J. Manfred Weichsel is back with another disturbingly funny satire, The Calydonian Boar Hunt. Emphasis on the disturbing. Absolutely no one comes out of this looking good, and it is not for the faint-hearted.
Yet, as disquieting as Weichsel’s work is, I argue that he is performing a valuable public service. Weichsel makes foundational myths present to a contemporary reader in a striking and vivid manner, reminding us why these myths continue to be worth understanding thousands of years later.
In part, this is because Weichsel embraces the weirdness and tawdriness of his subject matter. Partly for cultural and religious reasons, and also because foundational myths are often taught to children, the violence and debauchery of the source material is often glossed over, if not actually edited out. Thomas Bowdler had this to say in the introduction to The Family Shakespeare:
In the perfection of reading few men were equal to my father; and such was his good taste, his delicacy, and his prompt discretion, that his family listened with delight to Lear, Hamlet, and Othello, without knowing that those matchless tragedies contained words and expressions improper to be pronounced; and without reason to suspect that any parts of the plays had been omitted by the circumspect and judicious reader.
This cultural tendency is deep-seated. However well-intentioned the redaction is, there is an undeniable consequence of neutering the impact of the work. The moral of a work is obscured when the wages of sin are eliminated. Those clever enough can often fill in the blanks, but if the point of literature is to form the emotions, we are unnecessarily restricting the benefits of a story to those who least need the help.
Part of the reason that a myth like The Calydonian Boar Hunt is still relevant to us is that new and crazy things are sometimes not new at all, although they remain crazy. Weichsel hews closely to the structure of the historical myth, but then works in contemporary issues like COVID lockdowns, male feminists who think with their penises, and irrational misandry. Some of the humor is so on point that it might be incomprehensible in fifty years but more famous authors than Weichsel have indulged in that.
I am grateful that someone is willing to say the Emperor has no clothes, although I understand those who feel uncomfortable at the detailed description of his pasty and pock-marked flesh. That being said, I wouldn’t give this book to children. But I would recommend it to adults who are ready to have their complacency challenged.
Other books by J. Manfred Weichsel
Tales to Make You Vomit