Flowers for Algernon Author Dead at 86

Daniel Keyes' sci-fi masterpiece has never gone out of print

By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 18, 2014 10:24 AM CDT

(Newser) – Daniel Keyes, the scribe best known for Flowers for Algernon, the tender story of a mentally retarded man who yearns to be smarter, has died at age 86 of complications from pneumonia. The idea for Algernon hit him as he awaited a train in Brooklyn in 1945, reports the New York Times. "I thought: 'My education is driving a wedge between me and the people I love,'" wrote Keyes in his memoirs. "And then I wondered: What would happen if it were possible to increase a person's intelligence?" Some 15 years later he wrote the story as a novella; he eventually expanded it into a novel, and it became the basis for the 1968 movie Charly. The book sold more than 5 million copies and has never gone out of print.

"If the operashun werks good Ill show that mouse I can be as smart as he is even smarter," muses Keyes' main character, Charlie, a cleaner who achieves genius level after an operation that first made a mouse smarter. “Then Ill be abel to reed better and spell the werds good and know lots of things and be like other pepul." Some reactions to Keyes' death:

  • "We were, of course, greatly saddened by the news but there's a comfort in Daniel Keyes having had a long life and that he left us with a great legacy; a wonderful, heartbreaking book," said a rep for Keyes' UK publisher. "In its pitilessly tight focus and tragic story arc, delivered in a first-person narrative whose very nature cuts to the core of what is gained and then lost, it is for me the most heartbreaking book in the genre."
  • And, in Charlie's voice: "PS please if you get a chanse put some flowrs on Algernons grave in the bak yard."
  • "It's one of those books which feels destined to have been written, somehow—the idea behind it is just so perfect, so horribly disturbing," muses Alison Flood in the Guardian. It is "heartbreaking, and utterly, completely brilliant."
  • And from his US publisher, per NPR: "Flowers for Algernon was [a] key example of science fiction that tackled problems of depth and emotional consequence; Keyes made a giant contribution to the discussion of science fiction as a serious art form."

In this 1975 photo, Cliff Robertson plays a mentally retarded man who is raised to genius level by surgery in Charly, the film adaptation of Flowers for Algernon.
In this 1975 photo, Cliff Robertson plays a mentally retarded man who is raised to genius level by surgery in "Charly," the film adaptation of "Flowers for Algernon."   (AP Photo)
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