Sangria in the Sangraal


by Rhys Hughes

A Real-Time Review started 16 March 2012

 Passport Levant MMXI

 CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my real-time reviews are linked from here:

All my Ex Occidente Press (Passport Levant) real-time reviews here:

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.


The Shapes Down There

He smiled as he regarded his subjects from his balcony.”

A memorably ‘fabulous’ conversation of clouds as they circle around debating the ‘as-above, so-below’ empirically-tested synchronicity of Mankind’s affairs as perceived flashmobs, a synchronicity with the Universe (including clouds possessing a motive force beyond even the weather’s control that created them) — i.e. rather than Astrological cause-and-effect.  The ‘affair’ in question here is the festive firelight blaze of the Emir of Albarracín, Huydayl Djalaf’Izz ad-Dawla. No dawdler, though.  As a bonus track, there is a brilliant sketch of the purpose of ’embers’. [I was wondering whether at one point – where ‘clouds’ are spelt as ‘clods’ – this was a meaningfully back-handed slant at the imperious clouds by the author (reputedly a member himself of the moving feasts of Mankind) – because, in all good literature, one can’t often differentiate clever wordplay from mis-fingered typo.  A rare intentional or unintentional typo, for me, is one of those “transient shapes” like an ember in the fiery “festivities” of words.] (16 Mar 12 – 11.15 am gmt)

The Spare Hermit

Incidentally, the first cliché was created by accident…”

When I was going to St Ives… no, when Murk (short for Murkales or a recurring typo for Mark?) was going to Albarracín (fast becoming this book’s epic-centre), he met people whose names ended -urk or started Kru-. A clever, thought-provoking fable – I think in this book Rhys Hughes may be more a fabulist than a fictionatronicist (or possibly a blend of both): and, in this one, where people as well as places are back-ups for each other towards maintaining an optimum reality by having a plan in place to obviate drop-outs. Or that’s how I read it. “Back then, in the 11th century, it was commonly supposed that winds slept in caverns when not blowing.” A nice touch in this stiff, aesthetically heavy-duty boards, crisp dust-jacket, pages of a landscape book with its own ‘genius loci’: as I turned from page 19 to 20, the book creaked deliciously and, genuinely, the first sentence I then read was: “Finally the massive lock turned and the gate creaked open.” (16 Mar 12 – three hours later)

Sally Forth

“Verily he plummeteth. Ouch!”

This is a dialogue piece in the mould of a Shakespearean comic backstory as if written by Don Quixote about a picaresque Knight rescuing once-called Damsels in Distress and is full of strained, often outrageous, wordplay.  Only this author could thus dare traduce himself. (16 Mar 12 – another hour later)

The Magic Gone

Harold swallowed. ‘Why shoot an arrow at a cloud?‘”

Time’s Arrow?  This is a substantial Whovian intrigue: of a time-traveller to Albarracín; Emirate political ploys — as factored into this book’s erstwhile optimum reality ‘spares’ or ‘back-ups’ — mix with minstrels and troubadours; and a conundrum concerned, for me, with Toynbeean history; whether Challenge comes before Response, or, paradoxically, vice versa.  “I swear I’m not a liar! I’m a time traveller!” (16 Mar 12 – another three hours and 20 minutes later, i.e 6.35 pm gmt)

Sangria in the Sangraal

So he turned to shooting birds down from the sky; he had heard that men in olden days riddled the clouds with shafts to make rain, but he thought that foolish.

Cloud-inducing takes on a new slant following the earlier stories. I think somewhere in a previous story a cloud turned into a teapot!  That, too, now takes on a new slant.  This is a Hughesian gem: one that will, sooner or later, be included within a select collection of his work in Penguin Classics.  The would-be knightly protagonist here doesn’t fire arrows into the clouds for rain but to kill storks in order ostensibly to prevent babies being delivered by this means to the Saracen enemy as future soldiers.  And his mother was sickly and prescribed red wine. Only this story can tell you how this fits with Sangria in the Sangraal being drunk by her — Sangraal not being a region of Spain like Extremadura or La Rioja  as I think I might shamefully have once assumed when I first glimpsed the title of this book. (16 Mar 12 – another 2 hours later)

The Man Toucan

I must point out, however, that it may be a century or more before anyone else comes this way again.”

