Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Four Fiends From
The Palm-wine Drinkard
Now public domain, this 1952 novel was written by Amos Tutuola, a Nigerian man inspired by the folk tales he'd grown up on - folk tales which, at the time, were rapidly dwindling in popularity and even acceptability as Christian missionaries fought hard to "modernize" the "primitive" people of other nations. The story would go on to become the first piece of African literature ever published in English overseas, but blasted by critics of the 50's as a "barbaric and savage" work, offending their delicate little senses with its sometimes vulgar comedy, graphic morbidity, gratuitous use of sorcery and unconventional writing style, rife with the artifacts of terminology and grammar that simply cannot translate directly to English.
Regardless, the Palm-Wine Drinkard is now recognized as one of the most important pieces of literature to come out of the 50's, and time capsule of black African folkloric tradition that once came dangerously close to being largely forgotton. To even share it as a "Halloween feature" is a disservice to something of such deeper cultural significance than any silly American-made "holiday," but it's something that deserves attention from anyone with an appreciation for the dark, the supernatural, or the just plain fun.
You can read the ENTIRE text of the Palm-Wine Drinkard at the end of this post, but first, here's a glimpse at just a couple of the entities encountered within its pages....
THE COMPLETE GENTLEMAN
This is one of the earliest adversaries of the titular "hero," who is incidentally only engaged in a supernatural adventure so he can find the soul of the guy who makes his booze. The Complete Gentleman is a man so beautiful that he reduces said antihero to tears of both desire and jealousy, but the "gentleman" also has a terrible secret: every one of his body parts are "rented" every single day from one of several humanoid spirits, and returned again on his way home from the marketplace.
The true form of the Gentleman is only a rolling, hopping skull, just like the rest of his large family, who live in a large hole in the ground and apparently have no furniture other than large toads, since when a beautiful girl foolishly follows the gentleman home - against his own repeated warnings, I might add - she is given nothing but an oversized amphibian to sit on.
The Drinkard rescues the damsel from the skull family without having to take any skull lives, which is good, because they REALLY aren't at fault here, are they? The two of them soon marry, however, and remain together for the duration of the story.
THE TALL CREATURES
These monsters are only briefly encountered and we learn very little about them, except that they stand at least a quarter mile high with long, white bodies likened to "pillars." Their arms and legs have no hands or feet, and instead of heads, they have only a single huge eye on their shoulders. When our protagonists encounter these monsters, they magically transform themselves into a huge flame to try and drive them off, but the plan backfires, because the tall creatures apparently have difficulty keeping their gigantic bodies warm, and for days, the drinkard and his wife remain in magical fire-form, hungry and exhausted while the towering eye-giants crowd around them crying "Cold! Cold!"
THE SPIRIT OF PREY
This terrifying beast is said to be the size of a hippopotamus standing on its hind legs, with a head like a lion and impenetrable green scales the size and shape of shovel heads. Most notably of all are its huge eyes, which shine like intense floodlights and boast one of the eeriest powers I've ever heard of:
If the spirit of prey catches you in its headlights, it will slowly close its eyelids. As soon as the eyes are closed and you cease to be illuminated, you die...and then your dead body "drags itself" up to spirit of prey to be eaten. Oddly, a couple of inanimate bags, filled with our protagonist's belongings, also "drag themselves" to the beast before it realizes there's nothing edible inside, so the power may actually work on anything the beast thinks is alive.
THE RED BIRD
The last monster we're going to spoil from the book is actually part of a pair of very different, gargantuan red animals, but I'll let you find out what the other one is like if you decide to actually read the story. The red bird is not described in much detail, except that it has six long teeth in its beak and its entire head is covered in every manner of live insects. These are presumably also red, because the red beasts curse everything they come into contact with to become as pure red as blood, along with anything else - even water - ever touched by the subject. It's not the worst curse you could suffer, but once it spread to an entire village of spirits, they seemingly decided to isolate themselves and avoid spreading the terrible redness to the rest of the world.
In just these four monsters, I hope you can get a good sense of Amos's enthralling imagination as well as his often twisted sense of humor...and we haven't even talked about the time his main characters get beaten up by an army of four hundred dead babies. WHAT ARE YOU EVEN WAITING FOR!?
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