The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books, p.31Walter Moers
As if that were not enough of an issue, Puppetism continued to splinter more and more in the next few years. The first to join the three basic styles was Planar Puppetism, which refused to sanction any but two-dimensional puppets, and only in the non-colours black, white and grey. This style was soon opposed by the so-called Expressionist Puppetists, who made three-dimensional puppets on principle and painted them in gaudy colours. They spent most of the time onstage shouting at each other, weeping, or declaiming high-flown emotional speeches. What developed in opposition to this was Naturalistic Puppetism, which cherished a positively fanatical devotion to realism and accepted only ultra-realistic puppets that recited thoroughly prosaic dialogue. This meant that puppets had to conform exactly, in shape, colour and size, to the life forms they represented, a requirement that led for the first time to a perceptible increase in the size of the stages in Bookholm’s puppet theatres. In response to this, students at the Bookholm Academy of Art evolved Abstract Puppetism, which grotesquely exaggerated and caricatured puppets’ faces and anatomy, producing hunchbacked figures of fun with huge noses, crooked teeth and lips like bolsters. These amused the public immensely and drew big audiences. They, in turn, gave birth to the Unreal Puppetists, who ventured a few steps further. Their puppets and scenery almost defied description, because the ‘Uns’, as those radical artists were popularly known, rejected reality as such: trees grew out of the sky, buildings stood upside down, lamp-posts went walking. Their scripts were just as out of this world, and their first nights regularly ended in uproar and pandemonium. After the ‘Uns’ the dam broke, so to speak, and almost anything became possible.
The so-called Cubetists dissected their naked puppets into geometrical shapes that were only loosely connected by joints and seemed to obey none of the laws of perspective or anatomy. Some of them possessed only one eye or had lips adhering to their foreheads. The Cubetists’ scenery, too, did nothing for one’s spatial orientation and could induce seasickness if looked at for any length of time. Gagaistic Puppetism deliberately set out to be meaningless, as well as humorous in an absurd way. This aim found expression mainly in rather silly dialogue that really belonged on the walls of a school toilet. The puppets, which were quite often sausages, empty suits, flying hats, or exotic fruit, did things that were wholly preposterous but got a lot of laughs. By contrast, the strictly formal puppets of the Doll’s House Group resembled the talking furniture in a Zebraskan tax inspector’s office, and their plays, which read like instructions for putting them together, had titles like The Secrets of Double-Entry Bookkeeping or No Rebates Given without a Rubber Stamp. Delicatist Puppetism favoured fragile china puppets, painted in delicate pastel shades, that spent most of their time onstage complaining of depression or unrequited love amid scenery depicting water-lily pools or oleander bushes. The antithesis to that was Brutalist Puppetism, whose wooden puppets, which were rough-hewn with axes and painted in garish, brilliantly slapdash colours, delivered speeches couched in earthy language while thunderstorms raged in the background. Micropuppetist plays were rooted in the flea circus and could only be watched through powerful opera glasses, whereas Macropuppetism was dominated in the main by megalomaniacally inclined producers for whom no puppet could be big enough. Their plays had consequently to be performed in the open air and outside the city gates, where the gigantic marionettes were moved around by cranes. Every performance was genuinely spectacular and each character required a dozen puppeteers to operate it.
‘All that can hang by a thread is a puppet.’ Such was the implacable maxim embodied in the first paragraph of the so-called Radical Puppetist Manifesto. The result was that, in Radical Puppetist theatres for the next few years, largely naked wooden puppets strutted across bare stages devoid of scenery and the audience had to bring their own lighting (in the form of candles). Exactly when Barococco Puppetism came into being cannot be determined at this stage, but it was a definite declaration of war on the purist ethos of Radical Puppetism. Not only the puppets but also the costumes and scenery of this stylistic tendency were designed with an almost absurdly over-elaborate attention to detail and a performance could last for several days – indeed, weeks. The puppets’ sometimes towering perukes were a trademark of Barococco, and their popularity attained such heights that similar artificial coiffures were even worn by first-night audiences.
Futuristic Puppetism was imported by immigrants from the notorious industrial metropolis of Ironville, who brought their unnerving cultural assets with them. Their puppets bore an unpleasant resemblance to the Copper Killers or warlike mechanical toys. The soulless impression created by their appearance extended to the productions themselves. The sets of Futurist plays looked like ruined munitions factories eroded by acid rain, and the plots usually involved hardhearted arms manufacturers decreeing increases in output, wage cuts and mass redundancies. It was grim stuff. I read a few of the scripts, and they made me shudder! Most normal theatregoers shunned these plays, and no wonder, but the expatriates from Ironville loved them because they reminded them of home, especially when the suicidal protagonists ended by drowning themselves in a river of mercury, singing the while.
