“The Parliament of Beasts and Birds”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
The first few pages of The Parliament of Beasts and Birds was flowing along like an echo of Kipling until I reached the full stop of Prometheus teaching Cain how to build a fire. What? Wait. What? It was like coming across a Van Gogh in the middle of a Pre-Raphaelite exhibit.
I’m trying to get this straight, the first hound was the first beast ever to be named by Adam but unicorns existed in Eden and were blessed because they were blessed by god but also were the first named beast and did or did not leave Eden. Not my mother’s christianity.
This bit is hilarious given what little I know of Wright and the quibblers who nominated him:
Fox grinned. “I am a philosopher, not a thief. My tribe never once took sheep and pig and rabbit and chicken. What we stole was mutton and pork and coney and poultry. One must define one’s terms, friend Bull.”
It gets better! This makes an amazing meta-story within the context of this year’s Hugo Awards.
Fox (who cowered, but did not flee) said softly from a safe distance, “Liege, the poopflinger has a point. After all, you cannot press your claim—just and right as it most certainly is—merely by tearing and terrifying the other animals.”
Lion looked at him sidelong. “Why not?”
And then at the end Fox has the final worry but no one bothers to respond:
“Why are we given a walled city filled with the memories of evil, idol and slave pits and instruments of war, to unmake and remake? What shall we do if the beasts retain some part of the power of speech and come against us? Must the war between celestial and infernal powers continue until the end of the world, until death itself is dead?”
But the others were already walking down the sundered mountain toward the great city, walking as men walk, and there was none to answer him.
This is a parable told in the style of Kipling or of old Buddhist tales. It takes a mythology well known to the author and extends it into a second mirroring mythology like Zeno’s Paradox applied to christianity. It was clever and written well, if in a pre-Hemingway style, but overall not a story for me.
4 thoughts on “2015 Hugo Awards Best Short Story: Reviewing J C Wright”
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What bothered me about this story was that women were almost completely absent, except as temple whores who are associated with disease and death. Or, in the case of the Cat, an avatar of disloyalty.
The other thing that bothered me was the animals all having to hop right up on their hind legs at the end or lose the power of speech. I didn’t understand why what was, or what kind of cruel and capricious Power would lame the Fox because he didn’t jump up when he was being held down by a much larger animal.
The story definitely cuts women but then it also cuts anyone who isn’t thoroughly emeshed in western beliefs. It is inherently small minded and none of the characters from Cat to “the higher power” aka god are people I’d want to hang out with. God being an asshole who punishes if you even stop to think before obeying is par for the paradigm.
Sheep is to mutton as chicken is to poultry as … rabbit is to coney?
No. Not, I suppose, unless you are accustomed to making hot dogs out of rabbit meat. And even then it’s a stretch, given the origins of that usage.
Where “coney” is used to mean “rabbit,” it still means the jumping-around fuzzy bunny, not the meat on your plate. (It may also refer to other rabbit-like beasties. Live, generally.)
I am reliably informed by many years of watching Bugs Bunny that the word for what Fox stole was “hasenpfeffer.” (I kid, I kid.)