Friday, January 20, 2012

Tears of the Mutant Jesters - Rhys Hughes

Books, in Rhys Hughes’s absurdist horror story, can be fastidious things. They can make noises in the middle of the night, they can howl and cry out in pain, they can wail and wince, they can groan and eject weird vomit, they can sob and shiver and even shift position and mess up even the most careful bibliophile’s regimented collection of books. The book in question, an anthology of one hundred surreal and fantastical horror stories, can even suffer from appendicitis! (Nearby volumes have other ailments: Athlete’s footnotes, allergic reactions to bookmarks, and my favorite, particularly relevant to anthologies: the loss of consciousness.) Such is the absurdist mode in this comic and disturbing tale, rich with anthropomorphic literary devices. The story seems to want to perhaps challenge the idea that there is no place for comedy, surrealism or satire in the weird tale of terror. It is very much welcomed here.


Rhys Hughes’ “Tears of the Mutant Jesters” is a pleasant diversion from the more serious material involving a book with appendicitis (a vestigial echo of the time when books ate grass). A short tale, it brims with clever wordplay and wry humour.


It’s not all darkness, there is humour, of a sort, in Rhys Hughes’ Tears Of The Mutant Jesters a typically Hughesean bizarre tale which bends, warps and twists the English language into a remarkable story about sick books.


Next up is a humorous tale by Rhys Hughes, where an avid book collector has to deal witrh a book that is suffering from appendicitis, yes Mr Hughes loves a pun, and story is filled with puns. It is a lightweight tale that after three very heavy and serious tales brought a nice bit of light relief to the collection


One of the contemporary horror writers whose name O'Driscoll drops is Rhys Hughes, and Hughes just happens to have his own story in The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies. It's a short one, six pages, called "Tears of the Mutant Jesters", and while laziness played a role, I did choose two very short stories to follow up O'Driscoll's long-ish (not very, though) story because I wondered how the premise inherent to the whole anthology could be gotten across, while still leaving room for anything else, in a six or seven page story. Plus, one of those stories was called "Tears of the Mutant Jesters", and I'm not made of stone. Well, in Hughes's case, it doesn't matter, because "Tears of the Mutant Jesters" plays more like an advertisement for surreal horror than anything else, and a pretty low brand of surrealism, at that. "Tears of the Mutant Jesters" is the title of a horror anthology beloved by Thornton Excelsior. It is a collection of surreal horror, "a somewhat sidelined subgenre." The six pages of the story mainly consist of the book needing readjustment on the shelf, the book weeping, Excelsior's attempt to help the book, his various conversations, which are basically each exactly the same, with his housekeepers -- none of whom he hired which is pretty surreal when you think about it -- named Dawn, Midday and Dusk. So you'll have lines like "Dusk was sweeping the land", which is a pun, but also she really is sweeping the land -- sweeping up mountains. Anyway, I guess I missed the thing where everybody likes puns again, but I still don't. Hughes features them prominently, and makes me very much against the idea of partaking in his brand of surreal horror.


There is a tightrope between intelligent wordplay and groan-inducing puns, and this story strides along it with confidence, with a couple of minor slips. A short and amusing piece, it plays with deep existential themes but doesn't properly explore them. Shades of both Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde. Fun.


In “Tears of the Mutant Jester”, the books themselves become sick, vomiting indigestible words and having to be relieved of their unnecessary appendices. Rhys Hughes’ brightly punning narrative transforms the darker subtext of horror like a breath of fresh air. Where other authors see an opportunity for expressing angst, Hughes seizes the chance to make us laugh at this literary conceit – books have feelings too!
Thornton Excelsior, Rhys Hughes’, character understands the power of books and the words they contain as much as any of this collection’s authors. We spend so much time in the company of printed words that we know their power: their ability to create or destroy, to provoke wars and reduce men to quivering wrecks, to inspire love and devotion and to raise our eyes to beauty. Books are the driving force of many of the characters’ lives.

 Any further reviews after 20 Jan 12 will appear in the comments below.

My own views:

Further Thornton Excelsior stories have appeared since the HA of HA here: