The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 4

January 27, 2021

Previous post: The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 3.

“The Careless Rabbi” by Martin Buber

Remembered not being super wild about this story. Just read it again and can confirm.

“The Tale and the Poet” by Sir Richard Burton

A story about Tulsidas (rendered here as Tulsi Das) that is actually recounted on his Wikipedia page, albeit with additional context that kinda ruins the poetry of the Burton’s rendition.

I was kind of meh about this story (I mean, as meh as you can be about a five-line story) before reading the Wikipedia article, but now that I have the comparison I feel like there’s plenty to recommend Burton’s more telegraphic rendition.

“Fate Is a Fool” by Arturo Cancela and Pilar de Lusarreta

A good story, of rather odd construction, about a tram driver.

“An Actual Authentic Ghost” by Thomas Carlyle

I didn’t remember this story but it is a fine little philosophical rumination on the nature of time and the soul and our transient lives. It basically goes like this:

*Thomas Carlyle takes a hit from his joint*[1]

Aren’t we, like, all ghosts, man?

*Carlyle takes another hit*

When you, like, really think about it?

“The Red King’s Dream” by Lewis Carroll

This is an excerpt from Through the Looking Glass. It feels like a tremendous oversight on my part that I’ve never read either Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass. Probably something I should fix one of these days.

“The Tree of Pride” by G. K. Chesterton

This is a story that makes Saint Securis sound like a high-level sorcerer.

Upon further investigation, I looked it up, and there is no Saint Securis. This story is an excerpt from a longer piece, which appears in the collection The Man Who Knew Too Much. Which, incidentally, has nothing to do with the Hitchcock film, but according to Wikipedia he “decided to use the title because he held the film rights for some of the book’s stories.”

You know, this series of posts is really less of a review than it is a series of disconnected personal observations interspersed with random things I read on Wikipedia.

Which is to say, you are basically getting a lossless reproduction of what it is like to live in my head.

“The Tower of Babel” by G. K. Chesterton

The delightful thing about allegories and fables and folkloric retellings are that they provide the author with opportunities to deploy really lovely turns of phrase. This piece ends with the masterful line:

And down that inverted tower of darkness the soul of the proud Sultan is falling for ever and ever.

It’d make a good epigraph for something, if I were in the business of writing things that would benefit from epigraphs.

“The Dream of the Butterfly” by Chuang Tzu

A classic.

“The Look of Death” by Jean Cocteau

Another great fable. I can’t find this one anywhere online, so I’m just going to transcribe the whole thing, and if someone gets mad at me I guess I’ll take it down.

A young Persian gardener said to his Prince:

“Save me! I met Death in the garden this morning, and he gave me a threatening look. I wish that tonight, by some miracle, I might be far away, by Ispahan.”

The Prince lent him his swiftest horse.

That afternoon, as he was walking in the garden, the Prince came face to face with Death. “Why,” he asked, “did you give my gardener a threatening look this morning?”

“It was not a threatening look,” replied Death. “It was an expression of surprise. For I saw him here this morning, and I knew that I would take him in Ispahan tonight.”

“House Taken Over” by Julio Cortazar

Ooh, now this is one worth remembering. A brother and sister live in a large old family home, when suddenly one day an ambiguous malevolent presence appears. The siblings shut away half of the house; over time, they are forced into smaller and smaller quarters, until they are eventually exiled from the house altogether.

No explanation is given as to the nature of the malevolent presence. You wonder whether there is a sentence that’s missing somewhere, as though a single piece of information could unlock this mystery. But there is no specificity that could be as menacing as this unnamed presence that fills your house, seeps through your wrought-iron doors, cuts away every individual piece of your life until nothing remains.

Like any warmblooded reader, I find the utter opacity of this story frustrating; but I also get a lot of delight from that very frustratingness.

Continued at The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 5.


[1] Or, like, opium pipe? Isn’t that what they were up to back in the 19th century?

The Book of Fantasy: A Review: Part 4 - January 27, 2021 - Greg Poulos