The Lunar Tickle


I have received my purchased copy of

Tales To Make Full Moons Giggle – by Rhys Hughes

Stated in the book:

“Featuring Thornton Excelsior, his friends, his enemies and avatars, with the author and reader in cameo roles.”

“Dedicated to Stephen Theaker – A man who appreciates the seriousness of the absurd.”

“The logic that controls the action of the following suite of linked tales isn’t always the logic of everyday life; sometimes it’s the logic of word association instead. Don’t be dismayed or daunted. Step right inside!”

Dog Horn Publishing 2014

Cover art: Emmet Jackson


My reviews of other Rhys Hughes works linked from HERE.


31 thoughts on “The Lunar Tickle

  1. I am starting this review with the stories in this book that I have read and reviewed before, by copying below in this comment stream what I originally wrote about them. My review of the unread stories starts here where I state for the first time that Rhys Hughes is an absurd Avant Gardist because he is not Avant Garde.


    Tears of the Mutant Jesters – by Rhys Hughes

    He rapidly flipped the pages, his jaw jutting out further every minute, until it seemed his lower face would become a bookshelf of its own.”

    The title was written in an alternate world by Thomas Ligotti but then he stopped writing fiction before starting the story he had intended to write. Meanwhile, the text with this title is written by Rhys Hughes in this world, our world, describing an even realler world that is not alternate to any world at all called Empathia (my conceit, not the text’s) where “vestigial echoes of a time when books ate grass” rang true. This vignellarette is a gem of Rhys-Hughesian fictionatronics, with risible puns and nifty wordplay, and characters that actually feel as if they exist (eg the housemaid). It is also horrific: a book that vomits, books that… Well you must read it for yourself. It is the missing key without which the gestalt of this book would not work. Do you think I just said the key is missing, Miss? “Honestly no, sir, I don’t, sir, as it happens, sir.” (20/8/11 – another 2 hours later)


    The Burning Ears

    “….morality pirates on the high seas.”

    When I was a child, my mother often asked me for an ostensibly random letter of the alphabet. After a while, I didn’t need to ask why she needed one, as she had made it clear that, when her ears were burning, she needed such a letter to give her a clue as to who was at that very moment talking about her. So if, say, it was a B I gave her, she then had to decide whether it was my uncle Basil or cousin Betty. As an extrapolation of this old wives’ tale or homely legend (even to the extent of such ‘burning’ leading to physical effects of illuminating a room or ear-wigging for Chinese Whispers of raunchy gossip or auricular blushes of embarrassment etc), this is a hilarious (unbelievably timely!) literary-absurdist treatment of an explicit Rupert-Murdochian-type phone-hacking scandal. It represents, for me, Rhys-Hughesian ‘literal-word dreaming’ and ‘fictionatronics’ in optimum synergy: satirically semi-didactic as well as literally off-the-wall! (3 May 12 – 2.45 pm bst)

    The Reversed Comma

    “: the text immediately broke its own laws…”

    Can only happen in an ebook rather than a real book like this one I’m reading. But then again… I’m into the study of oxford, spliced and loose commas (I noticed a loose one recently in a paper text I was real-time reviewing (here) and said so in no uncertain terms). This is a lightning short vignette with only one comma (i.e. preceding the word ‘accelerating‘ but I’m not sure if the logic of that is synergistic or counter-productive vis-a-vis the difference between reversed and ordinary commas as ohm-resistors. Me? I love Welsh llufspots! (4 May 12 – 11.10 am bst)

    The Gates of Corn and Toffee

    I want to prosecute my dreams for being wrong.”

    That essentially sums up this story’s central conceit. The establishing of “integrity” in dreams and courts that deal with them and gates that let them through, with meanings thereof – and difficulties from measuring any sort of integrity in real life. There’s some outrageous or corny wordplay in this story and, on the face of it, it is one of Rhys Hughes’ less successful stabs at creating a satisfying wholemeal of abstractions made concrete – unlike, say, the ears that walls had earlier. Yet this author often has disarming touches of quantatative teasing and this piece is relatively well-sown with them. (4 May 12 – 1.30 pm bst)

    Whether the Weatherman

    Karl Mondaugen was his name, if you haven’t guessed.”

    I hope this is not taken as me being rude, but often — particularly in this relatively short piece showing the amazing ‘Genesis’ of Thornton Excelsior as another Heath Robinson contraption during his ‘Book of Revelation’ in endgame Biblical terms that have nothing to do with this story itself but more with my own personal reaction — Rhys Hughes’ works build upon the ‘child-like’ (as opposed to the ‘childish’), extrapolating from a mindset that would extend his or her written home address beyond the county or country to the continent, world, universe etc… or constructing a larger-than-life Meccano model that transmutes, at least in the imagination, towards something wondrous and useful beyond its obvious usefulness. The Weather of the Fictionatronic and Pragmatic, used to rain-juice our minds as it does crops, pattern our skies creatively with picture-evolving clouds, rather than the weather just being a pest annoying us with cold winds and the need for umbrellas. (5 May 12 – 7.50 am bst)

    The Plug

    But the pile of this carpet was yellow and white sand.”

    The above ‘this’ (underlined to represent the text’s emphasis) is not a hyperlink but this ‘this‘ is. [The conversation on the trolley-bus reminds me of a similar, if completely different, bus-board conversation in ‘Nemonymous Night’ which also features a carpet, a beige beach and seas flowing to the Earth’s core?] — Here we have the mind-boggling synergy of a narrative derived from what I infer are authorial ‘waking-dreams’ and the erstwhile extrapolation of the ‘child-like’: involving wild conjurations of that trolley-bus, succubus, a beach rolled up like a scroll, forced-stowaway angels and tapstock with an imaginarium revenue-stream. (After last night, I see Boris Johnson as just another Rhys Hughes character). Here some of the outrageous wordplay has out-raged me in a good way: showing shafts of genius: transcending the outrageous, in fact, with the outrageous, if that feat were possible, which it patently is judging by this story. (5 May 12 – 8.50 am bst)

    The Longest Name


    Reverse commas have become missing gaps, it seems to me. A new ball-game in accelerated punctuation. Being half-Welsh, as I am, I am half-intrigued by this möbius section narrative where Thornton chases his own tale. See, I can only be half-hearted in my outrageous wordplay. I can’t match that of the Rhys. In quiet reflective moments long after reading them, his stories often stir and waggle their probosces with more meaningful, sometimes darker, thoughts. If you’ve not read the Rhys before, it’s about time you took a reverse course in waking dreams or comma toes or as it says earlier in this wonderful co-adhesive set of stories, “melted robot thumbs“. (5 May 12 – 9.15 am bst)

    “…it’s interesting, the way coincidences happen more often than one would expect, stickiness, the way one thing sticks to another, events, phenomena, they are like those magnetized balls, they search for one another, and when they’re close, pam…” from ‘Cosmos’ by Witold Gombrowicz.

