Saturday, August 1, 2009

More of a Good Thing

One might argue that you can't improve upon perfection, but I say, give me more of it, and you've done so! Nicholas Again by Goscinny & Sempe and Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome are great examples. I can't say for sure I've laughed harder at these follow-ups to Nicholas and Three Men in a Boat, but I've laughed at least as much. Tears of joy have been shed; hyperventillation has been experienced; a book has been set aside as I strain to compose myself and continue. And a good time was had by all, except for, perhaps, Ickie, who has to put up with my insistence on reading snippets to him. I know he'd prefer to read them for himself, but I am compulsive in my desire to share my amusement with him.

To wit, here follow some selections from each text. Nicholas Again contains more stories of little Nicholas going to school, happily fighting with his buddies, innocently terrorizing adults, and having a fabulous time. This is from the chapter "Prizegiving Day":

"There were prizes for everyone. Cuthbert, who is top of the class and teacher's pet, got the Arithmetic prize, the History prize, the Geography prize, the Grammar prize, the Handwriting prize, the Science prize, and the Good Behavior prize. Cuthbert is nuts! Eddie, who is very strong and likes to punch his friends' noses, got the Gymnastics prize. Alec, my fat friend who is always eating, got the Regular Attendance prize; that means he goes to school the whole time, and I suppose he really did deserve the prize, because his Mom won't have him in her kitchen, and if he can't be in the kitchen, Alec would rather go to school than anywhere else. Geoffrey, who has a very rich Dad who buys him anything he wants, got the Deportment prize because he's always smartly dressed. There are times when he's come to school in his cowboy outfit or his Martian suit or his musketeer's uniform, looking really great. Rufus got the Art prize because of the big box of colored pencils he had for his birthday. Matthew, who is bottom of the class, got the Good Comradeship prize, and I got the prize for Public Speaking. My Dad was very pleased, though he looked a bit disappointed when our teacher said the prize was awarded more for the quantity than the quality of my work. I'll have to ask Dad what she meant."

In Three Men on the Bummel, "J," Harris, and George are 15 years older. J and Harris are married with children, and George, it can safely be assumed, couldn't be bothered to get up early enough to find himself a girl. The three fellows choose to go biking in Germany for this holiday. In one of my favorite chapters thus far, J chronicles the misery of being awakened by Harris's unruly children in the middle of the night. After which, the three fellows stop in London to play a joke George has devised. He found a phrase book written for Germans visiting England, with lots of dreadfully awkward, stilted phrases, and George tests them out on London cabbies and shopkeepers. (Doesn't this sound like a joke we'd come up with today?) It sends a boot salesman into a rage.

The chapters set in Germany capitalize on amusing cultural differences (primarily the German obsession for rules and order).

"All three of us, by some means or another, managed, between Nuremberg and the Black Forest, to get into trouble.
Harris led off in Stuttgart by insulting an official.... Harris did not know it was an official he was insulting. He took it for a fireman (it looked like a fireman), and he called it a 'dummer Esel.'
In Germany you are not permitted to call an official a 'silly ass,' but undoubtedly this particular man was one. What had happened was this: Harris in the Stadtgarten, anxious to get out, and seeing a gate open before him, had stepped over a wire into the street. Harris mantains he never saw it, but undoubtedly there was hanging to the wire a notice, 'Durchgang Verboten!' The man, who was standing near the gate, stopped Harris, and pointed out to him this notice. Harris thanked him, and passed on. The man came after him, and explained that treatment of the matter in such off'hand way could not be allowed; what was necessary to put the business right was that Harris should step back over the wire into the garden. Harris pointed out to the man that the notice said 'going through forbidden,' and that, therefore, by re-entering the garden that way he would be infringing the law a second time. The man saw this for himself, and suggested that to get over the difficulty Harris should go back into the garden by the proper entrance, which was round the corner, and afterwards immediately come out again by the same gate. Then it was that Harris called the man a silly ass. That delayed us a day, and cost Harris forty marks."

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