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Margaret Mahy on humour 2

March 31, 2012

Of her earlier stories, Mahy writes that “none of them are built around incongruity to an extent that would allow them to be described as funny stories.” p24 However, of her books, The Librarian and the Robbers and The Great Piratical Rumbustification, she notes: “I feel I moved closer to writing a funny story in the true sense of the word. The basic situations in these stories – pirates involved in providing a baby-sitting service … robbers becoming deeper and more philosophical thinkers though reading and ultimately transforming themselves into librarians – seem to me to involve incongruity in a classical way. And incongruity along with the sound of language seem to me to haunt all the stories I have written since then, even moments in the Young Adult novels… but obviously my life, like many others, is haunted by language and incongruity, which I have learned to recognise not only because of experiencing it, but because of what I have been fortunate enough to read, a process which has enabled me to see the responses I have described in myself working in other people.” p24

“Comic involvement is sometimes held to displace a deeper involvement with the world, and it is certainly true that one can use laughter to reduce important moments… make fun of them, mock one’s own vulnerability along with the misfortunes of others. However there is also the possibility that the appropriate use of humour can admit one into deeper emotional involvement, protecting one as it does so… that certain kinds of laughter can somehow absorb the incapacitating burdens of despair, which are also part of the human dilemma. Laughter can indicate acknowledgement, recognition and recovery.” pp24-25

“In the past I would have been smacked for bringing the humour of the schoolyard into the house, but in these days we find adults remembering it, honing in on it and exploiting it for profit. Australia has an edge in this area … perhaps because the stories of Paul Jennings were pioneers where this sort of tale is concerned.” pp25-26 “However I must admit to a curious latter-day puritanism over some of these stories. I admire Paul Jennings, and the direct narrative of Tim Winton but there are times when I think the authors can be rather like entrepreneurs moving in on an unsophisticated indigenous community and turning something that particularly belongs to the people of that community into a product, and then selling it back to them.” p27

“Of course rules about humour change from decade to another.” p33

“Astonishment and inappropriateness and the temporary feeling of being in power often underlie humour which can allow one to comment on the ferocious world we live in, answering ferocity with a ferocity of a different kind” p36

“one cannot sum up humour as if it were a single essence … it is not simply superiority, or the release of ego from inhibition or even incongruity. It is all those things and something more beside.” p37

Ref: Margaret Mahy (2004) Tragedy’s Wild Twin: The Mixed Nature of Humour. Auckland College of Education: Auckland.

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