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Monday, July 06, 2009

A FEAST UNKNOWN (1969) by Philip Jose Farmer

1975 edition, cover art by Richard Corben.

Every now and then I'm confronted by a novel that falls into a category I like to call the "What the fuck?!!?" books, and I recently read one that's still kicking me in the skull for a good number of reasons.

The edition of Farmer's groundbreaking THE LOVERS that I read back in 1981.

Philip Jose farmer is an author who's had quite an impact on science-fiction thanks to being perhaps the first writer to bring grownup sexuality into the genre with his award-winning novella THE LOVERS (1952), and I've read a number of his other works, enjoying each. But the one area of Farmer's focus that most fascinated me was his interest in and love of the old pulp heroes, particularly Tarzan of the Apes and Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze. I've read some of the Doc Savage stories and most of the Tarzan stuff, so when farmer played with the characters, writing biographies of each and treating them as actual historical figures who lived and breathed, I couldn't help but be amused at his exhaustive examinations of his heroes' lives, being the totally straight-faced in-jokes that they were. (I heartily recommend both TARZAN ALIVE: A DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY OF LORD GREYSTOKE (1972) and DOC SAVAGE: HIS APOCALYPTIC LIFE (1973) to any curiosity seekers, but they're really best enjoyed by those who already have a solid grounding in the many adventures of both Tarzan and Doc.) So when I heard of Farmer's A FEAST UNKNOWN, an infamous tweaking of the two heroes that is as over- the-top with the sex and violence as possible, I was intrigued to read it and sought a copy for years (particularly the edition illustrated by my man Richard Corben, but good luck with that), finally finding it in a paperback edition from 1995. Now that I've read it, all I can say is an unequivocal, "What the fuck?!!?"

A FEAST UNKNOWN is the alleged ninth volume in the memoirs of Lord Grandrith — a character so blatantly the Edgar Rice Burroughs jungle lord that his name may as well be "Zantar" — and chronicles the increasingly bizarre events following an attack upon his African estate by a disgruntled group of local tribesmen who just can't stand the White Man in general and Grandrith in particular. Awakening naked after his house is blown to smithereens by artillery, Grandrith begins kicking ass like nobody's business and discovers to his horror and confusion that when he kills an enemy he suffers (?) from raging erections and invariably ejaculates all over himself or his enemies. This aberration is described in extremely explicit detail and if you've ever read even one Tarzan novel — which Grandrith describes as "lying" works by his "biographer" Burroughs — you know how much killing the guy does, meaning that there are many combat-derived boners and cumshots to be had throughout the book. In fact, during the first fifth of the story the recounting and examinations of the jungle lord's blown loads becomes exhausting, leaving the reader as spent as the readee. The worst part of it is that there's nothing erotic in any of it, especially during an early sequence where Grandrith seeks to revenge himself in like fashion upon a savage who cut open his favorite dog's vagina so he could more easily violate the poor beast.

Yes, you read that right; a character who's pretty much Tarzan cuts open a sadistic animal-abuser with the intent of fucking the guy's open viscera, only to find himself so over-stimulated that he doesn't quite make it into the gaping wound, instead crashing the yogurt truck on the guy's belly. That stirring moment occurs on page twenty of a three-hundred and twenty-page novel, so you can imagine how out of control the story becomes once it really gets going.

In short order, Tarzan, er, Grandrith finds himself hunted like a big game animal by a psychotically-enraged Doc Caliban, the tale's alternative Doc Savage, but the question is why? The answers are pretty fucking insane across the board, and loaded with cocks-a-spurtin' homoerotic imagery though it is — the "crossed swords" encounter between Grandrith and Caliban made me laugh out loud — I was very amused by the whole magillah. Farmer clearly knows what makes both of his stand-ins' templates tick and to see them engaging in such ludicrous alpha male shenanigans is perversely hilarious, which was apparently what Farmer was going for. Nonetheless, it's really weird to read Grandrith's descriptions of his assorted orgasms, sexual adventures — his unexpurgated account of his encounter with the "real life" inspiration for Burroughs' La of Opar is particularly dire — and how sweet his wife's vagina tastes, to say nothing of his fond remembrance of Kuta, "a beautiful female leopard" who was Grandrith's, uhm..."companion" when he was on the road exploring without his wife. (It is noted that Kuta dumped Grandrith presumably because he could not give her cubs.) And lest I forget, there's even a bit in which the jungle lord kills a fly that had landed upon the head of his cock by spewing DNA all over it, or as it's stated in the book:

I fell asleep for a while and awoke with a piss hard-on. A fly landed on my sensitive glans and precipitated another ejaculation. It was caught in the first spurt and died. I have never forgotten that. It may be the only one in the history of flies to have died in this manner.

