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Humor in the "Cult"
- This text is copyrighted to Chirag Mehta, 2000.
- For reproduction / copyright information contact me.
- I've tried my best to make sure that all the information herein is 100% accurate.
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- And remember... Plagiarism is uncool.
- Chirag Mehta
- English: 101
- Ms. Lisa Sisler
- 16 Oct. 2000
- Grade: A
Humor in the "Cult"
- "Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog: Nobody really enjoys it and the frog generally dies as a result." - E. B. White, author of popular children’s books like Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web.
Edward Long, whose job is to retrieve people from the clutches of various cults, narrates the story. He focuses on one particular episode in his career when a man, La Durca, hires him to retrieve his wife from "The Church of Seven". La Durca’s true identity remains unknown till the very end, adding greatly to the story’s suspense. Elements of horror, action-adventure and mystery abound in the story. Humor however, is distinctly absent. The use of humor in the story is conceptual and not contextual. "Cult" is a parody. The story basically picks on Stoker’s Dracula, turning him into a woeful husband. Lee, however, is not the only one to do so. In a recent Disney film, "Mom’s Got a Date With a Vampire’, the vampire, Demetri, has been similarly ridiculed. Yet what makes this story different from all others is the first person narration and the latent self-ridicule that follows.
Humor has two forms: ridicule and surprise. Edward Long says that two years ago he was tricked by a vampire into doing a dirty job for him. And this, for the lack of a euphemism, is self-ridicule. Almost all jokes induce laughter by making someone slip on a banana peel. For ages, court jesters and circus clowns relied on this principal. So did Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and the Three Stooges. But, unlike most, Lee has notably avoided the use of farce, irony, sarcasm, and satire, thus keeping the tone serious enough for the story to be considered a horror or action-adventure. There are no quips, one-liners, bon mots, puns or double-entrendes either. The punch line itself spawns astonishment and exclamation, rather than laughter. There are a few lines here and there that induce a chuckle or a giggle, though. That happens especially when Long expresses his instinctive thoughts, seemingly like an old friend narrating his first date: "She was the most stunning woman I had ever seen." (Pg. 401)
- "I regard the writing of humor as a supreme artistic challenge." - Herman Wouk, May 1985.
A variation in the villain’s character is as appealing to the reader as is a twist of his role in the story. La Durca’s primary concern is no longer how to entice his next meal. He worries about how to get rid of his wife. Though inhuman it may seem, a vast majority of the readers can personally relate to his problems of a troublesome spouse. This concept has been very subtly inserted into the story and throughout the story La Durca is portrayed as a loving husband rather than a blood-sucking living-dead. The fact that the audience can understand the villain’s situation adds to the story’s effectiveness; this is what Lee accomplished by making "Cult" a parody.
In the last two millennia, comedy and humor have evolved as much as science has developed. It is said that in the 4th century BC Greece, the purpose of comedy was to hold a mirror up to society to reflect its follies and vices, in the hope that they would, as a result, be mended. Humor for the mere sake of pleasure and entertainment was unknown. In the Shakespearean era, comedy meant happy endings. Humor and laughter were an essential part of comedies, however, exaggeration was at its height. Farce and absurd were often employed. And there was always an association of comedy with tragedy. Things changed in the 18th and 19th century with the westward expansion of the United States. Frontier humor came into being. The spontaneity, sense of fun, exaggeration, fierce individuality, and irreverence for traditional Eastern values in frontier humor reflected the optimistic spirit of pre-Civil War America. Mark Twain, the culmination of frontier humor was also an early-proponent of local humor, which made its appearance just after the Civil War and concerned itself mainly with depicting the character of a particular region, concentrating especially upon the peculiarities of dialect, manners, folklore, and landscape that distinguish the area. Twentieth century humor branched into distinct media like books, television, films and now, the online world, and each medium has its own flavor of humor.
The form of comedy and humor employed at a given time signifies how it affects the common man. While wit, quips, and epigrams gained popularity in the early 20th century, puns, practical jokes, wisecracks, and sudden reality have taken their place today. Besides, the common man today does not like to be spoon-fed the true interpretation of a story. Consequently subliminal use of almost all literature genres has a greater effect than a direct placement. The "Cult" uses parody without highlighting the issue and therefore enhances the effectiveness of the story.
The effect that a story, film or play has on its audience depends on two variables: The theme of the story and how much the audience can associate with it. No matter how successful "Jurassic Park" was in late 1990’s, a play concerning a dinosaur would have bombed in the Shakespearean Era, simply because nobody would be able to comprehend a creature thousand times their size. However, a story of a fire-breathing dragon might have clicked. Lee’s target audience knows who Dracula is, what he feasts on, how garlic affects him and where he lives. Stoker’s target audience had not much prior knowledge about vampires, other than that they killed people. Hence Lee has the freedom to modernize the Dracula story to appeal to those who loved Stoker’s Dracula and want to read more in the same genre. Nevertheless, the story is equally appealing to those without much knowledge about vampires, since the elements of horror, mystery and action abound.
Questions like why vampire stories are so popular, what makes them interesting, and how they affect the dormant human psyche have been asked and answered millions of times. Vampire stories are tales of power, eternal life beyond death, eroticism, and paranormal. The reader base has grown millionfold since the first vampire story, The Vampyre by John Polidori, was published in 1819, and has diversified all the more. Naturally, variations on the traditional vampire story have gained huge popularity. Along with horror and mystery, romance, adventure, tragedy, science fiction, and fantasy are often embodied into the story to appeal to specific reader preferences. But what makes "Cult" a must-read is the fact that it presents a variety alien to most of the famous vampire stories and novels. That variety is humor.