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Figures of Earth

(The Biography of Manuel #2)

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  253 ratings  ·  20 reviews
The story of Manuel the swineherd, who rises to power by playing on others' expectations -- his motto Mundus Vult Decipi, meaning "the world wishes to be deceived."
Paperback, 264 pages
Published October 28th 2004 by (first published 1921)
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Jun 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf-fantasy
Mundus vult decipi - the world wants to be deceived - and the happier man is one whose desires remain unfulfilled inform all of Cabell's writing. As the chroniclers write of Poictesme's redemption:

"For although this was a very heroic war, with a parade of every sort of high moral principle, and with the most sonorous language employed upon both sides, it somehow failed to bring about either the reformation or the ruin of humankind: and after the conclusion of the murdering and general breaka
Sep 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
is the sequel to the celebrated Jurgen, and it took me a long time to work out what that meant. Early on, I thought that that Cabell was simply trying to repeat himself and failing, frankly even falling into self-parody, and lacking the brilliance of the earlier book.

Then I hit the final third and everything almost made sense to me. This isn't a copy of Jurgen, it's a mirror of Jurgen. Everything the same, but everything is backward. And yes, it probably is self-parody, and it's probably intent
Bryan "They call me the Doge"
Figures of Earth is the story of Dom Manuel, the first count of Poictesme: how he rises from his lowly position as swineherd to being the most fortunate man in the land, how he redeems his beloved Niafer from death, and how he became the inspiration for legend and myth down through the ages. As such, he has several fantastic adventures, a few of which are breezily sketched in the book: that is not, however, the focus of Cabell's satire, and even though this is nominally a book of fantasy (and ev ...more
The Usual
May 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are people on this site - sane and sensible people who know how to juggle with words and such - who have written screeds about James Branch Cabell. They have written actual, proper, honest-to-god, impassioned and informative reviews (and this is not one, this is just showing off); so I feel a touch of guilt over what I'm about to say. It is this:

Don't read their efforts: read the book.
Don't read my drivel: read the book.

You know that pile on your shelf? The one that makes you feel guilt
Apr 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sf-fantasy
Published in 1921. Delightfully cynical and cynically delightful, and wickedly ironic. It's about the great heroic figure Manuel the Redeemer of the mythical land of Poictesme, and the very unheroic truth about him. Very funny.
Jan 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A shimmering, pseudo-fantastical fable on the price of 'success' - provisionally defined in the text as "but the strivings of an ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at climbing, who yet feels himself to be a symbol and the frail representative of Omnipotence in a place that is not home."

Manuel, the 'hero' of the story, set in an imaginary medieval France, rises to the apex of this 'success' with the aid of powerful women, each of whom he uses and then betrays in one way or another. Eventually,
Stephen Brooke
Nov 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
Cabell points out in his forward (one of them — he kept writing new ones) that “Figures of Earth” was not an attempt to 'rewrite “Jurgen.”' Which is not to say there are not many similarities. As ever, there is plenty of wit and sharp observation of human nature. Whether those observations are really all that deep could be argued. Sometimes Cabell comes off more as facile than insightful.

But that is quite probably intentional. He is also, by today's standards, somewhat sexist. Not in any hateful
Jan 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: time-travel
Actually, this is a first edition, but I don't think I can add that to the database.

This was a book I'd forgotten I owned, an old, battered hard back which belonged to my father. Kind of hard to rate, because I'm not sure how much the reaction I had was too the book itself. Like all of Cabell's works, it's both well written and depressing. This one is about youthful dreams and the misery of aging. Now I have to re-read Jurgen, because I'd somehow conflated them in memory. A very similar theme, I
Jan 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting and unique. I never expected it to be so good.
Richard Scott
Feb 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
James Branch Cabell has a clean and clear style that entertains and enlivens.
Mike Franklin
May 14, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
3/5 stars

Figures of Earth by James Branch Cabell

It took me a while to get into the writing which I found very stylised and reminiscent of the likes of Le Morte d’Arthur or Ivanhoe, but there the similarity ends. Cabell manages to be both serious and, at the same time, poking fun at the genre. The humour is mostly very very dry, so much so that I wasn’t even sure it was intentional until coming across passages like this:

