Archive for the 'voltaire' Category

Fforde and Voltaire

December 29, 2007

The Guardian has a fantastic short story “The Locked Room Mystery mystery”, by Jasper Fforde. This humorous parody of the mystery genre is well written and quite an enjoyable read. I loved the way the characters are named: Red Herring, Unshakable Alibi, Cryptic Final Message, Least Likely Suspect, Overlooked Clue, Flashback, and the detectives Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his sidekick Detective Sergeant Mary Mary. I’d borrowed Fforde’s Lost in a Good Book sometime back but never got around to reading it, and slightly regret it now. Sigh.

vc1.jpgI read Voltaire’s Candide last week, a satire on 18th century customs, religious beliefs and politics, while also a criticism of Leibniz’s claim that all things happen for the best and that this world is the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire criticizes Leibniz by taking his characters on an odyssey across Europe, Asia and South America, and showing us how utterly misanthropic and unjust the people of each region can be, except well, the lost land of El Dorado, which turns out to be a slice of heaven itself.

By interposing the main story with El Dorado, Voltaire tells us that by comparison, what we see just cannot be the best of all worlds. The story moves down a depressing staircase from the instant Candide is kicked on the back and thrown out of his Westphalian palace and finally ends up at a farm in Turkey. The chapters are very brief and Voltaire never elucidates or dwells on any of the sequences, rapidly moving on to the next chapter of his tale.

Judging from the hilarious first chapter, I expected the rest of the text to follow the same tone, but rarely does Voltaire do so. Candide is more cynical than it is satirical, and Voltaire is like a mad puppeteer manipulating his characters (we see many of them surviving their death), and his readers, almost as if to prove that everything that happens has to be for the worst.

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