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Fabulous Tales and Mythical Beasts

November 30, 1974

CBS/Archive/Getty Images

(The following is a sample of some of world literature's more imaginative creations that I am anthologizing in a four-volume set that Remainder and Sons plans to publish pending the outcome of the Norwegian shepherds' strike.)1

The Nurk. The Nurk is a bird two inches long that has the power of speech but keeps referring to itself in the third person, such as, "He's a great little bird, isn't he?" Persian mythology holds that if a Nurk appears on the windowsill in the morning, a relative will either come into money or break both legs at a raffle. Zoroaster was said to have received a Nurk as a gift on his birthday although what he really needed was some grey slacks. The Nurk also appears in Babylonian mythology but here he is much more sarcastic and is always saying, "Ah, come off it." Some readers may be acquainted with a lesser known opera by Holstein called, 'Taffelspitz," in which a mute girl falls in love with a Nurk, kisses it, and they both fly around the room till the curtain falls.

The Flying Snoll. A lizard with 400 eyes: 200 for distance and 200 for reading. According to legend if a man gazes directly at the face of the Snoll he immediately loses his right to drive in New Jersey. Also legendary is the Snoll's graveyard, the location of which is unknown even to Snolls and should a Snoll drop dead he must remain where he is until picked up. In Norse mythology Loki attempts to find the Snoll’s graveyard but chances upon some Rhine maidens bathing instead and somehow winds up with trichinosis.

The Emperor Ho Sin had a dream in which he beheld a palace greater than his for half the rent. Stepping through the portals of the edifice. Ho Sin suddenly found that his body became young again, although his head remained somewhere between 65 and 70. Opening a door he found another door, which led to another, and soon he realized he had entered 150 doors and was now out in the backyard.

Just when Ho Sin was on the verge of despair, a nightingale perched on his shoulder and sang the most beautiful song he'd ever heard and then bit him on the nose. Chastened, Ho Sin looked into a mirror and instead of seeing his own reflection, he saw a man named Mendel Goldblatt who worked for the Wasserman Plumbing Company and who accused him of taking his overcoat. From this Ho Sin learned the secret of life and it was "never to yodel."

Notes to the Previous Tenants

Thank you for leaving the bar of green soap, the roll of paper towels,
the sponge mop, the bucket.

I tried to scrub the white floor clean, discovered it impossible,
and realized you had tried too.

Often, no doubt. The long hair in the sink was a clue to what? Were you
boys or girls or what?

How often did you dance on the floor? The place was broom clean. Your lives were a great wind that has swept by.

Thank you. Even the dirt
seemed a gift, a continuity underlying the breaking of leases.

And the soap, green in veins like meltable marble, and curved like a bit of an ideal woman.

Lone, I took a bath with, your soap and had no towel not paper ones and dried in the air like the floor.

JOHN UPDIKE (JOHN UPDIKE'S new novel, A Month of Sundays (Knopf), will be published in January.)

When the Emperor awoke he was in a cold sweat and couldn't recall if he dreamed the dream or was now in a dream being dreamt by his bail bondsman.

The Frean. The Frean is a sea monster with the body of a crab and the head of a certified public accountant. Freans are said to possess fine singing voices that drive sailors mad when they hear them, particularly on Cole Porter tunes. Killing a Frean is bad luck and in a poem by Sir Herbert Figg, a sailor shoots one and his boat suddenly founders in a storm causing the crew to seize the captain and jettison his false teeth in hopes of staying afloat.

The Great Roe. A mythological beast with the head of a lion and the body of a lion, though not the same lion. The Roe is reputed to sleep for 1000 years and then suddenly rise in flames, particularly if it was smoking when it dozed off. Odysseus was said to have awakened a Roe after 600 years but found it listless and grouchy and it begged to remain in bed just 200 more years.

The appearance of a Roe is generally considered unlucky and usually precedes a famine or news of a cocktail party.

A wise man in India bet a magician that he could not fool him whereupon the magician tapped the wise man on the head and changed him into a dove. The dove then flew out the window to Madagascar and had his luggage forwarded. The wise man's wife who witnessed this asked the magician if he could also change things to gold and if so, could he change her brother to three dollars in cash so the whole day shouldn't be a total loss. The magician said, in order to learn that trick one must journey to the four comers of the earth but to go in the off season as three of the comers are usually booked. The woman thought a moment and then set out on a pilgrimage to Mecca, forgetting to tum off her stove. Seventeen years later she returned having spoken with the high Lama and immediately went on welfare. (The above is one of a series of Hindu myths that explain why we have wheat. Author.)

The Weal. A large white mouse with the lyrics to "Am I Blue?" printed on its stomach. The Weal is unique amongst rodents in that it can be picked up and played like an accordion. Similar to the Weal is the Lunette, a small squirrel that can whistle and knows the mayor of Detroit personally.

Astronomers talk of an inhabited planet named Quelm, so distant from Earth that a man traveling at the speed of light would take six million years to get there although they are planning a new express route that will cut two hours off the trip. Since the temperature on Quelm is 1300 below, bathing is not permitted and the resorts have either closed down or now feature live entertainment. Because of its remoteness from the center of the solar system, gravity is nonexistent on Quelm and having a large, sit-down dinner takes a great deal of planning.

In addition to all these obstacles on Quelm, there is no oxygen to support life as we know it and what creatures do exist find it hard to earn a living without holding down two jobs.

Legend has it, however, that many billions of years ago, the environment was not quite so horrible, or at least no worse than Pittsburgh and that human life existed. These humans, however, resembling men in every way, except perhaps for a large head of lettuce where the nose normally is, were to a man, philosophers. As philosophers they relied heavily on logic and felt that if life existed, somebody must have caused it and they went looking for a man in a navy pea jacket with dark hair and a tattoo.

When nothing materialized they abandoned philosophy and went into the mail order business but postal rates went up and they perished.

Read more articles by Allen here.

  1. WOODY ALLEN is in Paris finishing a movie, called Love and Death, which he says is a version of War and Peace.