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Review of W from The Midwest Book Review

The Feb. 2018 issue of The Midwest Book Review features a review of W. An excerpt:

“A richly layered multi-narrative story by an author with a genuine flair for originality, wit, and a deft command of the comic and the tragic, “W” by John Banks dexterously interweaves many stories and styles into a truly memorable and inherently fascinating read from cover to cover.”

The Luck of the Viking

One theme running throughout W is that of Luck. Luck meant something quite different to Vikings, compared to how we lucky modern folks think of that word. Rather than luck being something that is imposed on us by outside forces — getting a lucky break or having a run of bad luck in Vegas — for Vikings, luck was an interior quality possessed by a person, similar to a personality trait or a genetic predisposition. Here is a good research article on the Viking conception of Luck.


The prologue at the beginning (where else?) of W is a short excerpt from Gisli Sursson’s Saga, one of the Icelandic family sagas. The main purpose of this prologue is to introduce the Old Norse concept of “nid” (in English orthography), which is defined as “a form of ridicule whereby a person is represented as worthy of universal contempt.” (We all know people like that, now don’t we?) More specifically, Gisli’s saga provides us with an example of “trenid,” which can be defined as “wood-shame.” Much is left to the imagination in Icelandic saga literature, so I will do likewise.

I have linked to a scholarly paper on “nid” which references Gisli Sursson. This paper may give more information than the average non-Viking needs, but it is interesting nonetheless.

All That Jazz

Another strong influence on my writing of W was the idea of jazz as a symbol of America. Jazz and blues are usually thought of as American inventions, though, strictly speaking, their roots are in Africa. But New Orleans jazz, with all its stylistic descendants, is certainly an American innovation.

Here is Louis Armstrong in 1933.

Old Southwest Humor

One of the primary inspirations for W was the little outpost of 19th-century American literature known as the Old Southwest Humorists. My favorite resident of this out-of-the-way enclave is George Washington Harris, who created the wonderful character named Sut Lovingood. A collection of Sut Lovingood yarns can be read and downloaded from Google Books here.

My purpose was to use the humor and story-telling devices of the Old Southwest Humorists to create my own little yarn about a mad dash across the continent in search of gold. Here is a short excerpt from W, introducing you to the old storyteller Moses Carlyle and the tale he has to tell.