To say John Lennon was a lyricist and nothing more would not only be factually incorrect, but would also make us be vastly ignorant of his skills as a writer. It’s no secret that Lennon has always had a flair for writing. From composing songs with his co-lyricist Paul McCartney for The Beatles to coming up with tracks for his solo work, Lennon was expertly skilful with his abilities as a lyricist. However, his oeuvre of work did not end there. In the midst of the complete frenzy that the Beatles’ career had been, Lennon came up with his debut literary piece, In His Own Write, a 78-page book constituting his poems and short stories, often in a dialogic format, complete with monochromatic line drawings to go with each chapter. Published in 1964 by the well-known publisher Jonathan Cape in Britain, and by Simon and Schuster in New York, the project revealed another string to the ever-prolific bow of John Lennon.
The writings in the book comply with the tenets of what one could call nonsense literature – a humorous presentation of apparently mismatched words, often written just for the fun of it, or as a medium to convey satire under the garb of all things absurd. Some of the prime examples being the works of Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll, who popularised nonsense literature to the world. Lennon, of course, writing almost a century later, incorporated an array of wordplay, and included references from his immediate surroundings – political, social as well as cultural, situating In His Own Write in his own time rather than making it an abstract articulation.
However, the book was not meant to be a close scrutiny of the society at large, but rather a light-hearted piece of text written solely for the purpose of entertainment. In His Own Write, alongside Lennon’s second effort, A Spaniard in the Works, was re-released in 2010 to celebrate Lennon’s 70th birthday with an introduction to the compilation by Lennon’s fellow Beatle Paul McCartney and his previous partner Yoko Ono. While Ono’s foreword went along the lines of “Hi! My name is Yoko Ono. I’d like you to meet John Lennon”, McCartney alluded to the jovial nature of the text. He wrote in the introduction, “There are bound to be thickheads who will wonder why some of it doesn’t make sense, and others who will search for hidden meanings … None of it has to make sense and if it seems funny then that’s enough.”
Lennon also talked about how he always had a knack for writing children’s literature. Relating it to his published work In His Own Write, Lennon said in one of his last interviews: “I always set out to write a children’s book. I always wanted to write ‘Alice in Wonderland’. I think I still have that as a secret ambition. And I think I will do it when I’m older.” But before he could get around to doing it, he was murdered in 1980, and that wish, unfortunately, remained unfulfilled.
It is true that because of Lennon’s stature and popularity around the world, especially at a time when the Beatles were at the peak of their career, anything he would’ve released in the entertainment world would have been an instant hit. It was the same with In His Own Write, which gained popular acclaim upon its publication. However, the book was more than just a popular, middlebrow fiction, which is more apparent now that we are far removed from the hype that Beatlemania created.
In many ways, the book captured the farcical nature of the materialistic things and the hypocrisy of the population at large, in a revealing yet enjoyable way – a true testament to Lennon’s ability to incorporate the popular with the so-called intellectual in a way that neither superimposed the other. Lennon, apart from composing some of the most brilliant lyrics to songs, was, in his own right, an excellent writer too, which was very well portrayed in his delightful book In His Own Right.