By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Native Californian Selden Edwards is a born teacher, a convenient fact for a lifelong educator, Edwards’ career until his 2003 retirement. Except he didn’t stop teaching, not after the novel manuscript he had nurtured for 30 years became, in his supposed retirement, a 2008 best-selling novel — The Little Book, a story of time travel that carries protagonist Wheeler Burden from 1988 California to 1897 Vienna. Neither did Edwards stop teaching with his second novel, a sequel set in 1918, called The Lost Prince, from which he will be reading Friday at Warwick’s in La Jolla.
Even a recent phone interview — and a lively, fast-paced interview it was — turned into an enthusiastic introduction to the United States’ Progressive Era, a brief overview of existential individualism, and a synopsis of the Gilded Age. It seemed a natural and perfectly entertaining teaching opportunity, as are his novels.
“I probably can’t help it,” Edwards said. “I love learning and I love imparting learning, so I guess it’s natural. If you read The Little Book, it has some characteristics in it that sort of expose my interests. There’s a great teacher in The Little Book, and the description of him and his impact is pretty much my feeling, my passion about teaching.”
It’s a passion that Edwards shares so effectively that readers have told him how much his teacher reminded them of favorite teachers they once had.
Along with his love of teaching, Edwards’ books expose many of his other interests — the paradox of time travel and predestination, fascinating characters from history, the evolution of psychology and dream interpretation, all of which he has incorporated into his books with an articulate and wonderfully facile gift for delivering complex concepts through fictional dialogue and action. Edwards wants his writing to do more than just entertain.
“If you read a James Bond story, it’s a great story, you want to keep going, but it doesn’t have any deep or inner meaning in it. Some writers tend to do both, tell a good story and make you think. And I want to be someone who tells a good story, but I also want to be someone who writes in a way that makes people think. … Both of my books are loaded with psychological perspective and philosophy, and there are some themes that run in both of them that could cause one to do some thinking.”
Indeed, the concept of time travel and the dilemmas it poses clearly delight Edwards as they have intrigued his readers with questions of time travelers’ ability to influence the past and the future, with conflicts between predestination and self-determination.
“Time travel and time dislocation cause people to think in ways they wouldn’t in a conventional story. But there are some loops in the first book and the second book where it isn’t clear who originated an idea.”
For instance, Carl Jung — yes, he is one of Edwards’ characters — is flummoxed by the possibility that he might have been influenced by someone from the future who brought knowledge of Jungian psychology to the past.
“The second story is very Jungian and it’s very complicated,” Edwards explained. “Eleanor (a key character in The Little Book who drives the action in the sequel) teaches Jung some stuff. And she learned it from Wheeler Burden’s journal. And she realizes Wheeler must have been an advocate of Jung in Vienna. She shares that with Jung, who says, ‘What are you telling me, that I educated myself?’”
Eleanor, a woman of formidable spirit who straddles the roles of turn-of-the-century high-society wife and entrepreneurial protector of the future that Wheeler has dictated, struggles with the question of whether she can do the wrong thing, altering Wheeler’s projections, or if the wrong thing is inevitably what will realize the journal’s words.
“Eleanor is faced with that in a major way, because she is trying to make this life happen a certain way because it was laid out in a journal. But maybe it’s not going to happen that way. … I love her. I just think she’s so courageous.”
Edwards’ love for his characters — even the frightening J.P. Morgan with his “bulbous nose” — is striking and effective. They have blossomed and thrived under the caring, brilliant tutelage of a gifted author, whose enthusiasm seems boundless.
“I’m excited. I wrote my first novel for 30 years and all of a sudden, in late innings, I had this amazing success. So I’m still new at it, and it’s pretty exciting.”