Irving Wallace’s novel The Word, published in 1972, tells a story of international intrigue. The discovery of a new gospel in Italy–purportedly written by Jesus’s younger brother, James–sends Wallace’s protagonist, the world-weary New York public relations man Steven Randall, on a wide-ranging quest to confirm the authenticity of the explosive new document. Randall’s resulting journey across Europe–from London to Paris, Amsterdam to Greece–reads like a pulp travelogue through a Europe where mystery and romance lurk around every corner.
Wallace was well-known as a careful and prodigious researcher. While working on The Word in the mid- to late-1960s, he employed multiple research assistants to conduct library research, interview scholars, and photograph locations that he planned to write about in the book. In 1963, however, Wallace decided to conduct some research of his own, and with his wife (the writer Sylvia Wallace) and two children, he traveled to London and Paris to begin the work that would form the foundation of The Word.
The Word series of the Wallace collection provides some fascinating glimpses of Wallace’s trip, giving us a sense of the headaches and pleasures of European travel in the early 1960s. The journey from Los Angeles (where the Wallaces lived) to Paris required a significant amount of advance planning; hotels had to be booked by letter, itineraries drafted, and personal and professional contacts notified of his family’s impending arrival. I can’t help but imagine the awkward, stuffy dinners that some of these “advance” letters (see below) may have resulted in. Perhaps, too, some formed the basis of lifelong friendships.
Whatever the case, it is striking how much the experience of travel has changed since the early 1960s. Lacking our contemporary reliance on Airbnb, Uber, and navigation apps, Wallace’s European adventure was surely a slower and more painstaking journey than most of us would care to put up with today.