Michelle Levigne

A recovering Trekker and Cleveland Indians fan, Michelle Levigne works full-time as a freelance editor. Current projects include the upcoming print version of her SF series, “The Chorillan Cycle,” from OakTara, Arthurian fantasy, “The Zygradon Chronicles,” at Uncial Press, and the YA fantasy series “The Hunt,” at Writers Exchange, Australia. Heavy influences in her life include Bill Cosby, Isaac Airfreight, and Marvel Comics. Website: www.Mlevigne.com.

No Fool Like an Old Fool

Admit 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 James Bible.

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!

I’m afraid to go back and read King Lear as Willy wrote it and find

out 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.

Maaaaaaan, that’s 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.