Archive for July, 2011

July 30, 2011

On the many perfections of Jack Langdon

I’ve been recuperating from illness with the help of tea and romance novels. During the course of my treatment I have discovered that the most restorative romance novel in the world is The Devil’s Delilah by Loretta Chase.

In part this is because it is a Loretta Chase book. I don’t always love Chase – there have been books of hers that I never finished (Captives of the Night), and others that I finished but was disappointed by (The Sandalwood Princess). Yet she’s one of the first romance writers I recommend to people who ask because when she’s good (Lord of Scoundrels) she’s so very good. The Devil’s Delilah is her under-appreciated masterpiece, and this (the masterpiece part, not the under-appreciated part) is mostly because of Jack Langdon.

Langdon is the Regency version of a geek. He really, really likes books and learning and the like – it seems completely normal to those around him that he should be reading about (or babbling enthusiastically on the subject of) the difference in skull shape of different ancient civilisations, or horticulture in Greece. He’s less good at real life; he’s unhappy and anxious in social situations, and he’s particularly awkward around women. He’s also vague and (when his valet isn’t around) very scruffy.

Langdon appears in two of Chase’s books – Viscount Vagabond and The Devil’s Delilah. He’s a minor character in Viscount Vagabond, where he still gets some of the best moments.

 

The probability of finding Jack Langdon in a boxing saloon was approximately equivalent to that of encountering the Archbishop of Canterbury at Granny Grendle’s—though the odds were rather in favour of the Archbishop.
“What the devil brings you here?” the viscount enquired of his friend.
Mr. Langdon stood for a moment looking absently about him as though in search of something he’d forgotten. “Not the most pleasantly fragrant place, is it, Max?” he noted in some wonder. “Odd. Very odd. I count three viscounts, one earl, a handful of military chaps and—good God—is that Argoyne?”
“Yes. One duke.”
“All come, it seems, for the express purpose of letting some huge, muscular fellow hit them repeatedly.”
“So what’s your purpose?”
“I suppose,” Mr. Langdon answered rather forlornly, “I’ve come to be hit.”

 

In The Devil’s Delilah  Jack falls in love with and is fallen-in-love-with and it is all very wonderful. Here are some of the reasons for Jack’s amazingness.

1. He’s genuinely nice. He’s not a ‘reformed’ rake, he doesn’t need to learn over the course of the book to treat other people with respect. He just goes through the book being fundamentally decent.

2. When he protects women he does so geekily. How would you stop someone from making snide remarks about your beloved at a party?

Before Lady Jane had time to counterattack, Jack leapt into the fray.

“Really, it is most gratifying to hear the ladies speak so knowledgeably of Benthamite philosophy,” he said hurriedly. “In order to be good, according to them, the object examined must be useful. The object, of course, refers to the matter under discussion, whether it be an abstract quality or a physical fact.”

Apparently oblivious to the bafflement of most of his audience, Jack soared into the empyrean realms of the most abstruse philosophy, citing Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and others with no regard whatsoever to relevance or coherence, and with a great deal of Greek and Latin thrown in for good measure. He continued in this vein for at least a quarter hour, at the end of which time most of the company had withdrawn from the battlefield to less mystifying conversations.

Yes.

3. When he does lapse and do something Regency-hero-ish, like kiss the heroine without her permission, he is very penitent. That this is remarkable says a lot about the genre, but it’s nice to have a hero who at least theoretically believes consent is a necessary thing.

4. He can write. Without giving the plot away, it requires him to display considerable literary skills. He also has considerable intelligence

5. We’re told that he’s awkward around women, but that seems to be to do with social situations rather than women as a gender. He has genuine, mutual-respect-and-understanding friendships with some women, while characters who we’re told are good with women seem not to know how to do anything but seduce them.

6. I just like scruffy, vague, gentle, geeky men. And in a genre that spends most of its time depicting them as powerful, suave, etc., Jack is unique.

 

There are plenty of reasons to love this book other than its hero. The fact that the heroine is allowed to kiss other men and enjoy it; that Jack’s rival is allowed genuine feelings; that Delilah’s father is a bit like a less snobbish version of Justin Alastair. But it is the greatest of modern regencies, and its recuperative powers rank right up with Georgette Heyer.

