In an improbable, possibly magical twist of fate, the names of two writers who are poles apart in style, literary preoccupation, historical period — virtually every category, in other words — have been brought together under the windblown umbrella of recent news. Otherwise, these two giants of literature — J.K. Rowling and J.K. Huysmans — share only one thing: a name.
Yes, J.K. Rowling is always in the news, fulfilling her role as adjudicator of reality for a generation of aging children. But in this case, Rowling’s kids have a new movie and a new play to look forward to.
On the other hand, the work of J.K. Huysmans — which inspired the year’s most controversial novel — is not for children. This much can be determined by reading his Decadent masterpiece Against Nature, which, in 1884, put to bed the babyish dreams of literary naturalism in favor of a perfume-drunk orgy of the spirit. His later work wrestles with Satan.
But are these writers really so different? Can you tell them apart? See, below, if you can tell whether each quote comes from J.K. Huysmans or J.K. Rowling.
1. “Myrrh must be warmed against the body till it is quite soft, and it nullifies the wizard’s malignant arts, delivers the mind from phantoms, and is an antidote to philtres… it should never be eaten but under great necessity.”
2. [It] reads for all the world like the procedure in the trials of wizards of long ago, the histories of Gaufrédy and Madeleine Palud, of Urbain Grandier and Madeleine Bavent, or the Jesuit Girard and La Cadière, histories, by the way, in which much might be said about hystero-epilepsy on one hand and about Diabolism on the other.
3. “That and the witchcraft and incubacy and succubacy which I will tell you about; or rather, I will get another more expert than I in these matters to tell you about them. Sacrilegious mass, spells, and succubacy. There you have the real quintessence of Satanism.”
4. “Bombyx decided to rid himself of the companions of his long journey, Succuba and the Tick. This he did by taking them to a brothel where both appeared satisfied to work.”
5. “What do you know about anything, with your whore of a mother? What was it she died of, the clap?”
6. “I’ll give him back his money, with interest, within the next couple of months, and he can stick it up his arse and set fire to it, if he likes.”
7. “[T]hen a magical forest, cut in the center near a glade through which a stream can be seen far away… then an elfin town appearing on the horizon of an exotic sky dotted with birds and covered with masses of fleecy clouds.”
8. “But he gave little heed, for he was impatiently awaiting the series of plants which most bewitched him, the vegetable ghouls, the carnivorous plants; the Antilles Fly-Trap, with its shaggy border, secreting a digestive liquid, armed with crooked prickles coiling around each other, forming a grating about the imprisoned insect; the Drosera of the peat-bogs, provided with glandular hair; the Sarracena and the Cephalothus, opening greedy horns capable of digesting and absorbing real meat; lastly, the Nepenthes, whose capricious appearance transcends all limits of eccentric forms.”
9. “She more energetically awakened the dulled senses of man, more surely bewitched and subdued his power of will, with the charm of a tall venereal flower, cultivated in sacrilegious beds, in impious hothouses.”
10. “Dragons have a crest, sharp talons, and a hissing throat, and are almost unconquerable. Albertus Magnus tells us, however, that magicians, when they wish to subdue them, beat as loudly as they can on drums, and that the dragon, imagining that it is the roll of thunder, which they greatly dread, let themselves be handled quietly and are taken.”
11. “[He’s] pitching him head foremost into a cauldron boiling over the flames from a dragon’s mouth blown up with bellows by two of the devil’s slaves. And in this cauldron sit two figures symbolical of slander and lust, a monk and a woman writhing and weeping, for enormous toads are gnawing at the tongue of one and at the heart of the other.”
12. “It may also be remembered that this carnivorous beast, which was supposed to carry its young in the mouth and give birth to them through the ear, is numbered among the unclean animals…”
Quiz answers on the next page…
1. J.K. Huysmans, The Cathedral 2. J.K. Huysmans, Là-Bas 3. J.K. Huysmans, Là-Bas 4. J.K. Rowling (as Robert Galbraith), The Silkworm 5. J.K. Rowling (as Robert Galbraith), Cuckoo’s Calling 6. J.K. Rowling (as Robert Galbraith), Cuckoo’s Calling 7. J.K. Huysmans, Against Nature 8. J.K. Huysmans, Against Nature 9. J.K. Huysmans, Against Nature 10. J.K. Huysmans, The Cathedral 11. J.K. Huysmans, The Cathedral 12. J.K. Huysmans, The Cathedral