Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An Intriguing Picture of God

The description of Diedrich Van Horn in Ten Days' Wonder, by Ellery Queen, strikes me as a great picture of God's majesty and inevitable effect on his surroundings.  Of course, no extra-Biblical analogy to God is perfect, but this one certainly excites the imagination.

(Apologies for the length of the quote)

And then Diedrich Van Horn came quickly down the staircase with outstretched hand and a “Hello!” that caromed off the handhewn beams.
            His son followed him, shuffling.
            In an instant the son, the wife, the house grouped themselves around Van Horn, reshaped, reproportioned, integrated.
            He was an extraordinary man in every way.  Everything about him was oversize—his body, his speech, his gestures.  The great room was no longer too great; he filled it, it had been built to his measure.
            Van Horn was a tall man, but not so tall as he seemed.  His shoulders were actually no broader than Howard’s or Ellery’s, but because of their enormous thickness he made the young men look like boys.  His hands were vast: muscular, wide-heeled, two heavy tools; and Ellery suddenly remembered a remark of Howard’s on the terrasse of the Café St. Michel about his father’s beginnings as a day laborer.  But it was the elder Van Horn’s head which fascinated Ellery.  It was large and bony, of angular contour and powerful brow.  The face beneath was at once the ugliest and the most attractive male face Ellery had ever seen; it struck him that Sally’s remark about it had been, not a conversational whimsy, but the exact truth.  What made it seem so ugly was not so much the homeliness of its individual features as their composite prominence.  Nose, jaw, mouth, ears, cheekbones—all were too large.  His skin was coarse and dark.  In this disproportioned, unlovely composition were set two remarkable eyes, of such size, depth, brilliance, and beauty they illuminated the darkness in which they lay and transformed the whole into something singularly harmonious and pleasing.
            Van Horn’s voice was as big as his body, deep and sexual.  And he spoke with his body as well as with his voice, not disconnectedly but in unconscious rhythm, so that one was drawn and held; it was impossible to escape him.
            Shaking hands with Ellery, putting a long arm quickly around his wife, pouring cocktails, telling Howard to touch off the fire, sitting down in the biggest chair and hooking his leg over one arm—whatever Diedrich Van Horn did, whatever he said, were important and unavoidable.  Simply, the master was in his house; he made not point of it—he was the point.
            Seeing him in the flesh, in relation to his son and his wife, what they were became inevitable.  Anything Van Horn turned his vitality upon would eventually be absorbed by it.  His son would worship and emulate and, unable to resolve his worship or rival his object, would become … Howard.  As for his wife, Van Horn would create her love out of his, and he would preserve it by engulfing it.  Those he loved attached themselves to him helplessly.  They moved when he moved; they were part of his will.  He reminded Ellery of the demigods of mythology, and Ellery uttered a voiceless apology to Howard for having been merely amused in Howard’s pension studio ten years before.  Howard had not been romanticizing when he had chiseled Zeus in his father’s image; unconsciously, he had been sculpturing a portrait.  Ellery wondered if Diedrich had the gods’ vices as well as their virtues.  Whatever his vices might be, they would be anything but trivial; this man was quite above pettiness.  He would be just, logical, and immovable.
            And Sally had been right; you didn’t think of him in terms of years.  Van Horn must be over sixty, Ellery thought, but he was like an Indian—you felt that his coarse black hair would neither thin nor gray, that he would never stoop or falter; you could think of him only as a force, prime and unchanging.

--from ch. 2, “The Second Day"

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