The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books, p.26Walter Moers
Housed in one backyard basement was a workshop specialising in the manufacture of puppets related in various ways to books – a very special type of Bookholmian Puppetism. Here we found marionettes similar to some of the protagonists I’d seen at the Puppetocircus Maximus, for instance, talking puppets composed of piles of books or dangerous Animatomes complete with eyes, legs, mandibles and venomous stings, though in this case they were hanging motionless on strings. There were also the talkative classical volumes that had spoken in rhyme onstage in the scene involving Goldenbeard’s book trap, but here they were mutely arrayed on a shelf.
The knowledgeable proprietor, a gaunt Druid with a green beard reaching to his waist, explained that many of these figures had been operated as glove puppets or marionettes in the traditional manner, whereas others were extremely complicated products of precision engineering which, when wound up, could speak or even sing in mechanical voices. That was also how the versifying classics in the book trap scene had worked! They were really disguised clockwork machines.
The patient proprietor took a key and wound up one of the mechanical books, which resembled a miniature building from the Zamonian Late Middle Ages. Scarcely had he done so when its lilting, metallic voice proceeded to recite a quatrain in Old High Zamonian:
‘Ye river quickly floweth.
Who careth where it goeth?
Ye cow it loudly loweth.
Wherefore? Nobody knoweth.’
‘Those are the earliest verses on record,’ the Druid explained, wrinkling his brow. ‘They’re by Eggfrith Strongitharm. Not everyone’s taste, to be honest. No idea why anyone would want to listen to such stuff these days.’ He thoughtfully stroked his green beard. ‘It’s dormant stock, so you can have it for a special price. Maybe it would make a nice present for an Old Zamoniologist.’
Inazia off-handedly brushed this suggestion aside and pointed to another mechanical book on the shelf. Its leather cover was very skilfully and lavishly tooled with elaborate ornamentation and adorned with gold leaf.
‘What’s that one?’ she asked.
Without a word, the proprietor took another key and wound the book up. It proceeded to lecture its listeners in a slightly supercilious tone of voice:
‘Know then thyself, presume not books to ban;
write as thou wilt, write only as one can,
with too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
and too much weakness for the stoic’s pride.
Wield well thy pen, nor ever be deterred;
across Zamonia let thy voice be heard.
Brave poet, write, and lend thy verses wings,
so ev’ry heart of ev’ry listener sings.’
‘Delightful!’ Inazia exclaimed. ‘And, if I’m not mistaken, by … by Pandrex Opeela, right? A regrettably well-nigh forgotten representative of Zamonian Late Barococco.’
I cast a puzzled sidelong glance at the Uggly, whose knowledge of such un-Ugglian poetry rather surprised me.
‘You’re right,’ replied the Druid. ‘That puppet contains all of Opeela’s poetic works. It depends how many times you turn the key. If you do it correctly – an instructional leaflet is included – it recites a different poem every time. The mechanism inside these puppets is very intricate. More complex than any form of clockwork.’
‘I’d patent it if I were you,’ I observed. ‘They’re mechanical works of art.’
‘That isn’t up to us,’ he replied, shaking his head. ‘We don’t really know how these puppets work, to be honest. We get the plans from the Puppetocircus Maximus and follow them meticulously, screw for screw and spring for spring. Sooner or later you imagine you could build such things yourself, but that’s a big mistake! Every time we tried to construct our own puppets along the same lines, they turned out to be defective. They simply talked nonsense or offended our customers by hurling obscenities at them. Either that, or they started screaming and smoking, and eventually fell to pieces. Maestro Corodiak is a genius and genius is inimitable.’ His voice trembled with awe.
‘Maestro Corodiak?’ I said. I couldn’t recall having heard the name before.
‘He’s the artistic director of the Puppetocircus Maximus,’ said the Druid. ‘But for him, this entire district would be out of work. Would you like to buy a talking-book puppet? Advance orders only, though. The waiting time at present is six months.’
‘No thanks,’ I said. ‘Don’t think me discourteous, but I still read books myself. I prefer the old-fashioned kind. The silent ones.’
The puppet-maker laughed politely and we left the shop.
‘Maestro Corodiak,’ I said when we were outside. ‘Didn’t you promise to introduce me to the director of the Puppetocircus? Is that his name?’
‘Yes,’ Inazia replied. ‘I’ve been trying to fix an appointment for days, but Corodiak is a very busy person. It’s far from easy to obtain an audience with him.’
An ‘audience’ with the director of a puppet theatre? I couldn’t help laughing. It was really remarkable, the status Puppetists enjoyed in this city. People paid court to them as if they were royalty! That thought brought me up short, dear friends. Could it be envy whose gentle but insidious pang I felt?
Puppetism for Advanced Students
ON OUR EXCURSIONS we usually ate at the small, inexpensive eating houses in Slengvort, the district where most of the creative artists and craftsmen of the Puppetocircus Maximus lived, together with many other Puppetists. Almost as surreptitiously as secret agents, we eaves-dropped on their artistic discussions and technical shop talk, and held informative conversations with one puppet-maker or another – although, dear friends, it wasn’t so easy to make social contacts with an Uggly in tow! I had long become inured to Inazia’s herbal perfumes, but most people preferred to sit at least one table away from us.
