Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Burst of Weirdness (a special literary edition)

Oddities abound!

I'm going to do something different this week: instead of a couple of links to weird things, I present below one of the oddest literary passages I've ever read in a book. The book is The Coming of the King by Nikolai Tolstoy. (Yes, he's related to Leo.)

Published in 1989, The Coming of the King is the first book in what was to be a trilogy detailing the life of Merlin. That trilogy has to date never come to pass, owing apparently to legal difficulties that Tolstoy faced around that time. Legal fees and judgments against him left him bankrupt, and any proceeds from further writings would have apparently gone to his creditors, so he has yet to write the second and third volumes. (This is the story that used to appear in the FAQ for the rec.arts.sf.written newsgroup.)

Obviously, the book is Arthuriana, which is why I bought it. In my college years I went through a massive Arthurian phase in which I bought and either read or attempted to read every Arthurian-related book I could find. The Coming of the King is one of the books I attempted, but failed, to finish; at the time I found its language entirely too stuffy and lofty for my tastes, but it occurs to me that I'd probably like it now just fine. I don't know if I'd make the effort, though, knowing that the second and third volumes in the trilogy are unlikely to be forthcoming.

But anyway, the weird passage I referred to above. Early in the book there is a reception in the hall of King Gwydno, a great feast with lots of entertainment. Tolstoy describes the entertainers at some length, with one group of entertainers turning out to be...well, here it is. I can't decide if I want this to have had a basis in reality or be a complete fabrication.

Not finished yet was King Gwydno's entertainment, and the seven solemn-faced men in short kirtles who entered were recognized by all as being as skilled in their special art as were the hummers in theirs. Long-snouted and sharp-heeled were they, foxy-faced and bald.

Low before the king bowed the seven newcomers; and bowed low they remained, with buttocks bare gleaming from the ruddy glare of the king's hearth. For they were the far-famed farters of the Island of the Mighty, whose skill in farting surpassed any that might be found in Prydyn, or Ywerdon, or distant Lydau across the Sea of Udd.

Wonderfully loud was the farting of the royal farters at the feasting of King Gwydno Garanhir upon the Kalan Gaeaf; wonderfully loud, skillfully sonorous, and evil-smelling beyond the achieving of all others of their calling. At first they emitted with rare delicacy the seven notes of the scale, moving up and down the line in harmony, high and low. Then they blew forth tunes such as cowherd and milkmaids sing. They whistled high and they whistled low in semblance of the whistling of the keepers of the king's kennels, or of unseen birds that pipe in the brake.

But these wonderful feats were as nothing to waht followed, and an ecstasy came upon the Men of the North as each of hte performers exceeded his fellow with some new and marvelous display of art and skill Marvelously true to reality was the snorting of the war-horses, the braying of trumpets, the roaring of stags, the rumble of thunder, the bellowing of bulls, the snarling of wildcats, and the long, low drone of a homing cockchafer on a summer's eve.

Well-fed were the performers upon dulse and lentils and beans, but not beyond the space of half an hour were they able to sustain their skillful performance. There came a moment when their consuctor gave vent to a long, low whistling sound like a serpent retiring to its heathery lair; so sibilantly soft, stealthy-sounding, and stately stinking as to instill an awe silence upon the assembled company. It was a signal for the departure of the troop, and with a final effort of mind and spirit and body they thundered forth a fanfare of such loudness and force and vigor that men swore afterward it set the goblets rattling upon the royal board, and all but extinguished the pine torches flaring in their sockets and even the great hearth burning beneath the royal cauldron.

Like a gale before which no man is able to stand upright, which blows without ceasing from the mouth of that Cave in the land of Gwent which men call Chwith Gwynt, was that mightiest of farts which was in the North at that time. There were those in the king's hall, however, who feared lest the performance might arouse storms and tempests in the winter sky, avowing they could hear afar off in the mountains the rolling of Taran's Wheel.

It was amid smoke and confusion and stench that the king's farters flew from the banquet hall to the hostel set apart for them. It was long before the pleasure passed and laughter died away and tongues were stilled, so delightful was their performance to the Men of the North.

For some reason, I didn't get much farther in the book beyond that point....

More weirdness next week!


Call me Paul said...

I can think of another reason books two and three never got published...

Unknown said...

You know, this line "the farting of the royal farters" stuck in my head, and your blog post helped me remember the title and author. Thanks