Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Huzza! Huzza! The Devil's dead. Now we can all do as we like!

Ladies and gentlemen, pray how you do?
If you all happy, me all happy too.

The Last Days of Mr. Punch by D.H. Myers

This slim 1971 volume purporting to be the memoirs of Mr. Punch (nee Pulcinella) of Punch and Judy fame is in large measure compiled from a variety of sources. Paramount among these is Henry Mayhew's massive and entertaining 1861 London Labour and the London Poor. Myers illustrates his book with some amusing old Punch drawings. The little bugger didn't get by on his looks.

On the end flap, the author presents Punch, a comic trickster figure, philosophically as "the problem of whether it is a good thing to wipe out evil...The a certain controllable shape and size to evil, and if you kill him, then evil may truly run rampant." In some versions of the show, Mr. Punch, a character with a very low threshold for anger, kills the Devil.

I tended to read this book more as light comic fare, rather than as a dissertation on the nature of evil. Punch is clearly from a time when sociopathic violence and casual cruelty were seen as acceptable fare for audiences of all ages, not that things have changed much. Giving philosophical sophistication to one puppet beating the bejezzuz out of another comes perilously close to accepting the sociocultural value of the Three Stooges, which I'm not prepared to do.

This was simply a nice slim palate cleanser to read as a chaser to a truly disturbing novel (The Road).

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