Balladeer’s Blog resumes its examination of the macabre 1868 French language work The Songs of Maldoror.
FOUR SOULS ERASED FROM THE BOOK OF LIFE
Maldoror, our supernatural protagonist, encounters four men whose lives were all ruined by the same seductive sorceress. The first man has been transformed into a horse-sized dung beetle and rolls along the mangled corpse of the sorceress the way such beetles usually roll clods of dung.
Our narrator follows this oddity at a distance and eventually the huge dung-beetle encounters a man with the head of a pelican. (No, it’s not Jay Leno, who used to be described as “the pelican-headed comedian” early in his standup career.) The two bizarre creatures stand and converse in heated tones for a time and it slowly becomes clear to Maldoror what caused their mutual hostility and their current physical condition.
A sorceress in Brittany had married the captain of a merchant ship which sailed out of the Port of Saint Malo. The man returned from sea after a thirteen month absence and discovered that the woman had just given birth to a child. The unnamed captain came to the logical conclusion and for revenge he ordered the woman at gunpoint to walk with him around the outskirts of Saint Malo with just her night-frock on.
It was a cold, bitter and windy January night and the sorceress was very ill and delirious by the time she and her armed husband arrived back home. The wanton woman revealed to her husband that, though she could be weakened she could not be truly killed. She cast a spell that transformed her husband into the horse-sized dung beetle and cursed his brother with the head of a pelican (for reasons that will become clear momentarily).
As the two figures continue their conversation Maldoror realizes that the sorceress was once the lover of the pelican-headed man but cheated on him with his brother the sea captain, even having a child by him. After marrying the captain she went on to renew her sexual fling with his brother and gave birth to his son that fateful night.
At last the remaining details become clear. Unable to truly kill his unfaithful wife the sea captain turned-dung beetle embraced the nature of the enormous insect she had transformed him into. He rolled his still-weakened wife along before him, adding layer upon layer of dung, mud, dust and other refuse into the huge ball he pushed along. This prevented her from ever recovering enough to cast more spells, though she was alive and aware of her plight.
His pelican-headed brother became a monster and outcast, forever wandering and welcome nowhere because of his “condition.” Saddest of all, the two children the sorceress had by the two men were transformed by her final spell into an owl and a vulture. The transformed sons each fly along overhead, always following the path of their respective fathers.
Maldoror hints at the possiblity that this bizarre five-pointed star of hatred could be broken and everyone restored to normal if only its members could ever find it within themselves to forgive the others. That result cannot be reached, so they continue on their way while Maldoror ponders the fate of four souls erased from the book of life forever by their bitter obsession with wrongs from the past. (He apparently doesn’t consider the sorceress to have a soul since he says four, not five.) +++
This stanza presents some of Isidore Ducasse’s most high-flown language but – in my opinion – it’s unsatisfactory overall. Maybe the tableau presented would have more impact if Maldoror had been depicted encountering the sorceress, her two men and their young sons on that long-ago night in Saint Malo.
As it is, though, the tale has been told backward but with no real story-telling reason for the reverse-order. At any rate Maldoror as an observer to this bizarre tale makes it feel like an episode of Tales from the Crypt with Maldoror in the role of the Crypt-Keeper.
Still, though, Ducasse’s point about how long-ago pains and betrayals can scar people forever or be left behind them still resonates.
I WILL BE EXAMINING ADDITIONAL SECTIONS VERY SOON. CHECK BACK ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK FOR NEW INSTALLMENTS.
FOR PART ONE CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2015/02/28/maldoror-a-neglected-masterpiece-of-surreal-horror/
FOR OTHER PARTS OF MALDOROR CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/maldoror/
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