Prelude to a Million Years, Songs Without Words, Vertigo (v. 2)
by Lynd Ward
(Library of America, 2010, 728 pages)
This second volume of “wordless novels” by Lynd Ward is made up of two shorter stories or movements and one long novel. Prelude to a Million Years depicts an artist who desperately pursues his ideal of beauty in the midst of the despair and chaos of the Great Depression. In Song Without Words an archetypal women wanders through a world corrupted by capitalism and fascism. She despairs of bringing a child into such a world, but in the final scene, she holds her newborn child in her arms as she and her husband gaze past the dark city and look to the horizon in hope. Vertigo is the longest of Ward’s novels. It follows three characters, “The Girl,” “An Elderly Gentleman,” and “The Boy.” The story critiques the failures of capitalism as it shows how each character is effected by the Great Depression.
As in the first volume, all of these woodcuts are beautiful and intricate. There is something particularly appropriate about the black and white medium for expressing the despair and fear of American society during the Depression. The shadow is cast not only by a devastating economic crisis, but also by the rise of fascism in Europe. The contemporaneity of these themes and the sophistication with which Ward utilizes such an old technique combine to give the images in these novels a very modern feel. They may in fact be forerunners to what we now call graphic novels, but I wonder if any contemporary graphic novels can actually rival their effective use of this visual storytelling medium.