Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Fool by Any Other Name

Rather than an excerpt this tuesday I will publish a short article I wrote about Chris Moore. I interviewed him and attempted to sell the article as promotional piece for his excellent novel Fool but was unable to find a home for it.

A Fool by Any Other Name
By Ben Shakey

If comedy is tragedy plus time then best selling novelist Christopher Moore figures 400 years is enough time to make King Lear a laugh riot.

In his newest work, Fool, Moore takes his comedic crowbar to the most beloved writer in the English Language and rewrites Shakespeare’s tragedy as a farce told from the view of Lear’s personal jester.

“I didn’t set out to improve Shakespeare’s play, nor do I think I could, I simply used it for inspiration.” He writes in an e-mail interview. “I just wanted it to be really funny.”

Moore achieved his goals of being really funny since his first novel in 1992. Back then Moore was a waiter in small town Harmony, California when he set out to create what he described as something that would do for horror what Douglas Adams did for science fiction. The result was Practical Demonkeeping, where a befuddled man accidentally conjures a demon servant that he spends over 90 years trying to escape. It created his winning combination of put upon everyman protagonists battling with mystical forces, sort of like Bob Newhart in the X-files, and found an immediate audience.

In 10 following novels his cult readership grew, as Moore forced vampires, Angels, and Grim Reapers to deal with modern annoyances. Books titled The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove or Island of the Sequined Love Nun can be remarkably silly but their success anchored on how seriously he took the subjects.

“I think if a funny novel is going to work, you really have to own the comedy. You have to commit to it. If you pull punches or you’re self-conscious about it, your stuff isn’t going to be funny.” He explains” I think comic timing can be learned, even in prose, but you really have to have a sense of what’s funny, what kind of juxtaposition makes people laugh as opposed what’s just interesting or just stupid. Some people don’t have that sense.”

Moore credits this talent for capturing slapstick on a page as something inherited. “I think my sense of comedy came from my father, who was a highway patrolman, and had developed a sort of dark sense of humour tempered with the absolutely silly, to deal with the carnage of his job. (Troopers see a lot of fatal accidents, and are usually the first on the scene. I don’t think people realize that.)”

An example of his Father’s twisted sense of humour was one Night before Christmas at the Moore house: “I would be up half the night on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa, and my father didn’t get off shift until midnight, so when he came up the walk at one in the morning, and saw me still up, he drew his revolver and fired it into the ground, then came inside and told me I could go to bed now because he’d shot Santa off the roof and there was no sense waiting. (To be honest, I think he came in talking about how a fat guy in a red suit was trying to break into our house and he had to stop him.) I was about four then. I’m still a little traumatized.”
“He also loved books, particularly spy stories, but also books like Mash and Catch 22. Since books and humor were valued in my house growing up, it’s probably not surprising that I developed the ability to write comedy in prose.”

His ability to make readers laugh was so skilled that in 2002 he was even able to write Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal without backlash from usually sensitive Christian groups. According to Moore, the book is even taught in some seminaries.

Now his writing is based on a revered play. What’s it like building off a text already known to millions? “It was extraordinarily challenging, but there was a point where I had to just let the play go and tell my own story. My books tend to be character generated, so, while my characters started with the Shakespeare characters, as they developed, they allowed the story to develop in a unique way.” He says, “I wanted it all to revolve around the most powerless character in the play. Pocket, my Fool, really only has his wit, but he manages to manipulate the rest of the cast by applying it.”

The departure from Shakespeare is typically irreverent. “My fool is a bit of horn beast, who is pretty much preoccupied with trying to shag everyone in the castle, which is not really indicated in King Lear. I also gave my fool an apprentice, who is loosely based on Lenny, from Of Mice and Men.”

Beyond the demands of being really funny, Fool also took a great deal of research. Moore travelled to England and France for historical tours of medieval castles, watched dozens of filmed and live performances, and nearly read the entire Shakespeare cannon.

Also, he spent lots of time watching Black Adder and Dr. Who on the elliptical trainer to learn British idioms. He explains: “I worked with the idiom a lot. I had to make it sound Elizabethan without it actually being Elizabethan. I thought I might try to write it in iambic pentameter for about eight minutes before I gave up. I depended largely on the idiom in British sitcoms, mixed with the odd Elizabethan pronoun (a thee or a thou here and there for flavor). For the most part, I think it’s pretty easy for an American reader once they get into the rhythm of it. I think it will throw my usual readers for a chapter or so until they get the voice.”

With all this research the book is still written with Groundlings in mind. When asked what the Shakespeare scholars that spend years trying to interpret Hamlet’s asides will think of Fool, Moore is honest “I think they may hate it. It really depends on how purist they are.” Or if they relate to horn beast fool.


Sarah-Grace Ross said...

Great article! I found the link to your blog from the CBC website.


Anonymous said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

Anonymous said...

Great stuff josh ! Glad to see you are doing well . Your *$'s friends

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