Tag Archives: Jasper Fforde

#amwriting: keeping the Goliardic spark alive

The Battle of Carnival and Lent, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Battle of Carnival and Lent, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

I love ribald, rebellious humor in the works I read, and will go out of my way to read anything written by Sir Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, or Jasper Fforde. I admire their wit and ability to cause us to laugh at our own outrageousness.

Crazy humor at the expense of the establishment is nothing new. It’s part of the Human Condition. And to that end, I love goliardic poetry.

Carl Orff and his amazing cantata, Carmina Burana, catapulted me into the poetry of the Goliards. But who and what were the goliards?

During what we call the Middle Ages, noble and wealthy middle-class families had a tradition that the eldest son inherited everything, the second son went into the church, and the younger sons went to the crusades.

The old-fashioned practice of “primogeniture” or bestowing the rights of inheritance upon the eldest son, often leaving younger sons penniless, is responsible for some of the most ribald and hilarious poetry of the middle ages. This was because the church had far too many clergy who weren’t all that enthusiastic about having been forced into taking the ecclesiastical path, and who became, for lack a better definition, medieval frat-boys.

There was such an abundance of well-educated clergy that most were unable to gain a decent appointment within the church, despite good family connections.

Having been educated at the finest universities of France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and England these men weren’t content to spend their lives hidden away in a rural monastery painstakingly copying the great books written by others when they could be writing their own.

Going indie (or rogue) is nothing new.

The Peasant Dance, Pieter Bruegel

The Peasant Dance, Pieter Bruegel

They took their show on the road, going from town to town, protesting the growing contradictions within the church through song, poetry and performance.

The disillusionment and disappointment they experienced in regard to the hypocritical, abusive, greedy state of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church of that time, was fertile soil for medieval mockery on a grand scale. 

Not unlike the current political climate here in the US.

Most goliardic poetry is written in Latin, as Latin was the language of commerce, and every educated person understood and read it. Remember, if someone could read, they were well off, and if they could read, they read Latin. Those were the people the indie was writing books for in the early Middle Ages.

Some of the goliards’ more popular church services when they would arrive in a new town included celebrating the annual Feast of Fools, a brief social revolution, where roles were reversed, and power, dignity and impunity was briefly conferred on the lowest of the social order. Thus, the town drunk, or the local fool would be made mayor for a day, feted and given the status of a lord for a day.

As you might imagine, the nobility was unimpressed with that particular “holy” festival, and rarely participated

Even less popular with those in power was the Feast of the Ass. From Wikipedia, the holy fount of all knowledge: A girl and a child on a donkey would be led through town to the church, where the donkey would stand beside the altar during the sermon, and the congregation would “hee-haw” their responses to the priest.

So, I guess you could say the goliards were a traveling Monty Python type of show, painfully hilarious and sometimes too good at what they did for the censor’s comfort.

Their point was that too much emphasis was placed on the pageantry and trappings of faith in Medieval Europe.

But they couldn’t run forever. Their satires were almost always directed against the church, attacking even the pope, and the church didn’t take that well. Heresy, during the Middle Ages, was not something you wanted to be accused of, as the famous heretic and collector of goliardic poetry, Peter Abelard would tell you. Yet, though he was harshly punished, he remains one of the most respected philosophers and free-thinkers of the Middle Ages.

By the 14th century, the word goliard had become synonymous with minstrel, no longer referring to this group of rebellious clergymen. However, a century after the overabundance of bored poor-little-rich-boy clergymen that spawned the goliards had been squashed by the church, that tradition of irreverence was carried on by Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales.

carmina burana album coverFor me, Orff’s cantata was a ‘gateway drug.’ From first becoming intrigued by the libretto to  Carmina Burana, I moved on to “the hard stuff,” studying modern translations of the works of an author who was highly influenced by goliardic poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer.

Of course, eventually that meant I had to go to the source, learning a great deal about the roots of our modern English language at the same time.

Chaucer was unique, in that he wrote in Middle English, the vernacular of his time, rather than in Latin. Because of this, and the enduring hilarity of his works, Chaucer is considered the Father of English Literature.

The goliardic works that survive to this day still surprise us with how relevant the concepts put forth in those poems and tales are to contemporary society.

It is through the surviving literature and song that the truth of a past culture is discovered. The true nature of the common medieval man and woman survives in the rebellious, ribald literary tradition of the naughty clergy, the goliards.

We may be separated in time by centuries, but we are not too different from those ancestors of ours who survived the Dark and early Middle Ages by getting drunk and singing bawdy songs, and poking fun at the establishment.

