Rabelais was the first French writer I read in old French, and it gave you the same feeling as watching speed chess being played in the underground cafés at six in the morning after a night out swilling plonk in the Left Bank. Rabelais led to Villon, and they both led to the troubadours and the low Latin vulgar poets and that brought you somehow to the mystical latin saved by Rémy de Gourmont, and the endless questions and enigmas posed by pilgrims and vagabonds appearing in these lost texts.
I took to Rabelais right away because he loved drink and good food, because the monks wanted to kill him, because he was doctor and lawyer and vagabond, and pissed on the hypocrites and the sophists, but most of all because he took on the academy at risk of his life. But more than that, he could string a good tale together, and he made me realize that I had no interest whatsoever in the tamed beast known as literature, but only in finding more men, dead or alive, who could spin yarns and take the piss out of the true believers and the pedants and drink and eat to the wee hours.
Even his birthdate is controversial, although there is some record of cattle being slaughtered as he unceremoniously fell out of his mother’s womb, which would make it Mardi Gras, in the year 1494.
Here is the author’s Notice to the Reader in La Vie treshorificque du grand Gargantua which is an invitation to dine at the table of a bande d’ivrognes, nothing more, or less:
Amis lectuers qui ce livre lisez
Despouillez vous de toute affection
Et le lisant ne vous scandalisez
Il ne continet mal ne infection.
Vray est qu’icy peu de perfection
Vous apprendrez, si non en cas de rire :
Aultre argument ne peut mon cueur elire
Voyant le dueil, qui vous mine et consomme,
Mieulx est de risque de larmes escripre.
Pour ce que rire est le propre de l’homme