Monday, May 9, 2016

Before Flash Fiction, There Was Feghoot

Review: The Compleat Feghoot by Reginald Bretnor (writing as Grendel Briarton)

Have you heard the one about the guy who planted kitchen herbs in his creek to make it run uphill, because "dill waters run steep"? 

No? How about the news headline announcing the court's judgement re: a thief who had waited out the statute of limitations period for his crime in a time bubble: "A niche in time saves Stein." 

Or a vulture carrying two dead raccoons, turned away by the stewardess as he goes to board the plane, because "only one carrion is permitted per passenger."

These are classic "Feghoots," a genre of super-short (science-)fiction story—today we would call it flash fictionthat usually featured space-and-time traveler Ferdinand Feghoot, and always ended with a terrible pun. They appeared in many of the early science fiction magazines. Reading the name of the main character, Feghoot, was enough to provoke an anticipatory groan for the pun we knew was coming.

Most of these stories were written by Reginald Bretnor under his anagrammatic pseudonym, but the ideas for them were often suggested by other sci-fi writers of the time. Isaac Asimov wrote one on his own (the "niche in time" cited above). Thomas Pynchon included a Feghoot-less incident in Gravity's Rainbow. It ended with "For DeMille, young fur-henchmen can't be rowing!" (Forty million Frenchmen can't be wrong.)

Have a good groan today: read a Feghoot and celebrate the endless ways we twist clever words to make a story come out "right."

Liner Notes:

  • There are several Feghoots included in the The First Reginald Bretnor Megapack if you cannot find The Compleat Feghoot in your second-hand bookstore.
  • The Second Reginald Bretnor Megapack not only includes another Feghoot, but also the Papa Schimmelhorn stories and the classic Gnurrs Come From the Voodvork Out.
  • My own copy of The Compleat Feghoot resides in the john, where it is available to enliven those "idle moments."