The Fourth Quill recasts the story of AIDS into a parallel universe with a surprising and happy ending, where its main character can wonder if he really has brought about the cure of AIDS. Woven through the hero/adventure plot are two lovely and heartwarming romances, one straight, one gay—both with unexpected twists. A little modern, scientific and sensible and a little mystical, The Fourth Quill exemplifies Toby Johnson's style of dramatizing gay spirit through storytelling and speculative fiction. This is a parallel universe readers will likely remember and come back to.
Originally published in 1987 when AIDS was still a mystery disease, this novel, originally titled Plague: A Novel about Healing presented wisdom from A Course in Miracles and The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment. In those days, successful treatments had not been developed and spiritual/attitudinal healing—of soul, if not of body—was the only hope.
Thirty years later, the novel's quandary about the nature of evil and its message of hopeful acceptance and love of life are perhaps even more relevant if about something so much more than disease and illness. The story of the "fourth quill" comes from an Indian tale about a previous incarnation of the Buddha who discovers the "treasure of the ages" and it's not what he'd expected; Johnson retells the tale and derives a meaningful and life-affirming attitude that transcends the specific issues of AIDS in the 1980s.