After the Flood: Elvis and His Literary Legacy
The legend of Elvis Presley, like Paul Bunyan or Johnny Appleseed, has long since passed into the public domain. The amount of literature available on him rivals Lindbergh, Houdini, Valentino, and the Kennedys all put together. Indeed, while the average child in our classroom will probably never remember the names of the first American astronauts to walk the moon, that child will recognize Elvis’ face, a few of his more celebrated songs, and know at least the rudiments of his story, for such is the power of the folk hero and the nature of popular culture in our times. Four years after his death, our attention still shifts from one posthumous saga to another—from Dr. Nichopolous and the prescription drug scandal to the litigation in the Memphis Probate Court, where the Presley estate and Colonel Tom Parker are wrangling over Elvis’ millions—and the books just keep coming. And yet, in our continuing passion to find out more about this man and assess his enduring legacy, future generations will face snarling problems of historiography and biographical veracity in separating fact from fiction, myth from reality, truth from legend.
It is perfectly appropriate, of course, that the literature about Elvis Presley would be as astonishingly vast and diversified in scope, as full of irony, paradox, and contradiction as the man himself. It ranges from the profound to the profane, stretching from the pinnacles of genuine literary achievement to the glossy superficiality of commercial exploitation, often within the same volume. Elvis continues to fascinate and confound not only his public but a host of writers by his very magnitude as a figure in American life. Hence, by attempting to debunk his myths and reach the ‘truth’ about him, we invariably succeed in mythologizing him further; and by setting out to revel in the most archetypal of those myths, we reveal important truths not only about Elvis, but about ourselves.