Christopher Hitchens

Der Lebensbericht des früh verstorbenen Literaturkritikers Christopher Hitchens «Hitch-22: A memoir» (Twelve Books, 2010) ist auch eine Fundgrube von Erlebnissen und Begegnungen, namentlich auch in Bezug auf den häufig erwähnten und von Hitchens bewunderten Anthony Powell. So heißt es im Kapitel «Decline, mutation, or metamorphosis?» wie folgt:

«Toward the close of Hearing Secret Harmonies, which is itself the close of his complex, majestic, rhythmical twelve-volume novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time (and also by a nice chance the volume that happens to be dedicated to Robert Conquest), Anthony Powell’s narrator catches sight of a blue-clad person, crossing a playing field in his direction:

Watching the approaching figure, I was reminded of a remark made by Moreland ages before. It related to one of those childhood memories we sometimes found in common. This particular recollection had referred to an incident in The Pilgrim’s Progress that had stuck in both our minds. Moreland said that, after his aunt read the book aloud to him as a child, he could never, even after he was grown-up, watch a lone figure draw nearer across a field, without thinking that this was Aopllyon come to contend with him. From the moment of first hearing that passage read aloud – assisted by a lively portrayal of the fiend in an illustration, realistically depicting his goat’s horns, bat’s wings, lion’s claws, lizard’s legs – the terror of that image, bursting out from an otherwise at moments prosy narrative, had embedded itself for all time in the imagination. I, too, as a child, had been riveted by the vividness of Apollyon’s advance across the quiet meadow.

When I first read this passage of Powell, I put down the novel and was immediately back in the Crapstone of my Devonshire boyhood. The long-forgotten but evidently well-retained scene of my memory is as plain in my recollection as anything that happened to me yesterday. My younger brother, Peter – aged perhaps eight – has so strongly imbibed John Bunyan’s Puritan classic as almost to have memorized it. (The ’slough of despond‘, ‚the Giant Despair‘, ‚Doubting Castle‘, the fripperies of ‚Vanity’s fair‘, ‚Oh death, where is thy sting?‘ Can you remember when all these used to be part of the equipment of everybody literate in English? They are as real to my brother and to me as the shaggy, wild ponies on the nearby moors.) But, coming to the very decisive page that should show Apollyon in all his horrid magnificence, Peter finds that the publishers have bowdlerized the text, and withheld this famous illustration from the version made avaliable to the under-tens. He is not to be allowed to look The Evil One in the face.»