July 26, 2011

Elsewhere

As most of you probably know, the SF “Mistressworks” blog exists to highlight science fiction by women written prior to 2000 (the time period covered by Gollancz’ Masterworks series which is rather short on female contributors). My piece on Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow is now up there, and I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

July 24, 2011

George R. R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

I become a serious Song of Ice and Fire fan whenever there is a new book out (so not very often) and manage to push it to the back of my mind the rest of the time. When I do remember it, it’s with impatience; this is the only fat fantasy series I’m still reading and I would like to get it over with. Martin’s plot is convoluted enough that I’m genuinely interested in knowing how he plans to bring it all together, and as I’ve said before, at this point I will even accept a bullet-point version of what is to happen.

The latest book in the series doesn’t do much to advance the plot. But it has reminded me of the other reasons I began to read Martin in the first place. So at least there’s that?

A version of the review below was published in yesterday’s Mint Lounge. I think it’s as spoiler-free as the header claims: unless the very fact that some characters are still alive counts as a spoiler. In Martin’s world it probably does.

 

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This is a good year to be a George R. R. Martin fan. Game of Thrones, a tv series based on the first book of his epic fantasy A Song of Ice and Fire, aired on HBO earlier this summer. This week the fifth book in the series, A Dance With Dragons, finally came out after fans had waited six years.

The history of A Dance With Dragons is a strange one. Between the third and fourth books in the series there had been another long gap. This was in part because A Feast For Crows, the fourth book, had grown so long that the publishers suggested splitting it into two books. Martin’s story is told from the perspectives of multiple characters, and rather than simply split the book in the middle, the author decided to divide it according to the many subplots the make up this sprawling epic.

This meant considerable rewriting, and several delays for both books. As a result A Dance With Dragons is oddly placed within the series timeline – while the first half overlaps the previous book chronologically, the second moves ahead, and towards the end continues subplots from A Feast For Crows.

This is sometimes disorienting, but dividing the books in this manner may have been a good artistic choice. After the cataclysmic events of the third book (A Storm of Swords), A Feast For Crows was something of a dénouement, with plot threads being wound up and rounded off. A Dance With Dragons, on the other hand, seems to be setting things up. There are a number of characters journeying toward the centre of action, and many scenes of people preparing for war. On the Wall in the North, Jon Snow is rallying forces to face the threat posed by undead creatures known only as the Others. South of the wall the great house of Winterfell has been taken over by a deranged sadist. In the East, Daenerys Targaryen struggles to keep control of a city she has conquered. Daenerys, Jon and Tyrion Lannister, Martin’s three most prominent characters (all notable exclusions from the last book) each receive a number of contemplative viewpoint chapters. And fans will be optimistic about all the setting up for future action –great events are clearly set to take place in the next book. The sense of anticipation is heightened by the author’s apparent addiction to the cliffhanger.  But none of this can change the fact that hardly anything happens in this book. At over a thousand pages it feels like the world’s longest prologue.

Yet this book also contains some of the finest writing in the series. The chapters documenting the trauma and the subsequent mental and physical collapse of one character are powerful and difficult to read. Martin’s habit of giving characters a particular phrase that is repeated throughout their chapters sometimes feels affected, but here it is startlingly effective.

Fans of the series often praise its ‘grittiness’; this is a fantasy world where characters are morally ambiguous, war is more messy than glorious, and people occasionally use the toilet. While this is true, it is not the whole truth. For a set of books so often praised for its realism, A Song of Ice and Fire deals rather well with the surreal. There is a marvellous, nightmarish sequence in this book in which a character sails down a cursed river that never seems to end, and whose dangers are physical as well as psychological.  Another subplot has a character ‘dreaming’ disconnected scenes from the distant past. And there are touches of the absurd and the gloriously over-the-top; a banker in a ridiculous purple hat occasionally shows up as a most unlikely bystander and at one point there’s a sly nod towards a Titus Andronicus-like situation. With a plot as huge as the one he has saddled himself with there was always the risk that Martin would abandon these fine aspects of his work in order to focus on the plot. If he’s strayed too far in the opposite direction (and he has), at least he has erred on the side of good writing.

Martin’s fans also frequently praise his unpredictability. I don’t know where this plot is going, and I don’t know if the planned final two books in the series will be enough to provide a resolution. Today I can declare A Dance With Dragons an enjoyable book. Faced with another six-year wait for the next; or worse, the dreaded announcement that the series is to be extended to eight books, I might still change my mind.

