Sunday, May 24, 2015


"Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot" was a department that ran in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for many years, written by Reginald Bretnor under the anagrammic pseudonym of Grendel Briarton.

Feghoots were exceedingly short short-stories which would conclude with the titular character uttering an awful pun which the entire story, such as it was, existed for the sole purpose of setting up.

Recently reading Jason Fisher's history of the "hobbit"/"habit" pun, I saw that there was a Feghoot using it, and that furthermore it included Tolkien as a character. That made it eligible for my list of the Inklings in fiction, so into the list it went, both its original appearance and its reprint in The Collected Feghoot (1992), which I have.

It then occurred to me that I could find my favorite Feghoots by making a quick list of the words or phrases being punned on. By doing so, I discovered that 13 of the 122 Feghoots are not puns, but spoonerisms, and that an additional 3 are the word-level equivalent of spoonerisms: that is, they depend on exchanging words in the way that spoonerisms exchange phonemes. The most convoluted of these, which also incorporates puns, is set in ca. 1960 geopolitics and sets up "Fidel roamed while Nehru burned" and you can sort of guess the story from that.

Of course, the humor depends on the reader knowing the phrase "Nero fiddled while Rome burned," and if you don't, you'll just go huh? There's a lot of the originals that would be worth doing generational tests on, as I feel old-fashioned just being able to remember them myself, this among them. But I may not be that old, or Bretnor ran out of steam, for there were 2 Feghoots, both near the end of the run, that I didn't get at all, and another 6 that were close enough to not making sense that I might be missing something.

What distressed me more than that, however, was the discovery that the Feghoots I remember most fondly aren't in the collection at all. Uh-oh. Were they in the previous collection, which I used to have, and edited out for this one? (The ordering and numbering do not appear to be consistent.) Fortunately that turned out not to be the case. The ones I remember aren't Feghoots at all. They're from Randall Garrett's parodies of Feghoots, "Through Time and Space with Benedict Breadfruit," and I have to say, they're better than the originals. The most painful is set on a planet with a royal fiat against picking squash, and concludes:
"But why can't I pick a pumpkin, father?" asked the child.
"It would be a violation of the Gourd Edict, son."
And you have to remember an SF writer named Gordon R. "Gordy" Dickson to get that one, but even if he'd never done anything else, it'd be worth remembering him just for that.

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