Winston Churchill is a distinctive name. So distinctive, in fact, that when two people of that name, contemporaries, grew famous in different fields only one was likely to achieve lasting historical significance.
One was Winston Churchill, famed British statesman and hero of World War II. The other was Winston Churchill, popular American author.
The American’s work served as the inspiration for several early films, and after he retired from writing, he took up art. He proved to be an excellent painter as well as a novelist, and some of his works now stand in museums.
Still, the oddity of his name worked against him. Despite a clear provenance and an exhaustive history, the American has been forgotten by most save historians. His chosen medium of the novel proved to be his undoing; while short fiction, particularly genre fiction, is regularly brought back into print by anthologists, novels are rarely reprinted for mass distribution unless they are considered classics or are particularly relevant to current events. Worse yet, when people interested in that era run across the name of Winston Churchill, most casual readers simply assume it’s the British politician.
This is where “Man Overboard” comes in. It is a short piece written by Winston Churchill, and it focuses on the experiences of a man who has recently fallen off a ship. It’s a short psychological horror story, and its existence serves as the primary reminder of the American Winston Churchill’s body of work. It has been anthologized dozens of times. Most of the times it’s been reprinted, there have been efforts by the editor to explain the difference between the American author and the British statesman.
There’s only one drawback for the American in this arrangement: “Man Overboard” was a rare fiction piece written by the legendary British statesman. The American is discussed primarily to clarify that it is not, in fact, one of his works.
Still, at least it’s something. If one has to be discussed in the context of someone else, there are worse associations to have.
Question of the night: What’s one of your favorite short stories?