 

 

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While on the subject of Martin’s “apparent addiction to the cliffhanger” I feel I should add that he rather cruelly chooses not to address one of the biggest cliffhangers in the series, from all the way back in A Storm of Swords (I fail at keeping track of what is in which book. Someone has just informed me that said cliffhanger is in A Feast For Crows – I bow to his superior memory!) I was not amused.
July 23, 2011

Edward Gorey, The Curious Sofa

Last week’s Left of Cool piece focused on this strange, clever book by Edward Gorey (who can usually be counted on for strangeness and cleverness). At the paper’s website here, or in unedited form below:

 

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Some people believe that the real purpose of a book or a film is simply to tell a story well, with things like style being secondary concerns. These people must find pornography very frustrating indeed. Regardless of any aesthetic merits that porn might have (and we could argue over what these are indefinitely) it must be admitted that it rarely provides a solid plot or fleshed out characters. Equally, however, you could argue that these are not flaws but features. Pornography doesn’t so much fail at traditional storytelling as it succeeds at being pornography.
“Ogdred Weary” has a name that is an anagram of that of Edward Gorey,the renowned artist and writer. It’s possible that this is a coincidence. Gorey is best known for The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an illustrated alphabet book in which twenty-six children with names beginning with all the letters of the alphabet die in diverse and horrible ways. Ogdred Weary, by contrast, is barely known at all for his book The Curious Sofa: A Pornographic Work.
The Curious Sofa is the story of Alice, who is sitting on a park bench eating grapes when she meets Herbert, a well-endowed (the text tells us, though the illustrations only show him fully clothed) young man. Matters proceed in a manner easily recognisable to anyone familiar with the genre. Herbert escorts Alice to the home of his aunt Celia (the taxi ride providing Alice with new experiences) where a house party appears to be in progress. Alice seems unfazed by events. There follow a series of tableaux involving French maids, well-formed butlers, a game called “thumbfumble” and a couple who both “had wooden legs, with which they could do all sorts of entertaining tricks”. Frolicking gardeners and a sheepdog ensure that the work covers a reasonably broad range of the better known subgenres of pornography. The fun continues the next day, with a change of location and the addition of a few more characters. Thus far things seem to be proceeding as one would expect.

And yet Gorey Weary is coy about the actual acts. The word sex, or any of its synonyms are never mentioned in the book, and nor are any particularly direct euphemisms. People “romp”, “frolic”, perform “rather surprising service[s]”. The illustrations never show genitalia, merely people (usually fully clothed) standing or sitting around, usually eating grapes (which for some reason always seem to show up in depictions of erotic situations).

The sex acts in question (if indeed they are sex acts; perhaps it’s all in the reader’s filthy mind?) grow increasingly bizarre as time passes. We can well imagine what Alice might have been doing with the sheepdog, but what of Scylla, the guest with “certain anatomical peculiarities”  who demonstrates “the ‘Lithuanian Typewriter’” with the help of two young men? What is the “astonishing little device” provided by Reginald, another guest?  And what on earth is the “terrible thing” that Gerald did to Elsie with a saucepan?

We are not fated to find out. Elsie’s sudden and unexplained death is the first indication that all is not well. Soon after, the partiers visit Sir Egbert, possessor of the “Curious Sofa” of the title. Alice feels “a shudder of nameless apprehension”.

We never see the curious sofa (the illustration has it shielded by the audience), but with its nine legs and seven arms its proportions seem decidedly non-Euclidean. Nor do we know what the “machinery inside the sofa” does. All we know is that Alice begins to “scream uncontrollably” before the book ends. The last picture in the book is a bunch of grapes abandoned on the floor. Whatever is going on in that room, the party would appear to be over.

The Curious Sofa may be the only book in the world to combine pornography with a nod to country house murder mysteries and an almost Lovecraftian horror element. Readable as a clever comment on plot in porn or simply a bit of dark hilarity, this is classic Gorey. Or Weary.

 

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Suggestions for shocking saucepan-inclusive sex acts now solicited. I was not expecting that sentence to be quite so alliterative.

 

 

July 21, 2011

Harry Potter and the burnt banker

I watched the final Harry Potter film on Friday. The 3-D didn’t exactly help my viewing experience, but I enjoyed it (read: cried all through the second half). A few days later I’m not particularly impressed with what I remember of it, barring a couple of scenes.