…like this book. Only 102 copies of this bottle with a genie loco.  Seriously, this is a delightfully unserious philosophical fable by the Arch Fabulist and Fictionatronicist named Rhys Hughes or (according to his oft-times used avatar in this very (God)forsaken internet universe) Man Toucan himself or itself. Unserious, but the philosophy itself in this fable is potentially serious: teaching me much more of Ontology and Teleology regarding the Existence of God than any real philosophy book, and Deist Bifurcation and the possibility of sharing responsibility (moral or otherwise) and power (omnipotence). ‘Sharing’ like those ‘back-ups’ and ‘spares’? And there are more clouds here and a part of Spain (like Sangraal) that God didn’t know existed till He came to look for Himself. A genuine masterpiece, this fable, exceeding even the previous one.  Refreshingly delightful in tone. (17 Mar 12 – 8.40 am gmt)

[I’ve just discovered, under this book’s stiff-mannered dust-jacket, there is embossed on the front of the board-cover: YOU AND I < YOUR PAST + MY ETERNITY > DEATH IN ARAGON. At the moment I can’t get to the bottom of this (something to do with Louis Aragon: a poet I read last in the 1960s?). Whatever the case, these are the sole words upon the whole hard-board cover beneath the dust-jacket. So, if the dust-jacket is ever separated from it, someone finding such a bare copy or (dare I say?) ‘spare’ of this book in, for example, a mythical secondhand bookshop, he or she will be stymied as to its identity unless he or she opens it… (17 Mar 12 – another 15 minutes later)]

[I’ve just noticed this in the book’s CONTENTS :
The Man Toucan…………………………………………………………56
Latitude, Longtitude and Plenitude……………………………..68
The Kind Generosity of Theophrastus Tautology…………57
Scaramouche’s Pouting Mouth……………………………………..95 ] (17 Mar 12 – another 15 minutes later)

Latitude, Longtitude and Plenitude

The fleeing clouds were formless, unlike those of my childhood town, isolated but noble Albarracín, forgotten up the mountains, where every vapour was an actor with a shape not its own.”

[My personal immodest brainstorming:- I know now, quite independently, that earlier ‘clods’ was not a typo at all. Of Clods and Clouds – there is a type of human study this book is subtly enacting without the reader really realising: that people have their clouds and they have their clods.  Which of us is which? Only clouds can tell, I guess, so if you can tell I am a cloud not a clod, you, too, are a cloud like me.  And this story sort of embodies such considerations obliquely: and that often in  one latitude-longtitude clouds are clods and in another: vice versa; etc.  A new Geography of Ethics].  This story, like the previous one, has a bottle with communicative contents: here, a real torn-short book-like page of a message that contrasts ethics with the narrator who reads what is in the bottle with a skewed or straight vision of ethics because of his father’s perceived mores by skewed prejudice or straight honour as embodied in another, complementary, document.  Simply, though, taken at face value, this is a truly memorable tale-within-a-tale of a Robinson Crusoe type shipwrecking on an island – with skewed or straight reference to the times of the Spanish Armada that sailed to England – a protagonist whose treatment by the natives and his own loyalties to his home town: solves a problem of posterity. Or he thinks it does. And all of us (particularly those who are writers of literature) have the same dilemmas of skewed and straight vision: of one’s own likely posterity. And with the ‘posterity’ theme that pans out fascinatingly here, we have the plenitude of ‘spares’ again: part of that hopefully failsafe message whence our shipwrecked message-in-a-bottle perpetrator of shaky posterity fulsomely creates: something on the island as both message and posterity: and as part of the author’s ingenious interpretation of the new Geography of Ethics: and I will not spoil it by telling you about its exact nature here. But suffice to say that each of its ‘spares’ is slightly different from the next one. A bit like all the delightfully bespoke Ex Occidente books and John Howard’s postage stamps in the ‘Secret Europe’ book I real-time reviewed recently…  (17 Mar 12 – another two and half hours later)

The Kind Generosity of Theophrastus Tautology

I know what clouds truly are! Sky sheep, that’s what!”

[After reading this story, I now know why the contents page only had this coming one page after ‘The Man Toucan’ with the Latitude-Longtitude ethics story squeezed out!   A pagination-imagination trick of genius!  Cf: a similar, if quite different, trick in ‘Secret Europe’ concerning Z and 26. And I also know why, this time, there is no handwritten number at the back of my edition of the ‘Sangria ‘book at all!  This book does not exist at all!  And it is now clear why and how but I wonder if it will return in time for me to read the next story!] — This story, meanwhile, brilliantly makes references to previous characters* and incidents in this book, including the Grail (Sangraal).  Essentially, though, it is a nod towards Monty Python regarding the Spanish Inquisition, but, here, with a quite hilarious originality that makes me think I’ve now got it all wrong in what I said above about Clods and Clouds. This author is toying with his projected reader.  The fact that I can see that does not make his toying with me any the less! [Regarding clouds: I have been obsessed with cloud-racing ever since I can remember: and this has been brought out in some of my own fiction over the years. An example is shown in the third ‘comment’ below on this page which I placed there a few minutes ago in preparation for this entry.]  (17 Mar 12 – 1.20 pm gmt)

Scaramouche’s Pouting Mouth

Yes, I am juggling with dynamite, but it’s quite safe. I am a skilled performer.”

