18 Picaresques

By: Joshua Glenn
November 17, 2013

Image from John Hilgart's 4CP archive
Image from John Hilgart’s 4CP archive

Recently, I compiled a list of two hundred of my favorite adventures published before the Eighties (1984–93).

Four of the titles on that list are picaresque adventures. Also, via the following posts — Best 19th Century Adventure (1805–1903) | Best Nineteen-Oughts Adventure (1904–13) | Best Nineteen-Teens Adventure (1914–23) | Best Twenties Adventure (1924–33) | Best Thirties Adventure (1934–43) | Best Forties Adventure (1944–53) | Best Fifties Adventure (1954–63) | Best Sixties Adventure (1964–73) | Best Seventies Adventure (1974–83) — I listed another two hundred and fifty of my favorite adventures. Fourteen of the titles on those secondary lists are picaresques.

Thus — below, please find a list of eighteen of my favorite picaresque adventures — arranged not qualitatively (which would be impossible) but chronologically. The titles marked with an asterisk (*) are from my Top 200 Adventures list; the others are second-tier favorites.

TOP 450 ADVENTURES — BY SUBGENRE: 101 Science Fiction Adventures | 70 Crime Adventures | 65 Fantasy Adventures | 61 Espionage Adventures | 40 Atavistic & Historical Adventures | 25 Frontier & Western Adventures | 20 Avenger & Artful Dodger Adventures | 20 Apophenic & Treasure Hunt Adventures | 20 War & Ruritanian Adventures | 18 Picaresque Adventures | 10 Robinsonade & Survival Adventures |

PS: As I’ve written in a post about picaresques, the picaresque’s protagonist is an individual seeking a passionate life not afforded by an enlightened, modern, rationalized social order. Free experimentation instead of following rules. The invisible prison in this case, then, is NARRATIVE itself. Humans make sense of random or complex multicausal experience by the imposition of story structures, which come to seen natural, eternal, and inevitable; the picaresque draws our attention to the constructed nature of such structures. The travels of the picaro are dreamlike, irreal.

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MORE LIT LISTS FROM THIS AUTHOR: 200 Greatest Adventure Novels of All Time | 100 Best Radium Age Sci-Fi Novels (1904–1933) | 75 Best Golden Age Sci-Fi Novels (1934–1963) | 75 Best New Wave Sci-Fi Novels (1964–1983) | 55 Best Scientific Romances (1864–1903) | Best 19th Century Adventure (1805–1903) | Best Nineteen-Oughts Adventure (1904–13) | Best Nineteen-Teens Adventure (1914–23) | Best Twenties Adventure (1924–33) | Best Thirties Adventure (1934–43) | Best Forties Adventure (1944–53) | Best Fifties Adventure (1954–63) | Best Sixties Adventure (1964–73) | Best Seventies Adventure (1974–83) | 101 Science Fiction Adventures | 70 Crime Adventures | 65 Fantasy Adventures | 61 Espionage Adventures | 40 Atavistic & Historical Adventures | 25 Frontier & Western Adventures | 20 Avenger & Artful Dodger Adventures | 20 Apophenic & Treasure Hunt Adventures | 20 War & Ruritanian Adventures | 18 Picaresque Adventures | 10 Robinsonade & Survival Adventures. ALSO: Best YYA Lit 1963 | Best YYA Lit 1964 | Best YYA Lit 1965 | Best YYA Lit 1966 | Best YYA Lit 1967 | THE OUGHTS (1904–13): 1905 | 1906 | 1907 | 1908 | 1910 | 1911 | 1912 | 1913. THE TEENS (1914–23): 1915 | 1916 | 1917 | 1918 | 1920 | 1921 | 1922 | 1923. THE TWENTIES (1924–33): 1925 | 1926 | 1927 | 1928 | 1930 | 1931 | 1932 | 1933. THE THIRTIES (1934–43): 1935 | 1936 | 1937 | 1938 | 1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943. THE FORTIES (1944–53): 1945 | 1946 | 1947 | 1948 | 1950 | 1951 | 1952 | 1953. THE FIFTIES (1954–63): 1955 | 1956 | 1957 | 1958 | 1960 | 1961 | 1962 | 1963. THE SIXTIES (1964–73): 1964 | 1965 | 1966 | 1967 | 1968 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973. THE SEVENTIES (1974–83): 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983. | Best Scottish Fabulists | Radium-Age Telepath Lit | Radium Age Superman Lit | Radium Age Robot Lit | Radium Age Apocalypse Lit | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophe Lit | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912 | Cold War “X” Fic | Best YA Sci-Fi | Hooker Lit | No-Fault Eco-Catastrophe Lit | Scrabble Lit |

