0372 | Gargantua & Pantagruel | François Rabelais

0372 | Gargantua & Pantagruel | François Rabelais

Context: Ironically, I started reading this just before we moved house, and I finished reading it just as we discovered we had to move out of the house we subsequently moved into.


Urghh… took me an age to read this. It was partly my fault and partly the book’s. Long ago, I realised during the first book of this five book tome that I wasn’t going to enjoy lengthy sections of this. I’ll explain why in a bit. But rather than bite the bullet and get it over with, I decided, somewhat subconsciously influenced by Rabelais himself, to not leave the toilet until I had read at least a chapter. Granted the chapters are tiny. But there are 299 of them. Sigh…

So, a combination of bowel movements and Rabelaisian prose meant that, a year later, I was still plodding through this and wishing that either I was dead or Rabelais had never lived. Time travel precluded the latter and so I had to content myself with the former. And it didn’t help that I felt the victim of some huge literary practical joke upon reading quotes like this:

If you say to me: ‘It does not seem very wise of you to have written down all this gay and empty balderdash for us,’ I would reply that you do not show yourselves much wiser by taking pleasure in the reading of it.

Well I didn’t take pleasure in the reading of it. So there!

The story, if there is one in this the world’s most rambling satire (please God let it be so), is that Gargantua and his son Pantagruel are a couple of characters who travel widely and meet as many different characters as there are chapters. Each of the episodes they end up relating are side-splittingly funny… if you’re a 16th century French polyglot playing fast and loose with the rules of monastic living. I’m not. Nuffsed.

Rabelais subjects everything to scathing satire: history, literature, politics, religion, philosophy, culture, medicine. The Roman Catholics get a particular spanking. And there’s an entire book (oh, that I spoke in jest) on whether or not a particular character should get married. Each chapter is an argument either way until, at the very end of that particular book 52 chapters later, they decide to leave the matter undecided. Aaaargh!

Yes, yes, satire is meant to be like this: a literary insider’s joke. But, and I’ve made this complaint before, that’s as feeble an excuse as a postmodernist painter telling you that his entirely black canvas is “Whatever you want it to mean.” Life’s too short. This is going on my list of 1001 Books You Don’t Have to Read but Should Know About.


For knowledge of the Gargantua’s genealogy and of the antiquity of his descent, I refer you to the great Pantagrueline Chronicle, from which you will learn at greater length how the giants were born into this world, and how from them by a direct line issued Gargantua, the father of Pantagruel.


He rushed, as I said, so fiercely on them, without a word of warning, that he bowled them over like hogs, striking right and left in the old fencing fashion.

He beat out the brains of some, broke the arms and legs of others, disjointed the neck-bones, demolished the kidneys, slit the noses, blackened the eyes, smashed the jaws, knocked the teeth down the throats, shattered the shoulder-blades, crushed the shins, dislocated the thigh bones and cracked the fore-arms of yet others. If one of them tried to hide among the thickest vines, he bruised the whole ridge of his back and broke the base of his spine like a dog’s. If one of them tried to save himself by flight, he knocked his head into pieces along the lambdoidal suture. If one of them climbed into a tree, thinking he would be safe there, Friar John impaled him up the arse with his staff. If any one of his old acquaintance cried out: ‘Ha, Friar John, my friend, Friar John, I surrender!’ he replied: ‘You can’t help it. But you’ll surrender your soul to all the devils as well.’ And he gave the fellow a sudden thumping.


I’d as soon undertake to get a fart out of a dead donkey as an answer out of you.

Always owe something to someone. Then there will be prayers continually offered up to God to grant you a long and happy life.

He slanders the good mendicant fathers, Franciscan and Dominican, who are the two hemispheres of Christendom, on whose gyrognomic circumbilivaginations, as on two celivagous counterpendulums, the whole antonomatic matagrobolism of the Roman Church homocentrically revolves, which it feels itself obfusticulated by any heretical or erroneous claptrap.

…a dirty old hag of the company… made her an astringent so horrible that all her sphincter muscles were stopped and constricted. Indeed you could hardly have relaxed them with your teeth – which is a most horrible thought…


And so we passed through a country full of all delights, pleasanter and more temperate than Tempe in Thessaly, healthier than that part of Egypt, which faces towards Libya, better watered and greener than Themischyra, more fertile than that part of Mount Taurus which faces towards the North, or than the Hyperborean Island in the Judaic Sea, or than Caliges on Mount Caspius, sweet-smelling, smiling, and delightful as the country of Touraine; and at last we found our ships in the harbour.


0372 | Gargantua & Pantagruel | Rabelais | 57% | Okay

Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style Read more about how I come up with my ratings

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  1. Oh dear, if it took you a long time I’ll never finish!

    If it’s in 5 ‘books’, do you think it could be read in 5 sections with other books beign read inbetween..?!

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