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November/December 2017
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A Christmas Garland, by Max Beerbohm (1912)

Besides fiction, essays, criticism, and caricature, the multitalented Max Beerbohm wrote many cruelly skillful parodies. This seasonal collection imagines contemporary authors' handling of Christmas—sometimes fantastical.

His Kipling send-up has a sycophantic narrator who savors the wisdom of a brutish London policeman and is delighted when P.C. Judlip pounces on a red-robed "airman" seen emerging suspiciously from a chimney-pot: "'Frog's-march him!' I shrieked, dancing." Beerbohm did not love Kipling.

The neologism-studded gloom of Thomas Hardy's Napoleonic verse epic The Dynasts is echoed by a Beerbohm "sequelula" that opens in the Void: "Our own Solar System is visible, distant by some two million miles." To Hardy's chorus of observing spirits, humanity appears as "parasites by which, since time began,/Space has been interfested." When the aloof astral watchers investigate Dickensian festive cheer, much silliness ensues.

Max's H.G. Wells spoof envisions a future utopia where Christmas has become General Cessation Day, that happy time when old folk walk in stately procession to the lethal chambers. Thus they joyously "'make way' for the beautiful young breed of men and women who, in simple, artistic, antiseptic garments, are disporting themselves so gladly on this day of days."

This hits harder than his first Wells parody, "The Defossilized Plum-Pudding," not in the Garland but rescued (with other Beerbohm japes from the Christmas 1896 Saturday Review) for Dwight MacDonald's 1960 anthology Parodies. Here a mad scientist serves up a Christmas pudding which proves to be a chemically transformed cannon ball from the 1645 Battle of Naseby. Indigestion looms.

—David Langford

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