Seventy years of books: The Palm-Wine Drinkard

October 8, 2022 Donna M Day 2 comments

The Palm-Wine Drinkard, Amos Tutuola,1952 – The description of the curious creature to “Return the parts of body to the owners; or hired parts of the complete gentleman’s body to be returned”

Welcome to Seventy years of books, where I’m blogging my way through the seventy titles originally compiled for the Big Jubilee Read. The week I’m continuing with the first book, Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard.

The description of the curious creature

This chapter describes the kidnapped daughter of the Palm-Wine Drinkard’s host, whom the Drinkard is now on a quest to rescue.

It transpires that the daughter was not in fact kidnapped, but, mesmerised by the curious creature, who is a “beautiful “complete” gentleman”, she is compelled to follow him. He repeatedly tells her not to, but gives in in the end and allows her to continue to pursue him.

You do feel that the lady is vulnerable in the situation, but the feeling that the curious creature is a perfect gentleman creates a sense of safety.

It remains to be seen whether the Palm-Wine Drinkard’s rescue attempt is actually going to be thwarted by the besotted lady not wanting to leave the curious creature.

“Do not follow unknownman’s beauty”

The curious creature and kidnapped daughter enter an endless forest full of terrible creatures, an image often seen in folklore to enhance the safe feeling of the characters’ homes, for example in the well-known fairy tales, Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel.

The endlessness of this particular forest is frightening as the possibility of escape is so uncertain in the infinite landscape. It feels like the lady has been spellbound by this curious creature and helplessly led into a perilous situation.

The reference to the forest being home to “all the terrible creatures” creates a feeling that all of the evil of the world resides in this forest.

Together with the possibility that the so-called kidnapped daughter may not want to return home, the volume of evil that she has passed through with the curious creature will undoubtedly make the Palm-Wine Drinkard’s rescue of her even more difficult. Though, as he has already achieved the impossible, he will no doubt meet the challenge head-on.

“Return the parts of body to the owners; or hired parts of the complete gentleman’s body to be returned”

I love the word-play in this chapter title, with the clash of parts and complete. It creates a very ominous feeling as well, which is fully realised in this part of the book where events take a sharp turn.

The curious creature now proceeds to return parts of his body, which it turns out are rented, to their various owners. The lady is very frightened by this spectacle and now wishes to return home, but the curious creature will not allow her to. He tells her that she was warned not to pursue him, but continued to follow him regardless, and now, she cannot leave.

Like the Palm-Wine Drinkard who will attempt to rescue her, now she only wants to go back to how things were before. As this complete gentleman transforms before her eyes from something benign and mesmerising, to something terrible and terrifying, her acute regret intensifies and her vulnerability becomes increasingly clear.

Tutuola’s descriptions of the curious creature do an excellent job of creating a vivid image of terror through the kidnapped daughter’s eyes. The comparisons with animals and the depictions of his progressively acrobatic movements give of a sense of a being both spectacular and horrific.

The disembodied creature is now taking the kidnapped daughter deeper and deeper into the endless forest, so now it’s time for the Palm-Wine Drinkard to come to the rescue!

This week in 1952

On 30 September, Jack Wild, who played the Artful Dodger in Oliver! was born.

The day before, John Cobb, who held the World Land Speed Record, died attempting to break world Water Speed Record at Loch Ness.

29 September also saw the Manchester Guardian (now the Guardian) print news, rather than adverts, on its front page for the first time.

October 1952 saw the launch of Mad magazine with the initial issue being priced 10c and sales being pretty poor.Cover of the first issue of MAD magazine. A family are in the corner terrified. The father says "That thing! Slithering blob coming towards us!" Mother says "What is it?" Baby says "It's Melvin!"

On 5 October 1952 the rationing of tea ended in the UK. During the War adults were rationed two ounces of tea (about three cups) a day. If you liked sugar in your tea though, rations would remain on that until February 1953. Coffee was never rationed as it just wasn’t that popular!

1952 song of the week:You Belong To Me, Jo Stafford

For me, this song screams of the 1950s, from its distorted opening to the lower register of Stafford’s notes. The themes of being apart and looking forward to being reunited were still very emotive this soon after the war and originally the song was written as a wartime ballad entitled Hurry Home To Me. Although Stafford wasn’t the first and by far not the only person to record the song, her version was the most successful reaching No1 in both the US and the UK.

1952 film of the week: The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men

Disney’s 1952 adaptation of this classic legend tells the story of the rise of Robin Hood following King Richard leaving England to go on crusade. Prince John has been left in charge of the country and takes the opportunity to raise taxes to eye-watering heights and makes moves to take the throne for himself.

Like all adaptations of Robin Hood, it’s a little shaky on the actual history, but features all of the classic scenes, such as the archery competition, Robin’s fight with Little John on a bridge and lots of frowning by the Sheriff of Nottingham.

The film is very brightly coloured, like most adventure films of the era, and, like The Palm-Wine Drinkard, features a number of references to alcohol, although the film is pretty family friendly on the whole. Friar Tuck enjoys copious amounts of wine with his pie, but most people prefer to celebrate with their barrels of good English ale.

1952 product of the week: Mum, the first roll on deodorant

Inspired by the ballpoint pen, the first roll on deodorant was introduced by Mum in 1952. Still a popular way of applying deodorant today, you can now see sustainable, refillable options being sold, such as Wild. Mum’s original deodorant was a cream in a jar, applied with the fingers, another sustainable option which is making a comeback.

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