 

Yet there were a couple of things that managed to annoy me even while I was watching and turning into an emotional wreck.

 

I’ve written before on this blog about my problem with Rowling’s house elves, and my current grudge is in part a rehashing of that argument. From the first book we’re aware that the wizarding world isn’t a particularly egalitarian one, with many pureblood wizards looking down upon those who have muggle parentage. We’re also frequently reminded that there are other sentient magical creatures in this world, and that they receive even worse treatment at the hands of wizards. The centaurs are angry; the house elves are terrified to be anything other than docile servants; the goblins are suspicious because the wizards have historically given them plenty of reason to be. The giants are an extreme case – while in most instances of prejudice in the books it is the racist, pro-Voldemort faction who are the worst offenders, years of wizard hostility have meant that the giants are willing to side with the Death Eaters against the larger wizarding community.

 

This inequality is something we’re reminded of frequently in the books.  So you have scenes like the one in the fifth book with the fountain in the Ministry of Magic (I’ve quoted that passage in the post I linked to, so I’m not going to do it again here). It’s clear in Order of the Phoenix and the earliest scenes of Deathly Hallows that in the face of danger a number of groups within the magical community will find themselves being victimised. And (understandably) the books generally depict this as a bad thing. Yet while this is something that is brought up in all of the books, plotwise the larger Good vs Evil theme usually takes precedence over reminding us that the Good side isn’t actually that good.

 

So what happens with the goblins in Deathly Hallows (the book)? Harry enlists the help of Griphook the goblin in breaking into a vault in Gringotts bank. Griphook agrees to work with Harry because he considers him an unusual wizard (since Harry has taken the trouble to dig a grave for and mourn the death of a house elf). The price of Griphook’s help is the sword of Gryffindor, which by Goblin law belongs to the goblins, not Hogwarts. Harry agrees to this exchange despite believing he needs the sword to succeed in his quest;  he lies by omission, justifying this to himself by claiming that he’ll hand the sword over after Voldemort is dead.

 

This is all morally dubious, but it’s interestingly so. We’ve been told that the goblins don’t trust wizards. Here we have a wizard being thoroughly untrustworthy in his treatment of a goblin – but Harry does need the sword, and the death of Voldemort will presumably be a good thing for both communities. (There’s also the little matter of the text proving that wizarding laws of inheritance trump goblin ones – the sword will magically appear when Neville needs it – but that’s another issue).

 

In the movie, the racial tension between wizards and goblins is not explored, and nor are the reasons for it. Understandable, if annoying – the wizard-other creatures plotline has been left out of the movies in the main. What we do see in the movie is this – Harry scams the goblin into helping him and then gloats about it to Bill (I don’t remember him being this smug about it in the book, but it’s been a couple of years since I last read it). But Griphook gets the sword, cackles evilly about never having said he’d help them get out of Gringotts (which may happen in the book, but is balanced out somewhat by the commentary on Wizard-Goblin relations and Harry’s own culpability) , and abandons our heroes.

 

Meanwhile, there is another goblin present, and under an imperius (mind-controlling) curse. [Minor digression: I find it interesting that by this point in the series all of the main characters have become really skilled at imperius charms - they've been used mostly against Bad People and for survival reasons, but they're also among a set of curses considered "Unforgiveable".] Now that Griphook is gone, this goblin (smiling and waving mindlessly at them) is their way out. Just as Ron(?) has pointed this out, a dragon breathes fire at the goblin, killing him. Beat. “That’s inconvenient”.*

 

So what all this explanatory rambling comes down to is this – the Harry Potter series  frequently attempts (though often failing spectacularly) to discuss things like prejudice and power relations. The movies based on it have chosen not to focus on that aspect of things. But to deliberately play the death of a goblin for laughs, in the context of the books? Horribly, horribly off.
The other thing that annoyed me was the moment when Professor McGonagall (otherwise brilliant as ever) suggested that Filch lock all the Slytherin students in the dungeon. But I cannot blame the director for this – despite the lip service paid to not judging people by house (or type or category or race or) Rowling still feels the need to point out in the book that no Slytherins are involved in the resurrected Dumbledore’s Army.
Slytherin students are seen running around in some of the battle scenes, though. Perhaps Argus Filch had been reading the books or talking to the Sorting Hat.

