Fool, by Christopher Moore – This is basically a comic retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear from the point of view of the Fool, whom Moore names Pocket. I hadn’t actually read Lear before, so I did in preparation for the book. Honestly, I tended to get the people referred to by place names (the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall and the Earl of Gloucester) confused. I was definitely interested in an expansion of the character of the Fool, however, as he belongs to a fascinating archetype. Basically, while a medieval fool or jester often played the idiot, he would also often speak truth to power and criticize his masters. Sort of like a medieval Stephen Colbert, I suppose, except with juggling. It was a privileged position in a court, although a fool wouldn’t have total immunity, as seen when Lear threatens to have his Fool whipped.
The character in the play speaks what seems like gibberish at first, but turns out to contain real wisdom that a higher official wouldn’t dare speak aloud. Moore’s Pocket is quite a clever character, ultimately the mastermind behind much of the plot.
In the afterword, Moore says that he was heavily influenced by British comedy, which is not too surprising considering his absurd style. The humor in Fool is quite raunchy, and there are also several plays on British slang, like an abbey located at a place called Dog Snogging. Anachronism has a major role as well, which isn’t too surprising when dealing with Shakespeare, whose work is loaded with such. The existence of a British king named Leir is attested to by Geoffrey of Monmouth, but he would have lived before the Roman conquest of Britain. At that point, he wouldn’t have controlled a unified England, nor would there have been a system of dukes and earls or a country called France. On the other hand, if the play was meant to take place in medieval times, Lear wouldn’t have been a pagan. He swears by Roman gods, which actually wouldn’t make sense before Britain was conquered by Rome either. There’s even an instance in the play when the Fool makes a prediction as to something Merlin will say in the future. As such, Moore sets the story in a fictional thirteenth-century Britain that’s united, but where Christianity is just starting to take hold. The book references a few other Shakespearean plays, featuring the witches from Macbeth and a ghost similar to the one in Hamlet (although this ghost is female). Overall, I didn’t find it as funny as the other Moore books I’ve read, but it was quite intriguing nonetheless.