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Regarding “Taking the Rats to Riga”

September 2, 2011

So, I find I’m getting a lot of hits today from folks directed here after author Jay Lake picked up my post from yesterday – in which I reviewed The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities – in his daily Link Salad.

Which is making me feel a tad guilty, because my mention of Jay Lake’s story is one not-very-enlightening line, with respect to his specific contribution to that anthology.  I reason that a good number of those who are coming over from Jay’s link are interested in my take on his story, in particular.  So I thought it might be useful for me to say just a few more words on Jay’s story, specifically, since he was kind enough to link me.

In my review of the Cabinet, I called “Taking the Rats to Riga” a “more peculiar specimen” and, more specifically, an “artificial [exegesis] of an imaginary [work]”.  Which is only partially true, since an artistic rendition of the supposed famous painting Jay  was commenting on accompanied his story.

Overall, Jay’s story plays beautifully into the conceit and conception of the book as a whole.  It takes the mythology of Lambshead book at face value, and does an able job exploring the quixotic compulsion of the imaginary doctor to collect quixotic objects of some imperceptible import.  In that way, I feel that Jay’s contribution was a seamless part of the fabric of the book, and goes a long way toward making the book, as a whole, into something more than an anthology of stories and into a work of art.

Although Jay’s story doesn’t do much with character or plot or the traditional trappings of story and narrative, it does something a little more subtle.  I’ve talked on this blog before about my enthusiasm for “Mythopoeia” (the link goes to the first in a series of three articles I wrote on the subject).  I think an understanding of what I mean by “mythopoeia” (as opposed to what might more commonly be meant by the word) is relevant to a discussion of the Cabinet of Curiosities, because I see the Cabinet as a form or type of mythopoeia – or, more specifically, as an artifact of mythopoeia.  It weaves a world and addresses that world not through the lens of a single narrative, but through a broader and more varied historiographic and mythographic sequence.

In the Cabinet of Curiosities, for instance, we don’t see a single overarching story about the good doctor’s mythic exploits and accomplishments and adventures.  Instead, his world is hinted at subtly through the varied stories and perspectives collected in this book.  Some address the doctor’s story directly, some indirectly, and some apparently not-at-all.  And what we’re getting isn’t really just the story of Dr. Lambshead but the story of an alternate history world in which Dr. Lambshead was a luminary figure.

In that respect, what’s delightful about “Taking the Rats to Riga” is that it is a fine specimen of mythopoeic artifact (or perhaps sub-artifact?).  Within the context of the Cabinet of Curiosities, it is one of those that somewhat indirectly hints at the history and character of Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead, but it’s a glimpse that feels authentic and textured.

So, if you came here hoping to read more about Jay’s story, hopefully this satisfies your curiosity a little more fully.  And thank you for reading!

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