How History Disappears


To be blunt, this is a cry for help. A very special kind of help, but one which may have reciprocal benefits. We are in need of a scholar, probabaly two, possibly more than that. Scholars who are 'legitimate,' that is, persons connected with colleges or universities engaged in the archival preservation and study of the papers of various literary figures. Persons who may be looking for a subject for a thesis, a subject which has not been thoroughly exhausted already.

My brother, Paul Edwin Zimmer, was a writer of some popularity. He was a scholar in his own right, and was widely respected in the small literary and poetic community of which he was a member; that primarily concerned with 'high fantasy,' When he finished his first novel, after eleven years of work, we expected something on the order of Robert E. Howard. It was more like Rudyard Kipling.

Paul was not an easy person to get along with. Charming amongst his literary peers, he could be very difficult at home. He never worked in a linear manner, preferring to work on specific parts of a book independent of the time line of the story. This generated great quantities of notes, many scribbled on tiny bits of paper, on the backs of scrap paper, and so forth. He left them all over the house, and then went through the trash before it was burned to make sure none of them had been thrown out. Sometimes they had, and he rescued them.

When he died, quite unexpectedly, very romantically, at a convention, dressed in his kilts and surrounded by his fans, in his home town of Albany, New York, he left behind great quantities of material. His collection of rare books and magazines, carefully clipped items from newspapers, comic strips from his boyhood: like most writers, he was a packrat.

Notes for the books on which he was working, notes for the overall epic of 'The Dark Border,' which was his lifelong work, quantities of poetry, and a great deal more. If Shakespeare had left us this kind of mess, the world would be a happier place. He did not, but there are at least a hundred thousand theses lamenting the fact.

One wonders if, perhaps, Shakespeare did leave this kind of mess. If, perhaps, when he died people just trashed it. After all, he was a hack playright: who would care about all those notes and manuscripts, anyway?

Here comes the rub.

When Paul died it fell to his son and his nephew to clean up the mess. They have been busily selling off his books, and I have no idea what they have been doing with his papers. I thought at first this was being done with respect and concern, but the boxes of papers that have been shuffled from room to room give less indication that the treatment is one of respect and more that the stuff is merely a nuisance.

More than that, they started going through my stuff as well, disposing of what they would. When my shelves of books needed to be moved they were told to store them in the attic. On New Year's Day I discovered some of my treasured books down in the basement, in a pile, ready to be sold. When I objected, I was told there wasn't room for my books and that if I wanted them, I would have to go through the pile to rescue them and store them elsewhere.

I mean, I am not even dead yet and I'm being prepped for the trash bin!

The sad fact is, this is not an unusual situation. Some years ago an acquaintance told me the tale of her aunt, who had died. When the relatives came home from the funeral they found everything from her attic in a big pile, in the back yard, burning. A helpful neighbor had wanted to spare them the annoyance of going through all that 'junk.' --On top of the pile was the funeral wreath from Abraham Lincoln's catafalque, amongst the other 'junk.'

Gentle reader, you have all seen film biographies of writers and artists. You know that they are not necessarily the best people with whom to live. The problem is, because of that, the families and other survivors do not see them as artists and writers: they see them as people. Paul is remembered by his readers as a wonderful writer, but by his family as a pain in the ass. (They think of me in less glamorous terms: I'm just a nuisance.) Now that he is gone, they are busy disposing of him.

I'm not even dead, but they have begun to work on disposing of me, too.

Whatever his human qualities may have been, I do believe that Paul Edwin Zimmer will be remembered as a writer of some significance, and I believe that his effects should be of interest to the scholarly community. If they are to be saved from the very human practice of being thrown away, then someone needs to come forth now and offer to take them, archive them, and possibly get a Ph.D. in their study.

I, also, am available as subject for such a project. My work is less massive in its literary significance, it is true. I tend to write short stories, and I am no doubt viewed more as 'pop culture entertainment' than Paul. --But I have been dutiful in saving my junk for many years, so what has not been thrown out behind my back may provide months of amusement for someone in need of a thesis subject.

It would be nice to go to my grave knowing that the important part of my life was not going directly to the dump.

And I guess that is it. A simple, straightforward plea for survival, and least in the dusty bins of Academia.

There is one scholarly article on this website about Paul, and The Dark Border. There is nothing about me, though there are a couple of complementary reviews out there on the World Wide Web.

If you think you can help, please write me at


Thank you for reading this.


Jon DeCles


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