  3. From TALLEST STORIES here:
    15 Feb 2013

    Knight on a Bear Mountain
    “Its lower slopes were covered in snow and lost climbers, one of them wedged in a third crevasse.”
    The narrator – who I believe to be Napoleon Bonaparte – continues a form of literary-aware symbiosis with Hywel the barman in THE TALL STORY pub, where the words on the floor again echo and/or create the things really cluttering it, (“the loose skull and the bootprints”) but waste not want not, make do and mend, the stories must be told and words are words, after all. I think my image of the author, Rhys Hughes, is of a walking Eroica Symphony, bravely giving birth to romanticism from classicism, with flaws, disowned regrets, and changing of knightly or troubadourean horses from time to time, like Beethoven with Bony, laced with all too human dilemmas (often disguised or emphasised in Hughes as jokes and wordplay) like, for example, if he thinks of a wooden actor, he defies the actor not to be wooden as real wood in preference to being simply wooden as a stilted actor would be (or here in this story a stilted giant!) That’s the author for you, I guess, angry that words don’t mean what they mean. And the energy of that anger is transformed into imaginative extrapolations, an energy that has impelled me to write, baldly, on Facebook today: “I am confident that there are great truths embedded in the creation and absorption of literature, its flights of fancy and faith.” But that is too pretentious. So I needed to return here to absolve and cleanse my reading-mind. To kill pretentiousness paradoxically with pretentiousness. And something about this story’s title seemed to point towards the metamorphosis from Bare and Night to Bear and Knight as systematic of ‘the fictionatronic heroism’, the greatest exponent of which is Rhys Hughes. And this book, so far, promises to be its definitive expression.

  4. From the FLASH IN THE PANTHEON here:

    The Reversed Comma
    A nifty Thornton Excelsior story about commas that speed up rather than slow down, and I’d only add that ‘amocking’ (using a- as in apolitical or amoral), could be a variation of ‘ammoc’, and is the act of using a pointless comma, one that neither speeds or slows up, typographically like a postrophe. Also known as an Oxford comma?

    Black Ops
    “I know all about sabotage, propaganda, disorientation! I can manipulate foreign media–“
    Thornton Excelsior and another set of nose operations, the ‘lower nose’ as some call it, black market ops, I assume. So dreadfully ironic in view of today’s breaking news…
    Internet squabbles and World Wars, who can tell between them; they have the same root: us.

    The Infringement
    “I’m a photographer and I took the photo of that rabbit that you are painting! You’re a plagiarist!”
    A delightful satire on the Ligotti-Pizzolatto plagiarism issue that occurred during the recent summer break of this review.

    Today: 1 Oct 2014: In many ways this book ‘infringes’ the rabbit or a bit of the rabbit… 🙂

  5. image

    With my boots now on the ground, I shall begin below reviewing all the book’s stories that I have not read before:

    An Inconvenient Fruit
    “What the hell am I doing in this paragraph? I’ve never even existed as a character before.”
    A peach of a story, concerning an Ark made of clotted cream. If that appeals to you, enter this book as a reader; this is the beginning of the book, although it’s well into my review. Rhys Hughes is an absurd avant gardist, because he isn’t avant garde.

  6. imageIn Thornton Wilder’s stage play ‘The Skin of Our Teeth’, the entire action happens in a fictitious New Jersey town with the name “Excelsior”. Longfellow who wrote a real poem entitled ‘Excelsior’ is directly featured in Thornton Wilder’s play but with a fictitious poem!

    ‘Excelsior’ means ‘ever upward’.

  7. I love Thornton Excelsior stories – and the way they chase each other towards some extra braincore beyond anything else in literature. Yet, thinking aloud, I wonder if it is counter-productive for publishers to publish so many Rhys Hughes books so frequently as they do – but that in itself, of course, is no mean achievement, the fact of which this author can be proud. Other than perhaps ‘Rhysop’s Fables’ (that recently I had to abandon real-time reviewing, at least temporarily), all his books are special unique classics, but I am still waiting for THE legacy Rhys Hughes book that will take years for him to write, and months if not years for me to read. At least one thousand pages of deep and textured and reader-brainshape-altering text – blending, say, ‘Engelbrecht Again!’ and ‘A Rape of Knots’ with dashes of Thornton Excelsior… All said, with due humility and tentativeness. A lunatic tickle from me to him.

    Hatstands on Zanzibar
    “Have you ever beamed at somebody you recognise in the street and then remembered, too late, you aren’t supposed to like that person?”
    This is completely and utterly mad but strangely sane, too, dealing with the alchemy of unintentional smiles…making the reader do handstands to help get his brain back into position.

  8. The Porcelain Pig
    “…they visited a micronation so small it was occupied entirely by the embassies of other countries…”
    …which pleasantly reminds me of the geographical parasitism that I mentioned here in my simultaneous real-time review of ‘Captains Stupendous’.
    This is a self-referential, quantitatively-eased story about two explorers, Hogwash and Bum Note, featuring other geographical jokes plus, for me, a financial metaphor for the 2008/9 crash.

  9. Mad March Stylist
    Anthropomorphic trees and animals, a cloud on a stick as the opposite of umbrella… there is also something engaging about continuously counting the wordage of the story, in which you are a character, where the business of your counting naturally keeps increasing the wordage itself – and that has a significant bearing on the finance metaphor in the previous story…

  10. The Paradoxical Pachyderms
    I unconquered this mountain of a story because it wasn’t there (thanks to the story itself for that unconceit).


    The main subtitle of this book: Tales To Make Full Moons Giggle

    To be lunatickled?

    The size of my head and face often causes people to call me Moonface!

  11. The Integers
    “Thornton hated similes and metaphors.”
    That’s because Thornton is one or other of them, just as Distanto Faraway is possibly his own brother (here earlier today), and Thornton in this story becomes a number that coincidentally “represented itself.”
    If you think you understand Pascal’s Wager – learn about its atonal music in Thornton’s Prayer… And there is the best joke ever about the Flat Earth Society, plus some crunching ones about numbers and mathematical symbols. This is prime Thornton Excelsior.

  12. The Shrug
    A story of weighing things in the balance with the help of those that sit on each shoulder and exhort you one way or another into your ear… Except the story’s vertical extrapolation is beyond the more common horizontal spectrum of good and evil. Where do you sit ? As above, so below? As cause or effect? An ingenious story, arguably Rhys’s most ingenious of all.

  13. imageThe Esplanade
    “The crescent moon gleamed but not like a sickle,…”
    Sometimes a Rhys Hughes story comes together and the reader can only shout out YES with poignant gusto into the lonely room, as he suddenly grasps another optimum masterpiece by this author, and this is one of them; perhaps the greatest of them all.
    The story of the exercise machines placed on the esplanade by council grandees, what they do for the citizens as individuals or couples, and what they do for other things such as … well, that would be a spoiler. Just rest assured that the machines will work you, too … Eventually. Oh, YES!

    [An amazing thing happened — about half an hour ago I used the above picture to illustrate here my current review of ‘Captains Stupendous’ … and having now by chance turned to reading this story, I discovered it could illustrate this one, too!]

  14. The Rotten Otter
    An apparent example of this book’s open attitude towards word association rather than organic plot. But I didn’t really appreciate this story nor understand the reference to ‘Catnip’ in the last line, if it was intended that it should be understood.

  15. The Ducks of Hazard
    A mad scientist story which self-satirises this author sometimes acting the role of mad storyteller by experimenting with boomerang killer-ducks instead of more successful flights of fancy upon which we know he can soar.

  16. The Cheeky Monkey
    “People told me there was no future in the déjà vu business but they were doubly, even triply wrong.”
    Another Hogwash and Bum Note daft explorers story, about turning cheeks. Please note Bum has two of them.

  17. The Melody Tree
    Any story with that as a title – on Opus Island – and mentioning the composer Scriabin – cannot be all bad. However, it suddenly occurred to me that the words Bum Note, the name of a character who appears a lot in this book, is an appropriately ironic expression when discussing the work of Rhys Hughes, work that abounds with genius, true, but also with perceived bum notes, some of those notes sounding out deliberate misfired effects but, sadly, in my book, also sounding out accidental misfired effects.

