The Seven League Boots

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Best known, perhaps, for his cultural criticism, Albert Murray has also produced a series of novels recounting the adventures of Scooter, a young African American from Alabama, as he grows to manhood in the years between the two world wars. In THE SEVEN LEAGUE BOOTS, third in the series, whose earlier entries are TRAIN WHISTLE GUITAR (1974), and THE SPYGLASS TREE (1991), Scooter, now more often called “Schoolboy,” having finished a stint at Tuskegee, embarks on an exploration of the great world.

Divided into three parts, entitled “The Apprentice,” “The Journeyman,” and “The Craftsman,” the novel follows Schoolboy across the country as he tours with the great jazz band led by the Bossman, clearly modeled on Duke Ellington. Upon leaving the band, Schoolboy flourishes in Hollywood and enjoys a rewarding sojourn in Europe. When readers last see him, he is on his way home on a visit.

Murray’s theme is the possibility embodied in a young man like Scooter/Schoolboy, a possibility that cannot be realized through reductive definition by race, ethnicity, or nationality. Scooter absorbs all the influences, black and white, American and European, to which he is exposed, integrates them within himself, and brings them all back home. Not merely a protagonist, he is a hero, an “adequate man,” to use a formulation Murray has employed elsewhere.

As part of an ongoing meditation on the themes that concern its author, THE SEVEN LEAGUE BOOTS is unfailingly interesting. As a novel, it is rather more problematic. The hero’s will encounters too little resistance from the world to generate the tensions that inform a fully realized work of fiction. Nevertheless, Murray’s many admirers will regard this book as a must. Readers curious to make Murray’s acquaintance might find it more rewarding to begin with one of his important works of nonfiction, among them THE OMNI-AMERICANS (1970), STOMPIN’ THE BLUES (1976), and SOUTH TO A VERY OLD PLACE (1971).