The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 2

January 25, 2021

Previous post: The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 1.

“Ben-Tobith” by Leonid Andreyev

In Jerusalem, a man named Ben-Tobith suffers from a terrible toothache; meanwhile, a trio of malefactors are crucified. The ordinary suffering of an unremarkable man is spotlighted, while the epoch-making suffering of a deity is reduced to a backdrop. Nice little subversion of expectations.

The combination of religious setting and tooth-related trauma reminded me of this perfect sequence from the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man:

“Can Sussman eat? Sussman can’t eat. Can Sussman sleep? Sussman can’t sleep.” I love it.

“The Phantom Basket” by John Aubrey

This fragment is written in an archaic style (John Aubrey lived in the 17th century) so it’s a little hard to parse out what’s happening here. But as far as I can make out, we’re talking here about a floating phantom basket of fruit, with very little else in the way of context.

“The Drowned Giant” by J. G. Ballard

A giant washes up on a beach, causing a minor stir amongst nearby residents.

One of the great pleasures of speculative fiction is to mentally compare the story’s events against your own idea of how things would play out. How does the author’s model of the world comport with your own? A decent story jibes with your own beliefs; a great story if it causes you to update your beliefs.

On my first reading, I was skeptical that things would play out in reality as they did in this story. But upon some reflection, I might have to side with Ballard on this one: an initial hubbub, followed by a rapidly fading interest.

We live in the world where the U.S. Government has released a bunch of videos of UFOs and said, with a straight face, tbh these could totally be aliens. And no one seems to know what to do with this information. Every day we are faced with news that Changes Everything. Too much has changed.

The language in this story is unnervingly sensual. I haven’t read any other Ballard, but from the little I know this seems in line with his work. I sort of doubt I’ll ever get around to reading Crash, but Cronenberg’s adaptation has been on my watch-list for a while.

“Enoch Soames” by Max Beerbohm

This is one of the stories I’d read before, and I enjoy it so much. Teller wrote an article in The Atlantic relating to this story that is definitely worth a read as well.

I’ll only add that this story is funnier than I remembered. I think I appreciate it more having gone through an MFA program – not by virtue of what I learned in the program itself, but because I got to experience some of the personality types that Beerbohm skewers.

Continued at The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 3.

The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 2 - January 25, 2021 - Greg Poulos