The one name that cropped up again and again was that of Maestro Corodiak. This had steadily whetted my curiosity about that mysterious personage and filled me with profound respect. Maestro Corodiak … I was forever having to write his name in the notebook I always carried during my study of Puppetism, filling it with facts, technical terms and snippets of dialogue:
‘But Maestro Corodiak said …’ ‘Maestro Corodiak would never have accepted such a botched job …’ ‘They say that Corodiak is recently displaying a strong retrograde tendency towards Marionettism …’ ‘It’s rumoured that Corodiak means to stage the whole of Wimpersleake’s works …’ ‘Maestro Corodiak would have thrown such a crude eye mechanism back in your face …’ ‘A play in seven acts under Corodiak’s direction would be quite unthinkable …’
Corodiak here, Corodiak there, Corodiak everywhere – it was like that all the time. I might have entered a strange land ruled by a wise old king to whom everyone looked up in reverence. The further I accompanied Inazia into the labyrinthine and multifaceted realm of Bookholmian Puppetism, the more I relaxed. I almost forgot that not far beneath my feet was the beginning of a dark and dangerous world that extended into the depths for miles; a world that had once been my long-time prison – nearly my grave. That memory scarcely troubled me now. I could at last enjoy the new, Overworldly Bookholm as if it were a traveller’s normal destination, a pleasant holiday resort or spa. I had not long arrived in the city, after all. Puppetism itself was a kind of labyrinth, but a bright, colourful maze filled with diversions and entertainments, humour and culture. In this world, the greatest danger consisted in turning up late for a first night.
For we went to the theatre regularly, of course – on occasion as many as three times a day! We went to puppet theatres, needless to say, but we didn’t immediately go back to the Puppetocircus Maximus. The city had such an abundance of smaller theatres, they were hardly less numerous than its restaurants and bookshops. Almost one street in three boasted a puppet theatre, not that it was always recognisable as such from the outside. It would sometimes be hidden behind a beer garden, in the cellar of a tavern, on the roof of a bookshop, or in a carpenter’s shed. Right at t
The length of a play was no measure of its quality, either. Going to the theatre three or more times a day was quite possible, when one considers that no limits were set on the duration of a puppet play in Bookholm. There were performances that lasted an entire day or even a week, but there were also some, aimed at impatient tourist audiences, that could be over in ten minutes. These didn’t necessarily leave one feeling cheated; it all depended on the quality of what was on offer, and this, my friends, even in cases where the play was very short, could be extraordinarily high. I still have particularly pleasant memories of the play presented at the aforementioned theatre with five milking stools. It lasted for barely seven minutes, but what minutes! All that appeared onstage in the course of that performance was a blown and painted hen’s egg, but I couldn’t help laughing so persistently, even hours afterwards, that my midriff ached for days on end.
There were also plays that seemed to last an eternity. The only muscles that ached after I’d seen one of those were the muscles required for sitting still. I never counted how many worthless puppet plays I had to endure in order to get to the ones that were really worth seeing. Like me, and although she claimed to possess the power of divination, Inazia could never tell in advance whether a new play would be of the quality we were looking for. She was considerably more knowledgeable than I, of course. She knew the names, merits, shortcomings, weaknesses and strengths of many producers, authors, puppeteers, and property masters. Although this made it easier for us to choose, it didn’t completely insure us against let-downs and disappointments. Puppetry was like any art: There are a hundred potboilers for every masterpiece, as my godfather Dancelot used to say in his avuncular way. Crackbrained directorial ideas, misshapen puppets, slipshod scripts, inappropriate music, ill-painted scenery – the things that could ruin a puppet play were many, various and unforeseeable. Often there wasn’t even a poster that might have made us think twice. We would simply go on the strength of a leaflet handed us in the street or the confidential whisper of a waiter who steered us in the direction of some dive of a theatre which, according to him, staged the most illicit and shocking puppet plays in the whole of Zamonia. We were fearless, though. There was nothing we wouldn’t sample!
In the course of my studies, as I’ve already mentioned, I always carried a small notebook in which I made brief entries relating to things or events that struck me as noteworthy enough for subsequent inclusion in my book. In order to impart a few pieces of advice to future students or spare them bitter disappointment, I shall here publish excerpts from my Notes on Puppetism, as I called them. They are chosen quite at random and adhere to no form of chronological order:
* * *
Stage shows devoid of intervals and exceeding three hours in length are an imposition not to be sat through or uncomplainingly tolerated. On the contrary, I consider it a form of moral courage to walk out of such performances protesting loudly. Those responsible have neglected to bear in mind that one cannot lay a stage play aside like a bad novel and go for a recuperative walk. There are limits to anyone’s physical endurance! Besides, ANY room occupied by more than ten people should be aired at least once an hour.
