Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Gargantua and Pantagruel" [Books I-II]: Why, Why, Why...

*sigh* Here's a book to add to my Least Favourite list. In the last couple of years only Brighton Beach Memoirs, Ready Player One, and Darth Plagueis have made this list. I might do a future blog about why these others made it, but right now I'll stay on task. 

Right. Gargantua and Pantagruel. I've only read the first book so far (thank God I only have to read the first two before moving onto Montaigne), but I was thoroughly unimpressed by it. I feel extremely pretentious calling one of the authors of the Great Books immature, but... he is. Keep in mind, I'm not a huge fan of comedy, so I'm probably not the best judge of one, but I thought the books combined the unenjoyable  aspects of Plutarch and Aristophanes into one set of books that is truly a chore to get through. I enjoyed both Plutarch and Aristophanes and thought their places in the Great Books were earned, but I found Plutarch dry at some points and I wasn't a fan of Aristophanes' potty humour. Rabelais  is filled with both dryness and potty humour. Rabelais writes in the tradition of Plutarch with a "reverence" for the past, long lists of accomplishments, (Rabelais' lists were torturous!) and grandiose, but it's all done in a mocking manner. With Plutarch, sure, he could be dry at times, but he has a passion for historic figures so I could see past that. Aristophanes had some very interesting insights into his culture, so I could forgive the potty humour. Rabelais has all the annoyances without the rewards. I thought these books had very little depth. In the intro, Rabelais compares his books to a nondescript box containing precious jewels or Socrates (ugly in appearance, but profound in mind). The inside is supposedly richer than the outside makes it look, but I didn't see it. As far as I can see the inside is as rotten as the outside. If any Rabelais fan is reading this, please post in the comments why you think he deserved a spot in the Great Books, because I'm curious.

One part I at least found interesting was the inscription on the new church, Theleme. It told sinners to not set foot in the church and that only virtuous people should be allowed to come inside, showing how far the Church has perverted Jesus' teachings. Jesus taught the opposite! This has great tragic potential. Alas, moments like these were told in such a mocking way (often accompanied by human waste), that they opportunity was entirely missed.

I just don't get why this made the Great Books... especially when books like Ovid's Metamorphoses and Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur are noticeably absent. Surely they're of more with than this! I've also read plenty of "low-brow" books that have engaged my intellect far more.

Overall Gargantua and Pantagruel reads like a book written by an absurdly well-read middle schooler.



5 comments:

  1. Adam, I'm trying not to read ahead on your entries so I'm pretty late to the party on this. I've made some kind of defense of Rabelais over at my blog if you're interested.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Adam, this is probably not fair, nor does it mean you have to change your mind, but I've found several quotes that indicate that C.S. Lewis enjoyed Rabelais.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, I was pretty harsh in here. I'm intrigued to know that Lewis enjoyed Rabelais. Could you send me the quotes?

      Delete
  3. Google "Surprised by Laughter" C.S. Lewis and Rabelais and read chapter 20 on google books.
    The other quote I found comes from "An Experiment in Criticism." Again, Google it, Lewis, and Rabelais and you'll find the quote.
    According to "Surprised by Laughter," Lewis didn't enjoy Rabelais the first time, but he returned to it...more than once.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll read the quotes soon. How interesting though! Especially considering he didn't like Rabelais at first. Maybe I'll be able to appreciate Rabelais one day too, though it seems still seems like a bit of a long shot.

      Delete