May 20, 2014

The Encyclopedia of Obscure National Epics, Vol. 1

A "national epic" is a work of world literature taken to represent the special character of a people in their time. It puts the nation's best foot forward and emanates its culture to centuries of future humans. Unfortunately, not every national epic can be as popular as Homer's Odyssey or Joyce's Odyssey. Some are much lesser-known, but still as highly regarded in their time and place as any other. I have attempted to catalog these books to save them from their undeserved obscurity:

Australia, 2009 – Snooker? I ‘ardly Know ‘er: 101 Jokes from the Melbourne Machine by Neil Robertson and Bruce Biggs

A catalogue of traditional question-and-answer jokes characteristic of Anglo-Australian culture, written in 2008 and early 2009, but thought to be derived from the oral tradition. Professional snooker player Neil Robertson co-wrote the book with Canberra-based humorist Bruce Biggs. A large number of the jokes carry a snooker theme. 

Some scholars contest that the book is not a national “epic” due to its unusual, joke-based structure, but the “101st joke” rambles on for 700 pages, providing a circuitous and some say “drunken” account of late 20th century Australian thought and culture. 

The late snooker commentator and literary critic “Whispering” Ted Lowe called the work “a stream-of-consciousness masterpiece, the kind of thing Virginia Woolf would write if she were a modern snooker professional and just a bit less pants.” Michiko Kakutani called it “the trash that a family of trash would throw out to stop the place smelling like trash.”

Libya, 898 - ربات البيوت الحقيقية لطرابلس (trans. The Women of Tripoli) by Mansur Farouq Sa’ad

This epic novel is a revealing look at the quotidian lifestyles of the four middle-aged wives of an unnamed Arab aristocrat, vitally important to social historians and the culture of Libya.

At the novel’s beginning, an economic downturn has brought financial stress to the harem, causing a (false) rumor to spread that three of the wives will be disposed of at the end of the month of Ramadan: One divorced, one sold, and one executed. The wives then compete for the aristocrat’s favor through a series of ludicrous attempts to improve their appearance, hurt each other’s standing, and physically fight for dominance within the harem. Although obscure even in academic circles, the work was later adapted by the American cable network Bravo into the popular television show The Real Housewives of Orange County.

Hungary, 1562 – Szegod Cum Párty (trans. Exile with Daughters) by Lüis Székely

This 7,818-verse epic poem by 16th century Hungarian writer Lüis or “Louie” Székely is a fictionalized account of the author’s life as a “regular divorced guy in Budapest.” Beginning with a brief account of his turbulent marriage and divorce, the poem’s short first act ends with the Ottoman invasion and seizure of Buda Castle, displacing the author and his two young daughters. For the remainder of Acts 2-9, the work is a disorganized plot of disconnected episodes in the author’s life in exile in western Hungary, with occasional appearances made by other famous 16th century Hungarians.

The epic is interspersed with fragments of Székely’s other, previously published work in poetry, often but not always made to thematically match the adjacent episodes in the main text. The work touches on a tremendous number of themes, but particularly prevalent are sections discussing Székely’s Catholic guilt and masturbation habits.

Natopia, 1999 – Nate the Great in the Land of Boobs by Nate Edwards

Originally written in gel pen on construction paper, the Natopian fin du 20ème siècle epic poem concerns the life and times of professional adventurer/writer/video game expert Nate. 

Written by the then 9-year-old Nate Edwards, the work reveals a tremendous confidence with avant-garde meter and rhyme, as well as an uncomfortable amount of fem-dom sexplay. The last copy of the work was lost in the Great Fire of Last Thursday in a trashcan behind a Bojangles’.

Heaven, ~100 AD – The Bible by God

The Bible is an anthology of loosely connected stories and poems centered largely on the author and his son’s misadventures together in the Near East. A derivative work under the same title combined certain elements of the book with self-help material, and it is still printed today.