Sometimes, when life is stark, the only thing for me is one of Shakespeare’s plays: I suppose it is those ‘universal themes’ that bring things back into perspective.
But sometimes, conversely, I feel like reading some escapist nonsense. Intentional comedy or often, ridiculous melodramatic stories which can make for wonderful unintentional comedic scenes, and that is nearly as good. Then there is good dark comedy. Also, I do enjoy a well written fantasy.
So, these being times when even those given least to worrying could do with some light relief, here are some amusing pieces of escapism.
‘The Fourth Universe’ by Robert Wingfield (2015).
In my opinion, the funniest of all the books in the saga of ‘Dan Chronicles’, and a wonderful spoof of all sorts of genres. Here is one of my favourite paragraphs: –
‘The Magus stood in a small odorous group of soaked doku in the rain outside the spaceport. “Where do I go now?” he wondered as he tried to shoo them away. To his surprise, no helpful taxi drivers arrived to take him to solve his mission, no mysterious snipers attempted to end his life, in a fact, nobody even attempted to shine his shoes. At least he took comfort in the fact that it was raining, so it must be in the right place. It was always raining in films when you were close to mission end.’
There follows in due course a ridiculous and decisive confrontation between the Magus and his unfeeling nemisis.
You can buy the print version of this book at a distount from INCA here
Or the Kindle version from Amazon here
A long time favourite of mine is the second of the Bertie Wooster and Jeeves series, the 1934 novel, ‘Right Ho, Jeeves’, which I have always thought the funniest.
For dark comedy, I don’t think one can do better than the currently unfashionable writer Patrick Hamilton, who was at the height of his fame between the 1930’s and the 1950’s. His 1947 novel ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ generally considered to be his masteriece, is set in Henley-on-Thames (renamed Thames Ditton) in a genteel boarding house ridiculously called The Rosamund Tea Rooms: –
‘…One’s responsibility in regard to the black out had been the occasion of one of Mrs Payne’s famous notes. ‘N.B. Visitors will be held personally responsible for completing their own black outs in their bedrooms.” – This being pinned, sensibly enough (Mrs Payne was nothing if not sensible), under the light switch. Mrs. Payne left or pinned up notes everywhere, austerely, endlessly – making one feel, at times, that a sort of paper-chase had been taking place in the Rosamund Tea Rooms – but a nasty, admonitory sort of paper chase. All innovaatins were heralded by notes, and all withdrawals and adjustments thus proclaimed. Experienced guests were well aware that to take the smallest step in an original or unusual direction would be to provoke a sharp note within twenty-four hours at the outside, and they therefore, for the post part, abandoned originality.’
Here, the quiet and fair-minded Miss Roach refuses to be intimidated by the boarding house tyrant, the idiotic Mr Thawaites. In the words of the blurb on my Oxford Paperback edition, ‘Disturbing the blighted resignation of (the guests’) lives come the vulgar and coquettish Vicki Kugelmann, and Lieutenant Pike, the American serviceman…’
A different sort of dark comedy is to be found in another classic story, the short ghost story ‘The Crown Derby Plate’ by Marjorie Bowen. In this, a collector of antique china named Martha Pym is staying over the Christmas period with some relatives in a remote part of Essex. A few years ago, she bought a Crown Derby set at a local auction held in one of the isolated local houses, only to find a plate missing. She goes to collect the missing one from the new owner of the house, and becomes involved in a grotesque adventure.
‘The house sprang up suddenly on a knoll ringed with rotting trees, encompassed by an old brick wall…It was a square built, substantial house with “Nothing wrong with it but the situation,” Miss Pym decided…She noticed at the far end of the garden, in the corner of the wall, a headstone showing above the colourless grass’.
The person who answers the door presents a startling appearance: ‘Her gross, flaccid figure was completely shapeless and she wore a badly cut, full dress of no colour at all, but stained with earth and damp from where Miss Pym supposed that she had been doing some futile gardening…another ridiculous touch about the poor old lady was her short hair(In that era, women were not expected to cut their hair at all).
An absurd conversation follows between Martha Pym and the owner:-
‘“…I generally sit in the garden.”
“In the garden? But surely not in this weather?”
“You get used to the weather. You have no idea how used one gets to the weather.”
“I suppose so,” conceded Miss Pym doubtfully…’
Later on, the person whom Martha Pym assumes to be the last owner Miss Lefain informs her visitor that she frightens people away from the house:
‘”Frighten them away!” replied Martha Pym. “However do you do that?”
“It doesn’t seem difficult; people are so easily frightened, aren’t they?”
‘Miss Pym suddenly remembered that Hartleys had the reputation of being haunted – perhaps the queer old thing played on that. “I suppose you’ve never seen a ghost?” she asked pleasantly. “I’d rather like to see one, you know –”.’
This story can be found on project Gutenbeburg and various other sites for classic stories.
Then again, fantasy stories, whether comic, tragic, or both, are often an enjoyable form of escape from everyday concerns.Rebecca Lochlann’s ‘Child of the Erinyes’ series is excellent for that. I have expressed my admiration for the series before, and here is the link on amazon here
Then again, there is nothing like a fairy story for a temporary escape from reality, and when it is funny, then it is perfect. Here is one of my all time favourites, ‘The Blackwood Crusade’ by Jo Danilo. here
And finally, how about vampires for a way of getting away from everyday troubles? Lauryn Apirl’s ‘Unearthed After Sunset’ is horrifying and funny at the same time.