James Branch Cabell (YGtCTO Words #91)

The King Was In His Counting House

Book written by James Branch Cabell

I have to have faith that some enterprising publisher will bring this back into print as an eBook. Of course, that means they need to find a copy of it somewhere, but those have to exist, don’t they? I found one in the bowels of a library. That’s a more accurate description of the sub-basement beside the river than you can imagine.

Considering that Cabell appears to have gained notoriety around 1920, his relative anonymity today should serve as some sort of warning to anyone who believes in art providing a lasting mark on the world. The obscenity trial over his work was not the last court case, but authors like Henry Miller and James Joyce are much better remembered today. Cabell may not be held in the same esteem as Joyce, but he certainly reads as well as Miller.

Despite his demure reputation, Cabell’s Jurgen remains in print as do a few others. They have become something of a secret handshake among readers. The name has a nice rhythm and people usually let you say all four syllables before they smile and nod with that knowing glance, as if you just expectorated an unexpected joke. Or else they stare blankly like you just spoke in a foreign language. Unless they’re an English professor- then they’re trained to fake it well enough that they nod knowingly and grunt.

James Branch Cabell

The biggest revelation

about Cabell, for me, was that someone was writing like this before Tolkien or Nabokov. He has the epic aspirations mixed with the desire to tear down all of the edifice that has been built up around the way we tell stories. Cabell is post-modern back when modern was just starting to be a thing. Read two or three of his books and you begin to think that he is trying to accomplish with words what the cubists were doing in art with multiple perspectives, absurdity, and dedication.

The great fear once we discover any artist in a critical review is that they will be difficult. So often, we convince ourselves that understanding will require work on our part. Certainly Picasso and Braque can’t simply be appreciated for their wacky humor and color choices, can they? After all, they started a movement.

Sometimes, it takes a Cabell to remind us that people managed to be entertaining while mattering in the scheme of things. Sure, that means we dismiss him as more disposable because it’s difficult to build an academic thesis around so, so many jokes. Besides, Gore Vidal and William Faulkner are sitting there, too.

The King Was In His Counting House contains more plot than most of Cabell’s books and it does a pretty good job illustrating everything wrong with the world, but I speak in hyperbole. Just bookmark that link to the book and hold your breath until someone publishes the book anew. One tiny corner of the world will be a better place.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 28 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

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