I have already given a detailed description of the distantly related Blood Theatre, with its collective heroic suicides, which has sadly survived to the present day. It is only for completeness’ sake that I include it in my list of theatrical aberrations. Also numbered among them must be Mummy Marionettism, in which genuine embalmed bodies from the graveyard city of Dullsgard were used as life-sized puppets. That the mummies were genuine escaped notice until, during one performance, the fragile bandages around them burst and a collection of brown bones came clattering down on the horrified audience. Nine Ugglies in the front row fainted and five Bluddum grave-robbers were expelled from the city. Another variety of this genre was Taxidermic Puppetism, which employed stuffed animals in a similar way, this time to the horror of animal lovers. For once, the Bookholm authorities stepped in and promptly shut the theatre down because they could count on widespread public support.
Compared to the sinister products and practices of Bookemism, however, these were only a few absurd offshoots that soon withered or were cut off in their prime. The Bookemists, by contrast, systematically and unconscionably used Puppetism for their own political and propaganda purposes from the outset, at least for as long as they remained in power. That is one of the darkest chapters in this history, partly because it involved the use of Leyden Manikins as puppets.
Those alchemically produced artificial creatures, which could only survive in flasks of nutrient fluid, were removed from their containers by the Bookemists before a show, then masked, made up, costumed and made to perform tricks onstage. The result was that most of them died of exhaustion soon after appearing.
These practices did not come to light until the Bookholmers rose in revolt against the Bookemists. Beneath one Bookemistic theatre they found a vast storeroom filled with flasks containing Leyden Manikins that had been especially created and bred for this purpose. The sight must have been heart-rending, the stench nauseating. Most of the manikins had died a miserable death in their containers and were already half decayed. Also found were a number of broken and empty flasks in which dregs of nutrient fluid remained, which suggested that some of the alchemical creatures had managed to escape into the catacombs, where they would quickly have expired for lack of nourishment.
Dumb Puppetism, Glass Puppetism, Black Magic Puppetism, White Magic Puppetism, Syncopated Drumming Puppetism, Bookholmian Dialectal Puppetism, Magnetopuppetism, Zebraskan Expressive Dance Puppetism, Philosophical Profundopuppetism, Demonistic Horrificopuppetism, Vegetarian Organopuppetism, Antipuppetist Puppetism – one ‘ism’ followed hard on the heels of another, and it would be too much of a good and bad thing to list and describe every one. At times, the pavement on almost every street corner in Bookholm was occupied by a little rabbit hutch of a theatre, which claimed to represent a new and exciting offshoot of the art form. Stroll
Puppet theatres had catered at first for exclusively youthful audiences. Either they derived their material from Zamonia’s store of classical fairy tales, epics and sagas, or the playwrights aimed their plots and dialogue straight at childish hearts, featuring the maximum possible number of talking animals, enchanting elves, or dwarfs with magical powers, plus at least one dragon per performance. At some stage, however, the playwrights began to wonder more and more why the adults who sat beside their children during these performances, looking as if they were serving a prison sentence, should not have some fun themselves. This was how more and more ambitious elements came to be woven – indeed, smuggled – into plots, with the gratifying result that more and more people went to the theatre and the performances turned into regular family get-togethers at which far more laughter and applause rang out than before. Now that adult audiences had been tapped into in this way, their attendance became a major financial consideration, for Puppetism was steadily gaining commercial importance in Bookholm. Pioneering managements ventured to put on purely adult plays at which children were merely tolerated or from which they were actually excluded. Plays became more serious, conflict-laden and complicated, their vocabulary richer, their characters more multifaceted and believable. Playwrights began to comb contemporary literature for suitable material and found it. Although Lemon Breath, The Frozen Beard, When the Wind Weeps or A Ship of Waves are hardly titles calculated to lure pleasure-seeking people into theatres, performances were sold out. Stages became larger. This created new problems, because the bigger a theatre, the harder it was for people sitting at the back to grasp what was happening on the stage. Not only did puppets and sets have to be bigger, but voices and sounds had to be louder, music more resonant, and special effects more convincing. Bookholmian puppet theatre probably lost its amateur status the first time dialogue was spoken behind the scenes through megaphones. These funnels of wood or metal magnified the sound of voices by a means that only fairground quacks had employed hitherto. Someone hit on the idea of getting two actors to deliver particularly striking monologues in unison and the dual monologue was invented! The same thing was tried with four actors not long afterwards and audiences were delighted with the wrap-around effect.
