Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Month: Apr 2015

Absurdity in pairs (brief essay)

A piece I did for uni


Levitt in her paper lists many fictional pairs from Holmes and Watson, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. She illustrates the fictional device of playing off one another for dramatic and comedic effect. So with this theme, I would like to introduce a few more examples from fiction who in their own way, have contributed greatly to the absurdist literature canon.  At least I think so.

Firstly, there are Hergé’s Thompson Twins – Thompson and Thomson (without a “p” as in Venezuela, as he puts it). This pair of buffoons were introduced in a brief cameo in Tintin in the Congo and more solidly in Cigars of the Pharaoh. Loyal to Tintin to a fault, they serve as the Belgian counterpart to the Keystone Kops of early American comedic cinema. They are utterly inept in their actual day jobs as policemen, completely bumbling as humans – they are forever dropping things, running into things, misspeaking and being general nuisances at times. They serve as a foil to the more dedicated and serious Tintin. An argument could be made that Star Wars’ C3P0 and R2D2 are SF updates of these two.

The absurdist element is their ineptitude juxtaposed with Tintin’s competence, and this is doubled by the fact that they are policemen – career choices that demand competence and ability. They have neither. Their friendship with Tintin survives throughout the series, despite the peril they put themselves and Tintin in. In the final completed volume, Tintin and the Picaros, Tintin travels to a fictional yet stereotypical Latin American nation to rescue them.

More darkly depicted are the pair of Clarice and Cora Groan from Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series. Like the Thompsons, they are twins, though they are neither inept nor as clownish as Hergé’s creations. Instead, they provoke a kind of pity, and their absurdism goes in step with the absurdist allegories that pervade the books they appear in. They have a petty and petulant rivalry with the second book’s protagonist Titus, and while it never approximates friendship, there is a familial sense of loyalty, more forced upon them than anything else. Cora and Clarice are exactly one halves of a whole – they complete each other’s sentences and seem to share each other’s thoughts.

In both cases, there is never any thought of a friendship sundering. Thompson and Thomson remain inseparable throughout the series, though there is a considerable element of oneupmanship and fraternal bickering. Cora and Clarice do not bicker with each other simply, as stated before, each is exactly one half of the other. The Groan twins represents a lost and faded glory, allegedly removed from the direct lineage by Gertrude’s marriage to their older brother Sepulchrave and the birth of their nephew Titus.


Hergé 1971, Cigars of the Pharaoh, Casterman: Paris
Hergé 1946, Tintin in the Congo, Casterman: Paris
Hergé 1976, Tintin and the Picaros, Casterman: Paris
Levitt, J 2000, ‘Odd Couples and Double Acts, or Strange but Not Always Queer: some male pairs and the modern/postmodern subject, Australian Humanities Review, 12:2000.
Peake, M 1946, Titus Groan, Eyre & Spottiswode: London
Peake, M 1950, Gormenghast, Eyre & Spottiswode: London

A novel in ten lines

A short piece for uni

Three children are playing one evening on the fringes of a deep, gloomy forest.

One, the youngest, sees a dog at the edge of the forest and chases it.

The other two children follow the youngest child.

All three of them become inextricably lost in the forest.

The dog appears and leads the three lost and upset children to a mushroom ring in the heart of the forest.

Meanwhile the adults mount a search; the media is notified, posters are put up, rewards are offered.

The children find the mushroom ring is the nexus to a marvellous fairy land full of joy and light, and the dog is the fairy king’s herald.

The adults track the children down into the forest and the town mayor suggests that the mushroom ring be burned down to force the fairies of fairy land to relinquish the three missing children.

The children appear and state they do not want to go home, because Earth life is boring, full of silly homework, their parents do nothing but yell, scream and get divorced and last but not least, Xbox games are too expensive.

The parents come to a compromise with the fairy king to everyone’s satisfaction (with a few exceptions), and everyone lives happily ever after (with a few exceptions).

A dryland idyll (flash fiction)

From a short piece I did for uni

The thing I notice the most about the hills about me is how diseased they look. Not denuded, but diseased. Denuded has a sexual connotation to it, I think, seeing that the word “nude” is buried in there somewhere. These hills aren’t nude; they’re just plain ill. When I wander over them, there’s a sadness present that I’ve felt on and off for years. These hills, sick as they are, have been standing there for millions of years, long before any kind of human first appeared. Now they a lot to lament about and I can bring them no surcease. For sure, I can bring them nothing at all except the minor happiness of youth, how I roamed over them, carefree and footloose and what have you.

My home is nestled between these brown lumps of rock and soil, and my family has wrought a pathetic living from the merciless land about; land that was never intended to be cultivated or coerced into providing sustenance for mere humans. It’s too dry, too poor, too old to care much for the plight of a few scurrying people. And likewise, we cared little for it, using it as we saw fit with minimal thought given to how to repay what meagre bounty it was providing. So the land became sick, and in spirit, so did we.

Yet I’m here now though, and I really can’t be anywhere else. I have no other home.

The lords have lost their rings (poetry)

A short piece I did for uni.

Frodo eats his fish and chips
Sam eats his too
Legolas gets legless
While Aragorn sings the blues

Gandalf laughs a merry laugh
Saruman cries into his beer
Arwen misses her man badly
While Elrond says ‘there, there, dear’

Sauron sucks at video games
Pippin displays mad skills
Gimli grunts and heaves
While Merry is on the pills

Galadriel breaks her precious mirror
Gloin pulls in the big one
Celeborn huffs and puffs
While Gollum thinks he’s won

Smaug has a three dog night
Boromir gets lost in the fog
Eomer dances up the garden path
While Eowyn comes down with a wog