Like many of the Mother Goose rhymes, the verse about the Tommyknockers is deceptively simple. The origin of the word is difficult to trace. Webster’s Unabridged says Tommyknockers are either (a) tunneling ogres or (b) ghosts which haunt deserted mines or caves. Because “tommy” is an archaic British slang term referring to army rations (leading to the term “tommies” as a word used to identify British conscripts, as in Kipling – it’s Tommy this, an” Tommy that…”) the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary, while not identifying the term itself, at least suggests that Tommyknockers are the ghosts of miners who died of starvation, but still go knocking for food and rescue.
The first verse (‘Late last night and the night before,” etc.) is common enough for my wife and myself to have heard it as children, although we were raised in different towns,
different faiths, and came from different descendants – hers primarily French, mine Scots-Irish.
All other verses are products of the author’s imagination.
That author – me, in other words – wishes to thank his spouse, Tabitha, who is an invaluable if sometimes maddening critic (if you get mad at critics, you almost always can be sure they are right), the editor, Alan Williams, for his kind and careful attention, Phyllis Grann for her patience (this book was not so much written as gutted out), and, in particular, George Everett McCutcheon, who has read each of my novels and vetted it carefully – primarily for weapons and ballistics reasons, but also for his attention to continuity. Mac died while this book was in rewrite. In fact, I was obediently making corrections suggested by one of his notes when I learned he had finally succumbed to the leukemia he had battled for nearly two years. I miss him terribly, not because he helped me fix things but because he was part of my heart’s neighborhood.
Thanks are due to others, more than I could name: pilots, dentists, geologists, fellow writers, even my kids, who listened to the book aloud. I’m also grateful to Stephen Jay Gould. Although he is a. Yankee fan and thus not entirely to be trusted, his comments on the possibilities of what I’d call “dumb evolution” helped to shape the redraft of this novel (e. g. The Flamingo’s Smile).
Haven is not real. The characters are not real. This is a work of fiction, with one exception:
The Tommyknockers are real.
If you think I’m kidding, you missed the nightly news.
Late last night and the night before,
Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at the door.
I want to go out, don’t know if I can,
Because I’m so afraid of the Tommyknocker man.
THE SHIP IN THE EARTH
Well we picked up Harry Truman, floating down from Independence, We said, “What about the war?” He said, “Good riddance!” We said, “What about the bomb? Are you sorry that you did it?” He said, “Pass me that bottle and mind your own bidness.”
“Downstream”, The Rainmakers
For want of a nail the kingdom was lost – that’s how the catechism goes when you boil it down. In the end, you can boil everything down to something similar – or so Roberta Anderson thought much later on. It’s either all an accident… or all fate. Anderson literally stumbled over her destiny in the small town of Haven, Maine, on June 21st, 1988. That stumble was the root of the matter; all the rest was nothing but history.