Tartarin of Tarascon by Alphonse Daudet

What a middle of a 19th century punk album would be like in novella form.

Tartarin of Tarascon is a big shot in his small town of Tarascon. That little town, a village in the eyes of some, mostly of the bigshots in Marseille, is a very rigid, static place, as most small towns usually are. Everything and everyone is defined. Every single family “sings their own song”. It doesn’t matter that they know that there are other songs, it doesn’t matter that they know every single one of those songs by heart. And what is the most heartbreaking thing of all, even if some of their family members are more suited for other songs, a selected few even singing them better than the families who traditionally sing them, it doesn’t matter. Your family sang its song for centuries and you are to obey the unwritten law. Rural France in the eyes of Dudet is a caste system, maybe even harsher than that of India, where reincarnation could save one from the cyclical life. From great great great father to son and grandson, it’s all the same lives, names and dates are the only things that differ in Tarascon. But, even they, not by a lot.

Even our illustrious hero has his place, but he also has a hobby or passion – hunting. It is this hobby that will lead Tarantin to do what few of his cohabitants have done, travel outside of Tarascon. Due to some gossip that snowballs in the town,(and rare is the gossip in such a town that doesn’t snowball into something bigger), he is set off by boat to Algiers. Now, Tartarin being one who, like most in such a small town, is dominated by stereotypes, dresses up in his best Ottoman Empire get up. From head to toe, he’s in a cosplay that should significate the average hunter in Algeria. But as much as he is in the center of the social spectacle in his hometown because of the ambition to go hunt lions (an ambition that has been forced upon him by the ones around him), he becomes the spectacle of Algeria, with his odd getup. He starts to realize his own naivety and stupidity, but not all at once. The realization slowly creeps upon him. Along the way, trying his utmost to fulfill his ambition of hunting and killing a bunch of lions he will kill a donkey, thinking it a lion, be tricked, robbed, and used by many people he meets along the way. He does manage to kill a lion, but it is only an old, blind one that is used to collect money for a local temple. His marriage turns out to be a fraud, and the potential Sancho Panza to his Quixote, a “Montenegrian Prince” is just another hustler, who ends up robbing him.

He finally gives up, realizing just how naïve he was, the world is a lot different than one would think living in a small town, absolutely rigid in every regard. He doesn’t want to do anything with this part of his life, even tries to get rid of a very loyal camel he acquired along the way. But, as with everything he sets up to do, the camel isn’t swayed and it follows him back home in France. Humbled, ready to accept his failures and come clean to his fellow Tarasconians, life plays another trick on him. Tarascon is still the same, even if Tartarin changed. The news that he killed a blind old lion becomes a heroic feat of killing a whole lot of them. And what does Tarantin do about those false claims? Does the enlightened man, who broke free from all illusions shed the light on those myths and lies? Of course not. Being the top dog in your small place is still too tempting. Being the center of the social spectacle is too delicious not to dive headfirst. Not like anyone else will ever travel outside his hometown and find out what the truth is, right?

It’s not surprising that UFOs only show up in modern Tarascons around the world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s