Rain on the River

Posted by jlubans on May 29, 2018


Caption: Illustration by A. Frederics from the 1889 edition of Three Men in a Boat

If you've ever been in an open boat in pouring rain you will appreciate Jerome K. Jerome's comedic writing in his 1889 book, “Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog)”.
I’ve come to realize - from many attempts to make up funny stories - just what separates the best comedy writers from the rest of us: the ability to sustain the story, to keep it moving, to keep it freshly amusing beyond the first few pages.
We might have a ripsnorter of a punch line or an absurd situation (like what if Prince Harry married Angela Merkel instead of Ms. Markle?)
But if we can’t take it beyond that, it matters little. You can get the attention of the reader, but then you have to keep it.
Here is Jerome moving us from the pure pleasure of a sunlit river to the dismality of rain on the river:
“The river—with the sunlight flashing from its dancing wavelets, gilding gold the grey-green beech-trunks, glinting through the dark, cool wood paths, chasing shadows o’er the shallows, flinging diamonds from the mill-wheels, throwing kisses to the lilies, … —is a golden fairy stream.
But the river—chill and weary, with the ceaseless rain-drops falling on its brown and sluggish waters, … while the woods, all dark and silent, shrouded in their mists of vapour, stand … like the ghosts of evil actions, like the ghosts of friends neglected—is a spirit-haunted water through the land of vain regrets…”
And here is how three men respond:
“We said we could not expect to have it all sunshine, nor should we wish it. We told each other that Nature was beautiful, even in her tears.
Indeed, Harris (one of the three) and I were quite enthusiastic about the business, for the first few hours. And we sang a song about a gipsy’s life, …—and how he enjoyed the rain, and what a lot of good it did him; and how he laughed at people who didn’t like it.”
"… I cannot honestly say that we had a merry evening. The rain poured down with quiet persistency. Everything in the boat was damp and clammy. Supper was not a success.
Cold veal pie, when you don’t feel hungry, is apt to cloy. I felt I wanted whitebait and a cutlet; Harris babbled of soles and white-sauce, and passed the remains of his pie to Montmorency (the dog), who declined it, and, apparently insulted by the offer, went and sat over at the other end of the boat by himself.”
Jerome’s wry writing transported me to those many days spent in the rain and cold of adventure learning.
I too would try to make the most of the adversity, saying to one and all the best learning comes from misery.
We learn nothing from a sunny day, but in a wet and driving rain, with uprooted tents flying hither and yon, with fires unlit and matches wet, with soaked sleeping bags, aye, that’s where the learning is.
So I said.
The three men decide to leave the river and abandon the boat, having the good sense to avoid hypothermia get into a hotel and a hot meal with good wine and dry clothes.
Still, I could go on about the “sweet uses of adversity” as we all stand around shivering in damp clothing under a leaky canopy. Perhaps the good comes later, knowing to have endured the bad and enjoyed the good.

To show your support for the millions of writers (comedic or not) under the long and bushy tail of the Internet, buy Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon.
Or, for the frugal, get your library to ante up for a copy.
© Copyright John Lubans 2018
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