Wednesday, 4 August 2010

A little more on Whimsy....

I am – as my more avid and assiduous readers will know – something of a fan of whimsy. If we’re allowed to use such a base word as ‘fan’ to describe the fine work of great writers? I’m never quire sure where to find the finest whimsy – the Americans have always had a knack for it. From way back writers like Mark Twain, Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote whimsically – capturing that slightly laid back, wide-open-space feeling of Middle America. And this thread runs right through American writing and film – Stephen King’s short stories, Capra’s films and even more recently delights such as “Big Fish” all capture that spirit of wonder.

But it’s not just the Yanks – the “Little World of Don Camillo is a wonder of whimsy created by an Italian, Giovanni Guareschi and there is little to top the joyous whimsy of Idries Shah’s delightful Sufi tales. Nor should we discount the English writers of whimsy – Paul Jennings with “Resistentialism” and "Ub" or Peter Simple’s collection of characters, some satirical, some just providing a great, happy smile. It is all magical, delightful – you can’t read Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust” or “American Gods” without the sorcery of whimsy sparkling through you.

For me it all started with Thurber. With the man who described his writing like this:

“The writing is, I think, different. In his prose pieces he appears always to have started from the beginning and to have reached the end by way of the middle. It is impossible to read any of the stories from the last line to the first without experiencing a definite sensation of going backwards. This seems to prove that the stories were written and did not, like the drawings, just suddenly materialize.”

Thurber wrote biography (or at least what he claimed was biography), stories – you’ll know one or two of them such as “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” more likely from film versions – and an array of short pieces such as the wonderful ‘Fables for Our Time”. There are occasional moments of laugh out loud but mostly the stories relax you, make you want to sit back, take a sip of whisky, a drag of good cigar and just smile that big smile.

And Thurber – like so many of these writers – was modest about his talents seeming ever grateful that the world hadn’t yet rumbled him. I suspect there might be an element of self-description in the ‘moral’ to “The Owl who was God”:

“You can fool too many of the people too much of the time”

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