True Grit, Dog of the South, Masters of Atlantis, by Charles Portis

Seattle's Book-It theater just presented Dog of the South, the funniest play I have ever seen, funnier even than Larry Shue's The Foreigner. After reading about Charles Portis in the playbill, I immediately downloaded True Grit and read it through with few breaks, well aware it would not be humorous.

Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross is looking for a marshal to track down her father's killer. She asks the sheriff,

"Who is the best marshal they have?"

The sheriff thought on it a minute. He said, "I would have to weigh the proposition. There is near about two hundred of them. I reckon William Waters is the best tracker. He is a half-breed Comanche and it is something to see, watching him cut for sign. The meanest is Rooster Cogburn, He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don't enter into his thinking. He loves to pull a cork. Now L. T. Quinn, he brings prisoners in alive. He may let one get by now an then but he believes even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake. Also the court does not pay any fees for dead men. Quinn is a good peace officer and alay preacher to boot. He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner. Yes, I will say Quinn is about the best they have."

I said, "Where can I find this Rooster?"

John Wayne won his only Oscar in the first movie version of the book, a book which all agree is a masterpiece.

I was on a Portis kick now and just finished The Masters of Atlantis, back to humor.

Lamar Jimmerson has an ancient Greek text translated into English.

He committed the entire work to memory, all eighty-eight pages of Atlantean puzzles, Egyptian riddles and extended alchemical metaphors. He knew every cone and every triangle by heart, just as he knew the 13 Hermetical Precepts, and how to recognize the Three Secret Teachers, Nandor, Principato and the Lame One, should they make one of their rare appearances before him in disguise. Soon he began to wonder if he might not be an Adept. He became sure of it one afternoon when he overheard a remark in the street--"Don't worry about Rosenberg."

Jimmerson becomes one of the two masters of the Gnomon society. When he is invited to Texas by a Mr. Moaler, Moaler's son Big Boy is aggrieved and asks for an investigation of the cult. Austin Popper responds to the request from the inquiring committee.

Senator Churton said, "Thank you for coming, Mr.--is it Popper or Wilson?"


"Mr. Popper then. Thank you for coming and bearing with us. We're running very late. Your boss, I understand, has taken to his bed with the sniffles, or should I say, Mr. Moaler's bed. Is he feeling any better?"

"He was able to eat a little solid food last night."

"Always a good sign. Senator Moaler tells it a little differently. He tells me that this crafty old man, Mr. Jimmerson, is down there in his daddy's trailer lounging around in his shorty pajamas and eating like a hog, with a broad sheen of grease around his mouth, just smacking his big lips around for more."

"I'm not surprised he called in sick," said Senator Gammage. "Eating like that at his age."

"Not true," said Popper. "And I was not aware that Senator Junior Moaler was a member of this committee."

"Big Boy is here at my request. He is acting as an adviser. All perfectly proper. His father's homestead is overrun by a swarm of mystical squatters and you wonder he takes a personal interest?

Later in the interrogation.

" . . . What are you Gnolon's up to? We don't have to know your passwords or your secret winks and nods but we would like to get some general idea of your mission."

"It's the Gnomon Society, not the Gnolon Society . . . "

" . . . What can you tell us, Mr. Popper, about Mr. Jimmerson's police record?"

"He has no police record."

"So you say. According to my information he was released from a maximum security prison in Arizona in June of 19 and 58 after serving seven years of a ten-year sentence for armed robbery and aggravated assault. He was going by the name of James Lee 'Jimbo' Jimmerson at the time. It says here he played various percussion instruments in the prison band."

"That would be another Jimmerson."

Well, that's a taste of Charles Portis's range. Currently I'm reading his Norwood, also very funny.




As many of you know, True Grit was made twice made into a movie. John Wayne won his only Oscar as Rooster Cogburn.




Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier an Excerpt

Fancies and Goodnights (1951) won the International Fantasy Award. The stories are beautifully constructed and strikingly memorable. Here's an excerpt from the short story, Half Way to Hell.

Louis Thurlow, jilted by his girlfriend takes an overdose of sleeping pills and finds himself dead in his suite at Mutton's. He rises, invisible, and begins to roam the streets of London when a fiend takes him in charge, for he is to go to hell.  The fiend shows him the escalator in the underground that leads to hell.

For the rest of it, it was made just like all other escalators, except in matters of details. Its sides were adorned with pictorial advertisements of temptations, some of which Louis thought might be very interesting. He could have stepped on, for there was no barrier or ticket collector, but, as we have seen, he liked to take his time.

