Parody is an art form. The product of wit and witticism, portrayed with poe-faced sincerity. The true parody, while it often extends its subject matter from a simple premise out towards the increasingly ridiculous, does so with slow methodical steps so that each little absurdity seems only a small step further than the last and it not until you reach the end that you look back and see just how far down the twisted road of towards the ridiculous you have strayed.
The end of a good parody then, should be a place so far from down that road that were it first muted without the preamble it would be dismissed as laughable in all the wrong ways, yet the journey has taken you to a point where the end is entirely believe able in the context for the tale told.
This though is a distinction sometimes lost upon the reader, sometimes disastrously so, I have a character in the Hannibal books who Hannibal (the narrator) first meets dressed as a maid, she is however ‘not the maid’. Through out the rest of the book she is referred to as ‘Not the maid’, but that description lengthens to increasingly ridiculous lengths until eventually she is ‘I think we have established by not she is most definitely not in any way the maid’. Most people realise this is a bit of parody and are generally amused by it, its one of the aspects of the first Hannibal novel that almost always gets commented on positively when I talk to readers, because people like a bit of parody. Occasionally though I have come across readers who just don’t get the joke…
That, in a nutshell, is the problem with parody, sometimes a reader just doesn’t get the joke. Sometimes that is simply because they don’t realise parody is what they’re reading, which in fairness is not a bad mark of good parody. To be able to portray the ridiculous in a way that it presents itself as plausible is the aim after all. But as a writer, when some one misses the point it can be disheartening…
So to Ibid, which is a parody, in which Lovecraft parody’s academia and academic papers and as a parody it is eminently successful. What starts of as a piece of snarky commentary on a students fundamental error about a roman writer called Ibid. Though Lovecraft plays with the idea of ridiculous roman names somewhat as you can see in the passage below (in case you were wondering why I mentions ‘not a maid…’ )
His full name—long and pompous according to the custom of an age which had lost the trinomial simplicity of classic Roman nomenclature—is stated by Von Schweinkopf3 to have been Caius Anicius Magnus Furius Camillus Æmilianus Cornelius Valerius Pompeius Julius Ibidus; though Littlewit rejects Æmilianus and adds Claudius Decius Junianus; whilst Bêtenoir differs radically, giving the full name as Magnus Furius Camillus Aurelius Antoninus Flavius Anicius Petronius Valentinianus Aegidus Ibidus.
Jokes about roman names have always been something of a soft spot of mine, and the fact Lovecraft got away with presenting straight faced in a fake piece of dry academia Anicius magnus Furius Camillus (Ancient magus of furious calamity…) made me smile, even if my pig-Latin translations are a bit rough edged. there are other jokes among those names if you can figure them out.
What starts out as a complaint about students lack of academic zeal becomes the life story of a roman writer, and then of that writers body after he dies, then just his skull which has the words Ibidus rhoritos Romanus inscribe upon it at some point in a 1600 year journey through the courts of Europe, sainthood and several curious misadventures until it ends up in a prairie dog barrow in of all places Milwaukee where it is worshiped by the rodents and an envoy of the gods in the world above…
All of this, even the dark rites of the worshiping prairie dogs is presented through out as an academic paper, with footnotes and the slow slide form plausible to utterly ridiculous is perfectly paced. For what Lovecraft tried to do, this is as near perfect as it could be. the only downside is, its a parody of a academic paper, it reads like an academic paper, and even knowing the joke, it is dry, so very very dry.
I would love to give this six tentacles, and really I should, because it is exactly what it sets out to be and a perfect piece of parody, but frankly its also dull in the way academic papers are dull. Which while I know that is the point doesn’t make it any more fun to read. So it gets a four, but don’t let that dissuade you if you can read the arid with a rye smile … Because as parody, it is a master class.
Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here