Pantopia was Frank Harris' last novel. It was brought out in 1930 by Panurge Press - who also issued his Confessional - a publishing house specialising in limited editions in deluxe bindings for pretentious collectors of 'Adult' material (including Chastity Belts by Esar Levine and Curiosities of Erotic Physiology by John Davenport). Presumably the one-handed readers were meant to be enticed into buying this addition to the Harris canon by the reputation of My Life and Loves, but if they were expecting similar thrills they were to be disappointed.
Harris' preface should have sounded the warning bells: he teasingly claims that his original manuscript included passages that were so like some in Lady Chatterley's Lover, that he had had to remove them for fear of being thought a plagiarist.
What remains from Harris' act of self-censorship is a work of sub-Wellsian allegorical science fiction. His first-person hero, Phil Meredith, is shipwrecked on the strange island of Pantopia where the inhabitants, who speak a variant of Spanish, have technology far in advance of his native England. There he meets a girl, Aura, with whom he falls in love.
Aura explains the local theology - amazingly similar to that described in Harris' short story 'The Temple to the Forgotten Dead', from Undream'd of Shores - and shows him some of their technological wonders including miniature aeroplanes which are marvellously aerobatic, apparently due to their numerous, highly manouverable, wings.
Aura's father, Saavedra, is a well-respected island sage. Phil and he share long conversations about Jesus, about whom Saavedra takes a similar view to that important 20th century thinker, Frank Harris. Indeed, Saavedra in his youth wrote some little pieces about Jesus - which he reads aloud to Phil at length - in Harris' playlet style. (The narrative, which previously had meandered along at a gentle walking pace, at this point slows to a crawl).
Phil is gradually winning Aura's heart, though he has a rival, Laurice, who is brilliant and talented. Alas! Saavedra, who has acted as Phil's sponsor and protector on the island, is stabbed by a malefactor, falls sick and slowly dies. Laurice assumes a position of power and looks set to steal Aura away. In desperation, Phil persuades Aura to escape with him in one of the little aeroplanes. They fly some 900 miles before being rescued by an English passenger ship.
After this brief flash of excitement, which effectively ends the story as such, Harris' final chapters are a weird anti-climax, consisting of letters from Aura to Phil which depict Harris' understanding of female sexuality. Though they in no way advance his narrative they are interesting as indications of the sort of letter Harris himself must often have received. (It was these letters that suffered the uncharacteristic act of bowdlerisation he speaks of in his preface).
Although this is in many ways a ludicrous book, I found it to be oddly enjoyable. True, it suffers from thin characterisation, unconvincing scientific content (apart from his surprising anticipation of Sonar) and a dearth of plot, yet it is by turns unintentionally humorous and weirdly touching. Harris said he thought it 'in some respects' his best: it is certainly not that, but it does have an offbeat charm.
If you found this page of interest, you might also want to read Harris' preface to this book.
Scribbled by Alfred Armstrong 11 years 5 months ago