Late in the night, sitting in my little college apartment, paper due in the morning. The mind begins to play tricks. I can't remember the one word I w...moreLate in the night, sitting in my little college apartment, paper due in the morning. The mind begins to play tricks. I can't remember the one word I want. I've been stuck on the same sentence for long minutes, plumbing my brain. But what comes up isn't a term meaning 'profiting by use without ownership', oh no. I remember this book.
Not the title, of course, or anything pertinent; nothing that will cause it to show up in my google search. Seared into my brain are little hippo-shaped goblins, depicted in ensconcing, detailed vistas. A dream of war sparrows, of seed cannons, and secret underground forts.
I search google anyways, but I could never find this book. Every few months, I'd find myself at the screen again, and suddenly, recall those vivid childhood memories. It is the sort of book one remembers, because it is not oversimplified drivel meant to cater to children. It is instead mysterious and imaginative, like Alice's Wonderland or The World of David the Gnome.
Eventually, it took someone else to find it for me, someone who didn't know what I was talking about, but who found it immediately by googling 'little hippo men book'. Love should always humble us so effectively. Unfortunately, this only brought me so much closer to my memories, as this book is now out of print and copies sell for $150. C'est la guerre.(less)
I can't very well list Peake as my favorite author on the Titus books alone. Though those books may provide a frantically laborious definition of 'idi...moreI can't very well list Peake as my favorite author on the Titus books alone. Though those books may provide a frantically laborious definition of 'idiomatic' (if not merely 'eccentric'), Peake is more than simply Gormenghast.
There is his art, his (somewhat abortive) poetic career, and his minimal forays into drama, adventure, war reporting, and here, light farce. Published the same year as 'Lucky Jim', Peake provides us with another English vision of strange and liminal folk, except his island is not the metaphorical isolation of academia, but the literal geography of Sark, where Peake relocated his family after The War.
Unlike Amis, Peake's satire falls much more broadly, often contaminating his protagonist. As with his Titus books, there is a frustration inherent in the fact that Peake never turns his hand, and so the reader is always left looking for purpose and direction. Just when you think you've pegged him, Peake tends to swerve.
The book meanders ridiculously, taking its time to arrive at the conflict. Until we arrive at the driving theme, the book is somewhat slow-going. It does not proceed ponderously, like the Titus books, but there is a measured pace which takes some staid patience to overcome.
It somewhat roughly resembles Sinclair Lewis' 'Elmer Gantry', which so shook up American religion twenty years before. Like Gantry, Pye is our swell-headed but carnivorously charming proselytizer and self-promoter, but Pye is more C of E than Evangelist, and so his religious notions take a more chummy, upright bent.
While Lewis contents himself with exposing the ungainly, cruel man behind the pulpit quacksalver, Peake paints no such plain indictment. Peake lampoons not only his self-righteous hero, not just religion, but the physical and spiritual life at the root of any discussion of belief or the lack thereof.
Peake doesn't fall hard on one side or the other, but gives us equally wonderful and absurd arguments for both at once. A reader looking to be instructed or justified will spend all of their time searching. Peake makes it clear that he doesn't have the answers, but he does provide a good number of questions, and each is arm-in-arm with chortles.
There is no preachy author surrogate here, nor the comeuppance of a fable. Yet this lack of direction sometimes injures the work. While 'Gormenghast' moves about these difficult questions slowly, giving a reader a clear view before drifting on grandly, 'Pye' alights quickly and then is on to the next. There is little evidence of Peake's mastery of language and style, though a keen eye will see 'Pye' as a sleek and elegant counterpoint to 'Gormenghast's' wrought and grandiose.
Both books move slowly, and both are grounded in their settings. 'Gormenghast's' measured pace is that of the ancient castle: the gait of a museum-goer turning always to some new and unexpected wonder of old. 'Pye's' is more akin to it's dreary, peculiar island: a walk along the shore, where some sights will pique the eye, but will more often leave the mind roaming than rapt.
It is a testament to Peake's wryness and sense of character that this light, undecided, often pointless tale comes off as amusing, sweet, and even original. His mildly fantastical religious parable calls to mind both another Brit and another Lewis: Clive Staples, but Peake has writ a religious send-up that is more even-handed and much less bitter.
First the grand fantasy of 'Gormenghast' deflates Tolkien's pretension, then Peake's follow-up highlights the short sight of yet another Inkling. Shame I'll never teach Lit, this one has a lot of cross-pollinating going on.(less)
Much more heartfelt than your usual constructed new age mysticism, but still falls to false separations and idealism. This is achieved by the inclusio...moreMuch more heartfelt than your usual constructed new age mysticism, but still falls to false separations and idealism. This is achieved by the inclusion of representational figures which do not stand in allegorically, but rather conceptually, and hence become not pure symbols but a set of tools for the construction of different philosophical scenarios.
The book also presents the requisite complexity needed for a holistic view of emotions and interaction, but falls to the very French fault of the author (or author surrogate) declaring themselves entirely correct about points which warrant more discussion and thought.
There is a fine line here between using such a representation to further thought by confrontation and trying to quiet it with thought terminating cliches. The reader may decide for themselves when Saint-Exupary crosses from one to the other.
It is unfortunate that a staple of children's literature is the stalwart declaration of comforting half-truths, but this is not uncommon even in adult books. Most New Age and Self-Help works are simply an extension of this to the (ostensibly) adult mind.
Unlike those myths of self-justification, the Little Prince occasionally presents some sense of wonder and mystery that overcomes the otherwise simple message. Its no Carroll, but there are times that it approaches that level of surrealism that opens a child's mind to something heretofore unimaginable.
Yet it is overall too self-satisfied with its message of naive wonder and reassuring but empty 'specialness'.(less)