While sorting out boxes of old books at the weekend, I dug up a 1955 Penguin copy of François Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel. It’s one of those books you tell yourself you’re going to read ‘one day’, safe in the knowledge that such a day will probably never arrive.

…which (in this case) would actually be a crying shame, because it’s cracking stuff. Rather than being some kind of moralistic Renaissance fable written by a worthy-but-dull soul, it’s actually a mad Renaissance satire on such books, written by an erudite drinker to amuse and entertain other erudite drinkers. In fact, even ‘ribald‘ is far too wimpy a word to describe it:  in the absence of some hitherto-unknown 30-syllable German word that would fit it perfectly, ‘blisteringly fecal‘ is about as close as I dare get.

Honestly, you’d like it, trust me! 😉

Yet for centuries after Rabelais, authors seem to have lost their bawdy anti-fable mojo: James Joyce is about as close as moderns get (but he’s a wholly different kettle of mad fish, to be sure). Irvine Welsh has flashes, but he’s still no Rabelais, sorry! Anyone else? Your suggestions on a postcard, as always. 🙂

Actually, I’d say that the closest modern artform to the kind of thing Rabelais wrote is in fact the dirty txt msg – everyone seems to know someone who gets twenty filthy texts a day. Where do all these come from?

Well, if Rabelais is anything to go by, I’d say that the prototypes for most smutty jokes were probably dreamed up during the 15th century, yer blessèd Quattrocento (though he did dress them all up in his own distinctive way, it has to be said).

And so I took up a writing modern challenge: could I fit Rabelais’ wonderfully ripe story [Book 3, Chapter 28] of Hans Carvel (jeweller to the king of Melinda) into a 160-character text message? Here’s the result:-

"While you wear this ring",
said the Devil in Hans Carvel's dream,
"no other man can £%*& your wife!"
She woke up yelling "Hey!
Take your finger OUT of THERE!"

How little has changed over the centuries, eh? Enjoy! 😉

4 thoughts on “Hans Carvel, retold for the txt generation…

  1. There is something wrong in the moralistic sense of this fable, but I can’t put my finger on it…

  2. Ernest Lillie on May 7, 2009 at 9:02 am said:

    I’d forgotten all about this book until I saw your post.

    When I picked it up, the first thing I opened was Book 2, Chapter 7: “How Pantagruel Came to Paris, and the Lovely Library of Saint Victor”, followed by a listing of said library’s catalogue. A collection of texts like: “Fairy Tales of the Law”, “The proper Method of Farting in Company” and “Making Money on Indulgences”.

    Anyone who has never seen a copy of this classic should grab one.

  3. Hey, that sounds like my bookshelves! 🙂

    Yup, Pantagruel is a peach (and a particularly ripe one, it has to be said). 🙂

  4. Dennis on May 7, 2009 at 5:23 pm said:

    Gadzooks! I’ve never read G&P, more’s the pity, but this sounds like a (USA) grade-school joke called “the fastest raper in Mexico!” Somehow I doubt it was inspired by old François…

    Scatological humor is admittedly juvenile, however amusing. No doubt Freud had something to say about this.

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