Today is the birthday of Ambrose Gwinett Bierce, one of the great short story writers and satirists of the late nineteenth century. Bierce, a former Union officer in the War Between the States, gave the world the most vivid and brutally honest picture of war ever captured in prose. The war than nearly killed him taught him many grim lessons, chief of which was that noble ideals are the cheapest of lies, used to convince the naive to prop up insane projects that lead only to suffering and death for the many — and profit for the few.
My Master’s Thesis explored Bierce’s war stories, tales exposing the animal senselessness of war.
Fans of both Ambrose Bierce and Robert E. Howard will want to read John Bullard’s excellent post on the significant influence Bierce exerted over a young Robert E. Howard. It includes additional resources on each author, with a link to Bierce’s works.
Salman Rushdie, who was knighted in 2007 for his contributions to literature, will speak here in Charlotte at Queens University tomorrow night. He’s earned his honors. Because of Rushdie’s unblinking portrayal of what he deemed religious fanaticism, both Ayatollah Khamenei and Al-Qaeda have called for his murder. In London a few years back, only dumb luck saved him from a fanatic’s book bomb (a real one, not to be confused with one of Larry Correia’s book bombs!).
This is a man who has risked his life for his art. So when Rushdie speaks, he’s worth paying attention to. His observations on fantasy fiction deserve wide circulation:
I think that magical realism is one version of a kind of literature that is found all over the world. It is much older form with, in many ways, a richer tradition than the realist tradition.
These stories are very old. I just thought one of the things I like about the old stories is while they are full of flying carpets and ogres and dragons and things like that, they are completely realistic about human beings. The people you find in the stories are beautifully drawn.
“Ogres and dragons and things like that.” Works for me. And Rushdie’s comment about the power of satire struck me as pitch-perfect: “Satire is the classic weapon that artists have always had against hypocrisy and tyranny.”
Jonathan Swift and Ambrose Bierce would be proud.