Yeah, I'd wager you're probably right about that, dude. I can't even begin to imagine what Edgar Rice Burroughs, or even Johnny Weissmuller for that matter, would have to say about that one. And for those who may have imagined such a thing transpiring — I assure you I was not among them — we even see the captive, handcuffed jungle lord getting buggered by a fat slob of an Albanian named Noli:

Noli played skillfully with me. His hand was big, but it was almost as gentle and knowledgeable as my wife's. He must have had much practice.

I failed to respond in the slightest.

If my aberration had been absent, I might have had an erection and an orgasm eventually. Friction alone can do much, and I was not frightened of him. I was angry, but I doubt that this would have inhibited an erection.

After a while, he quit with an exclamation of disgust. He began to move his hard penis against my anus. He breathed harder, and then his hands clamped my buttocks and he spread them open. The huge glans was, however, denied entrance. I have a very powerful sphincter, which I closed as far as I could. He shoved for a long time. Then he said, "Let me in, or I knock you out."

I didn't want another headache and possible brain damage, so I said, "Very well."

He spit on the end of his penis, I supposed, and, slowly but insistently, pushed the head in. The shaft slid through immediately thereafter.

I hurt, and I also felt as if I had to get rid of a huge turd. He began to slide the penis back and forth, and the pain increased. He grunted with each lunge, and I could feel the thick stiff hairs against the bare skin of my buttocks. His hands were around me again, one on my penis and one cupping my testicles. He began squeezing on these. I clamped my teeth and endured the pain. Stoic as a wild beast, as my biographer would have said, if he had known about this, although he would have shut such a scene out of his mind, because it would have destroyed his image of me. I could be tortured in his romances, but I could not, of course, be buggered.

Yeah, I actually read a scene where "Tarzan" gets boned up the ass by a sweaty Albanian, and now so have you. I was howling while reading this on the subway, tears rolling down my cheeks as I pictured Johnny Weissmuller enacting this sequence, perhaps with Charles Laughton in the role of Noli (which wouldn't have been much of a stretch for Laughton).

No buggery for the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan. No siree, bub!

There's even a sequence involving a ritual by an ancient secret society that will make both the boys and the girls in the audience want to run screaming into the hills, and as I read it on the subway I felt my eyes widen and my mouth hang open in sheer disbelief and revulsion (which is not to say that I wasn't entertained)... Anyway, you get the idea, and since I can't really discuss further details of the story without ruining its thoroughly intentional and at times side-splitting outrageousness, I'll just recommend A FEAST UNKNOWN to any with a twisted sense of humor and those brave enough to have their childhood perceptions of two of the pulps' three greatest protagonists irrevocably shattered. The missing member of the triumvirate would be the Shadow and though he may have studied in the mystic orient and seen and done a lot of weird shit, I doubt he'd be all that down with the buggery.

Philip Jose Farmer: literary genius or dirty, dirty pervert? YOU decide!


Kevin M. Hagerman said...

Holy crap this would have been a perfect April 1st post!

Bunche said...

But it's not a joke; it's an actual book! No bullshit!

Deacon Blue said...

That novel must have been an absolute hoot to write.

Now I feel that my recently launched side-project-blog with erotic fetish fiction and commentary must pale in comparison to Farmer's little foray here...

(Of course, that won't stop me from trying to top him somehow, though that will only distract me from the novel I'm supposed to be finishing on my primary blog...)

Hope the fishing finished up well, Bunche, and that Ariel isn't swimming too funny right now...

Satyrblade said...

Well, you certainly started my Mondya off right! I laughed myself literally to tears with this. I wonder if I can find the damned thing anywhere? I'll have to put that book on my list.

Ah, the '70s! A friend and I were just talking yesterday about the outragious shit creative types could get away with back in the halcyon years between the Summer of Love and the Rise of Reagan. The conversation started with Zardoz and went on from there. I told him to rent Lisztomania at the next opportunity, and I might make a point of obtaining a copy of it the next time we hang out. Still, A Feast Unknown sounds like it puts even that legendary WTF opus to shame. Thanks!

PS: This message's capchua is "Grolouge," which sounds to me like a particularly pariaistic Ultraman monster!

Bunche said...

Sadly, LISZTOMANIA is not available on DVD (not that that ever stopped people from burning it to DVD-ROM), but considering that it's a Ken Russell movie it's only a matter of time before it finally shows up. Christ, I love that movie...

Satyrblade said...

Really? could have sworn I saw it on DVD when we watched it a few years back over at Jeremy's place. Maybe it was VHS, but I recall it being a DVD.

Satyrblade said...

Heads up! :)

Bunche said...

Thanks for the link. LISZTOMANIA just came out a little over a month ago in England, but it's still not out over here, meaning this DVD can only be watched on all-regions DVD players, computers, and Playstations until it gets a U.S. release. I'm crossing my fingers.