Monday, May 25, 2015
After all that hellish ruckus in the infernal Malbowge of Fit the Fourth (sorcerers, falsifiers, circus folk and publishers), we shall now ascend ad astra, as it were, to the quieter purlieus of Fit the Fifth. This canto, the longest Fit of Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark, is known amongst illustrators as the Purgatorial Fit, for its immense length requires the consumption of vast quantities of cheap whiskey and hot curries to keep up one’s strength.
Of course, in former times, illustrators such as myself needed no such artificial stimulants to come up with the goods. Employed as we usually were in the embellishment of manuscripts by various monastic establishments, we busied ourselves with the production of all manner of fantastical and grotesque creatures in our spare time. These bizarre critters, sometimes called grylli, were invented by Antiphilos the Egyptian, according to Pliny the Elder, and they proved very handy indeed in the spicing up of what was otherwise a pretty dull sort of life in your typical 12th-century scriborium. However, the grylli soon escaped from their cages and ran amuck, as such artificial creations always do, hooting loudly while drunk on the front lawns of right-thinking folk such as St. Bernard, who had this to say to the cops later on …
"What are these ridiculous monstrosities doing in the cloisters where monks pray and study? To what purpose are these unclean apes, fierce lions, these half men … quadrupeds with a dragon’s tail … a dragon with a quadruped’s tail … a horse ending as a goat … a horned animal ending as a horse."
What purpose indeed! Let’s ask this typologically portmanteau-ish gentleman that we see pictured above, sitting on his rock and minding his own business, let’s ask him what he thinks of these oddly unreal grotesqueries that are popping in and out of Nowhere (or Unwhere, to be precise) to trouble his devotional contemplations.
Is he St. Anthony, possessing the legendary self-control of the Father of Monasticism, and thus ultimately indifferent to these sensory diversions, dismissing them as Satan’s spurious blandishments and threats? Or is he the Butcher, possessing no discernable cerebral aptitude at all and thus ultimately indifferent to these sensory diversions, dismissing them as the Beaver’s feminine blandishments and threats?
Yes, for some time now, we have suspected the Beaver of having little enthusiasm for hunting the Snark. It seems more and more evident that her function is that of a clumsy sort of romantic distraction, a distraction designed by a certain someone who wishes us to relax our vigilance and our powers of concentration — but to no avail, dear reader, for our watchword remains Snark!
Yes, it’s Snark that we are really hunting here, it’s Snarks and Boojums and all the other imaginary paraphenalia of idle illustrators, sensorily-deprived Early Christian anchorites and versifying Oxford dons! This is the Beaver’s Lesson to the Butcher!
It was a Snark that St. Anthony was hunting in the Antiphilian Egyptian Desert, it was a Snark that St. Bernard banished from the overheated monastic bullpens of the Middle Ages, and yes, it was a Snark that slapped a funnel atop its head and blustered his way into Hieronymus Bosch’s studio by claiming to be a Gov’ment Man hunting down an escaped gryllus.
The cheek! The nerve! I cannot countenance her any longer, yes, away with this Beaver’s Lesson, yes, get thee back to a punnery!
Monday, May 11, 2015
Ladies and gentlemen, the Greatest Show on Earth is not to be found under some ratty canvas tent reeking of elephant dung and stale peanuts, peopled by layabouts trying to pinch a few shekels from the pockets of slack-jawed rubes even less aware of their undeserved position atop the Evolutionary Ladder than they are.
For shame, sir or madam, for even thinking so! This is the Amazing Circus of Mr. Lewis Carroll and what we have here, ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbors, boys and girls, is not only the final stanza of Fit the Fourth, not only the precise median point of this Hunting of the Snark, but also proof positive that the truly greatest show on earth is that glittering spectacle which is performed within the cerebella of all those who eschew the vulgar entertainments of the hoi polloi in favor of the baroque pleasures of parsing out the minutiae of this, our Snark Hunt!
Yes, minutiae, minutiae everywhere, nor any drivel to think! This final stanzel is packed with all the gaudy tinsel of circus minutiae, the Broker tottering on his stilts, the Billiard Marker plunging through an abyss, the Boots juggling with the decapitated heads of the audience.
But all this pales in comparison to the leonine circus beast swallowing the hapless Banker. Although you can only catch a glimpse of it here, it is actually a chimera and it is the kind of beast found in only the better sort of circuses (or circi, if you must) such as our Snarkian Circus of Fit the Fourth or more to the point, the amazing Circus of Dr. Lao!
Yes, it is Dr. Lao’s Circus to which I'm paying homage to here*, to that shamefully unacknowledged American wellspring of what came to be called Magical Realism. Needless to say, the good Doctor Lao saw fit to provide his Circus with a chimera, and the chronicler of his Circus, the newspaperman Charles G. Finney, also saw fit to explicate this mysterious beast in his compendious back-of-the-book catalogue, to wit :
CHIMERA : described by Rabelais, Flaubert and Finney.
Huzzah for the telegraphic simplicity of the 1920’s American newspaper style! But have no fear, dear reader, there’s no need for you to poke around in your breakfast Pantagruel just yet. My team of hashisheen-cum-wingéd-flying-monkey research assistants have already verified that Rabelais did indeed wonder aloud whether a chimera, swinging in a void, can swallow second intentions. From thence, it was child’s play for them to rummage through my tattered copy of the Temptation of St. Anthony, until Flaubert’s chimera warned them that if he perceived in any place a man whose mind reposes in wisdom, he would fall upon him and strangle him.
Strong juju, even for French circus folk, but so be it. The chimera, over-excited by the Billiard Marker swinging in a void, is swallowing our Banker — a devourment of second intentions† as specified by Rabelais! His first intention might very well have been to strangle his prey until he discovered that the Banker’s mind was most definitely not reposing in wisdom, being entirely taken up by various Snarkological absurdities and other marxist nonsenseries.
Very well, the show must go on! We turn to the Butcher, for despite his tearful unmanning by the Bellman, His Gills the Butcher dare not scarper off now! You can politely ignore his voluptuous agony at being sawn in half or even his terror of the Jubjub bird and other chimeras that populate this hellish (though oddly compelling) circus, all of ‘em lying in wait for him and him alone!
All of this may well be unpleasant, yes, perhaps even vulgar, but you can't turn your eyes away, can you?‡ Schadenfreude is still the greatest show on earth!
*Homage being used here in its Hollywood connotation of brazen looting.
† Swallowing a Snark Hunter could never be any imaginary beast’s first intention, for knowing Snark Hunters to be as mythical as chimeras, the deliberate engulfing of the former within the latter might create a self-annihilating double-negative Nonsensical Tautology. This still leaves us with the question of the Banker's ultimate destination, his reductio ad absurdam, as it were. The eponymous proprietor of the Circus explicated his chimera (of sturdy Chinese make) to the good folks of Abalone, Arizona thusly: “The chimera … has no elimination system in the sense that ordinary animals have. Instead of expelling waste matter through the bowels, he burns it up within him, and he snorts out the smoke and ashes. Yes, the chimera is its own incinerator plant." Hence the futility of following the beast around all day, hoping to collect enough physical remnants of his prey, the Banker, for proper Christian burial. A simple ashtray would suffice.
‡ Refer discreetly to your Dictionary of Received Opinions which you always keep about your person, wherein Flaubert has the last word on the matter … CIRCUS FOLK : Use obscene practices.