 

For a nonrambly, affectionate HP critique this week you cannot do better than Sady Doyle’s piece of alt-history reviewing/reportage here.

 

*Possibly not an exact quote – it has been a few days, but I’m reasonably sure this is what was said.
July 10, 2011

Peake links

I’ll have a couple of longer pieces up in a few days. For now, though, here are some links to other Peake-ish things:

 

A wonderful tribute in The Guardian, with contributions from China Miéville, Michael Moorcock, Hilary Spurling and AL Kennedy.

John Holbo at Crooked Timber initiates a discussion on Peake. He also pinpoints one of the things I like about Titus Alone; the genre-bending aspect of it “Like if spaceships had shown up in “The Return of the King”.”

Last year, Paul Charles Smith did a good, in depth reading of the series over the course of six posts. Those are all located here.

Nandini Ramchandran commemorated Peake’s birth centenary on her First Post blog, where she suggested that Peake’s training as an artist and vocation as a poet were what made him brilliant.

An older review, by Adam Roberts, of Peake’s collected poems can be found at Strange Horizons here.

And musically, there’s The Cure’s “The Drowning Man“, which was inspired by Gormenghast.  I’d also link to The Strawbs’ “Lady Fuchsia” (and why are they all exclusively fixated on Fuchsia?), but youtube tells me it’s not available in my country.

 

Next: a “Why you should read Peake” post? A “what is wrong but also what is right with the BBC adaptation” post?

 

[Links to things I haven't yet read are welcome - tell me in the comments or over email (aishwarya at practicallymarzipan dot com) and I will add them to the post.]

July 9, 2011

Mervyn Peake, Letters From a Lost Uncle

Today is Mervyn Peake’s birth centenary, and so for the next week I am going to talk about nothing else. Starting with this short piece on Letters From a Lost Uncle that I wrote for last weekend’s Left of Cool column (read at the site here)

 

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July 9th is the birth centenary of Mervyn Peake, one of the best and strangest writers of his generation. Peake is best known as a fantasy writer because of his (brilliant) Gormenghast books. But to describe him thus doesn’t do justice to a brilliant career. He was a fine artist, a poet and a writer of wonderful nonsense verse. He also worked as an illustrator. His artwork for Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” books does far more to capture the weirdness of these books than anything Tenniel ever managed.

Letters From a Lost Uncle, first published in 1948, is one of Peake’s lesser known works. Yet it manages to combine his skill as an artist, his humour and his ability to invoke odd, unexpected beauty. Purportedly, this is a series of letters from an uncle to his nephew, neither of whom are ever named. The uncle in question decided many years ago to explore the tropics and has never been heard of since. Through the letters we learn that he jumped ship, paddling an upturned table with a chair attached to it, and has since roamed the world in search of a fabulous beast, the White Lion. At the moment of writing he is somewhere in the Arctic with his faithful companion Jackson the Turtle-Dog.

The letters themselves are typewritten, and Peake himself typed them on yellowing paper. This is pasted onto his full-page illustrations (the contrast between the yellow of the typed portions and the black and white of the art makes this book a lovely physical object) of the various sights described. These include portraits (the Lost Uncle’s former wife among them) and self-portraits, and sketches of the animals to be seen in this part of the world. Occasionally a missing word or a note is added in pencil to the typed sections, and sometimes the unfortunate Jackson is blamed for spilling gravy onto the page. But the blotches of gravy (and at one point blood) are the only touches of colour. The cover bears a postage stamp with a representation of the White Lion – and the letters refer the reader to the stamp on more than one occasion.

The White Lion here feels a little like the Questing Beast of Arthurian myth; an impossible, fabulous beast. Some people feel the need to dedicate their lives to its pursuit, but no simple reason is ever given. The White Lion is the central fact of the lost uncle’s life.

Letters From a Lost Uncle is mostly very silly; it’s easy to see links between this work and Peake’s nonsense verse. The sailing around on tables, the use of a swordfish’ “sword” for a peg leg, giant bears that are escaped by tickling; these are all absurd. The illustrations serve to heighten this impression – all of these pencil drawings are intricate and detailed, but their subjects are frequently ridiculous.  And so the Knotted-Tailed Moose is comically benevolent-looking, while a pillar of snow is elevated to something resembling a Doré engraving.

