Feghoots

Tagged: Theme

Item of sf Terminology denoting a brief, joky fictional anecdote or vignette which builds towards, and whose entire impact depends on, some more or less ludicrous punchline in the form of a pun or spoonerism; occasionally the effect is of deliberate anticlimax, as in the shaggy-dog story (see Flash Fiction; Humour). The name derives from Reginald Bretnor's sequence of around 120 Ferdinand Feghoot gag stories as by Grendel Briarton, always titled "Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot" and mostly published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (1958-1964). These were collected as Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot: The First Forty-Five Feghoot Adventures with Five More Never Previously Heard Of (coll 1962 chap Japan; exp vt The Compleat Feghoot 1975; further exp vt The (Even) More Compleat Feghoot 1980; further exp vt The Collected Feghoot 1992). Randall Garrett homaged both Bretnor's creation and his use of an anagrammatic pseudonym in the similar 1962 exploits of Benedict Breadfruit, published in Amazing as by Grandall Barretton, with punchlines featuring distortions of sf authors' names as in "... the pool, yonder, son" for Poul Anderson; all eight (introduced by Bretnor) appear in Garrett's Takeoff! (coll 1980). Flann O'Brien, writing as Myles na Gopaleen, had long made independent use of the form with the only occasionally fantastic Keats and Chapman anecdotes in his 1940-1966 Irish Times newspaper column; these, sometimes eruditely concluding with a Latin tag, may be found scattered through The Best of Myles (coll 1968), with a more concentrated dose in The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman and The Brother (coll 1976). Feghoots were also a popular theme for F&SF reader competitions, and several such entries are collected in Oi, Robot: Competitions and Cartoons from Fantasy and Science Fiction (anth 1995) edited by Edward L Ferman.

Many noted sf writers have tried their hand at Feghoot-like japery. Isaac Asimov wrote several such tales, including – before Feghoot's debut – "A Loint of Paw" (August 1957 F&SF) with its notorious tagline "A niche in time saves Stein." Arthur C Clarke's "Neutron Tide" (May 1970 Galaxy) climaxes with the altogether feebler "star-mangled spanner". Several Fanzine examples from 1959-1962, including Asimov's views on and examples of good versus bad punning, are collected in Theodore R Cogswell's PITFCS: Proceedings of the Institute for Twenty-First Century Studies (anth 1992). Some writers have allowed Feghootish intrusions into generally serious work, as with Roger Zelazny's tone-breaking "Then the fit hit the Shan." in Lord of Light (1967); or Philip José Farmer's "Riders of the Purple Wage" (in Dangerous Visions, anth 1967, ed Harlan Ellison), where echoes of James Joyce – particularly from the "Aeolus/Cave of the Winds" segment of Ulysses (March 1918-December 1920 The Little Review; exp 1922) – culminate with "WINNEGAN'S FAKE!" It would be wrong to characterize such ambitious stories as Feghoots, whose triviality is of the essence.

Ferdinand Feghoot himself was adopted as an imaginary guest of honour by the 2002 Worldcon; no other fictional character has been so honoured. [DRL]

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