Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Richard Harvell

Richard Harvell is the author of The Bells, a novel about a castrato in the eighteenth century. The Bells was an Indie Next Pick in October 2010 and is being translated into twelve languages. He grew up in New Hampshire and now lives in Switzerland.

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently reading Michael Newton’s Savage Girls and Wild Boys. I actually found it by entering “Wild Boys” into the local university library catalogue, and it’s just what I hoped it would be—a history of feral children, from wolf-children to the tragically neglected.

I find my way into the novels I write through other people’s carefully researched studies of out of the ordinary themes—for The Bells it was Patrick Babier’s The World of the Castrati (as well as the somewhat less scholarly Castration: The Advantages and Disadvantages, by Victor T. Cheney).

Newton’s Savage Girls and Wild Boys is just the kind of book that sets me tingling as I stroll the library stacks. The book satisfies my thirst for answers (Can kids really be raised by wolves?—Yes), and yet it is leaving me with an even larger dose of wonder than I began with. Lots of new questions (If a child learned to speak, and then from age three to ten was raised by wolves, would she be able to speak when she returned? How would she sound?). Newton gives me lots of details (which I scribble on note cards) that could be the stuff of a future novel (reclaimed feral children tend to have bad teeth and are non-repentant thieves), and yet he also strays into the philosophical frame: in 1726 Jonathan Swift was interested in whether Peter the Savage, a feral child, could have a soul, whereas in 1970 researchers at UCLA hoped that Genie, a neglected girl raised in a dark, LA bedroom, could prove or disprove theories of universal language.

Such books as Newton’s can’t be the last word on a theme, because they are a first word on so many others. It’s a web that draws me back into the stacks for more—Gulliver’s Travels and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan are next on my list.
Visit Richard Harvell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue