it—we were all traumatized by Shakespeare in school.
If it wasn’t the subject matter
of the play (murder, sibling rivalry, arranged marriages, patricide,
revenge), it was the language (a pox upon yon scurvy whoreson). I had a
little advantage—when I was in junior high, the only Bible was the King
James Version. Still, some words were new to me. Old Willy used
language I’m pretty sure never appeared in my King
This month I made the mistake of
picking up a retelling of King Lear. The book is
called Fool because it’s from the viewpoint of
Lear’s fool, Pocket. Okay, I admit, the author does have a way with
words. He knows how to chop-and-dice the Queen’s English with
modern-day language so you can almost understand what Pocket is ranting
about. And if you can’t figure out some of his words—some of which are
indeed made up—he provides handy little footnotes. (Ugh.
Skip the footnotes.)
The author does know his tools,
how to use the language. You can’t fault him for that. But the problem
is how he puts those tools to use—the difference between using a hammer
to build a house or smash fruit or puppies. The book even starts with a
warning: “This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous
shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored
heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as non-traditional grammar,
split infinitives and the odd wank. If that sort of thing bothers you,
then gentle readers, pass by, for we endeavor only to entertain, not to
offend. That said, if that’s the sort of thing you think you might
enjoy, then you have happened upon the perfect story!”
Moore wasn’t lying. In the first
chapter, Pocket discusses a comedy routine involving human and animal
mating, Princess Regan’s promiscuity, and exchanging sexual innuendos
and barbs with Princess Cordelia (the good
daughter). In chapter two, Pocket happens upon his MRDD apprentice
self-stimulating while a laundry girl exposes herself. Pocket thinks
it’s perfectly normal. With assorted foul language and imagery, they
bathe Drool (the apprentice) and battle a noble who wants Pocket dead.
Moving into chapter three, they partner with this illegitimate noble to
frame his legitimate brother for treason. We then learn Pocket was
raised (and sexually abused) by a bunch of nuns, led by an Abbess who
either had a massive hormone problem or was a cross-dresser.
Need I go on? Old Willy is
spinning like a lathe in his grave.
I know the
original Shakespeare wasn’t so foul, or they wouldn’t have had us read
it in junior high. Of course, the controls and Political Correctness
regulations were a lot looser back then, because the same textbook that
had portions of Macbeth and Othello
and The Odysseyalso had sections from the
Bible—horrors!—some unsuspecting child might learn moral behavior!
afraid to go back and read King Lear as Willy wrote
it and find
it’s just as filthy. I’m going to sound like a worn-out record—or
is that too low-tech?—like an iPod that fell in the toilet?
(Which is kind of appropriate, if you think about it . . .) I’m griping
about writing down, the lowest common denominator.
Fiction needs to uplift society
versus fiction wallowing in the sewer. Yes, a lot of sick people are in
the world, always have been, always will be. It doesn’t mean you celebrate
the sickness, you dolts!
Here I paraphrase what Mary
Buckham said in a recent writing workshop on the distinction between
“Literary Fiction” and “Popular Fiction:”
Literary Fiction: The world
can’t be changed, no hope, no one grows, no one learns. It simply
examines the situation in beautiful language. (It’s useless, so just
sit and observe the misery and mayhem until it catches up with you.)
Popular Fiction: There is hope.
People grow. Someone learns, changes, succeeds. A mystery solved, a
murderer caught, a world saved, hero wins girl, the Death Star gets
blown up, and Spock gets the alien intelligence out of his head in time
for the closing credits. We can change the world
for the better, even if we die trying. Just ask Bruce Willis in Armageddon.
Old Willy covered the topics
interesting to the common man in language of the common man (which
explains a lot of the problems with jolly old England back then), and
he made them think while entertaining them. In his plays, the Fool was
the smartest guy in the cast. Fools got away with pointing out the
stupidity of their betters. They twisted things around and mocked to
make people think.
Hark! I hear the hum of
wheelchair tires on carpet. It’s Lanie Zephyr, the world’s greatest
sit-down comic! Give us words of wisdom on comedy, Lanie.
expecting a lot, but okay, in a nutshell (pun intended), here’s my take
on humor. It should make you think. If mouths are open laughing, then
brains are open, too. The best humor stimulates the brain, by twisting
situations, making the common ridiculous, playing with words. Bill
Cosby made the stress of family life hilarious. On stage, I use a lot
of one-liners: “How DOES a rubber tree reproduce?” “Never moon a
werewolf.” See what I mean?
Yes, fiction is art, and art
reflects society, but art that tells us: “Hey, the pollution content is
rising, so go outside with mustard on your tie, teeth unbrushed, torn
clothes, and dirty fingernails and underwear. Celebrate pollution!”
That’s art with the wrong message.
Art is a mirror, and mirrors
show us what’s wrong with ourselves (i.e., it
doesn’t say filth is normal or acceptable) so we can fix it before we
make things worse.