When I first read it, I would not have guessed that Ben Hecht’s Fantazius Mallare would have a sequel. Nevertheless, The Kingdom of Evil is it. This more interior and symbolic story from deep in Mallare’s derangement at first supplies more cues about the modernity of Mallare’s “real world.” Storefronts blaze with electricity, and traffic shines headlamps (9). But the bulk of the text is excerpted from Mallare’s journals, in which the misanthropic decadent has fully immersed himself in the fantasy Kingdom of the book’s title.
The flavor, and some of the substance, of this book put me in mind of Jeffrey Ford’s Well-Built City trilogy. I didn’t find the Anthony Angarola illustrations as affecting as the ones by Wallace Smith in Fantazius Mallare, but they did seem to track more closely to the text, and they suggested to me the idea of the Kingdom of Evil in an animated format, which influenced my imaginings from the story.
The end had more conclusiveness to it than that of the original volume, but still raised more questions than it answered. [via]
Ben Hecht’s character Fantazius Mallare is definitely a descendant of Huysmanns’ decadent paragon Des Essientes. The omniscient third-person narration in this novel alternates with passages from Mallare’s journal, so that Mallare’s misconceptions and deepening delusions are set into ironic relief. At the same time, he spouts epigrammatic verities in the throes of his self-induced madness. Like Au Rebours, this story is one where decadence converges with asceticism.
First published (and banned) in 1922, the tale is written without reference to definite place. Mallare simply lives in “the town.” There is a family of gypsies on its “outskirts.” Its time is of an indefinite modernity, signaled by the references to hypnosis, and one incongruous mention of “Christian Scientists.” It might well be an allegory, in which Mallare represents the development of the will to knowledge in our artificial and alienated society.
One of the best parts of the book is the preliminary “dedication,” in which the author catalogs at great length his various enemies with their faults. The ending takes place in the form of a journal passage, and it was not clear to me what the “objective” state of affairs was supposed to be at that point.
The Wallace Smith illustrations seem to have an inconsistent relationship to the text, but they’re terrific regardless. Their cadaverous figures in tortured poses all have a deliciously hieratic quality. [via]