Herman Wouk’s reflections

Herman Wouk:

it occurred to me very early on in my career that there’s no story to equal the story of Moses. At least, you know, to me and my background. So, I wrote some notes – this is back in 1951 – about something called the lawgiver, which I would hope someday to write. And I put these papers aside and glanced at them now and then, but I never thought I’d be able to do it because Moses was just beyond my reach. There’s no matching the tale exactly as it’s told in the five books of Moses.

I’m not going to badmouth the movies that have been made of my books. I think the books are better, and the Hollywood process is a dicey one. If you’re fortunate, as I was in the making of “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” those beautiful mini-series, I was just fortunate in my producer and my director. I think that “The Caine Mutiny” movie was good, but pretty good, and a couple of the others were not that good at all. But I have no complaints. You know, as Hemingway said you take the money and run.

I was a gag man for Fred Allen for five years. In his time, he was the greatest of the radio comedians. And jokes work for what they are but they’re ephemeral. They just disappear.

One of his characters:

Genesis is a prologue, Deuteronomy is a review. The Moses action that matters all transpires in three books, not five — Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers — and of those three, less than half is storytelling, the rest is religious law. Gone With the Wind length, no more: bursts of hard action, huge time lapses — that’s how the Torah tells it. That’s how the film will tell it, from the beguiling entrance of Moses as a crying baby in a basket to the pathos of the hoary Lawgiver’s exit, alone on Mount Nebo, glimpsing the Promised Land with dying eyes.

Remarkable fellow Mr. Wouk, writing books when he’s 100 or so; he was a mere 50 when we read The Caine Mutiny. However, the reason for our post is his appreciation of Moses. One of our HBS classmates became a professor there, and subsequently had several religious experiences from which he transitioned from his Jewish upbringing to becoming Catholic and a lecturer. He’s one of several people we know who’ve had the same experience. Meanwhile, as an altar boy from the vintage of the Latin Mass, somehow our certainty is that Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Of course it would be itself a heck of a story if he just made them up. Anyway, happy belated 102 birthday Mr. Wouk.

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