[There are now 128 pages in this book – including start and end material – e.g. an Author’s Forward (that I shall read for the first time after I’ve completed this review) and a colour frontispiece of what looks like a dressing-table for a midget plus a few blank pages etc.] This is the tale of a war-time clown, by profession, who is left as the only clown alive after the battle: he fears he may be a coward as he travels to where his father once visited: our epic-centre: Albarracín.  (I wonder whether ‘clown’, ‘coward’ and ‘cloud’ are meant to resonate as they did for me.)  This is another wonderful story, re-echoing the conceit of ‘spares’ – even the thought of ‘hawling’ (as I call it in my own novel) towns or cities from one level of the earth to another. Here eventually with a double bluff upon the clown himself! And it’s no accident, I suggest that the ‘magic’ of such prestidigitative ‘hawling’ happens with a “cloud of dust” like a swish of abracadabra! (17 Mar 12 – another 55 minutes later)

Knossos in Its Glory

Commuting as a custom was extinct, as dead as dodos, tigers and books. Simple fact.”

A SF digitilisation-extrapolation which is this book’s coda: an explicitly neat inner-gestalt of all Albarracíns, spare or otherwise. Earlier, I have been playfully calling Albarracín the book’s ‘epic-centre’ as a variant on ‘epicentre’ – so imagine my sheer astonishment, here, when it truly becomes an ‘epic’-centre for an epic film. This had happened because — being lost from or forgotten by the audit-trails of so-called ‘progress’ – it hadn’t become like all the world’s other towns and cities that are now made of some green plastic material!  The whole plot fell down for me however when the author gives one of his characters a ludicrous name like Beltan Braces!

I shall go out on a limb: I have read much Rhys Hughes fiction since the early 1990s and, despite most of it, if not all, being brilliant stuff, I genuinely believe this ‘Sangria’ book to be the best organically thought-provoking and mind-expanding whole.  Fabulous with brazen wit and sparkle: also implicitly gentle and meditative and self-traducing. Making clouds shine even if the world’s sun has gone. (17 Mar 12 – another hour later)


*now in bottles! (18 Mar 12)


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9 responses to “Sangria in the Sangraal

  1. Thanks for this, Des! You are the undisputed hero of reviewing, that’s for sure!
    The “clods” (in the first story) was deliberate, but there’s an accidental typo later in the book, where one of the characters has a ‘short’ instead of a ‘shirt’. I do both deliberate wordplay and accidental typos with equal felicity! 🙂
    I agree with you that sometimes the unintentional typo can actually improve the story. Recently I tried to write “Thornton destroys humanity” and wrote instead, “Thornton destorys humanity” and the mistake was actually superior to what I had intended!!

  2. Hi, Rhys. Thanks. I think this was cross-posted with my take on ‘Sally Forth’ just published above!

  3. An extract below from ‘The Round-Headed Club’ by DF Lewis (published in Stygian Articles 1997) (The whole story shown here: )

    Another spoke: “When I was a small boy, unconscionable years ago, I viewed the clouds as being in a race across the sky. One day, when this image first struck me – (I’ll get you another drinky-poo in a mo, Weggs) – it had been a stormy day, and the clouds skimmed fast above. I’d been playing up the bullace tree, pretending to sword-fight flying dragons and, in a moment of respite, I had my wondrous vision. Ha! Ha! Ha! I was a bit of a loner, thenabouts…”


    “Well, that day, I dubbed those first particular clouds as the leaders in the race. It was the start of an everlasting dash and any subsequent clouds I saw (however slow or large) were laggards – even to say, only a few weeks afterwards, when I thought of the race again, I could not imagine how that day’s clouds could bear to be so behindhand in their endeavours. But, many years later, today even, I still glance up and Tut-Tut to see yet bigger laggard clouds. The earlier clouds, all those yonks ago, were, by comparison, right in the leading pack, right up with the chase. Think of it, the clouds I see today, they’re not doing so badly aginst those yet to come. Makes you think. (A pint of the very best, is it, then, Weggs?)”

  4. I visted Colchester Art Centre this morning – pushing my elderly mother on Mother’s Day – and I saw some original Constable clouds and a book about Constable’s clouds… (Rhys’s book features clouds heavily)… 😐
    As well as Carl Andre’s Firebricks on loan from the Tate (I saw them first many years ago when in the Tate).

  5. Picture of colour frontispiece mentioned in my review. (From this distance it looks like Thomas the Tank Engine!):


  6. Rhys has just announced an ebook version of this book:

    As an aside, regarding my cloud-racing above, here is my marble racing:

  7. Pingback: Real-Time Review of TQF #40 | The Nemonicon

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