The Quest for Great Literature

Part I: Chapter I

A unique first sentence is the mark of all great novels. Take Dickens, for example. Take Tolstoy. Take Twain. Take Tolkien. Take any great author you like, and their first sentences are distinctive. No novel heretofore has begun with a discussion of opening sentences, so this novel is one step closer to greatness and literary immortality.

Speaking of first sentences, the first thing Julian ever said to Gomez was this: "I'll wager eighteen thousand pounds and an Icelandic krónur that that I can identify any great novel by its first sentence." Julian was obviously a very bookish Julian, perhaps the most bookish Julian that ever existed.

Gomez, on the other hand, would be best described as a polemic skeptic. Doubt everything, argue everything. "Sir, I would accept that bet if I had an Icelandic krónur. But it would be interesting to see that feat anyway."

Julian leaned forward in his comfy chair. "I would demonstrate the feat if I knew the first lines of great novels."

"Why did you propose the bet in the first place?" Gomez inquired.

"I had a bet with Archibald that you didn't have a krónur."

Gomez put his face in his hands. "Archibald doesn't own anything to bet."

Grinning, Julian sipped his Earl Grey tea. "I had a bet with Schmidt that Archibald would take the bet."

Gomez groaned. He called for Archibald, who, thanks to a passing time anomaly, entered the room before Gomez called.

"Tea, sir?" asked the British butler Archibald.

"No," Gomez said. "I was wondering why you were so confident that I had a krónur."

"Well, who doesn't have a krónur?" asked Archibald stiffly.

"I don't, for one," Gomez snapped. "Now you've lost a bet, and you don't have anything to pay Julian."

"He does, actually," Julian corrected.

"I have a krónur," the butler confirmed. "Björnharalðfyrirskræþenssen gave it to me."

"And why did Björn give you a krónur?" asked Gomez.

"I won a bet that Schmidt would bet that I would take a bet that you didn't have a krónur."

Gomez groaned, growing increasingly confused. "I can certainly understand why he was skeptical." He got up shakily and excused himself on the premise of having a headache.

"Where do you think he'll go?" asked Archibald cordially, dropping all premise of being stiff and cranky.

"The skeptic tank," said Julian. Archibald laughed.

Silence followed while they thought of something else to talk about. Julian spoke first, reclining among his fancy cushions. "Archibald, I have a test of your obedience."

"Yes, sir?"

"The fire's getting low. Toss a log on it."

Archibald plucked a log from the pile and threw it in the fireplace. He sat down in Gomez's chair.

"Thank you, Archibald," Julian said.

"There wasn't any fire," the butler remarked.

"The point of the exercise."

"Then it wasn't a test of obedience," said Archibald.

"But it was!" cried Julian, brow furrowed.

"You told me to throw a log on the fire. I threw a log in the fireplace. There wasn't any fire in the fireplace. Therefore I was disobedient."

Julian slapped himself. "I'd bet a krónur you did that on a bet."

Archibald smiled. "Really?"

"Yes."

Archibald gave him a krónur. "You win."

"My only question is who put you up to this," Julian groaned.

The Alphabet materialized. "I did," U said.

"Did not!" I cried.

"He was referring to himself," said H.

"Oh," said I.

"Yes?" said O.

"It was an exclamation of realization," T explained.

Julian interrupted the rapid banter. "Fellows! How did you get here?"

"I am everywhere," U said.

"Leave me out of this!" I protested.

The chatter continued rapid-fire amidst the throng of letters. After much debate about grammar and syntax, they realized that Julian was getting impatient.

"Gork!" Julian called. "Banish these intruders."

An end table with a quaint decorative lamp shapeshifted into a quirky little alien named Gork. Archibald, who had gotten up and was leaning on the end table, fell and sprawled on the floor.

"Brench," said Gork.

The Alphabet's chattering silenced at the sheer force of this argument. "We should probably be moving along, then," said A.

"I assume you weren't referring to me?" asked B.

Before U and I could protest, though, Gork squelched and the Alphabet disappeared.

"Thank you, Gork," said the butler, standing up and dusting himself off.

"Zug," Gork responded.

"You're welcome," said Archibald. There was a pause. Then he massaged his forehead. "Wait, I was thanking you."

Julian laughed. "Don't bother to debate with Gork. His superior intelligence will prevail every time."

"Gomez would have a ball," Archibald remarked.

The walls began to shake. Pictures fell from their tacks. The door slammed open, and Björnharalðfyrirskræþenssen, the Icelandic giant, thumped in. He gave a mighty roar.

"Hver ert Archibald?" he hollered.

"Here I am," said the butler. "But I'm afraid I don't know much more Icelandic than that."

"And don't yell," Julian added.

Björn looked abashed. "Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't break anything –"

"No, Björn," Julian interrupted. "Don't worry about it. Now was there something you wanted?"

"Well, it isn't really that important," Björn said meekly.

"It's fine. Did you want something with me?" asked Archibald.

"Yes. I wanted to know how you managed to make Schmidt bet that you would bet that Gomez didn't have a krónur."

Archibald looked miffed. "You think I fixed it?"

A mortified Björn perished the thought.

"You were right, it was fixed," Archibald admitted. Björn's eyebrows rose. "But I had some help."

"From whom?" the Icelander inquired.

"Me," said the Author.

"The Author?" asked a confused Björn.

"Yes," said the Author.

"Is that legal?"

"If it wasn't, it is now," the Author said firmly. Björn sat on a couch to ponder this mysterious turn of the tides. The couch snapped in half. Björn jumped up and tried to hide it, but Julian waved it off.

"So are you actually the Author, or are you merely a character imbued with Author-like powers?"

"I don't really know," the Author replied. "I've never considered the question. I don't think it really matters given my relative omnipotence."

"So if I asked you to give me fourteen septillion dollars," Archibald pressed, "you could do it?"

"I could," the Author affirmed. Archibald's face lit up. "But I won't. Authors have a responsibility to write good stories, and fourteen septillion dollars spontaneously appearing is somewhat contrived."

"You might as well give up now," said Julian. "This story is already turning out to be incredibly weird."

"Well, I can't. You still have to go on an adventure." Suddenly the Author realized what he had revealed. "I didn't mean that."

Julian and Archibald leapt from their seats. Björn was obliviously slouched in a corner looking ashamed.

"We're going to have an adventure?" asked Archibald.

"It was simply a mistake," the Author said.

"What's going to happen?" asked Julian. "Don't deny it, we heard you say there was going to be an adventure."

"Fine. That's all I'll admit, though." The Author sighed. "That, and Gomez is going to want to come along."

Julian groaned. "Do we have to take a polemic skeptic?"

"Yes," the Author said with finality. "You can't be allowed to remember any of this." With his Author powers, he made Julian and Archibald forget the entire conversation with the Author.

"You're breaking a lot of literary traditions," Björn whispered.

"Blast, I forgot about you," the Author grunted.

"It's really quite innovative," said the giant Icelander.

"Thanks," the Author said. "Now you really must forget all that we have talked about." And Björn forgot what was going on.

"Good heavens!" the Author said to the readers. "This is getting out of hand!"