Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Illustration for Eurema's Dam!

How rare!  Stumbled across this illustration by Jori Bolton of the main character, Albert, from Lafferty's Hugo Award-winning short story 'Eurema's Dam' (1973).  In the typically weird logic of Lafferty's story, Albert 'was about the last dumb kid ever born', which is what made him a brilliant genius inventor.  One of the main things he invented was intelligent robots of various sorts.  (Hence, presumably, his daydream of a mechanical butterfly or moth here.)  He was too 'dumb' to write and do maths in school, so he 'cheated' by inventing machines that would do those things for him!  The story just gets weirder, funnier, and darker from there.  Even though I sympathise with the fact that apparently Lafferty was a bit miffed that out of all his stories they finally chose this one for the Award (he was nominated many times), it's still a Lafferty classic in my opinion.

An illustration for R. A. Lafferty’s short story, Eurema’s Dam.

Here's one of my favourite passages from early in the story (indeed, one of my fave passages in all of Lafferty) - hilarious, beautiful, wonderfully odd and erudite:

'When, about the middle of his ninth year, Albert made a breakthrough at telling his right hand from his left he did it by the most ridiculous set of mnemonics ever put together.  It had to do with the way dogs turn around before lying down, the direction of whirlpools and whirlwinds, the side a cow is milked from and a horse is mounted from, the direction of twist of oak and sycamore leaves, the maze patterns of rock moss and tree moss, the cleavage of limestone, the direction of a hawk's wheeling, a shrike's hunting, and a snake's coiling (remembering that the Mountain Boomer is an exception), the lay of cedar fronds and balsam fronds, the twist of a hole dug by a skunk and by a badger (remembering pungently that skunks sometimes use old badger holes).  Well, Albert finally learned to remember which was right and which was left, but an observant boy would have learned his right hand from his left without all that nonsense.'


Steve said...

Right, so you mentioned somewhere down there in the comments on another post (and I think you've mentioned elsewhere), that you're reading Lafferty to your kids or have in the past or something. Couple questions. a) How old are your kids? 2) What else do you read them?

My twins are 5, and their sister is close enough in age that she thinks she's a triplet. We've worked through all the Narnia books and have just cracked the cover on the Hobbit. Other than that though, I'm sort of casting about. I read the boys BALLAD OF THE WHITE HORSE just because it's so fun to read aloud and they weren't old enough to complain. But Lafferty?

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

ha ha, 'so fun to read aloud and they weren't old enough to complain'! That's exactly how I've gotten away with reading tons of stuff to our brood. I too had read Narnia and was cracking Hobbit and LOTR around a similar age (from about 3, 5, & 6 to about 7, 9, 10 - took a LONG time - years! - to get through LOTR, and they understood probably 20%! But they expressed fascination with it).

So, Lafferty I believe I read to them post-LOTR when they were a bit older, ranging from 7 or 8 to 12 or so. It was just a lark and I was shocked how amazing some of his stuff leapt lyrically off the page when read aloud. (I've heard at least one other reader express this online about reading to his son, maybe age 10 or so.) Anyway, they really surprised me by being fairly into it, sometimes very into it. My daughter, now 16, has gone on to read 3 or 4 volumes of his short fiction and 3 or 4 novels. She really enjoys him. The younger ones (boys) I think will get interested a bit later - they need to work up from their Bradbury, Gaiman (his children's books and stories), and the like into Lafferty's more mature and demanding wildness. Their big sister's a bit of reading prodigy so it's no surprise she's up for it. (Actually it never ceases to surprise and delight me.)

Now here's the thing: I don't remember too many of the titles I read to them. I do recall reading them 'Snuffles', 'Frog On the Mountain', and a story called 'Jack Bang's Eyes' from one of the Drumm Booklets. There were some others, but I can't recall. If you know any of the stories I just mentioned you'll probably think - THOSE?! There kind of violent and REALLY odd and out there. I know, I'm surprised at myself now, looking back. But I think I was going on a hunch about those stories' mythological impact, their sense of rollicking adventure and action, etc. And, as it turns out, the kids really responded to that. I'll never forget their groans and protests to the cliff-hanger ending of 'Frog on the Mountain', ha! I think they were indeed a bit shocked and mildly horrified by some of the grotesquery, but frankly, I think that hooked 'em in more! (Plus, it's not like they hadn't encountered some dark and violent passages in LOTR - or in the Bible readings we'd done since they were wee!)

