The Winner of World War III

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Had I been human, I would have said: “You’re joking!” I didn’t, because we never joke; we don’t need to. The laugh that a joke evokes is your momentary recollection of forgotten truth, and we never forget the truth.

The Winner of World War III is a deeply strange book, narrated by a cockroach who gives an insect’s perspective on the whole of human history. It was published in 1966 by Seven Seas Books, a small press in East Berlin that specialized in English books, many of them originals. As far as I can tell, this one never had another publisher. You can read a bit more about Seven Seas here, including a partial catalog of titles.

This book is essentially a fan’s extension of Don Marquis’s Archy & Mehitabel shtick, and even references it directly at a few points, including one supporting character with Mehitabel’s catch phrase, toujours gai (although “gaiety is apparently not toujours, for, soon after, she was killed.”) Myers doesn’t have Archy’s light touch as a writer, but he’s aiming for the same humorous tone laced with melancholy. In the end, the narrator’s message for humanity is that if we don’t get our act together and put an end to war and nuclear escalation, the insects have decided to wipe us out — more or less the plot of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Other than that, it’s less political than I might have expected from looking at some of the other titles in that Seven Seas catalog, but it does contain a few digs at capitalism and one in particular at the Hollywood blacklist — was Myers himself a victim of this?

So that’s a pretty good summary of this odd little book: it’s basically The Day the Earth Stood Still as narrated by Archy, written by an American screenwriter, and published by an obscure East German imprint alongside Johannes Becher, Christa Wolf and other socialist intellectuals.

I’m so used to googling old books and finding a wealth of information that it was a bit of a surprise to find nothing about this one, beyond what you could tell from the inside cover. It doesn’t have any reader ratings or even a blurb anywhere on the web. There’s no bio of Myers online either, although he was a successful screenwriter whose films included the hit Destry Rides Again (which I mentioned in my recent post on Django Unchained), and he had at least one successful novel in the ’50s called The Utmost Island. But even that book is long out of print, and other than a list of film credits, I couldn’t find anything about him.

Myers does include his own wry capsule biography in Winner, and in the interests of the next person who googles him — whenever that might be — I’ll reproduce part of it here:

His other activities have been: Teacher of Novel-Writing at New York University (four of his students have had books of their own published), Theatrical Press Agent for Messrs. Lee & J.J. Shubert, Teacher of Chess at Queen’s Pawn Chess Club in Greenwich Village, Accompanist for Concert Singers (he had a thorough musical education at his mother’s insistence; the story of his life is how he tricked her into letting him give up music and become a writer, but not before he had composed three Grand Operas and three Comic Operas, orchestration and all, none of them any good).

He was born in Chicago, left at the age of one, and now lives in New York City, under the delusion that it is a center of culture. I will not tell you how old he is, as he does not believe in Time, considering it a mistaken concept.

I wonder who those four students were. In any case, it’s a sobering thought that a writer with at least some level of mainstream success could leave so little trace just fifty years later.