Lyndon Hood - fabulist, Wellington

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Hood: Fractious Fables

I seem to have been somewhat more bitter than usual lately. Perhaps it's the change of seasons. It does seem to be well received - but I generally like humanity and try to encourage others to do the same.

In this case, however, the prickliness can be attributed to the way I was channelling Ambrose Bierce.

Readers who thought they'd worked out my source material will have their suspicions thrice confirmed when they read the column. In style, tone, attitude and ueasy balance between pithyness and readability, the result is probably more Bierce than me.

So yes, the other day I finished reading Fantastic Fables in full for the first time. Less famous than The Devil's Dictionary, it does seem to have been compiled in the same way - as a collection of snarky little bites from the humour section of Bierce's newspaper.

The Dictionary has made Bierce famous as a man whose misanthropic cynicism was viciously ahead of his time. Combined with his pervading fascination with the macbre (An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is a based on a rather nasty idea and I understand he also did Cthulu stories and seemed to enjoy reports of spousal murder) I can't help feeling like after his mysterious disappearance he went of to invent modern popular culture.

Fables is a bit less accesible than the Dictionary. I may have a read of Aesop then try Bierce again just to be sure I'm getting all the jokes I can. But a number of them also seem to at least partly reference contemporary events of the US in the 1890s, so I won't panic about it.

The edition I was reading, a facsimilie which came via a web order, appears, by the odd proportion of the pages and the laser-printedness of the text (shiny writing!) to have been made on demand by some people who do all sorts of obscure stuff. Good on them.

There are plenty of gems in the Fable that shine for the ages though. Here's one based on issues I have yet to experience:

The Fabulist and the Animals

A Wise and illustrious Writer of Fables was visiting a travelling menagerie with a view to collecting literary materials. As he was passing near the Elephant, that animal said:

“How sad that so justly famous a satirist should mar his work by ridicule of people with long noses—who are the salt of the earth!”

The Kangaroo said:

“I do so enjoy that great man’s censure of the ridiculous—particularly his attacks on the Proboscidæ; but, alas! he has no reverence for the Marsupials, and laughs at our way of carrying our young in a pouch.”

The Camel said:

“If he would only respect the sacred Hump, he would be faultless. As it is, I cannot permit his fables to be read in the presence of my family.”

The Ostrich, seeing his approach, thrust her head in the straw, saying:

“If I do not conceal myself, he may be reminded to write something disagreeable about my lack of a crest or my appetite for scrap-iron; and although he is inexpressibly brilliant when he devotes himself to censure of folly and greed, his dulness is matchless when he transcends the limits of legitimate comment.”

“That,” said the Buzzard to his mate, “is the distinguished author of that glorious fable, ‘The Ostrich and the Keg of Raw Nails.’ I regret to add, that he wrote, also, ‘The Buzzard’s Feast,’ in which a carrion diet is contumeliously disparaged. A carrion diet is the foundation of sound health. If nothing else but corpses were eaten, death would be unknown.”

Seeing an attendant approaching, the wise and illustrious Writer of Fables passed out of the tent and mingled with the crowd. It was afterward discovered that he had crept in under the canvas without paying.


Oh, and

* correct spelling of the day: prerogative. I may have noticed that before, but it sure didn't stick.

* everybody go meet The Standover Group: grinding down the masses since 2008.

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