Now and then, he and his companion were jostled by other fiends and their charges. I am afraid some of the latter were behaving in rather an undignified manner, and had to be marched along in a sort of policeman's grip. The effect was rather degrading. Louis was interested to see, however, how tremendously the escalator accelerated once it felt the weight of these infernal policemen and their victims. It was a tremendous spectacle to see this narrow moving chain, dimly lit, roaring, rushing down, looping the distance between Earth and Hell, which is greater than one would imagine.

"What did you do before this sort of thing was invented?" asked Louis.

"We had to leap down, like chamois, from start to star," replied the fiend.

Having developed a cold waiting for Louis, the fiend agrees to go to a bar for a drink of Quetch which tastes like liquid fire.

The fiend disdained a glass, and put the bottle to his lips, whereupon Louis saw, to his great amazement, this powerful form of brandy was actually brought to the boil. The fiend appeared to like it. When the liquid was gone, he sucked away at the bottle, the melting sides of which collapsed like the skin of a gooseberry sucked at by a child. When he had drawn it all into his mouth, he smiled, pursed his lips, and blew out the glass again, this time more like a cigarette smoker exhaling his first puff. What's more, he didn't blow the glass into bottle shape as formerly, but into the most delightful statuary piece, most realistic, most amusing. "Adam and Eve," said he laconically, placing it on the table to cool.

"Oh, very, very good!" cried Louis. "Can you do Mars and Venus?"

"Oh, yes," said the fiend. Louis immediately commandeered several more bottles of Quetch.






The Architecture of the Ozarks by Donald Harington - excerpt

Donald Harington has been described as Arkansas's Faulkner. His novels about the little town of Stay More are whimsical and enthralling. In the excerpt below, the founder of Stay More, Jacob Ingledew, meets the indian Fanshaw.

From the woods on the hillside, Jacob Ingledew watched the camp for three and one-half hours before Fanshaw emerged, stooping, from his house. Jacob decided that the village, which consisted of twelve other dwellings similar to the one in our illustration, must be deserted except for Fanshaw. A field to one side of the village was devoted to the cultivation of corn, squash, beans, and, Jacob had been pleased to see, tobacco. Although Jacob, like all Ingledew men, was uncommonly shy, so great was his desire for tobacco that, after bobbing his prominent Adam's apple a couple of times, he began walking toward Fanshaw. Instantly Fanshaw saw him and kept his eyes fastened upon him the whole length of his approach. Jacob Ingledew walked slowly to signify he was friendly.

Fanshaw descried a man of his own height, tall, dressed in buckskin jacket and trousers, wearing a headpiece made from the skin and tail of a raccoon, thin, blue-eyed, brown-haired, long-nosed, and carrying not a rifle but a half-gallon jug with a corncob stopper.

Jacob Ingledew saw a man of his own height, tall, dressed in buckskin moccasins and leggings that covered only his legs, the space between breached with a breach clout, wearing a headpiece (actually just a bandeau) of beaver skin, eagle feathers in the roach of his hair, muscular, dark-eyed, bronze-skinned, long-nosed and naked from waist up except for a necklace of several dozen bear claws.

Jacob Ingledew spoke, rather noisily from nervousness: "How! You habbum 'baccy? Me swappum firewater for 'baccy. Sabbe?"

"Quite," said Fanshaw.

Fanshaw speaks an Englishman's English.



Cold Comfort Farm - excerpts

Written in 1931, Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons, is one of the funniest books I've read. And it's also well-written.  These excerpts are a taste:

Nineteen year old Flora Poste's parents have died, leaving her with no property. She begins writing to relatives in search of a place to stay:

But Flora was reading the third letter. Her mother's cousin in South Kensington said that she would be very pleased to have Flora, only there was a little difficulty about the bedroom. Perhaps Flora would not mind using the large attic, which was now used as a meeting-room for the Orient-Star-in-the-West Society on Tuesdays, and for the Spiritist Investigation League on Fridays. She hoped that Flora was not a sceptic, for manifestations sometimes occurred in the attic, and even a trace of scepticism in the atmosphere of the room spoiled conditions, and prevented phenomena, the observations of which provided the Society with such valuable evidence in favor of Survival.  Would Flora mind if the parrot kept his corner of the attic? He had grown up in it, and at his age the shock of removal might well prove fatal.

On the farm:

The beasts stood with heads lowered dejectedly against the wooden hoot-pieces of their stalls. Graceless, Pointless, Feckless, and Aimless awaited their turn to be milked.

Flora asks Mrs. Murther the landlady if she "did" lunches:

A smile indicating a shuddering thankfulness, as of one who peers into a pit into which others have fallen while she has escaped, passed over the face of Mrs. Murther, as she replied that she did not.