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Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice
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After 20 years of reading single-voice narrations, it was one of
my few exposures to multi-voice dramatizations.
I did find the inevitable range of loudness of a dramatization
to be a bit of a problem with my hearing. Struggling with the
overly-complex user interfaced tone controls on my JVC in-dash
CD/MP3 player finally got that mostly under control.
They fellow who played "the black guy" reminded me and my fellow
listener ever so much of Burgess Meredith. I didn't see a cast
listing on the printed enclosure, I would have appreciated it.
That way, I wouldn't have to say "the black guy" to avoid my
uncertainty of the spelling of the character's name.
(Kothschai?).
I just love banned books, and Jurgen is a fine early example.
(Right now, I'm reading "Harmful to Minors", there's nothing
like finding out that people are trying to keep me away to make
me want to read it...)
The story is full of nuance and implication. The phrase
"treating fairly" will always have a new meaning for me.
The accompanying music was added in just the right amounts and
at the right times. I'm resentful of Jurgen's whistling, as I
thought that I was preeminent at tuneless whistling, but be that
as it may...
A delightful read in all, and my thanks to Yuri.
David H. Straayer
The Self-Appointed CD/MP3 Audiobook Gadfly...
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on July 16, 2000
A first rule of thumb when approaching Cabell's 18-volume opus, the Biography of Manuel; every book will be about Cabell's relationship with his wife. Cabell is obsessed with marriage, and objectifies all of his female characters to fit one of his imagined female roles; nag, whore, or unapproachable beauty. Cabell's characters always return to their nagging wives, for familiarity's sake if nothing else, with never a suggestion that it might be possible to have a long-term relationship between a man and a woman in which both are creators and in which both learn from each other.
The book Jurgen is from the same mold. Jurgen the pawnbroker moves from one of Cabell's stereotypical women to another. The book became well-known because of the godawful sex sequences, in which Cabell archly refers to Jurgen's sword, staff, or stick -- the resulting call for censorship made the book famous, but that doesn't mean it was Cabell's best. I thought The Silver Stallion and, in some respects, even The Cream of the Jest or The High Place to be better examples of Cabell's writing.
I would recommend that anyone who likes fantasy read at least one of Cabell's books, because he writes like no one else. This book had the usual Cabell wittiness and sardonic feel, so if it's the only one you can find, certainly try it.
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on February 8, 1998
In the 1920s, James Branch Cabell (rhymes with "rabble") was considered by many to be one of the greatest American writers, based on this novel. Tastes changed with the coming of the Great Depression; worse, Cabell never again came close to writing a book of this quality, despite his many attempts. Whether or not Cabell is a great writer (and I incline to the view that writers should be judged by their best rather than their mediocre works), Jurgen is a great book, full of insight and a joy to read. The eponymous protagonist is a middle-aged pawnbroker who is given an opportunity to relive his youth. In his travels he encounters, among others, Guenevere, the Master Philologist, the Philistines, his father's Hell, and his grandmother's Heaven. In the end he has an opportunity to question Koshchei who made all things as they are. I heartily recommend this novel. Although it is in an older fantasy tradition, it is at least as readable and enjoyable as the best contemporary fantasy, and its literary quality is far greater. I have re-read it many times.
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on October 3, 2000
All of JBC's books are interesting, this is among his best. Many modern readers may find his writing style unfamiar: it has quality and beauty. The themes are universal, and the sheer gnosis that the author displays is impressive. Cabell writes about the human condition, and even though we pride ourselves, in this day and age, of a certain level of cynicism, we cannot match the sardonic tone he displays, nor the depth to which his sword pierces. Much has been written regarding the Jurgen/Aleister Crowley connection, but I feel this book may indicate that Cabell really did have some practical experience with ceremonial magick after all.
If you like this book, read "Something About Eve" which, I think, is actually better.
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on July 19, 1996
This was a notorious book of the 1920's, and it describes
the odyssey of Jurgen, a middle-aged pawnbroker and a
"monstrous clever fellow", who is miserable with his wife,
and one day he is given an opportunity to search through
many realms of fantasy and imagination looking for the
perfect mate. The book is an ironic exploration of man's
perennial dissatisfaction. Plenty of angst, but also
a lot of humor and fun.

Opening line: "In the old days lived a pawnbroker named
Jurgen, but what his wife called him was very often much
worse than that. She was a high-spirited woman, with no
especial gift for silence." If you like that line, read
the book. If you don't, then forget it.
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on May 20, 2001
Magically recovering his youth, Jurgen, a poet-cum-pawn broker of medaeval France, begins an erotic odyssey, in which he beds King Arthur's bride-to-be, a love goddess in her realm of pleasure, a tree nymph, the queen of Philistines, a vampire in Hell. He also gets to talk to God, Satan -- and the mysterious Katschei, creator of all things as they are. Full of puns, word play, references to obscure myths and legends of various cultures, and Americanizing the tradition of the picaresque epic, JURGEN is a delight for the Mensa set and ordinary readers alike. This edition reproduces the delightful illustrations cut for the first British publication of the work.
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on July 11, 2001
Perhaps the finest fantasy ever written by an american writer. It will change your life every time you read it. Cabell was brilliant and Heinlein copied him more than once (compare Job: A Comedy of Justice). Cabell was sexy, ironic, consistant. Even Asimov, in his final works attempted to equal the History of Dom Manuel by combining the Robots and Foundation into a single cosmology.
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on April 6, 2002
Any guy, especially one over forty, who doesn't adore this book, and doesn't have at least a dozen Cabell books on his shelf, including at least one signed first edition, is a savage. If you don't understand the heart rending chapter, "Dorothy Who Did Not Understand", you haven't lived.
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