* * *
One’s mental and nervous stamina is also limited! Plays for the puppet theatre should not deal with problems of higher mathematics or folk music competitions in the Impic Alps, let alone singing Megaspiders! Three titles for my personal BLACK LIST:
‘MR PUNCH IN THE LAND OF DIFFERENTIAL EQUATIONS’
‘THE ACCORDION WAR’ and ‘THE BLACK WIDOW’S WEDDING’
* * *
* * *
These Notes on Puppetism form a chapter of the novel that gave me quite a headache when I came to translate it (see also my Postscript). I found myself compelled to drastically abridge this Yarnspinnerish digression, but it is not absolutely essential to one’s comprehension of the plot, even in its present form, so the reader in a hurry may safely skip it. (Tr.)
* * *
Let us look facts in the face: in future, I would do better to steer well clear of HEAVYWEIGHT PHILOSOPHICAL PUPPETISM! I consider it extremely questionable to attempt to represent philosophical ideas on a puppet theatre’s stage by dramatic means. Some things simply don’t belong together, and among those, in my opinion, are epistemology and marionettes! A puppet playing Manu Kantimel’s ZAMONIAN IMPERATIVE looks simply absurd and isn’t, as I myself can attest, a protagonist with whom one can empathise. It’s especially boring to the children in the audience and positively asks to be booed.
* * *
You have to keep your eyes open and look upwards if you want to get anything out of BOOKHOLMIAN AERIAL PUPPETISM. Other prerequisites include windy to stormy weather conditions (but no rain!). Aerial Puppetists prefer to stage their plays above spacious squares or outside the city gates, where they have more scope for manoeuvre than in narrow streets. This art is practised mainly by fleet-footed dwarfs who fly their puppets in the air like kites.
When cavorting in the heavens, fancifully painted protagonists made of flimsy paper and thin silk or gauze alternate with streamers inscribed with lines of dialogue – an extremely artistic spectacle whose aerial athleticism is at least as worth seeing as the plays themselves. One marvels at black storm gods in huge top hats; at colourful flying fish; at fantastic, circling birds and fairy-tale dragons made of fluttering scraps of silk and controlled from below like upside-down marionettes; at wildly dancing spirits of the air and storm demons fitted with flutes and flageolets that can, as the wind rises, produce a cacophonous, ear-splitting crescendo such as one has never heard before. The nimble dwarfs even send whole landscapes into the air! I saw rivers composed of blue and green strips of silk with flying fish leaping in them; sand dunes made of brown and yellow bandages with caravans traversing them; cloud castles of inflated white silk pillows; seas of paper waves that roared as authentically as the ocean itself! I’ve spent half a day watching the dwarfs as they raced to and fro, staging a succession of plays based mainly on ancient sagas and fairy tales.
Another advantage of Aerial Puppetism is that it costs the spectator nothing. The artistes are paid by the municipal authorities and tips are curtly refused. Well, they do have the biggest stage in the world – the sky – at their disposal and they don’t have to pay rent for it.
* * *
Another candidate for my personal BLACK LIST: Puppetism with a medical background. A hypochondriac like me finds it almost unbearable to spend several hours watching puppets dressed as doctors talking shop in Zebraskan dialect about ear, nose and throat operations as they excise a screaming patient puppet’s eardrum. The writer of this play, the title of which I flatly refuse to commit to paper, should confine himself to his principal profession, which is probably that of a Zebraskan ear, nose and throat specialist (or sadist).
* * *
A unique attraction: THE MICROSCOPIC THEATRE OF THE ABSENT TEENIES in Arlis Worcell Street! A genuine sensation, but visible only to the well-equipped eye. Although you have to stand in line for hours in order (finally and for a small fee) to spend five minutes marvelling at the attraction through one of ten colossal magnifying glasses, it’s well worthwhile. What you then see is a futuristic-looking city that bears the apt name MICROPIA – apt mainly because the whole place is about as big as a medium-sized pumpkin. It was allegedly imported from another planet reputed to be equally small. The minimetropolis, which is displayed in a glass bottle, is (allegedly) inhabited by tiny extraterrestrials who are (again allegedly) invisible but go about their daily business – allegedly, mark you! You don’t see them, therefore, but you can spot some minute, futuristic-looking vehicles driving swiftly around the streets. You can even make out others, which resemble metal cigars, flying around the curiously tall, pointed buildings. Miniature circular doors and windows open
Of course, this is all just a well-made piece of theatrical trickery aimed at tourists, and the glass bottle containing the miniature city is really no more than another triumph of Puppetism – this time in the field of stage design for flea circuses and theatres on the smallest scale. All the same, be sure to see it! A Puppetistic theatre should NEVER be judged by its size.
* * *
The so-called THEATRE OF THE STARS, which is situated a few streets further on, can only be branded a blatant swindle. Latching on to the Microscopic Theatre with the parasitic effrontery of a leech, it offers its customers – for a wholly unjustified fee – the opportunity to peer at the night sky through a lousy telescope during the hours of darkness. The criminals who run this theatre have summarily proclaimed the whole of the universe to be their stage and the heavenly bodies therein to be cosmic puppets – a particularly dirty trick that actually took ME in. I even doubt there were any lenses in the confounded telescope. Hard to say, because the sky was heavily overcast.
The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes