Parnassus on Wheels – Can I Have One?

October 10, 2012 at 8:02 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Parnassus on Wheels

Author: Christopher Morley

Publisher:  Akadine Press

Length: 160 pages

“[…] When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.  Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean.”

Parnassus on Wheels is both sweet and clever.  It is adorably romantic.  After reading this, I want desperately to peddle books from a horse-drawn early 1900s RV.  Morley has captured a tale of an adventure that is every book lovers dream: to travel in a cozy carriage with a dog and horse, spreading the love and joy of literature to everyone you meet.  What could be better?

Mr. Mifflin is a middle-aged ginger, evangelizing about the religion of books as a way of life, when he meets over-weight Helen McGill.  Helen is tired but spunky, she’s been a ‘house-wife’ to her brother for years on the farm they share.  Her brother, a famous author doesn’t really treat her as though she’s her own person, and 6,000 loaves of bread into life, she buys Mifflin’s whole operation for $400 on a lark.  Of course, everyone thinks Mr. Mifflin is taking advantage of the lady, but in reality he has offered a whole new life, a new way of seeing the world, and an absurd amount of joy.

As a bookseller, this story speaks to me.  I ran the literature sections for several years, and I received an intense amount of satisfaction from finding books for my customers.  The idea that you could deliver books straight to someone’s doorstep in such a homey but noninvasive manner sounds so enticing and whimsical to me.

Peddlers are well-known concept:



I wish I lived in a caravan,

With a horse to drive like a peddler-man!

Where he comes from nobody knows,

Or where he goes to, but on he goes!

His caravan has windows two,

And a chimney of tin, that the smoke comes through;

He has a wife, with a baby brown,

And they go riding from town to town.

Chairs to mend, and delf to sell!

He clashes the basins like a bell;

Tea trays, baskets ranged in order,

Plates, with alphabets round the border!

The roads are brown, and the sea is green,

But his home is like a bathing-machine;

The world is round, and he can ride,

Rumble and slash, to the other side!

With the peddler-man I should like to roam,

And write a book when I came home;

All the people would read my book,

Just like the Travels of Captain Cook!


But a book peddler is a fairly unique idea, and I love Christopher Morley for sharing this idea with the world.  Clearly, he didn’t invent the concept, but one wonders if he encountered a caravan such as R. Mifflin’s Traveling Parnassus, or is it merely a dream he had for himself? Parnassus on Wheels was Morley’s first novel, first published in 1917.  Mr. Mifflin returns in the book The Haunted Bookshop, a sequel I am strongly looking forward to, but what I find most interesting is that Christopher Morley wrote over 100 novels.  Have you heard of any of them?  I had not, I was only aware of Morley because he was pressed on me by a fellow bookseller.  I rarely come across his work in bookstores, and I have never seen a title of his in any library.  I now plan to collect his work more vigorously.

Morley apparently wrote a number of essays and poems as well, and lectured at University.  One adorable little factoid is that he married a woman named Helen shortly after studying history in college.  I can’t help but wonder how much Helen McGill, of Parnassus on Wheels, resembled his own wife whom he loved.

Have you read anything by Christopher Morley? Please leave comments.

1 Comment

  1. The Haunted Bookshop | Anakalian Whims said,

    […] purchased The Haunted Bookshop years ago; it was the same time I bought Parnassus on Wheels.  Nearly two years after finally reading my first encounter with Morley, I’ve finally been […]

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