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Book Review: Christopher Moore's 'The Serpent of Venice'


“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” While some would take this quote from Shakespeare as merely insightful into human nature, author Christopher Moore takes it as gospel. Moore’s character named Pocket turns out is the very same fool from the great Bard’s “King Lear.” And this fool is the wisest person in any throne room.

Pocket first appeared in Christopher Moore’s wonderful satire “Fool,” reinventing the classic Shakespeare tragedy from the perspective of this intrepid character. In that novel, Pocket is the mastermind for the undoing of King Lear and his two wicked daughters.

Now Pocket has returned in a new book, “The Serpent of Venice.” In this comedy adventure Pocket is stuck in Venice, and it begins with him trapped in a cellar preparing to experience a slow and horrible death. From there the story grows to include mermaids, a best friend named Othello, a merchant named Shylock and a villain named Iago, who really doesn’t have a chance against a brain like Pocket’s.You don’t have to be a Shakespeare scholar to enjoy Moore’s books. Christopher Moore is in a way like a great English 101 professor, the kind who enjoys the literary section of the library and wants you to as well. If anything, a reader will want to open the pages of “The Merchant of Venice,” “Othello” and “King Lear” afterwards to see what Moore accomplishes in these comedy books.

Christopher Moore for me resides in the same wonderful literary corner as Douglas Adams and P.G. Wodehouse. These are comedy writers who are highly creative, who don’t talk down to their readers, and wit reigns supreme.

One of the things I really enjoy about these books is the philosophy hiding behind them. For Moore finds humor and hope in tragedy. Most of us know that these stories in Shakespeare’s hands end badly, so you want to see how Moore is going to... well, I’m not going to say fix... but correct them. It’s rare that I would enjoy someone changing sacred text like Shakespeare, but in Moore’s hands I want to see how his creativity will get Pocket out of another horrible mess.

My only wish for Christopher Moore is that he continues these adventures of Pocket. I want to see Pocket dealing with fairies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” drinking with Falstaff and debating philosophy with Hamlet. There is nothing but possibility ahead for a fun and witty character like Pocket. Or as Shakespeare put it, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Moore’s fool is a little of all three.

Current State contributor Scott Southard is author of the novels “A Jane Austen Daydream" and “Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare." More of his writing can be found at his blog, The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard.

Current State contributor Scott D. Southard is author of A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors, and Megan. Scott received his Master's degree in writing from the University of Southern California. More of his writing can be found at his blog, The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard.
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