“The better to order his faculties, Cugel took a long draught of beer.”
I was going to write a long review of Jack Vance’s Cugel’s Saga, the book about the adventures and misfortunes of the outrageously selfish and coward Cugel the Clever (or so he thinks,) but I have decided to let the book and its florid style speak for themselves.
Don’t panic, it will be a short expatiation, just a few things from the first chapter, but they will be enough to convince you of its merits.
After some magical mischief, Cugel finds himself lost. He comes upon “an elaborate manse of archaic design” and tries to convince the peculiar doorman to let him in.
“You will find small comfort here; Master Twango gives short shrift to indigents.” The old man started to close the door, but Cugel put his foot into the aperture.
“Wait! I noticed two white Chapes at the edge of the forest, and I dare go no farther tonight!”
“In this regard, I can advise you,” said the old man. “The creatures are probably rostgoblers, or ‘hyperborean sloths’, if you prefer the term. Return to the beach and wade ten feet into the water; you will be safe from their lust.
Vance’s unique style, humor, and mastery of language in a fantasy book are still unmatched, and there you’ll find sentences nobody has ever written, thought, or said before.
Weamish [the doorman] returned. “Twango will see you shortly. Meanwhile he offers for your personal regalement this cup of vervain tea, together with these two nutritious wafers, at no charge.”
Cugel drank the tea and devoured the wafers. “Twango’s act of hospitality, though largely symbolic, does him credit.” He indicated the cabinets. “All this is Twango’s personal collection?”
“Just so. Before his present occupation he dealt widely in such goods.”
“His tastes are bizarre, even peculiar.“
That is a typical Vancian humorous trick, juxtaposing two qualities or descriptions, but inverting them so the strong one is used as the weak one and vice-versa.
Gark bounded into the room, eyes bulging in excitement. He called out in a rasping voice: “Weamish is on the roof He is behaving in an unusual manner!”
Twango flourished his arms in distress. “Senile, yes, but foolish so soon? He has only just retired!”
His characters always speak with an amazing combination of foolish directness and extreme politeness, announcing even the tiniest thoughts and impressions that cross their minds.
“What has been stolen?” asked Twango impatiently. “Who has been deceived?”
“I will recite the facts. Four days ago, at noon precisely, I arrived here with the strong-wagon. I came in company with Rincz and Jornulk, both, as you know, elders and persons of probity.”
“Their reputations have never been assailed, to my knowledge. Why now do you bring them into question?”
“Patience; you shall hear!”
Or stating the obvious in a very literal manner.
Weamish looked here and there to discover the source of the call. Observing Twango and Soldinck, he uttered a wild cry in which defiance seemed mingled with mirth.
“That is at best an ambiguous response,” said Soldinck.
“Naturally,” said Cugel, “the possibility of exorbitant charges has occurred to me. Since I do not intend to pay, I care not a fig for expense!”
Both Yelleg and Malser murmured in surprise. “That is a remarkably bold attitude!”
Not to mention that I can’t read the book without imagining the by then blind Vance laughing as he wrote the whole thing.
If you are a fantasy fan, you should read this book. And if you are not, you still should.
Cugel frowned and tapped his chin. “Your question is more profound than it might seem, and verges into the ancient analyses of the Ideal versus the Real.”
Indeed, it does.