The Christopher Moore Perspective on King Lear
Shakespeare is an artist who managed to create works which transcended the centuries and remained current to this day and age. Stories like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and King Lear have seen countless adaptations and re-imaginings over the years spread through virtually every entertainment medium you can imagine. These works have been explored and expanded upon by many great minds, one of whom is Christopher Moore, author of the Pine Cove trilogy. In his book Fool we are treated to a reworked version of King Lear as viewed through the eyes of Pocket, the jester who captured the attention and imagination of many.
For those unfamiliar with the original tale, to sum it up in a sentence, it chronicles the gradual descent into madness of the eponymous king as he makes one terrible decision after the next, plunging his kingdom into peril. Now, if you're a Shakespeare purist and expect a deep and faithful take on the story that preserves its integrity, I suppose I'll have to disappoint you a bit. Moore takes many liberties with the plot, even adding in elements from other Shakespeare plays and juggling around the timeline of events. What he presents here is his own personal expansion on the play, a more modernized version where the jester and his fool of an apprentice take the centre stage.
From Tragedy to Debauchery
The original play is best-classified as a tragedy with dark humour elements, and Fool does away with the former in favour of greatly focusing on the latter. Watching the titular fool and his apprentice (named Drool after his constant habit) bumble their way through seemingly unconnected events and inadvertently set the the perfect stage for the king's undoing is nothing short of a riot. It seems at times that this story was an exercise for Moore to see how far he could push the characters into the world of debauchery. If you have heightened sensibilities towards the unseemly, then I wager that this story will be somewhat difficult to read. In other words, if social slights, impoliteness, obscenities and profanities are off-putting or shocking to you, then you'll probably find yourself longing for Shakespeare's original play... all those elements are part of the main course here.
Chaos and madness seem to reign supreme as the story advances much faster than you'd expect, with plenty of wall-to-wall action to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are enough fights, fornication, word plays, double entendres, misunderstandings, jokes, pranks, and imbecility to fill a bible on revelry and self-indulgence. As a matter of fact, I'd say that the pace is so quick that you'll have to take moments and slow down a bit to make sure none of the humour ends up soaring above your head. The writing is very concise and it feels like there is something funny or entertaining to be found in nearly every single exchange or description. It just shows that Moore had a ton of fun while writing this, mixing and matching the old Shakespeare with contemporary elements.
Above the Status of Parody
Strictly speaking, Fool is probably best-classified as a parody of King Lear , but frankly that isn't something which sits right with me. At nearly 400 pages in length, this novel certainly proves itself unique enough to stand on its own rather than being majorly defined by another work. As a matter of fact, I'd say it's more accurate to describe it as a big mash of Moore's creativity and Shakespearean components planted on the skeleton of the mad king's story.
With that being said, Christopher Moore was never an author people strictly red for entertainment value. There is always some food for thought to be found in his stories, and there's plenty to gorge on here as seemingly every page is filled with some criticism towards the overly polite and politically-correct nature of some societies, especially in the Western world. You may have to find the courage to stop yourself from laughing to analyze the meditations hidden amongst the farces, but the reward is there when you do. Also, I'd just like to mention that at the end of the book Moore appended some notes as to which events he changed around and how his timeline compares to that of the original play, so there are elements overtly inserted for the benefit of our analytical inclinations.
From my personal experience, I find that these types of chaotic novels that attempt to defy classification are best enjoyed with no expectations. The reader has to adopt the mindset of a sponge, simply sit back, absorb everything that's being thrown at them and just enjoy the ride. It's not exactly perfect and I'm sure everyone will find at least a couple of off-putting jokes that simply miss the spot, but that's beyond the point. It's almost like riding a roller-coaster: while it's happening you don't think about it but simply revel in it, leaving the reflection for the moments after the ride ends.
The Final Verdict
With everything being said and done, Fool is a very unique piece of work which I believe can appeal to quite a vast audience. As long as you don't mind discourtesy, depravity and debauchery you'll find plenty to keep you laughing and interested in the unusually consequential adventures of a two buffoons who bring more doom than anyone thought them capable of. If you're looking for a literary experience that is equal parts rowdy, comical and attention-catching, then I highly recommend you give Moore's novel a shot.
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