The Serpent's Tongue

The other day, I presided over a meeting of the SF & Fantasy Readers Club; the last one of 2011, and enjoyable in and of itself, with many good titles recommended for me to take a look at in the near future such as Fevre Dream, George R R Martin's 1982 story set in the Antebellum Deep South; The Blade Itself, Joe Abercrombie's fantasy trilogy which, some may say, could outshine Game Of Thrones; and the enigmatic works of Jasper Fforde, particularly Shades of Grey.

And yet, when I revealed my own personal favourite, The Klingon Dictionary ... I got booed. I was the only one to get catcalls, and I had to try, this weekend, to figure out why.

The choices of Gormenghast and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Pit-Stop, The Collector Collector and the Lensman series, did not get booed. So why was mine selected, out of all of those choices, for scorn?

That thought actually baffled me for a time, and while I feel no closer to an answer than before, I'd like to say something about this particular book.

I bought my first copy of TKD when Pocket Books had it as a small blue book with a picture of a Klingon Bird of Prey on the cover. I still have all my old "blue books," or paqmey SuD "PACK-may SHOOD" in the language. In 1992, the second edition came out with its white cover - paq chIS "pack CHEESH," "White Book."

1992 was the year that the adventure truly began. Television, radio and press appearances, which would continue sporadically for many years - and still occasionally happen, usually around the time when a new Star Trek movie is released.

And convention appearances, which gave me some remarkable and fun experiences here and there all over the country - often, I might add, free - because someone like the BBC would pick up the tab for me. Very kind of them, thank you very much.

So, all of this time, and for the most pat where people have paid to enjoy experiences comparable to mine, others have as often as not paid me for the same.

Throughout this time, the contents of this book have never once bored me. I've dug through the book a thousand times, and always come away having learned something new.

Would that be any different to someone who has spent years reading Ian Banks' books, and now has a comprehensive knowledge of all things pertaining to The Culture? Does that make me any less a man than someone who could tell you things about Tolkien's Middle Earth you never realised, or who could recite any given passage from Anne McCaffrey's "The Dragonriders of Pern" word for word, or who could take you to all the little places in Alderley Edge where various events in "The Moon of Gomrath" took place?"

Here's the answer, in case you can't work it out. No, it does not make me any less of a man. It makes me as much a geek as they are, and as proud to be one as they are.

The Klingon Dictionary has been a companion book of mine, for better or worse, since 1985. It has never let me down, never bored me, never gone stale. In fact, other people with far less to begin with than I have pushed on with their studies of Klingon - and now head an institute which gives examinations in the language to students.

I could easily be a world figure like Lawrence Schoen, if I'd just ignored all of the catcalls and jeers from my peers.

And herein lies the root of all that hatred and scorn. I suspect, strongly, that the people who hate tlhIngan Hol the most hate it because they secretly envy us. They envy and fear people who can learn a language, whether it it a conlang like Klingon or a natlang like Japanese or Swedish or Navajo, and speak fluently in it, chat with others in it, even sing songs or crack jokes in the language.

tlhIngan Hol may have originally come out of Marc Okrand's head as a semi-light-hearted exercise, something to generate lines for the American comic actors Chris Lloyd ("Commander Kruge") and John Larroquette ("Maltz") to declaim in Star Trek III; but nowadays, Klingon has been referenced in shows as diverse as Frasier, Farscape and Doctor Who and parodied in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation; and documents, biochemical scientific abstracts, Shakespeare plays, classic texts, road signs, blessings carved on stones, tourist information guide soundtracks and song lyrics have actually been written in Klingon, and poetry and operas have been composed in Klingon.

And all of this, spawned from one little blue book, released back in 1985.

So that brings me back to the original question of why my choice was the only one to get booed at the table. I still really and truly do not know why.

After all, I'd picked the theme for the meeting - "The Unmissables." That one book which, if you got marooned on a desert island, you would take with you out of your whole library.

A book which, in its way, has never let you down; never become stale or boring; and which, in its way, has shaped your life.

If I can't say that about The Klingon Dictionary; if I can't say that about the adventures it has brought me; if I can't acknowledge that TKD has shaped me such that when Kate Bush sings "peDtaH 'ej chIS qo'" ("ped-TAKH edge CHEESH ko") I hear the words and think "It is snowing continuously and the world is white"; what other book could I even consider as my "Unmissable" book?

So next time you decide to give someone like me the serpent's tongue for being a fan of TKD, don't be surprised if I upbraid you on attempting a privilege to which you are not entitled.

Thus ends my rant.

1 comment:

"And if we have unearned luck, now to scape the serpent's tongue, we will make amends ere long. Else the Puck a liar call ..."

So speak.