By PAT HARTMAN
Seldom, if ever, has a member of the travel writers’ pantheon faced such a challenge: choose for your material a tawdry artificial paradise, and still be taken seriously in your field. Paul Theroux has done this very thing, in a gem among travel essays called “My trip to Neverland and the call from Michael Jackson I’ll never forget,” brought to us by The Telegraph. The staff had apparently turned everything in the park on for Theroux’s visit, or maybe everything just ran all the time. He describes too much music in the air and empty rides whirling around. And bad-tempered animals. It must have been eerie. He says:
Neverland occupied an entire 3,000-acre valley, yet very little of it was devoted to human habitation… Here and there, like toy soldiers, uniformed security people patrolled on foot, or on golf carts; some stood sentry duty – for Neverland was also a fortress.
Theroux visited Neverland because that’s where Elizabeth Taylor was, and she needed to be interviewed. As everyone knows, she got married for the seventh time in the park’s gazebo. And, as the Virgin Mary is said to intercede with God, Liz Taylor promised to petition Michael Jackson to get Theroux an interview with him too.
When Jackson called the writer a few weeks later at 4 in the morning, the phone conversation that took place elicited an astonishing remark from Jackson: “Even though I missed out on a lot, I wouldn’t change anything.” Then the two men had a long talk about Judas, the one in the Bible.
Paul Theroux is of course famous for such non-fiction travel books as The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Kingdom By The Sea. He’s written some funky novels, too, several of which have been made into movies.
Which brings us neatly to the question of the day: Will Paul Theroux be remembered more comprehensively for his fiction or his non-fiction? Please state your opinion forthwith.