The Fantastic Mister Beagle

Monday, September 6, 2010

Peter S. Beagle
Among the treats I experienced at this year's Wizard World Chicago was the unexpected meeting with one of my favorite authors, who was accompanied by someone with whom I'd lost touch years and years ago. The author was Peter S. Beagle. The lost-touch guy was Freff. I'd admired the work of both in years gone by - and the treat was discovering that both are not only still around, but also active today. Let's see ... Background ... When I was 17 or so, Don loaned me a copy of the fantasy novel A Fine and Private Place by Beagle, and it was a stunner. At Wizard World, I heard Freff introduce people to the book by reading the first two paragraphs, so:

"The baloney weighed the raven down, and the shopkeeper almost caught him as he whisked out the delicatessen door. Frantically he beat his wings to gain altitude, looking like a small black electric fan. An updraft caught him and threw him into the sky. He circled twice, to get his bearings, and began to fly north.
"Below, the shopkeeper stood with his hands on his hips, looking up at the diminishing cinder in the sky. Presently he shrugged and went back into his delicatessen. He was not without philosophy, this shopkeeper, and he knew that if a raven comes into your delicatessen and steals a whole baloney it is either an act of God or it isn't, and in either case there isn't very much you can do about it."

The raven is bringing the baloney to feed a man who has spent years hiding in the Bronx's Yorkchester Cemetery - and talking with the spirits of the recently dead. And it's a delight to reread this gem 50 years later. And, of course, meeting Beagle meant that I sort of blithered about how much I'd enjoyed it in the past and was looking forward to savoring it again - end of conversation. (I often pontificate about how to best speak with people whose work one admires. Surely, I say, you have a question if you're a fan of that work. Ask the question, I say. Except when I meet such a person in unexpected circumstances, at which point I gabble about being a fan and loving the work - to which the only response is usually, "Thank you," end of dialogue. So it has gone with Joss Whedon, Jim Dale, and so many others. And now Peter S. Beagle. Sigh.)

On the other hand, also at the table was Freff, and it was all "Let the chit-chat commence!" First, for those who have come along later, let me say that Freff may be best known in comics circles for his work with Phil Foglio on the delicious but sadly short-lived D'Arc Tangent in 1982. Given that several years have gone by, what's with Freff now? And, for that matter, what's with the name "Freff"? What sort of weird acronym is that? Well, it's not an acronym; it's actually his middle name. He's Connor Freff Cochran, and one of the things he's doing is helping people today get more of the work of Peter S. Beagle. While A Fine and Private Place is the first novel of Beagle's that I'd read, the author is probably best known for The Last Unicorn (1968) - so do note the image on Freff's T-shirt.

Among other projects (and I bought, not only the 2007 edition of A Fine and Private Place to savor it anew, but also The Unicorn Sonata [1996], The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche [1997], The Line Between [2006], and We Never Talk about My Brother [2009], not to mention the Beagle-edited The Secret History of Fantasy [2010]), Freff told me about "the 52-50 project." And I'll tell you more about that another day, if the creek don't rise and the bunny rabbits don't eat all the celery.


Kurt Busiek September 6, 2010 at 3:24 PM  

You're in for a treat, Maggie. Those short story collections are especially full of great, great stuff.

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