Melville set stage for Rowling's musings

To the editor:

Pulling out the paper Wednesday, June 29 and finding on the front page a story about Mount Greylock and literature sent me reeling.

J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame has set her newest stakes in Western Massachusetts, in the Berkshires, in our neighborhood and taken up where our local author, Herman Melville, left off. The 3940- foot-high mountain inspired him while he wrote "Moby-Dick," seeing in its wintry mass during the winter of 1850-1851 the emerging whale, creating a great wave, parting the mists of sea foam as he made himself known. This most everyone knows.

The mountain itself, dubbed "Charlemagne" by Melville, meant so much to him that he even dedicated his next book, the novel "Pierre, or The Ambiguities," to Greylock, the only book I know of dedicated to a massive rock formation. Why the "ambiguities" people ask and I can tell them two things: there are uncertainties in the book and one of them is the importance of setting, of that mountain in particular.

Sitting on his porch at Arrowhead in Pittsfield, now a museum devoted to Melville and to the history of the Berkshires, he could watch this mountain and find for himself the wonders hidden in it. Those wonders included "the lair of the fairies." As he wrote in his story "The Piazza" set in part on that very porch,


Melville knew more than 160 years ago that special people dwelled on the mountain that Rowling has now found for her American school of wizardry. There is no more suitable spot in the nation for her to choose and she follows in the illustrious footsteps of our local emperor of imaginative literature. People today are welcome to sit and watch the twin peaks of Greylock and make up their own minds. I know I often do.

Do I believe that wizards, fairies and whales exist? Do I feel that Mt. Greylock has been the host to all of this? I do believe that the genius in writers such as these two is, at least in part, due to their recognition of what is extraordinary in nature. Mt. Greylock is inspiring. Painters and writers and musicians have made it their particular place.

Call it by any name you like, "Charlemagne" or "Ilvermorny" or pick one that suits you personally. Our pile of rock, the highest in Massachusetts, is definitely magical. Both novelists got it right.

Peter Bergman, Pittsfield, The writer is director of communications and community relations Berkshire County Historical Society at Herman Melville's Arrowhead.