Bestselling author Christopher Moore’s latest novel, Fool, may not be as fantasy-oriented as some of his other work, but it feels at home in the genre.
“I had to create an imaginary 13th century, where the technology was more or less the same, but the Britain I imagined is still going through the competition of the various religions, Catholicism, Druidism, as well as the Classical Pantheon,” Moore said in an interview. “It wasn’t tremendously difficult. As for supernatural elements, there is a ghost and some witches, both inspired by Shakespeare’s work.”
Moore has been writing about tricksters and other avatars of irony his whole career, but he really wanted to write a book about a character who could speak truth to power because he was a fool, and not taken seriously. “I discussed it with my editor at Morrow, Jennifer Brehl, exploring whether I should just make up my own fool, or do Lear’s fool,” he said. “She thought Lear’s fool, so down the Shakespeare rabbit hole I went for two years.”
To write the book, Moore had to familiarize himself with most of Shakespeare’s canon. “Then [I had to] devise an idiom for Pocket to speak in that would seem Elizabethan, while being completely transparent and hopefully funny to the American reader,” he said. “There was also quite a bit of research into English history, but most of that had to be ignored because Shakespeare had bolloxed up the history so badly in the original play.”
To see where Moore’s Fool diverges from the Bard’s, Moore provided a little primer on Shakespeare’s version. “King Lear is basically about an old king of Britain who wants to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, and says he will determine the size of each share by how much love each daughter professes for him,” Moore said. “The two older daughters, Regan and Goneril, flatter him, but his youngest, Cordelia, tells the truth, that she loves him just as much as a daughter should love a father. Lear is infuriated, banishes Cordelia and his best friend Kent, who defends her, and then divides his kingdom between Goneril and Regan. Four-fifths of the play is Lear regretting his decision, with his Fool in tow.”
In Moore’s version, the Fool, Pocket, the least powerful person at court, is pulling all of the strings. “[He’s] making it happen, and trying his best to bed all three daughters (along with the help of his enormous nitwit apprentice, Drool),” Moore said. “Pocket, the Black Fool, after his midnight motley, is a young man of many talents. He can juggle, tell a story, sing a song, tell a joke, and when needed, throw a knife with deadly accuracy and weave intrigue like the Spider Whore of Kilarny. He’s a small fellow of infinite jest, ever ready to brighten the spirit on these dark ages with an amusing tale or a friendly bonk with one of the castle wenches. Raised in an nunnery, Pocket is wise to the ways of the world, well-read, and a master forger, from his days working in the scriptorium. For such a small fellow, it turns out that he fulfills great expectations.”