One day, toward autumn, as Manuel was sitting in this place, and looking into
Greg Bates
Jan 27, 2014 rated it liked it
In the introduction to Figures of Earth, written to Sinclair Lewis (another early 20th-century writer with whose work I'd like to get better acquainted this year), James Branch Cabell provides an explanation of his own writing that's rather...un-Cabellian. Rather than his usual wry exhuberance, Cabell sounds almost apologetic for the novel he's about to drop in your lap, and with good reason. Figures of Earth is an alright novel that suffers from two huge problems:

1) It's not quite as good as Ju
James Sundquist
Oct 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
A companion masterpiece to Jurgen, this is rather different because of a rather more serious protagonist. Though the theme (lost youth) is the same, Manuel's approach is quite different, and his stoic, accidental heroism is a contrast to Jurgen's vainglory. Also like Jurgen, it is a book where you might well want cliff-notes or some sort of glossary by your side (also, one time when a Kindle's search function would be very welcome!). I also thought that in the classic fantasy format of the story ...more
Aug 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Who influences the influencers - according to many fantasy and satirists alike it was Cabell who's fantasy and wit is wry and dryer than the Mojave. I can definitely see where many of the greats appreciated his craft at the time from Twin, Heinlein, Leiber, Gaiman and Pratchett, but those masters took the craft to another dimension entirely. Read at the risk of curing your insomnia.
Christopher Tookey
May 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Like Jurgen, this is one of the greatest fantasy novels, all the better for being funny (and wise).
Feb 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
really interesting take on high fantasy... I could see why Neil Gaiman lists this as one of his influences. Both humorous and poking fun at the genre and classically high fantastical happenings.
Sep 10, 2010 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-fantasy
*note to self. Copy from A.
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James Branch Cabell was an American author of fantasy fiction and belles lettres. Cabell was well regarded by his contemporaries, including H. L. Mencken, Edmund Wilson, and Sinclair Lewis. His works were considered escapist and fit well in the culture of the 1920s, when they were most popular. For Cabell, veracity was "the one unpardonable sin, not merely against art, but against human welfare."

Other books in the series

The Biography of Manuel (1 - 10 of 23 books)
  • Beyond Life
  • The Silver Stallion
  • The Witch-Woman
  • Domnei
  • Chivalry
  • Jurgen  (The Biography of Manuel, #7)
  • The Line of Love: Dizain des Mariages (The Biography of Manuel #8)
  • The High Place
  • Gallantry: Dizain des Fetes Galantes
  • Something About Eve

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“For although this was a very heroic war, with a parade of every sort of high moral principle, and with the most sonorous language employed upon both sides, it somehow failed to bring about either the reformation or the ruin of humankind: and after the conclusion of the murdering and general breakage, the world went on pretty much as it has done after all other wars, with a vague notion that a deal of time and effort had been unprofitably invested, and a conviction that it would be inglorious to say so.” 21 likes
“What have you learned," says Manuel, "out yonder?"

"I cannot tell you," replied Ruric, laughing sillily, "but in place of it, I will tell you a tale. Yes, yes, Count Manuel, I will tell you a merry story of how a great while ago our common grandmother Eve was washing her children one day near Eden when God called to her. She hid away the children that she had not finished washing: and when the good God asked her if all her children were there, with their meek little heads against His knees, to say their prayers to Him, she answered, Yes. So God told her that what she had tried to hide from God should be hidden from men: and He took away the unwashed children, and made a place for them where everything stays young, and where there is neither good nor evil, because these children are unstained by human sin and unredeemed by Christ's dear blood."

The Count said, frowning: "What drunken nonsense are you talking at broad noon? It is not any foolish tatter of legend that I am requiring of you, my boy, but civil information as to what is to be encountered out yonder."

"All freedom and all delight," young Ruric told him wildly, "and all horror and all rebellion.”
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