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What I’m reading

name of the wind  -patrick rothfussSome authors write so well you live the work with them. I love that when that happens. I’ve been reading a lot, as you probably know, and I love to talk about what I have recently read.

Last week, on Best In Fantasy, I reviewed book one of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, The Name of The Wind.  I had this to say about it: “The blurb didn’t really sell me, but when I was deciding whether or not to purchase this book, I noticed that the negative reviews were written by people who are not really into reading for pleasure, and some of the negative reviews seemed written by moderately illiterate non-readers. To me, this is a mark of a classic—Tolkien, Jordan—all the great literary-fantasy authors attract 1-star reviews by people whose favorite genre is whatever is written on the toilet-paper wrapper. My instinct was correct—this book is a true classic, both literary and fantasy.” 

I have to say, I loved his cover, also. It totally reflects his style of writing, beautiful, harsh and mysterious.

Desprite Measures Deborah JayBefore that, I read “Desprite Measures” by Deborah Jay. That book is completely different, being an urban paranormal fantasy-romance. I had a great time, and this is what I said about it: “Okay–we all know the cover above looks like I’ve taken a side-trip into a lurid romance. Don’t be deceived by the cover! Yes, there is some graphic sex, and yes there are other elements that might hint that grandma has taken a dip into a lurid romance novel, but stick with me! Desprite Measures by Deborah Jay is a modern day urban fantasy. It is not a deep book, but is perfect for whiling away rainy afternoon. “

Dragula, Nicole Antona CarroI had been in wacky mood for a couple of weeks. During that time I also read Brawn Stroker’s Dragula” By Nicole Antonia Carro. Was I surprised: “I bought Brawn Stroker’s Dragula, by indie author Nicole Antonia Carro on a whim. When I read the title, I was expecting something incredibly camp and lightweight, but that is certainly not what I got. Instead, I found a tale full of people I could call friends, and situations I hope my friends never find themselves in!”  I absolutely enjoyed the book.

Happy Hour In Hell, Bobby Dollar 2 - Tad WilliamsAs everyone knows, I love indie authors, but I also love certain authors whose work I’ve been following since long before the indie option was even thought of. One of those authors is Tad Williams. He is famous for writing one of the most enduring fantasy series ever, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, but he also has written  some excellent urban fantasy. His style is hard-edged. A few weeks ago I read “Happy Hour in Hell, Book 2 of Bobby Dollar.” I had this to say about it:  “Okay, now we are talking deep. Happy Hour In Hell (Bobby Dollar 2), by Tad Williams takes us from the bowels of Heaven to the heart of Hell, and its a rough ride, and a heck of a good story…. If you like your angels as painted by Michelangelo, you are in the wrong place. Bobby isn’t that sort of an angel. Bobby gets in and does Heaven’s dirty work with his bare hands. He’s a hard-boiled detective, a bad-boy, and he’s the sort of angel my mother warned me about. But he’s also just the sort of angel you want on your side when you suddenly find yourself dead, and your soul is being judged.”  That is one entertaining book.

the eyre affair jasper ffordeSpeaking of entertaining, I finally got around to reading “The Eyre Affaire” by Jasper Fforde, and I found it to be painfully funny: “Over Thanksgiving, my son, Dan, pressured me to drop everything and read The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde.  Published in 2000, the Eyre Affair was Fforde’s first novel. The book was generally acclaimed, with critics calling it “playfully irreverent,” “delightfully daft,” “whoppingly imaginative,” and “a work of … startling originality.” My son adores this book and the entire series. I found it—interesting—and I heartily enjoyed this book despite the tortuous plot, the side trips that go nowhere, and the occasional moments of HUH?!? WTF….” 

the cold, Aura BurrowsI love Audible books, and have been listening to a lot of great books. In fact, I’ve  been following a serial posted on BigWorldNetwork.com, an affordable source of online reading. The website bills itself a s cross between TV and Books, and I really like it. I think this type of publisher will be a big factor in the shape of the industry over the next decade. They have talented authors, and you can either read OR listen to it being read on-line all you want for $3.00 a month subscription The series I have been following is The Cold, by local Olympia area author, Aura Burrows, who is also a friend of mine. I am into episode three now, and this tale is gripping. I love the way the reader, Willow Wood, tells it. In fact, I plan to indulge in two or three more episodes today, once I have my work done!

I have another friend, Joan Hazel, with a book launching on Wednesday. She has written the second installment in her paranormal romance series on shape-shifters, this one titled “Burdens of a Saint”. It launches Wednesday, and she has kindly agreed to talk about writing, and will be herewith me.

My reading schedule is jam-packed, and that’s the way I like it. Nothing like a good dose of fantasy to keep me busy! I hope you are finding plenty to love in what you are reading.

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