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July 2007
 
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The Thirty-first of June, by J. B. Priestley (1961)

THIS commendably compact novella is subtitled: A Tale of True Love, Enterprise and Progress, in the Arthurian and Ad-Atomic Ages. (Ad = Advertising). John Boynton Priestley made several appearances in F&SF during the 1950s, e.g. "The Strange Girl" (January 1954).

Chapter One opens on a firmly whimsical note, setting the tone for much that follows: "Lunaday, the 31st of June, brought to Peradore the kind of summer morning we all remember from years ago but seem to have missed ever since." This tiny kingdom is one of many owing allegiance to the high king at Camelot. "Not having discovered economics, Peradore was not planning desperately how to make its exports exceed its imports."

Sam Penty, a copywriter/artist for the Wallaby, Dimmock, Paly, and Tooks advertising agency, falls in love with Princess Melicent, daughter of Peradore's King Meliot. Lowly Sam goes from the Damosel Stockings account to jousting the Red Knight and dickering with enchanters. The Space Merchants crossed with The Sword in the Stone; that's right enough, in a wrong sort of way.

Priestley worried that the critical spirit of his "comic invention" made it unsuitable for readers under eleven and over ninety. At the same time, however: "It must be funny because I could hear my secretary laughing in the next room, as she copied the story."

I've tried to reimagine The Thirty-First of June as a bog-standard sword & sorcery trilogy, but the needless effort defeats me every time.

—Graham Andrews

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