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Superfluous Umlaut

The following information is taken from the Galactic Service programme In My Own Time, presented by Merkyn Bagg, in which a range of academics slowly discuss things you haven't heard of, for your own good. Next week's edition will cover the influence of The Illiad on soft drinks manufacture, and a review of The Shock of the Nude by Indemnity Wentworth.

Early life

Superfluous Umlaut (1546-1608) was an important artist, whose paintings and woodcuts have instilled a sense of wonder and mild depression in generations of churchgoers. He was born in Bruges, son of Felicitous and Scrofulous Umlaut the Younger, a noted painter of rural scenes whose Scranneting Peasants delighted the Duke of Tuscany. Superfluous travelled to Germany and studied under Melchior Broderam, then the heaviest of the Old Masters. Rejecting his father’s rural scenes, Superfluous turned his hand to religious subjects, feeling that medieval religion had become excessively frivolous.

Religious experience

In 1572, he exhibited The Dyspepsy of Pope Sylvester, and was sent to hospital. Whilst recuperating, he claimed to have had a visit from the Angel Gabriel, which he celebrated in the woodcut Rejoice, for Soon Ye Shall All Die Horribly And Be Condemned to Endless Torment. Rejoice became the left panel in a tryptich presented to the Duke of Verona to celebrate his marriage: the other panels being The Worms Await Thy Flesh and Repent Thy Lechery, Foul Newlyweds.

Later life and death

But it is for his paintings of Hell that Umlaut is best known. In The Betrayers Are Cast Into Eternal Agony, he depicted the pains of Hell in elaborate and scatological detail, which he would repeat even more horribly in the prescient painting The Damned Are Tormented by Captain Sensible. In 1584, Umlaut was summoned to the Vatican, where he presented the pope with A Most Discomforting Pitchfork, also known as Recant This, Thou Wretched Peasant, a gift which moved the Pontifex to tears. The Pope recorded that a more convincing vision of Hell had never been depicted before, and Umlaut was thanked profusely, granted a papal indulgence, and burned at the stake for knowing far too much for his own good.

Book Reviews

Proper, improving literature, not science fiction.

Importance by Guy Chess

Winner of this year’s Important Novel Competition, Importance tells the story of a liberal arts professor at a minor American university who has an affair with a student, and has been described as the most important novel about a liberal arts professor at a minor American university who has an affair with a student since last year’s Significance, also by Guy Chess. Here’s what the critics say: ‘Breathtakingly original’ (Campus Review), ‘Profoundly sad’ (Literature), ‘Extremely funny’ (Profundity) and ‘Probably about Vietnam or something’ (Vague).

Vomit by Nigel Braintree

This year’s winner in the Important Novel Competition’s Angry Satire category, Vomit is a subtle and nuanced analysis of modern society. Peter Sludge, a hedge fund manager, joins forces with orbital scrap tycoon Keith Grievousbodilyharm to smuggle “all the bloody coke ever up my bum”. Little does he realise that the “coke” is a volatile fizzy drink, in large cans. Braintree’s prose shimmers and enchants, especially in the suppository scenes. His best since Old Rope.

Life Outside New York by Mike Draino

Life Outside New York, by Mike Draino, tells of Mike Draino, a middle-aged novelist living in New York, who comes to suspect that he is a character in a novel set in New York. “Mike was. If anything was certain, it was that he was. But was he? Could he really say that, in being in New York, he wasn’t really in New York? Was he in the New, or the York? Could he travel between them? Yorkie York, or Newey New? These questions were important to him.” ‘A simple story, beautifully told’ (Profundity).

Der Hosenkonig

Most of you will of course know of Schubert's song cycle, Der Lederhosenlieder (trans. "Songs about leather shorts"). Less well known is the English folk song "The Trouser King", which tells of the mischevious and vaguely seedy antics of the posterior-obsessed king of Fairyland.

From the old path do not stray
Lest your britches are snatched away
Trust not buttons, belt nor string
When in the realm of the Trouser King.

On summer nights, his imps and witches
Pilfer shorts and covet britches
In the dark they snatch at pantaloons
And delight at the sight of new moons.

Among the branches the pants are stowed
Where they serve the pixies as a wee abode.
The fairies fill the their monarch's cup
And he toasts the fay folk: “Bottoms up!”

So should you see him, you must run
Before you’re captured and undone
Guard your buttocks when the elves take wing
For behind your behind lurks the Trouser King.