Friday, April 8, 2011


Image courtesy of Wikimedia

In the 16th Century Francois Rabelais, one of the spiritual godfathers of role-playing games, wrote and released a peculiar series of no less than Five inter-connected novels upon an unsuspecting world. We'll come back to Rabelais in another post all his own--he may well be one of the patron saints of netherwerks; just think of how many blogs Rabelais might have attempted. Anyhow. This time out we're focusing on Gargantua, or rather Gargantua and Pantagruel or well the Idea of a Gargantua really, moreso than any dry boring analysis of the novels. We'll also leave the very Vancian-esque Panurge for another post as well, as he really deserves, nay Demands his own damn post. Besides we're less interested in the underlying politics and so forth and far more intrigued by the possibilities of those big goat-devouring giant-dudes walking around France. The ones that seem to change size in every scene to suit their circumstances. Yeah those ones, you can put those other ones back. For now. We'll see about them later. There's only so much you can do in one post. So it's a shallow and superficial desecration of a literary masterpiece; that's what role-playing games do. Make your saving throw already. Get over it. Gargantua already has...besides we're talking about a series of books filled with entire lists of vulgar insults, butt-loads of scatalogical humor (poop jokes for those without their coffee), and more satire than even the censors of the Sorbonne could wave a stick at, and they tried. Really they did. Fools. Poor doomed fools.

"Yum; goats..."
The Introduction to the English translation of Gargantua reads as follows:
Readers, friends, if you turn these pages
Put your prejudice aside,
For, really, there's nothing here that's outrageous,
Nothing sick, or bad — or contagious.
Not that I sit here glowing with pride
For my book: all you'll find is laughter:
That's all the glory my heart is after,
Seeing how sorrow eats you, defeats you.
I'd rather write about laughing than crying,
For laughter makes men human, and courageous.

Now how's that for some serious positivity and over-all good vibrations? Sounds innocent enough, right? And it comes from the 16th Century. A time period that also gave us the Protestant Reformation, Major League expansion of the Spanish colonization/exploitation efforts in the Americas, The Thirty Years War, Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great (another one of those ancient rulers a game designer/worldbuilder would do well to read about), Mercator's Maps, the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo's David.

To say that Rabelais was a man ahead of his time would be an understatement. But then Rabelais was the guy who did for the French language what Willy Shakespeare (or was it Bacon?) did for English.

The Author's Prologue goes into elaborate, exhaustive and quite filthy detail about nearly every and any aspect of Gargantua's personal history, geneology, antiquity, gestation and more. You'd have to read it to believe it. A handy English version is available online here. You can also get a nifty Audiobook version from LibriVOX. Be warned, this is not a quick read, or rather it might read fairly quickly, but there is a ton of stuff there...sort of like how H. P. Lovecraft stuffed a lot of $10 words into his fiction because he was getting paid by the word. Only even more extreme. And a lot funnier. And dirtier. Way dirtier. This is stuff that could still get you into trouble amongst English Majors, French Majors and probably more than a few editors. It's the kind of stuff that Garrison Keillor would reference but probably never dare to air. It could do wonders for your profanity index. Always a bonus.

Then there's the matter of all the fictional books mentioned, even criticized in the Gargantua novels*, books that don't rightly actually exist, that Rabelais passes off as if they were real, authentic works...hmmm...what famous 20th century American writer of weird fiction got notorious for re-inventing this 16th Century literary technique? Oh yeah, the scrawny guy with the over-developed ice cream fetish and severe seafood aversion out in Providence, that Lovecraft guy. Yeah. Rabelais took him to school. Big time. Centuries before he was even born. Word to your shoggoth. IA!
* Maybe we'll adapt a Random Table from this list...it certainly could come in handy for use with the Brazen Tomb project. Yeah. That that sounds like a good idea.
Of Gargantua's Geneology
To return to our wethers, I say that by the sovereign gift of heaven, the antiquity and genealogy of Gargantua hath been reserved for our use more full and perfect than any other except that of the Messias, whereof I mean not to speak; for it belongs not unto my purpose, and the devils, that is to say, the false accusers and dissembled gospellers, will therein oppose me. This genealogy was found by John Andrew in a meadow, which he had near the pole-arch, under the olive-tree, as you go to Narsay: where, as he was making cast up some ditches, the diggers with their mattocks struck against a great brazen tomb, and unmeasurably long, for they could never find the end thereof, by reason that it entered too far within the sluices of Vienne. Opening this tomb in a certain place thereof, sealed on the top with the mark of a goblet, about which was written in Etrurian letters Hic Bibitur, they found nine flagons set in such order as they use to rank their kyles in Gascony, of which that which was placed in the middle had under it a big, fat, great, grey, pretty, small, mouldy, little pamphlet, smelling stronger, but no better than roses. In that book the said genealogy was found written all at length, in a chancery hand, not in paper, not in parchment, nor in wax, but in the bark of an elm-tree, yet so worn with the long tract of time, that hardly could three letters together be there perfectly discerned.
How do you like that? This Gargantua creature has a pedigree to be envied by kings and popes alike. They find a brazen tomb that is unmeasurably long (they never did find the end of the thing) that was sealed with the mark of a goblet and set with Etrurian letters 'Hic Bibitur,' with nine flagons underneath which was a "...big, fat, great, grey, pretty, small, mouldy, little pamphlet, smelling stronger, but no better than roses." How cool a description is that? Inside the pamphlet, done-up in chancery hand no less, on elm bark, is the entire recorded lineage of this giant. Wow. Not many characters in mythology, fantasy fiction or RPGs can brag about having such an elaborate pedigree. Nor such a cool Tomb--The Brazen Tomb of Gargantua is just begging to get written-up. We have some ideas, and some notes--maybe we'll start exploring this at netherwerks.