And yet it’s also capable of being very serious and very beautiful. There are glimpses of this possibility throughout the text: startling throwaway lines that feel like poetry. In the later scenes, “uncle” and Jackson enter an even stranger landscape and travel towards the scene of a great “Arctic tragedy”. These sections are almost religious in feel: an ice cave is described as a cathedral, and the watching animals a “vast and silent congregation”. Eventually words themselves become insufficient. “It does not matter what words I use to describe it, for there he was, and there he will be for ever, alone and beautiful”.

The travellers do eventually encounter the White Lion. A reader unfamiliar with Peake might well expect this encounter to be anti-climatic. It is not; it is vast and sad and truly epic.

Reading Letters From a Lost Uncle it’s tempting to suggest that Peake’s true genius lay in this ability to invoke tragedy in the midst of absurdity. This is insufficient (my ideas of what made Peake great will change within the hour) but he was a genius and we were lucky to have him.

 

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July 8, 2011

Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories

I have a review of the Torquere Press collection Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories (edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft) at The Future Fire. I was quite excited about this collection, which contained work by people like N.K Jemisin, Shweta Narayan and Amal el-Mohtar. What I found was excellent – a bit uneven, but on the whole this is a collection of very good stories; original, diverse, politically engaged.

My review is here: I may put it on this blog at a later date if TFF don’t mind this, but for now I’d prefer it if you read and commented over there.

 

 

July 6, 2011

Don Marquis, Hermione and Her Little Group of Serious Thinkers

My regular KindleMag column on out of copyright books returns this month and can be read in the magazine or at the site, here. This month I focused on a wonderful collection of satirical pieces by Don Marquis. You can read them here. The version of the column I sent in to the magazine was written before Pottermore was announced – the timing meant that they had to change it in the final piece, but I prefer my ignorant first version and that’s the one I’m using here.

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As I write this column, J. K Rowling is teasing the world with her “pottermore” publicity campaign in which she reveals that she will reveal (but not just yet!) what her new project is about. By the time this is published I expect the big reveal to have taken place. If it has not, I will be quite annoyed.

The one thing I do not expect the book to be is a spin-off from the original series in which Hermione gathers together a select group of Hogwarts students to discuss art, literature and spiritual improvement.

Luckily, Hermione and Her Little Group of Serious Thinkers does exist. Don Marquis’ 1916 book is a glorious little collection of sketches in which Hermione and her friends explore the intellectual climate of America at the beginning of the Twentieth century (“We took up economics not long ago—our Little Group of Serious Thinkers, you know and gave an entire evening to it”).

Dr. Jagades Chunder Bose says that plants are almost as sensitive as human beings—they have feelings and susceptibilities, you know, and all that sort of thing.
Isn’t it wonderful how the Hindus find these things out?

This group of thinkers is not afraid to tackle serious issues: Will the best people receive the Superman socially? What is one to do about the mid-Victorian values of one’s parents? Does all this study of sex hygiene mean the death of romance? Nor are they afraid take up serious causes: though so very often the Masses are ungrateful. And the women’s rights movement is all very well, but what about “that horrid yellow color on the banners and things”?

A prominent member of Hermione’s circle is Fothergil Finch, the poet. “Fothy”, though he may not look it, is virile in his soul and in revolt against organized society (Once, he fed a peanut to a caged monkey in defiance of the sign telling visitors not to feed the animals). There’s also the artist Voke Easeley who has a large, expressive Adam’s Apple and has pioneered the art of painting sound portraits with his larynx. Voke Easeley’s wife has a talent for talking about books she hasn’t read that I can only admire. The Swami Brandranath has seven wives, one for each of the spiritual planes upon which he exists. (“How wonderful they are, the Orientals. And just think of India, with all its yogis and bazaars and mahatmas and howdahs and rajahs and things!”) Isis the Astrologer disapproves of the Swami, but he in turn thinks she is a charlatan.

Marquis skewers this sort of half-understood, dilettantish engagement with the world. And yet, he protests, it’s not entirely mean-spirited. In a verse titled “Hermione’s Boswell Explains” he protests that Hermione’s antics inspire sadness, not scorn in him. I’m not so sure that’s true. With a few minor changes in topic, Little Groups of Serious Thinkers can be found anywhere. And for me, at least, the familiarity and the opportunity to mock play a big role in making Hermione and Her Little Group of Serious Thinkersthe comic masterpiece that it is.

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