Ernest K(ellogg) Gann Charles Lee - Essay

Charles Lee

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There is nothing stingy about Ernest K. Gann's sense of melodrama in his new novel, "The High and the Mighty."

The serious reader, if he hasn't already jet-propelled himself elsewhere, will, of course, find a twenty-second character aboard who lends a somber note to the hectic doings on plane 420: his name is Death. "The High and the Mighty" is, in a sense, a study of men and women on the edge of destruction (aren't they always?), of the thoughts they think as they are about to die, of the answers they're ready with if they could but live.

All of these people are picked with a kind of relentlessly obvious factitiousness; their ironies are leaden; their commingled climaxes have the novelty of a firecracker after a dozen have been discharged; they achieve a quality of antique surprise. (p. 17)

The odd thing is, however, that you really don't have to pay much attention to what the SOB's [souls on board] … are up to. It's the story that contains theirs, the story of the plane in dispute with time, space, and the elements that really matters; and it is thoroughly fascinating. Mr. Gann gets inside his plane as he never gets inside his characters; it turns out to be a thing alive as they turn into machines. Before you leave battered old 420, you'll be familiar with its forward flight deck, with its pink and yellow lights, its quivering instrument panel, and its odor of leather and hydraulic oil; you'll sit on the navigator's comfortless stool and work with his charts and computers. (p. 18)

Charles Lee, "Haunts of Eagles," in The Saturday Review, New York (copyright © 1953 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXXVI, No. 17, April 25, 1953, pp. 17-18.