From Chapter Fifteen – an excerpt which has more meaning today, for reasons I wish it didn’t.
The companions were led to an outdoor ampitheater that bore traces of Greek design, as well as that of China, India, the Navajo and other cultures which perhaps hadn’t even existed yet in their own time.
When these ‘Unforgotten’ removed the bird skulls and lizard cloaks they wore, the companions could see that they were simply men and women – and, Bert was thrilled to note, children – like those they had known in the past. And these people were far from being Lloigor. They were simple, but happy, and, once they had established Tribal affiliation, more than happy to receive guests.
There were homes fashioned from the fallen buildings that stood in the clear spaces between the wall and the pyramid, and more in the overgrowth of shrubbery and trees that pockmarked the area. There were cooking fires, and foods of the same sort that Lord Winter had offered – but this time, the offer was combined with genuine hospitality, and the companions happily accepted.
“Have you noticed,” Rose said, keeping her voice deliberately low, “that they almost all wear silver rings?”
“The adults do,” Pym said as he bit into what appeared to be a roast hen – with six legs. “Rings are passed to the Tribal Elders from generation to generation. Allows the Unforgotten who wear them to pass freely into the outside. Although,” he added with a shiver, “they seldom do, unless they must.”
“Why are they called the Unforgotten?” Rose asked.
“Last remnants of our civilization,” Pym replied, “the most important parts, some would say. Preserved that which was most important, which would otherwise not have survived so many centuries.”
“Not engineering, or science,” Charles said, looking around at the featherclad children sitting nearby.
“Architecture?” Burton said, glancing at the pyramid.
“The books,” said Edmund. “The stories – that’s what’s most important, in any culture, I think.”
As if that was a request, one of the group which had met them at the entrance leapt to his feet and began, in a rough American accent, to recite:
“’CAMELOT — Camelot,’ said I to myself. ‘I don’t seem to remember hearing of it before. Name of the asylum, likely.’
“It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape, as lovely as a dream, and as lonesome as Sunday. The air was full of the smell of flowers, and the buzzing of insects, and the twittering of birds…”
“Dear Lord!” Bert exclaimed, nearly dropping his plate. “Those are the first lines of Samuel Clements’ book! Do you mean to tell me he’s memorized the whole book?”
Pym nodded. “As his forefathers before him do, done, did. In fact, he is the book. So are they all.”
The man shyly walked over to Bert and offered his hand, which the Far Traveler shook, slightly dazzled and definitely bewildered.
“This is A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT 417,” Pym said by way of introduction, “althogh among friends and family, he’s simply known as ‘In’.”
“’In’?” asked Charles.
“If that whole title was your name, you’d want a short nickname too,” said Pym.
“Good point,” said Charles. “Who’s this fellow?”
Pym put his arm around a slim, fair-haired man who appeared to be in his forties. “TREASURE ISLAND 519. And his brother, the fellow just there by the pylon – OLIVER TWIST 522.”
“So everyone here is a living book?” Charles asked. “Amazing!”
“Not all of the books that started in the beginning have survived to this day,” said Pym. “There have been accidents, and natural deaths before books could be passed on in their entirety. The family line that had ANNA KARENINA lost the last chapter around ninety generations ago, and subsequent generations have decreed it to have improved the book immeasurably.
“Also,” he continued, “SILAS MARNER didn’t last into the fifteenth generation.”
“Was that because of an accident, or a natural death?” asked Edmund.
“Neither,” said Pym. “Just couldn’t stand it any more. Ended up marrying into and merging with THE WIZARD OF OZ.”
One youth stepped forward hesitantly, trying to decide if he should introduce himself or not.
“Go ahead, lad,” said Pym. “He’ll be very pleased to meet you in particular.”
“I am THE TIME MACHINE 43,” the gangly, copper-headed youth said, unsure whether to offer a hand to Bert. “Are… Are you really my creator?”
“THE TIME MACHINE?” Bert said incredulously. “I can’t believe it!”
The young man was a bit flustered at this, and took Bert’s statement as a request for verification, and so he gulped down his nervousness and began to recite: “The Time Traveller – for so it will be convenient to speak of him – was expounding a recondite matter…”
Bert rushed forward and embraced the startled young man before he could continue. “Oh, my stars and garters!” Bert exclaimed. “You know it! You do know it!”
“Of course,” Pym said, a hangdog expression on his face. “Told you he did – these people are the books, Bert. And he is one of yours, as were forty-two generations before him.”
“Oh, my,” Bert said, unable to keep the tears from streaming down his face. “Do you know what this means, Rose, Charles?” he asked, the expression on his face a mix of joy and pain. “It means that in a way, Weena is still here, in her future. Because I wrote her into the book, and because these people have kept it alive all these centuries, she’s still here.”
“I say,” Charles asked, craning his neck to look at all of the Unforgotten gathered around them, “which, ah, which of these fellows or families represents my books?”
Pym looked at him curiously. “Sorry, Charlie, but I don’t know any families here ever really took to any poetry.”
Charles frowned. “Oh. Uh, of course not,” he stammered, “but I was asking more about my novels.”
“Novels?” Pym asked, scratching his head. “Thought you were an editor.”
“Editors can write!” Charles exclaimed. “I mean, I’m also a novelist, and an editor. And a poet.” He looked crestfallen. “So – no one here memorized any of my books?”
“Wait a moment,” one of the Unforgotten said, stepping closer to Charles. “He said you were friends with the Caveo Principia, and the Caveo Secundus?”
“Yes!” Charles said. “They are my friends. My good friends. Actually,” he added with a nervous glance at his companions, “I was, ah, a bit of a mentor to them, in fact.”
A light came on in the Unforgotten’s eyes. “Aha!” he said, turning to the others. “Yes! I do know you.”
Charles exhaled. “That’s quite a relief.”
“You are the Third!” the man said. “This is the Third!” he cried to the crowd. “He did truly exist after all!”
“Oh for Heaven’s sake,” Charles said, totally deflated. “Shoot me. Shoot me now.”
“Is the Unforgotten all that they are called?” asked Rose. “It seems a shame that such a noble group, with such a worthy calling are simply known as ‘Unforgotten’.”
“Not only name,” said Pym. “Unforgotten ascribes their purpose, but they have another name to describe identity. Forefathers many generations ago chose another name. Felt it did honor to the path they chose. Called themselves that ever since.
“They,” Pym said, “are known as The Children Of The Summer King.”