Friday, 15 December 2017

These are the Jokes

In writing that last post, it was brought to my attention that reference to comedy and humour is a part of world-building - possibly a neglected one. Or at least a useful tool in service of world-building.

The most obvious usage of this is in the exposition from Out of the Silent Planet just before the final act. The Sorns 'seldom got beyond irony'. The Hrossa are extravagant and fanciful. Of course, it would be a trifle on the nose to have all members of a given race of culture have uniform senses of humour.

Image result for the castle of the otter

Another prominent usage of this is by Gene Wolfe in The Castle of the Otter - The Castle of the Otter being essays, articles and the like on Wolfe's magnum opus The Book of the New Sun (if you are looking for it, find it in Castle of Days). This differs from Lewis by A) being about the sense of humour possessed by a selection of individuals - individuals largely from the same culture, but across a variety of positions within it - and B) by having actual jokes in it; one for each  of the fifteens character. The article is actually called 'These are the Jokes' and is a super little piece of fiction in it's own right, revealing elements of the people on display and the world they dwell in.
Image result for the castle of the otter

Little snapshots of life are presented by this; what are the norms of this society, the exterior elements to it; what do people feel they can laugh at. Wolfe does it very nicely - some of the jokes are even funny, and if The Book of the New Sun is lacking anything, it may be humour.

Does this mean that your characters have to be constantly making puns, or going on flights of fancy, or making cutting personal remarks? No, never constantly. But having a good notion of what would make them laugh, or what the world around them thinks will make them laugh - that is something else.

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