Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Good Short Fiction: Three stories from Tales of Wrykyn and Elsewhere

Collection: Tales of Wrykyn and Elsewhere
Author: P.G. Wodehouse (Pelham Grenville Wodehouse)

These are light-hearted stories set in early 20th century English public schools, where the boys have two main concerns: outsmarting their teachers and winning cricket matches. Wodehouse takes pleasure writing about these little misfits and hooligans living in the self-contained world of whatever school they attend (George Orwell suggests in his essay on Wodehouse's conduct during WWII that it's a world Wodehouse in some ways never left). If not for Wodehouse's way with words and funny characterizations I wouldn't have checked this volume out; as it is, it's fluffy and fun, and an interesting look at a different culture. There's some cricket terminology now floating around in my head along with other odds and ends.

Title: The Autograph Hunters
Dunstable (I love that name) is indifferent to academics but devoted to manipulating teachers. When he finds out that his favorite teacher collects autographs he tries to get him the autograph of a famous author who never gives them out. His first tactic is to write beseeching fan letters from made-up people, including a grieving mother. The fan letters are the best part of the story, because how do you go about writing them without having read anything the author's written? Dunstable's plan B involves trespassing and introduces us to a groundskeeper who has a thorough understanding of the male psyche:
To the keeper's mind the human boy up to the age of twenty or so had no object in life except to collect eggs. After twenty, of course, he took to poaching.


Title: The Guardian
Thomas Shearnes is a smart-mouthed little snot who looks like an angel. The only person who actually thinks he's an angel is his mother, and when her darling boy starts school she sends money to an older student, Spencer, to get him to look out for Thomas. At first Spencer is happy to accept the money without doing anything, but one of Spencer's friends, Phipps, who "possessed the scenario of a conscience," urges him to at least check up on Thomas. Spencer does so, to his regret.
"That kid," said Spencer to his immortal soul, "wants his head smacked, badly."
Thomas is an entertaining brat who's good at looking out for himself. I also enjoyed the conversations - if you can call them that - between him and Spencer.


Title: Jackson's Extra
It looks like Jackson, a star cricket player at Wrykyn, won't be able to participate in a match against a rival school because he's gotten in trouble with his strictest teacher, Mr. Dexter. Fortunately the resourceful and cunning O'Hara hatches a plot to save him. Mr. Dexter is a Snape-like teacher - he hands out detentions left and right, treats his students like convicts, and complains to the school's Headmaster about the worst troublemakers, in this case Jackson and O'Hara. He and O'Hara are described as "ancient enemies," because in the small world of the boarding school minor conflicts take on epic proportions. That's part of the fun of Tales of Wrykyn and Elsewhere - there isn't a whole lot at stake for the characters, nothing is a matter of life and death, but try telling them that.


This post has been linked to on Short Stories on Wednesday #2, which is now at the Simple Clockwork blog.