February 27, 1906 [The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend]

I've had rarebit, with cayenne and mustard and without, infused with ale or beer (and neither), with flour or flour-less. I prefer all of them together—well, beer OR ale (the former seems better, "lighter," if I can use a word so out of place in the ponderously gelatinous realm of rarebit). And I've buttered my toast or let it be, and even tried it with biscuits—although a crunchy rye works best. And no accompaniments, just the cheese-sodden toast, alone on the plate—resting only for a moment, until my flashing knife and fork undo the steaming mess. Who dares call the rarebit a "side" dish? It sits squarely, smoothly (and oh so heavily) at the center, always viscous, never vicious.

And I've never suffered a post-rarebit nightmare in my life.

But I won't tell that to Winsor McKay, whose daffy moral tales in his newspaper comic, Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, plunge their hapless heroes and heroines into dire dream-straits, nocturnal retribution for not only various waking sins (gossiping, leering, lying, prevaricating) but most of all gustatory monomania for the slippery pleasures of soaking rarebit. And in the last panel, as rarebit-induced guilt springs the sinner into consciousness, I must admit I feel a pang—and not in my stomach, but within my rarebit-loving heart, sorry that this humble mélange is degraded so. But still I must smile at the fine, bemused line of McKay's pen—even though nothing can match his newest, Little Nemo in Slumberland, which rivals Carroll's Alice books for unalloyed (and irresistible) night-terrors; but his rarebit fiends hint at the exploding house of cards reality becomes, not just in dreams, but all around, even at the dinner-table.

Watching an all-but-perfectly realized moving picture version of the comic strip, I can at last appreciate its cautionary tone. The fiend's rarebit is a watery slop that he throws at his mouth, and his bed a machine-driven juggernaut, crashing through the ceiling, spinning its grinning occupant above the city, painlessly impaling him on a weather-vane, as divorced from the laws of motion as the drunkard's bed in Reve à la lune [1905]—and, like Gaston Velle's pledge-taking inebriate, McKay's glutton must be tossed like a cork on the open sea before he can set down his spoon.

—Unlike the brave few of us, dedicated, passionate—oh, all right: heedless grabbers and gobblers, gourmands if we're wealthy and pigs if we're poor, but happily smeared and soused, either at the table or in the motion-picture theater, crammed like geese but smiling. And to any who might read these private words: Do not scorn my cinema-comestible abandon, for you too may be a fiend some day.


Popular Posts