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Sun, 9 Nov 2003

Five Books of the Lives, Heroic Deeds and Sayings of Gargantua and his Son Pantagruel

— SjG @ 4:24 pm

Francis Rabelais, 1532 and later, as translated by Sir Thomas Urquhart and Peter Antony Motteux, read as an e-book from BlackMask.com.

Way back in college, I had overheard educated people refer to Rabelais’ work as “The Porky’s of the 16th Century.” While I sincerely doubt anyone will remember the film Porky’s five hundred years from now (does anyone remember it now, a mere twenty-some years later?), I can see why Rabelais has endured. This particular book is longer than it needs to be, but it contains a curious mixture of moralizing and ribaldry. You can almost hear Rabelais chuckling through the centuries as he tweaks the nose of the establishment, while simultaneously espousing its values (e.g., Pantagruel’s morality lectures to Pantaglais).
Rabelais was fond of, and possibly one of the earliest users of, what I call “list humor.” This involves interrupting a story with a list of specific details, which start out reasonable, and become increasingly absurd, not the least so because of the length of the list. He also clearly enjoyed mixing ridiculous exaggeration into the midst of more prosaic descriptions. Modern readers may experience a bit of the Shakespeare/Bible Copycat Syndrome (“I thought that book was just a big bunch of cliches…”) and may find the book a bit long, but I’d recommend giving it a try.

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