  18. Note to Oneself
    “How am I supposed to know to which opus he belongs or which composer wrote him?”
    At first I thought this might be another bum note story, but it developed into something that will become one of my favourite Thornton Excelsior stories, here where our word-association hero becomes a proper note himself (a crotchet) seeking its stream of music to make it retrocausally seem tuneful within a gestalt melody, or even gestalt atonal, if that’s what grabs you. Not only one of the best jokes about a cage and Cage, but an apocalyptic virus scenario in optimum sections of Hughes prose to give due respect to the world news current as I happen to read this story. As the story itself states, “context” is everything. (A poignant take on Mother Nature and Fine Art Aesthetics.)
    “Too avant-garde for me, as you well know.”

  19. Said The Spook
    A conceptual loop of spirit and flesh as the dead and the undead converse, eventually arriving at an ending that none of us predicted, not even predicted by the one who created the ending because I reckon it lost conscious impetus after the words ‘deep breath’. None, though, asked why the title wasn’t spoke rather than said!

  20. The Notorious Unclemuncher
    Oyez, Oyez, I think this story is likely to become in its own way even more notorious than itself, being the most self-referential as any fiction could possibly be, or even more so than that! – with the furthest stretched wild wordplay of which anyone is likely to conceive. I don’t think I have ever compared Rhys Hughes’ nonsense to Lewis Carroll’s nonsense before – mainly because I don’t think either of the authors or their respective nonsenses would welcome the comparison. Indeed the comparison itself doesn’t welcome it.

  21. Putting Things Off
    A Rhys Hughes gem, here extrapolating on separate selves, a concept so ably portrayed by Proust in his long novel ‘In Search of Lost Time’…reaching a Penal Colony-like multi-spidered beetle of a non-sequitur self-instrument for the county I live in: Ethics.

  22. The Canapés of Wrath
    “The zoetrope was off; the puppets had wilted; the other ornaments were slowly turning themselves inside out.”
    Rhys Hughes has the neatest phrase bordering on nonsense than any author I know. He should be as famous as Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear or Stanley Unwin or Ken Dodd. Here the plot concerns Hogwash and Bum Note again, soon to be ex-explorers, or ‘plorers’ (I laughed out loud at that!) as the Cosmic Mind in the shape of a donkey arrives at their door…

  23. The Queue
    “He was growing tired of this farce.”
    …but not of his face that someone else in pre-Birth’s queue claimed he jumped to get that someone’s face for his own. There is also a mention of ‘running the risk of puns’. If that were a disease, this author has caught it! A lot of great conceits in this story, including the respective worth of ‘wise men’ and ‘wise guys’. And some religious philosophy to boot.

  24. The Heat Death of Mr Universe
    A story of travelling between stories on a mission as a marital intermediary, but that’s not even half of it! I don’t think I have laughed as loud or as long as I did at the eventual unfolding of the ‘Hello, Honey, I’m home’ joke!

  25. The Television
    “If you are a buffoon, act like a buffoon. Don’t pretend to be something you aren’t. If you are a fake, be an authentic fake. Don’t be a phoney fake.”
    A guru appears out of Thornton’s amazing 3D Television and says those wise words. Even television can give as well as take. A nifty story that the logic of such a TV is taken for all its worth.
    Just remembered there is a well known brand of chocolate called Thornton’s. Just that. I just appeared from this otherwise flat screen review with a non/sequitur.

  26. Sheer Lunar Sea
    A rather forced wordplay of a title but a story teeming with brilliant conceits, including windmill-paddlewheel power on a boat etc. And a BIg Brother TV Reality show type device in involving the reader in the action!

  27. My Bearable Smugness
    “Honey on honey with a side dish of honey.”
    A honey feast, by a maker of chocolate? Rhys Hughes, wordplay on wordplay with not so much a smugness as a conceit of wordplay for dessert, later Midnight snacking and tomorrow’s breakfast. The book is indeed a feast, perfected by a sprinkly tickle from a lemon moon on a bright night, rather than a drizzle on a grey day. This story tells of our hero as temporary dictator imprisoning prisons which leads to a logical conundrum similar to that of brothels going to brothels – a small miracle.
    As Brucie says, you’re my favourite.


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