The next section, Chapter 1.II.,  is titled:
The Antidoted Fanfreluches: or, a Galimatia of extravagant Conceits found in an ancient Monument.

Damn but that is a perfect title for an RPG Adventure. You can go digging in the Rabelais Encyclopedia at Google Books if you want to know more about Fanfreluches, antidoted or otherwise. We probably will be, again, later. Sigh.

You can spend a lot of time just mining the Introduction to the first novel. Then there's the novel itself and the other four novels. But it doesn't stop there, no it doesn't, not Rabelais nor his creations that have gone on to very busy lives all their own thank you very much. You can find giant statues of Gargantua and his son Pantagruel all across France, and a few other places. Later on we'll attempt to assemble a Gargantua Travelogue and a two-fisted, rip-roaring nod to Gulliver's Travels at the same time. The cool fiction by Johnathan Swift, not the horrible hash-up of a movie that recently congealed across cinema screens.

Some Handy Gargantua Links
Then there's the whole Crowley-connection to Rabelais. You know, that old dead English guy who wrote poetry, climbed mountains, re-invented magick (henceforth with the added 'K' for your inconvenience at minimal additional cost), drove numerous prostitutes to madness and despair, revised the Tarot, ghost wrote an astrology book that actually became popular in his lifetime, engaged in countless magickal feuds with his peers, expounded his own religion, took every drug known to man, spoke with aliens, crossed the abyss, wore funny costumes, reinvigorated Pseudo-Masonic sex magic(k), scared the willies out of Presbyterians, self-villified himself as a peculiarly effective form of negative marketing, and came up with his own fictional detective, the inscrutible Simon Iff. Of course there's a ton more. It is Crowley after all, not just some dodgy old Mason in an apron holding forth on the cramped and crapulous creeds of Lemuria or wherever...though he did do some of that too. Crowley is far too big a fish to fry in any one post, so we won't even try. If you don't know who he is, it can wait. Really. No one needs to be in a hurry to get to know Crowley. Once you start...it'll never stop. He contains multitudes, to borrow a phrase that Ken Hite likes to bandy about sometimes. He really does. Crowley. Hite's a far nicer guy. Maybe he's already written something on Crowley. That'd be a good place to start.

So what about Gargantua, not the Gargantuan ego of some dead Victorian scoundrel?

Getting back on track now.

Okay. There's a ton of great stuff to discover by digging around in Rabelais' Gargantua novels. Maybe beside an olive tree you'll find your own Brazen Tomb.

But there's also one more connection that we have to make in respects to Gargantua or else Chris Nigro of the Warrenverse would never forgive us--Yep--you probably already saw it coming. So here it is--

Arguably one of the weirdest Japanese Giant Monster movies of them all.

So if size-changing, wine-bibing giants with a penchant for goats wandering about the French countryside telling people to cheer up doesn't do it for you, there are shaggy, mutating, regenerating giant monsters from Japan that you can swap for them at a moment's notice. Does it really get any better than that?


  1. I was beginning to get worried you weren't gonna mention War of the Gargantua and then I scrolled down and you did.

    I never should have doubted you guys. :)

  2. @Trey: War of the Gargantua is a lot of fun and it's one of those movies that could easily get adapted into a scenario for a game session or even a full-blown campaign. The whole green versus brown Gargantua is just too good not to adapt...


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