sarah gregory on lynd ward's gods' man: a novel in woodcuts
Gods’ Man by Lynd Ward is a wordless novel. It was originally published the weekend of the 1929 stock market crash. Lynd later published five other wordless novels, also illustrated in woodcuts.
The book opens with a nameless hero painting in a storm at sea. His little boat washes ashore and he travels to town by foot. On his way, he stumbles upon a beggar and gives him money but upon reaching an inn, he eats and realizes that was the last of his money. The innkeeper threatens him as the nameless hero offers one of his paintings for payment. Instead, he is saved by a man cloaked in black. The black clad figure pays the innkeeper generously and reviews the hero’s artwork. After a moment, the man in black loans the hero a new paint brush and has him sign a contract. The story continues from that moment showing the hero as he rises and falls within a world of greed and corruption until finally the man in black greets him again, waving the signed contract in the hero’s face.
The work lacks the extensive detail that a worded novel would provide, and though there are many blanks for the reader’s imagination to fill, it does offer the advantage of being a very quick ‘read.’ It provides entertainment and a vast , immersive storyline without taking up a lot of the reader’s time. Interpreting each of the 139 illustrations is similar to traveling to an art museum and contemplating each work as though it were part of the same story. Furthermore, the tale’s simple plot is timeless, and in the end the wordlessness of the novel opens many doors for interpretation.
Sarah Gregory is a play writing and film studies graduate of Christopher Newport University.