I was reminded about the book, Finnegans Wake, in a blog I regularly read. James Joyce wrote the classic novel, and James was a man who loved words. He loved words the way I love Ritchie Blackmore and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. He couldn’t get enough of them and when old words didn’t suffice, he invented new ones. Puns, those low class examples of verbal violence, became an art form under the pen of James Joyce.
Robert MacLean’s most recent post for his fascinating blog on morality, humor, and art, ‘The Devil’s Pleasure Garden’ is on Fellini, and Shakespeare. He rambles though Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Fellini’s 8 ½ , and lightly touches on Luis Bunuel. I enjoy MacLean’s morality crises – his angst has led to some of the finest blog posts on creativity out there!
MacLean also mentions James Joyce’s incredible monster-piece, Finnegan’s Wake, quoting the delicious pun “…when they were jung and easily freudened.” I realized when I was re-reading MacLean’s blog today that the reason so many people despise puns is that for a pun to be funny one has to know what the pun is about. If a reader has never heard of Carl Jung or Sigmund Freud that pun will go right over their head. They get a sour look and say “I despise James Joyce – I don’t know what people are thinking calling him a genius.”
When people don’t understand something that makes other people laugh, they feel somehow inferior and they hate it. So my job is to not make my readers feel ignorant, and yet still write in such a way that my work is not ‘dumbed-down’. Humor is essential, and I usually love a good pun, but since the key to enjoying a good pun is knowledge and you can’t guarantee your readers will have that knowledge, it’s best to avoid puns when writing.
But for me, humor is crucial to keeping me interested in the characters. If you are going to have your characters grimly going about their work, with nothing to brighten the mood you have immediately lost me.
I find myself injecting humor into my work, not in a calculated way, but because it naturally flows there. Macabre humor is what keeps my family together at times—that ability to laugh at the worst times keeps us slogging through the strangest twists and turns of life. Oh, it’s a little embarrassing at times, but it gets you through it. And that is what happens with my characters. Lackland, Huw the Bard and indeed all the Rowdies rely on their sense of humor as the way to find logic in the worst of events.
In Tower of Bones, the sense of the ridiculous surfaces several times when the characters are under the most stress. Friedr is one of my favorite characters in the TOB series, as he is the most in touch with his sense of humor and his frequent lack thereof. Christoph was born with a joke falling out of his mouth, and humor is his armor.
Good grief! I just said “one of my favorites” – all of my characters are my favorites! Even the evil ones!