Fool by Christopher Moore: A Different Take on King Lear
Christopher Moore’s latest book, Fool, is a retelling of Shakespeare’s play King Lear through the eyes of Pocket, the court jester. Being one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, going in I imagined it was going to be hard to find humor in the plot. However, Moore uses the plot, the language, and every situation in the book to fit a joke onto almost every page.
This is Moore’s second re-telling of an old story, his first being Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, which I greatly enjoyed. In this book however, he decided to use an already existing minor character, and develop him greater, instead of making an entirely new character and inserting him into the story. The way Pocket is developed and inserted into the events happening in the narrative, it’s hard at times to imagine him as a minor character in the play.
Going in, I was a little worried that I would have a hard time following the plot since I wasn’t too familiar with the original work, despite being assigned to read it in multiple classes in college (I was never really a motivated student). This was not the case though, as Moore keeps things simple, clearly keeping all characters and titles in order and avoiding traditional Shakespearean dialogue, making it a very approachable book to those not familiar with the bard.
The dialogue itself is something to mention, as Moore combines modern English, Shakespearean dialogue, cockney slang and a few made up words to tell the story. There are footnotes on the more archaic words or lesser-known British slang, so the book is never bogged down by terms you need to look up in a dictionary. The mix of these different styles of language and wordplay are often the source of humor in the book, making for a very enjoyable read to those paying close attention.
For those of you who don’t know the plot of the original play, the basics of it are that King Lear wants to hear everyone praise him, especially his three daughters, then gets pissed when one of his daughters doesn’t verbally fellate him and decides to divide his land between his two bitchy, power hungry daughters. He is then surprised later on when they betray him. There is a lot of killing and deception along the way, all very typical of a Shakespeare tragedy. Among all of this, Moore still manages to put a smile on your face from page to page. There are a few awkward moments though, where the humor falls flat. Such as in one instance where Pocket and the king come across a traveling performance troupe who offer to put on a play of “Green eggs and Hamlet,” luckily though, cringe-worthy scenes like this are few and far between, and don’t last that long.
Reading over the cliff notes of the original play, it seems that Moore changed a few details throughout the plot. These changes are especially noticeable at the end, but they do not take away enjoyment from Fool itself. Moore never claims that he is Shakespeare; he is only trying to tell an enjoyable story. Shakespeare purists may be perturbed by this, but if it really bothers you so much you can’t enjoy the story, you really need to lighten up and learn to enjoy yourself.
Fool may not be on the same literary level as the original play, but it is a genuinely fun book to read. There were a few moments where I found myself actually laughing out loud from some of the things written, which is rare for me. If you can get past the fact the Moore has changed a few plot points, it makes for a genuinely good read. At the very least, the book will probably get you interested in reading the original play.
Publisher: William Morrow (February 10, 2009)
Hardcover: 336 pages
Fool: A Novel at Amazon.com