Review by: KEN KORCZAK
I’m tempted to categorize this short story under the tradition of what I’ll call “road trip enlightenment literature.” Think of Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road, Robert Pirsig‘s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Peter Jenkins‘ A Walk Across America, or maybe Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley.
But, you know, stories about journeys involving characters who confront extraordinary situations and grow (or falter) in the process has been “a thing” since The Odyssey, the second-oldest extant work of Western literature, most likely created in the 8th Century B.C.
Whatever the case, I hasten to add that LOST KINGS by author PAUL VITOLS manages to transcend genre or category and say something unique. This work doesn’t read or feel derivative — it’s more like a creatively fresh iteration of the hero’s journey archetype.
The reader will be immediately drawn into a vivid world inhabited by two young vagabonds, John Pulkis and Stephen Eckert. They’re two guys from Canada who are on a mission to travel around the globe so that they can experience an epic, life-altering adventure before going to college and getting bogged down in “real life.”
Travelling across Europe, the young men reach a major mission malfunction in Italy — they basically run out of cash. Things haven’t worked out like they planned and it looks like they’ll have to scrap their grand plan to circle the globe on a wing and a prayer. Savage disappointment, the death of a dream and the humiliation of failure triggers a kind of spiritual crisis for 20-year-old John Pulkis
It’s interesting to note that his traveling pal, Stephen Eckert, while also disappointed, appears to remain anchored in the daily practicalities of material reality. He fills their van with gas, makes lunch, cleans the refrigerator, does the driving — while Pulkis is thrust into a more extoic introspective journey of mind and experience. He enters an agitated state of self questioning and doubt, but also confronts a marvelous expansion or transcendence of his ego-based consciousness — and yet this experience is cruelly truncated. That precipitates an “agony of the Self” that is now more unbearable than before.
I don’t want to give away any more because I’m eager for readers to discover this wonderful, deeply redolent, nuanced piece of literature for themselves.
Paul Vitols manages to enfold layers of meaning into a short work characterized by striking description of place and landscape, a decent plot to challenge animated characters and a theme that is multifaceted — on this latter issue I would suggest (with some trepidation) an overarching motif that features what I’ll call the “passion of the Western mind” colliding with the “enlightenment of the Eastern psyche.” But that’s just one aspect.
While my original comparison was to “journey of discovery” kinds of writing, I would also say this short story also brought forward for many other correlations (for me, anyway) that would be just as apt, specifically, Herman Hesse’s Demian and Siddhartha — and especially George Orwell’s Down and Out In Paris and London — the chapter where Orwell takes a job at French hotel as a “plongeur,” a French slang term for “dishwasher.”
I haven’t even mentioned the huge significance of one of the character’s struggle with Sir James Frazer’s massive volume, The Golden Bough — but there I go again, telling too much! I urge you to discover this A-List piece of literature for yourself and enjoy its many layers.
Paul Vitols is perhaps best known as the co-creator and screenwriter for a popular CBC television series, THE ODYSSEY, a fantasy-adventure featuring children. The show ran for three seasons from 1992 to 1995 and achieved international distribution and acclaim, including a run on the Sci-Fi Channel in the U.S.
The Paul Vitols Website has a lot of interesting stuff, and links to more of his books. You can find it HERE
Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS
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