Fables are weird.
As far back as humanity goes, we’ve been telling stories that explain the things in life we don’t understand. Our ancient tales speak of how a zebra got his stripes, or use the misadventures of anthropomorphized animals to teach some moral lesson.
At their core, fables and myths are strange because we don’t understand who we are or why we’re here. They’re an attempt to rationalize a universe that we just don’t get. Even in the context of sincerely practiced religion, our stories of the creation of the world or the acts of our gods are just plain unusual. We might truly believe them, but that doesn’t make them any less weird.
Today, our literary tradition has evolved into more of a realistic niche. We like stories with clear reasoning, with an exposition and a climax and a solid resolution. We like to know who does what, when and why they did it. We like answers; we like our stories to make sense. Jon Snow joins the Night’s Watch to make a name for himself despite his bastardry. Walter White cooks meth to provide for his family, but also because he likes being in control. We get that.
This trend has unquestionably given rise to some fantastic literature, television and cinema, but it could be argued that in our unending quest for realism and sense, we’ve lost some of the mystery and wonder that filled our old tales.
With the Woodchuck Series, Tech’s own English chairman, Ted Pelton, is trying to restore a small part of that lost tradition.
As you would expect, the Woodchuck Series consists of several short stories focused on the eponymous Woodchuck, a type of folk hero/mythical figure. Woodchuck embarks on a series of adventures recounted in tales that straddle the line between prose and poetry.
You might not expect him to encounter a zombified Hank Williams in the course of his adventures; I certainly didn’t expect him to carry his penis around in a box, from which it regularly escapes to cause trouble.
The Woodchuck Series defies expectation at every turn, and then steadfastly refuses to explain itself. Woodchuck has his penis in a box because that’s just how he is. Hank Williams wanders about, eating innocents, because that’s what Hank Williams does when he becomes a zombie. It’s unapologetically weird, and I love it.
The writing is simple but elegantly so, following the style of old folklore and fables. However, there are no morals here; at the very least they aren’t stated as explicitly as Aesop.
If you spend much of your time engrossed in stories (whether on the page or on the screen) it’s easy to forget that, most of the time, life doesn’t come neatly packaged.
Pelton’s Woodchuck Series does an excellent job of encapsulating the bewilderment and basic strangeness that is part and parcel with modern life. He thinks that we need a little more strangeness in the tales we consume, and after reading his work I’m inclined to agree. Certainly the weirdness that is the Woodchuck Series is well worth a read.