Saturday, March 05, 2011
The Literary Blog Hop is hosted by The Blue Bookcase! This week Gilion from Rose City Reader asks:
Can literature be funny? What is your favorite humorous literary book?
The first question that this topic raised in my mind is what is literature? What makes a book a literary book? But that is not the question, rather can this book, assuming it is literary in nature, be funny? While I have read many funny books over the years and most of them would qualify as literary in the general sense of the word, the best answer is provided by "classic" literature, that is the greatest works of the greatest minds. I would agree with Lucia in that regard that classic literature definitively answers the question in the affirmative.
Given that is the case, my favorite humorous literary book, one for which humour in many of its classic forms is the defining theme, is Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais. This book, considered by many the first novel, chronicles the comic adventures of the giant Gargantua and those of his son Pantagruel. It is written broadly with bawdy comedy and a lack of reserve that has often relegated it to the corner reserved for "banned" books. It is humor based in confusion and breaking the boundaries of normal human behavior. The examples of Rabelais' humor are too numerous to list; his penchant for making lists being one of the major sources of that humor, along with events like the war between the bakers, the story of Gargantua's tutor "Powerbrain", and his rants against lawyers, the priesthood and all whose hubris leads them into folly - the portrait is painful only if you consider excessive humor a source of pain. The book is a revolutionary reaction to a time, the first half of the Sixteenth century when society was filled with pain, deformity, starvation and death. It was the life described the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, as "nasty, brutish and short". Rabelais' reaction was a humor so outsize and full of zest for life and freedom of being that its revolutionary outlook is still funny in our day. In fact this novel from the last days of the middle ages is so revolutionary that it still seems modern in the Twenty-first century. Rabelais said it best in his prefatory poem,
"To My Readers"
"I'd rather write about laughing than crying, For laughter makes men human, and courageous."
Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais. Trans. by Burton Raffel. W. W. Norton & Co., 1990.