by Jeff Baker
The strangers find themselves in a small town in the country. A town where the older, quieter, simpler ways are important. A town where religion is important and the people are close to nature, to the land, to the tall, growing corn. By the end of the tale, the strangers realize (too late) that religion and the corn have blended in horrific ways. Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn,” right? No. Thomas Tryon’s 1973 novel “Harvest Home,” which predates King’s 1977 short story.
Thomas Tryon broke into the literary scene with his novel “The Other,” in the same decade as King. He did not have as long a career and his name is not as well-known, but you couldn’t get away from the paperback copies of “The Other” (shiny silver) or “Harvest Home” in the 70s. And yes, Tryon was gay. Writing in the time before Clive Barker he did not bring openly gay characters into his stories, but there were oblique hints. I have only skimmed through some of his works but his prose had the power to dazzle.
Several of Tryon’s works were adapted for the big and small screen. “Harvest Home” became a T.V. mini-series starring Bette Davis no less, and Michael O’Keefe (just before “Caddyshack.”) Tryon was no stranger to the movies; young and good-looking he had played supporting roles in westerns, war pictures such as 1962’s “The Longest Day,” and a starring role in 1963’s “The Cardinal,” for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. But Tryon had his fill of Hollywood and quit acting to write, supposedly inspired by Ira Levin’s novel “Rosemary’s Baby.” Tryon’s IMDB page quotes him as saying; “To have a book published is one of the most exciting things that can happen to you. Infinitely more rewarding than acting.”
Thomas Tryon died in 1991 of stomach cancer. His name has dropped from the public consciousness. But his words still have their power. Here’s a sampling, from his 1989 novel “The Night of the Moonbow.”
“There was a curious thing about music heard across water, an indefinable something that altered the tonal qualities of the notes, not subtracting but adding to their sum, rounding and hollowing them, making them both remote and somehow more intimate, like the warming gleam of a familiar but far-away star. And in years to come, whenever he might hear that song, no matter where he was or what he was doing, for Leo Joaquim it would always be the summer of ’38, his Moonbow summer.”
Tryon had the skill, the magic to invoke wonder and terror. He deserves to be re-discovered.
(NOTE: I am indebted to Mr. Greg Herren for his mention of Tryon in his blog, which inspired me to write this column.)
Jeff Baker blogs about writing and reading sci-fi and horror and other sundry matters around the thirteenth of each month. His stories about the science fictional doings at Demeter’s Bar have appeared in QSF’s “Discovery,” and Sci Fan Magazine, among other places. He lives in Wichita, Kansas with his husband Darryl and appears on Facebook as Jeff Baker, Author and also blogs and posts fiction at http://authorjeffbaker.com.