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"Treating the Literary Literally:" The Reflexive Structure of Flann O’Brien’s ... - page 25 / 50





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novel, moving beyond Trellis’ use for him, and even the narrator’s. What is surprising about Finn is that he can even move outside the narrative altogether and cause O’Brien problems in the work’s actual composition. Finn can move upwards through the narrative structure, unlike any other character. Even when other characters become authors or story-tellers, they remain rooted in their narrative caste. All except Finn have a ceiling in the novel; they can move downwards, but never above their original placing in the diagram of the Red Swan.

The narrator uses Finn to support aspects of the narrator’s literary theory; the narrator opposes traditional uses of characters, as does this famous hero. Finn sounds a long complaint about these literary employments. One must remember, though, that the narrator is despotically putting this speech into Finn’s mouth. We are shown the negative side, although in a comical form, of the use of characters in Ireland’s literary tradition. Finn is a mythical character, and has been used repeatedly after his original creation for stories of fantastic adventures, resulting in his suffering numerous hardships and injuries. Because of his designation as a hunter and warrior, he has lived a much harder life than some other characters with more cushy literary roles.

The narrator presents the readers of At Swim-Two-Birds with a group of Finn’s clan, the Fianna, asking Finn to "relate" various tales of their ancestors. The narrator wishes to play with the Irish tradition, and produces a section headed "Extract from my typescript descriptive of Finn Mac Cool and his people, being a humorous or quasi-humorous incursion into ancient mythology" (16). For several pages following, the narrator gives the reader a long list of men asking for specific stories which Finn decides whether or not to "relate," including several examples of his poetic skill along with these tales. This parody of traditional entertainment includes a different spelling of McCool, in order for the narrator to use a different, more learned tone of voice from the vulgar characters that Finn lives with in the Red Swan hotel. Finn is a rather grumpy hero in At Swim-Two-Birds, and is presented as an ancient bore to those around him once he is an inhabitant of the Red Swan hotel. One sees a larger comment on the state of Ireland’s literary tradition in these scenes; the characters who are interested in the popular fiction of Trellis’ contemporaries are aggravated by Finn and treat him with disrespect.

When the narrator first presents Finn, Finn laments to his Fianna the ills done to the heroes of Ireland by Christian authors:

Small wonder, said Finn, that Finn is without honour in the breast of a sea-blue book, Finn that is twisted and trampled and tortured for the weaving of a story-teller’s book- web. Who but a book-poet would dishonour the God-big Finn for the sake of a gap- worded story? (24)

The narrator again engages in some self-satire here while having Finn state his case for more respectful treatment by authors. Finn shows a disregard for written language, noting the spaces between words on a page in contrast to the "discoursing [of] melodious Irish" (25).

Finn’s expresses his status as a mythological hero pre-dating Christianity throughout his speech. He notes that he is "God-big" and is sure to denigrate a character he terms a "Lent-gaunt cleric" (25). His poetry states that he is capable of anything, that he is ancient and undying: "I am every hero from the crack of time" (24). Finn’s poetry will be discussed later, however, as the present chapter must focus on Finn’s attack on authors. Besides injustices such as transforming "the children of a king into white swans with the loss of their own bodies, to be swimming the two seas of Erin in snow and ice-cold rain without bards or chess-boards" (25), Finn discusses what will later be a separate narrative direction for At Swim-Two-Birds, a tale that Finn will tell. Finn will contribute to the narrator’s final narrative plane, telling the tale of the madness of


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