In 1979, Ballantine Books gave me a contract to write a novel about the Comanches, a culture and tradition completely unknown to this Anglo-American East Coast native. That first venture into historical research raised an unexpected question. In 1836 what made the Numunu, the People, laugh?
What I discovered was an embarrassment of riches, and I do mean embarrassment. I don’t find flatulence funny, but I’ve learned over the years that other people do. Lots of them.
For the Comanches and many other tribes, Saynday, or Trickster Coyote was a major source of humor, much it scatological. I worried critics might pounce on the presence of so many raunchy stories in Ride the Wind, but that was the predominance of subject matter. Check out Monster Skunk for instance. http://rabidcoyote4.tripod.com/id91.htm
There’s a story titled “Coyote Eats Mouse and Breaks Wind” in this book. Speaking of the ubiquitous Trickster, there’s also an Apache story of him using the White man’s greed against him. Trickster Coyote puts a hat over a pile of feces and tells the White man that the bird captured under it will lead him to gold. The sucker only has to reach in quickly, Trickster says, and grab the bird before it can fly away.
Gas in the digestive tract also has a long history as humor among soldiers. This is a note card I happened across in the research file for Ride the Wind (Forgive my handwriting).
The fascination with flatulence crosses cultures and spans millenia. It’s probably the world’s oldest source of humor, going back to the Sumerians in 1900B.C. http://theconversation.com/from-the-sumerians-to-shakespeare-to-twain-why-fart-jokes-never-get-old-41211
The Japanese made an art of depicting bizarre scenes of letting off steam, as it were. I was first alerted by a Hokusai (1760-1849) sketch of a man bent over with kimono lifted, and breaking a board with a fart. Haven’t been able to find that particular gem, but here’s a link to many others. http://mentalfloss.com/article/66345/amazing-images-classic-japanese-fart-battles
Mary’s Land is about the early settlement of Lord Baltimore’s colony in 1634 by my people, the English. A boring, somber set if ever there was one. Or so I thought when I started. Turned out I was wrong.
My favorite revelation from that time is the original definition of the verb “to foist:” Today’s meaning, according to Merriam Webster, is to “introduce or insert surreptitiously.” A much earlier definition is a noun. “Foist: The silent but powerful wind that old ladies pass and blame on their lap dogs.” Those later became known as “Church creepers.”
While writing about the American Revolution in Shadow Patriots, I discovered that dear old Dr. Franklin had lots to say on the subject of rebellious bowels. Here are some of Ben’s words of wisdom:
Flatulence isn’t mentioned in my latest novel, Devilish, but an exorcism was part of the plot. And at the intersection of farts and exorcism, here’s the sort of stuff you bloody well can’t make up when writing fiction! http://bloody-disgusting.com/news/3240782/lol-priests-sued-after-failing-to-exorcise-farting-demons/
A side note: Speaking of Trickster Coyote, back in 1980 I visited Brian Daley in New York City while I was working on Ride the Wind and he was writing the novel that would become A Tapestry of Magics. Since TAPESTRY’s plot involves alternate realities, he wanted to include Saynday in the plot. He asked for the ms pages of the bison hunting scene in WIND. Scroll down at this link to find the result posted on Brian’s website: http://www.brian-daley.com/BrianDaley-Misc.htm
A second side note: For a free copy of the pamphlet of 17th and 18th-century vulgar terms I unearthed while writing Mary’s Land, send your mailing address as a facebook message at the Lucia Robson friends page, or an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
A side note: Back in 1980 I visited Brian Daley in New York City while I was working on Ride the Wind and he was writing the science fiction novel that would become Tapestry of Magics. Since TAPESTRY’s plot involves alternate realities, he wanted to include Trickster Coyote. He asked for the ms pages of the bison hunting scene in WIND. Scroll down at this link to find the result on Brian’s website: http://www.brian-daley.com/BrianDaley-Misc.htm