A Cretan Minotaur in Nebraska
Jurisfiction is the name given to the policing agency inside books. Working with the intelligence-gathering capabilities of Text Grand Central, the many Prose Resource Operatives at Jurisfiction work tirelessly to maintain the continuity of the narrative within the pages of all the books ever written. Performing this sometimes thankless task, Jurisfiction agents live mostly on their wits as they attempt to reconcile the author's original wishes and readers' expectations against a strict and largely pointless set of bureaucratic guidelines laid down by the Council of Genres. I headed Jurisfiction for over two years and was always astounded by the variety of the work: one day I might be attempting to coax the impossibly shy Darcy from the toilets, and the next I would be thwarting the Martians' latest attempt to invade Barnaby Rudge. It was challenging and full of bizarre twists. But when the peculiar and downright weird becomes commonplace, you begin to yearn for the banal.
- Thursday Next, The Jurisfiction Chronicles
The Minotaur had been causing trouble far in excess of his literary importancefirst by escaping from the fantasy-genre prison book Sword of the Zenobians, then by leading us on a merry chase across most of fiction and thwarting all attempts to recapture him. The mythological half-man, half-bull son of Queen Pasiphaë of Crete had been sighted within Riders of the Purple Sage only a month after his escape. We were still keen on taking him alive at this point, so we had darted him with a small dose of slapstick. Theoretically, we needed only to track outbreaks of custard-pie-in-the-face routines and walking-into- lamppost gags within fiction to lead us to the cannibalistic man-beast. It was an experimental idea and, sadly, also a dismal failure. Aside from Lafeu's celebrated mention of custard in All's Well That Ends Well and the ludicrous four-wheeled-chaise sequence in Pickwick Papers, little was noticed. The slapstick either hadn't been strong enough or had been diluted by the BookWorld's natural disinclination to visual jokes.
In any event we were still searching for him two years later in the western genre, amongst the cattle drives that the Minotaur found most relaxing. And it was for this reason that Commander Bradshaw and I arrived at the top of page 73 of an obscure pulp from the thirties entitled Death at Double-X Ranch.
"What do you think, old girl?" asked Bradshaw, whose pith helmet and safari suit were ideally suited to the hot Nebraskan summer. He was shorter than I by almost a head but led age-wise by four decades; his sun-dried skin and snowy white mustache were a legacy of his many years in colonial African fiction: He had been the lead character in the twenty-three "Commander Bradshaw" novels, last published in 1932 and last read in 1963. Many characters in fiction define themselves by their popularity, but not Commander Bradshaw. Having spent an adventurous and entirely fictional life defending British East Africa against a host of unlikely foes and killing almost every animal it was possible to kill, he now enjoyed his retirement and was much in demand at Jurisfiction, where his fearlessness under fire and knowledge of the BookWorld made him one of the agency's greatest assets.
He was pointing at a weathered board that told us the small township not more than half a mile ahead hailed by the optimistic name of Providence and had a population of 2,387.
I shielded my eyes against the sun and looked around. A carpet of sage stretched all the way to the mountains, less than five miles distant. The vegetation had a repetitive pattern that belied its fictional roots. The chaotic nature of the real world that gave us soft, undulating hills and random patterns of forest and hedges was replaced within fiction by a landscape that relied on ordered repetitions of the author's initial description. In the make-believe world where I had made my home, a forest has only eight different trees, a beach five different pebbles, a sky twelve different clouds. A hedgerow repeats itself every eight feet, a mountain range every sixth peak. It hadn't bothered me that much to begin with, but after two years living inside fiction, I had begun to yearn for a world where every tree and rock and hill and cloud has its own unique shape and identity. And the sunsets. I missed them most of all. Even the best-described ones couldn't hold a candle to a real one. I yearned to witness once again the delicate hues of the sky as the sun dipped below the horizon. From red to orange, to pink, to blue, to navy, to black.
Excerpted from Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde. Copyright Jasper Fforde 2004. All rights reserved
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