February 22, 2012

Body-snatchers, time travel, Knox

Walter Braden Finney ’34 might not be a household name, but he is still one of Knox’s most prestigious alumni.
Finney is better known by his pen name, Jack Finney, and is the author of books like “Time and Again,” “I Love Galesburg in the Springtime” and “The Body Snatchers.” His work dealt mainly with science fiction and often played with the idea of time travel.
“The Body Snatchers” has been adapted in films four times (in 1956, 1978, 1993 and 2007). The earliest version was shown in the Taylor Student Lounge on Wednesday, Feb. 15 as a part of Knox’s 175th anniversary celebration.
His short story “The Third Level,” about the fictional third level of Grand Central Station that lets travelers journey back in time, is the namesake for Quiver’s science fiction publication. The story romanticizes the Galesburg of the past. Finney fell in love with the town when he visited during his childhood and attended Knox when he was older.
“My Galesburg was in the ‘20s, visiting it every summer when I was a child and it was a wonderful place,” Finney wrote in a letter to Knox Professor of English and Director of the library Douglas L. Wilson in 1982, which is on file in the Seymour Library special collections and archives.
In the same letter, when his friends were discussing their favorite cities, he said his was Galesburg.
“My motive, of course, was simply to avoid the obvious answer and to be mildly startling,” he wrote. “But later I realized it had the merit of being true, besides.”
Finney’s love for the city showed in his work. After reading “I Love Galesburg in the Summertime,” a Japanese woman saved up her money to visit the city that had inspired the story.
His skill also found a fan in author Stephen King. The Washington Post’s review of King’s novel “Cujo” said the bestselling author “confessed especial admiration of Jack Finney, in whose work the alien and the bizarre often casually emerge from the mundane.”
When he attended Knox, Finney took classes in advanced writing, short story and narrations.
Although Finney died in 1995, his legacy remains at Knox. Even though she had not read his work, senior and Quiver Third Level editor Kati Stunkard was glad for Finney.
“A lot of schools and a lot of writing programs are not supportive of science fiction and fantasy writing,” Stunkard said. “It makes me happy that someone who wrote sci-fi has become someone to look up to.”
Her co-editor, junior Kathleen Chalas, had read “The Body Snatchers” in high school, and was amazed when she learned that Finney had attended Knox.
“That plot gets used so often,” Challas said, “it should be considered [a classic].”
When Wilson asked Finney for funds to help repair the library, he responded by writing, “When you renovate the library, please restore it to precisely as it was in 1934, and the ghost in the corner will be me.”
Although his spirit might not haunt the library, Finney’s writings will continue to permeate Knox’s literary history.

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