John Lennon gets his fair share of attention and there are plenty of fanatical Beatles fans who will forcibly advance the view that his lyrics are worthy of inclusion into the literary canon. However, it is his often neglected In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works that are most deserving of greater recognition.
Published in 1964 and 1965 respectively these books are collections of poems and stories, all of which feature Lewis Carroll-esque imagery and surreal humour. More than the Beatles’ lyrics, which Lennon tossed off during, these years these works are at once hilarious, witty and incisive, while offering a unique glimpse into the author’s personality. The books were a great commercial success, eagerly bought and revered by Beatlemaniacs few of whom, it would seem, appreciated the uniqueness of the humour and the accomplishment of the prose and poetry.
As a figure of immense importance to popular culture, and enduring relevance, there is a temptation to idolise Lennon to the extent that his personality is obscured and his work neglected in a strange recognition of his genius. These works do not suffer from this problematic tendency. Perversely, that they have been so ignored means that they offer the greatest insight into this hugely influential character.
Lennon’s impressive faculty for language was evident in his song lyrics but reaches its full expression in these books, which are a space without three minute limits. His wit shines through in hilarious stories, full of wordplay and deceivingly childish jokes. References to the ‘Nasties’ (Nazis) are indicative of this, along with quotable aphorisms, one of which was used as the title of a Beatles song, album and film, “a hard day’s night”.
These works foreshadow Lennon’s later development as a writer as, in the late 1960s and ‘70s, when his lyrics began to take on a deeper, more complex and more playful side. Those looking to gain an understanding of him should stop attempting to decipher obscure lyrics and instead direct their attention to these works.