Also, if you can credit it, I read them the whole novel Space Chantey. And again, they enjoyed it, though most of it went right over their heads. To be honest, it was all just a thing they did with their Dad since before they could probably remember, a ritual, and we might have been able to read just about anything together - but their dad's obsession with certain literature guaranteed the shape it took. I read them lots of stuff that probably helped give a context for Laff: junior readers (but full) versions of Beowulf, the Odyssey, the Fairy Queen - yeesh, looking back I simply cannot conceive how we got through all we did! I haven't even listed it all - we've also read aloud Le Guin's Earthsea novels, lots of one-off short stories by various authors, some Roald Dahl classics, etc. (They have two younger syblings now, ages 2 and 6, and I'm still on Narnia with the older one - my pace has slowed!)

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

correction: *They're* kind of violent...

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Ok, I remembered a few more stories that I *for sure* read to them (there are others in the maybe category, so I won't list 'em lest memory mislead us):

'Old Foot Forgot' - they actually loved thinking through the anti-pantheistic philosophy of this one.

'Once on Aranea' - the planet stories generally seem to work well- and again, this one's pretty grotesque at a certain point.

'The Man with the Speckled Eyes' - the first part was probably difficult for them to follow but the ending may have been worth it.

'Golden Trabant' - I remember them being pleasantly creeped out by the main character's hand at the end.

'Pig in a Pokey' - another planet story, with an alien.

'The Configuration of the North Shore' - the first dream segment where the booted turtle talks was a fave moment of theirs and I think kind of signaled and summed up for them what Lafferty could 'do'.

Steve said...

Excellent. And another critical Lafferty question. Indeed, perhaps THE critical Lafferty question. The best beer to drink while reading Lafferty? I'm assuming it should be something stout, but would there be particular pairings for the short stories, say, as opposed to some of the longer works?

I mean, because these things are important . . .

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

ha ha, definitely! Unfortunately, I'm no beer connoisseur, even though I have a number of friends who are and who ply me with various recommendations (I just always drink it up and say 'ooh, yeah, yeah, really nice'). We need a guest blogger knowledgeable in both Laff and brew to guide us!

Maybe the beginnings of a division would be a different sort of beer/ale/lager/whatever each for the different major types of his stories: Oklahoma/southwestern, historical, planetary romance, future, time travel, etc.

Kevin Cheek said...

Well, I favor a rich, yeasty, cloudy ale. I think the yeasty flavor goes particularly well with Lafferty's cosmogeny, especially stories like "Hole on the Corner" and "The River's of Damascus." Something about the creative leavening in common between the brew and his writing. I also think the sharp bubbly texture on the tongue compliments the saltiness of some of his characters like Sour John and Garamask.

Just pouring beer of the top of my head (figuratively speaking, though there are some shampoos I've seen at the store...)

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

yeasty for cosmogony and bubbly for salty characters - I like it!

Kevin Cheek said...

So have I converted you to rich, cloudy, yeasty ale? I imagine in Scotland, you should have a wide and wonderful variety available. Almost as wide as the variety of Lafferty's stories, though I doubt anywhere near as wonderful (even though the ale be very good indeed).

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Well, let's see, over the past few evenings (BBQs with friends), I've had amber ale, pale ale, and 'red kite ale'. I didn't quite catch whether they were particularly cloudy or yeasty. They were good, though! There is a wide variety of independent, good stuff here, readily available and reasonably priced. I feel blessed.

Kevin Cheek said...

You live in a land with plentiful beer, you have five children (the perfect number--four more would be too many, for less would be too few), and you read Lafferty.

Yes, the evidence would indicate that you are indeed blessed.

Daniel Otto Jack Petersen said...

Indeed. I feel a little over-privileged. (Heck, reading Lafferty combined with just one other good is enough to convince me to hang on in faith in a fallen world.)

'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)