Mechanical cut-outs, live marionettes, steam puppets, Underwater Puppetism – innovation followed innovation in quick succession. Many disorientated puppeteers sought refuge from this bewildering diversification of their art form by establishing sectarian groups. This brought into being regular clans recognisable by their uniform clothing or hairstyle. Some of these groups even imitated the movements and characteristics typical of their puppets. The Marionettists walked in a loose-limbed, gangling, deliberately casual way, whereas stick puppeteers moved rather stiffly and jerkily, and made big, sweeping gestures. They gave their groups names like ‘The Wooden Rascals’, ‘The Bookholm Blockheads’, or ‘The Slengvort Shadows’ and had the emblems of their associations tattooed on their arms. When two of these hostile tribes had an alcoholic encounter in a tavern, ructions and smashed furniture could result. Competition between the two biggest Puppetist groups, the Marionettists and the Manual Puppetists, which had smouldered from the first, culminated in tragedy when an initially verbal dispute between a Marionettist producer and a Manual Puppeteer developed into a vicious brawl in the course of which a beer mug stove in the Marionettist’s skull and ended his life. That this incident did not lead to a free-for-all, or even to a Puppetist civil war, was probably attributable solely to the fact that a so-called Gloomberg Mountains thunderstorm was raging over Bookholm that night. A natural disaster such as occurred only every few centuries, it kept the whole city in suspense until dawn. Hailstones the size of cannon balls fell, half a dozen ferocious tornados danced through the streets, ripping the roofs off buildings, and a sustained bombardment of thunderbolts set a paper factory and several antiquarian bookshops ablaze.
Storms clear the air, they say, and the sciences teach us that all diversity eventually strives to return to unity. Puppetism was no different in that respect. At all events, that memorable day marked the young art form’s temporary and inglorious apogee. Passions perceptibly cooled thereafter and everyone entered calmer waters. What crucial regulatory role the Puppetocircus Maximus and its impresario, Maestro Corodiak, played in the reorganisation that followed was another chapter in the rich cultural history of Bookholmian Puppetism. I had still to get to grips with the subject, but I was eager to learn more about it.
When looking through a book on stage tricks during one of my study periods in the Kraken’s Tentacle, I lingered over a chapter headed ‘Magic Writing’. This referred to messages that could, as though conjured up by magic, appear before the eyes of the audience during a performance – a trick favoured by stage magicians in particular. One of the most popular methods was not only simple but very old: all you needed was lemon juice and heat. You held a sheet of paper inscribed in invisible lemon-juice ink near a candle flame, and voilà: the writing became visible.
On reading this, I suddenly became very excited. I rummaged in my pockets. Did I still have the Biblionaut’s blank card? I found it, hurried over to a candelabrum and held it over a flame.
The brownish writing soon appeared:
If you want to see the Invisible Theatre, you must use your intelligence as well as your eyes.
That was all. I had to laugh. Lemon juice as ink – a well-known schoolchild’s trick for producing cribs, but ingenious and effective! When the secret message appeared on the card, it was almost as if the writer had whispered the words in my ear. Images appeared before my mind’s eye, together with smells, sounds and brief flashes of memory relating to my childhood: my classroom in Lindworm Castle; the smell of a freshly cleaned slate; the merciless ringing of the school bell and the laughter of my classmates. I was so fascinated by this primitive magic that I forgot to take the card away from the candle before it went up in flames in my hand.
‘It doesn’t matter what the Invisible Theatre does onstage,’ the Uggly had told me at the Puppetocircus Maximus. ‘What matters far more is what it does inside your head.’
Startled, I let the burning scrap of card fall to the floor, where it turned into a flake of grey ash. A hand descended on my shoulder. I spun round like a shoplifter caught in the act.
Inazia was standing behind me, grinning.
‘I thought I’d find you here,’ she said. ‘I’ve some good news for you. I finally managed to get you an audience with Maestro Corodiak. Midday tomorrow. Unless you’re otherwise engaged?’
ENTERING THE PUPPETOCIRCUS Maximus by way of the rear exit rather than through the front entrance was quite a different experience. You almost forgot it was the same building. It was like approaching some wonderfully painted scenery from behind and seeing only the nailed-together battens and the dirty side of the canvas. Overflowing dustbins, mountains of sacks of rubbish and bulky wooden crates stood everywhere. There wasn’t just one back door into the vast building, there were at least a dozen, so I was completely disorientated at first as I stood among all the crates and sacks, chests and handcarts, pieces of scenery and scurrying stagehands, tenors practising their scales and puppeteers warming up.
I accosted a dwarf hurrying past with an armful of puppets. ‘Excuse me,’ I said. ‘Where do I find … er … Maestro Corodiak?’
The diminutive puppeteer laughed derisively without stopping. ‘In your dreams!’ he called and disappeared down a passage.
‘But I’ve got … an audience …’ I added half-heartedly. I stood there for a moment, flummoxed, then simply trailed after him through the doorway that had swallowed him up. Unlike the spacious foyer at the front of the theatre, the backstage
‘Out of the way, Fatso!’ they called.
‘Don’t just stand there, move it!’
‘Stand aside, you idiot!’
‘Wake up, you dozy fool!’
‘Goddamned tourists!’ I was treated to those and other similarly encouraging remarks before I was jostled and elbowed aside or a piece of scenery came crashing down on my head. At last I discovered a flight of stairs with three signs above it. One read Costumes and Scenery, the others Workshops and Management. This at least might be the way to Corodiak. Afraid of being summarily ejected, I didn’t dare ask any more stupid questions of those rude fellows and simply set off up the stairs.
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