How had Dick and Bob the weaver met and become fast friends in the first place, given what total physical and intellectual opposites they are? What were the nature of Ellen’s earlier sexual entanglements which had led to her living in a kind of exile at Runnymede, and how had she come to have once been Old Hammond’s pupil in the first place? And the list could go on.
The real trick in writing a prequel would be in relating such personal issues to the wider development of the post-revolutionary society, thereby demonstrating that (as the 1960s so abundantly taught us) the personal always is the political after all. And since Morris was certainly interested in time travel to the past (as in John Ball) as well as to the future, we can take it that he might well have approved the principle of a prequel to his utopia.