*

Why does my Top Adventures List project stop in 1983? Primarily because I figure that adventure fans already know which adventure novels from the Eighties, Nineties, and Twenty-Oughts are worth reading; I’m interested in directing attention to older, sometimes obscure or forgotten adventures. Also, I have friends who’ve published adventures since 1983 — I don’t want these lists to be biased!

In chronological order, here is the list of my Top 18 Picaresques.

    THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

    twain finn

  1. * 1884–45. Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — note that Twain, who scorned Walter Scott-type romances, uses the term “adventure” sardonically. He was poking holes in the prevailing sentimental and Romantic ethos of the literary establishment. Still, Twain’s novel is a fun romp through the American South in its grotesquerie, and it offers authentic thrills along the way.
  2. THE NINETEEN-OUGHTS (1904–13)

    kafka amerika gorey

  3. 1912/1927. Franz Kafka’s Amerika. Sardonic inversion of an adventure.
  4. THE TEENS (1914–23)

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  5. * 1921. Ben Hecht’s comical adventure Erik Dorn. Before he became the Hollywood screenwriter famous for Scarface, The Front Page, Some Like it Hot, and His Girl Friday, Hecht wrote a popular novel in which a cynical journalist abandons his wife (and mistress) for the excitement of revolutionary Europe! Call it an ironic homage to the genre.
  6. svejk hasek

  7. 1923. Jaroslav Hašek’s comic adventure The Good Soldier Švejk. A sardonic inversion.
  8. THE TWENTIES (1924–33)

  9. 1930. S.J. Perelman’s comical adventure Parlor, Bedlam and Bath. The misadventures of Charles Tattersall.
  10. 198 Milt Gross He Done Her Wrong Dell067

  11. 1930. Milt Gross’s satirical Klondike adventure He Done Her Wrong. One of the first graphic novels; or, more precisely: a melodramatic silent movie in cartoon form. Ironic homage to the picaresque.
  12. 1933. Hervey Allen’s historical adventure Anthony Adverse is a picaresque whose brooding protagonist travels the world, encountering historical (18th century) figures. His journey includes slave trading in Africa, running a plantation in New Orleans, and his imprisonment in Mexico.
  13. THE FIFTIES (1954–63)

    donleavy

  14. 1954. J.P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man is a kind of sardonic inversion of the picaresque. Donleavy’s first novel, published in France by Olympia Press, helps define the archetype of the romantic rebel for the Fifties.
  15. 1955/1958. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is — at least in part — a picaresque. Not published in the US until 1958.
  16. kerouac

  17. 1957. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is a picaresque.
  18. 1958. Maxwell Kenton (pseudonym of Terry Southern) in collaboration with Mason Hoffenberg’s Candy. A satirical sexual picaresque. Owes elements of its plotline to Voltaire’s Candide.
  19. THE SIXTIES (1964–73)

    farina down so long

  20. * 1966. Richard Fariña’s comical picaresque Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. The adventures of undergrad Gnossos Pappadoupoulis in the American West, in Cuba during the revolution, and at an upstate New York university. The author was a folksinger who died in a motorcycle accident two days after this first novel was published.
  21. 1967. Ishmael Reed’s comical picaresque The Free-Lance Pallbearers. Bukka Doopeyduk searches for selfhood and ends up getting crucified beneath a giant ball of human excrement. The author’s first novel.
  22. corto

  23. 1967–69. Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese comic-strip adventure Ballad of the Salt Sea.
  24. 1960s/1980. John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. Sardonic inversion of the picaresque; or perhaps of the meaningful-work-style Robinsonade. Written during the Sixties, published some years after the author’s death by Walker Percy.
  25. thompson

  26. * 1972. Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Subtitled A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, the novel is a sardonic inversion of the picaresque. Raoul Duke, a journalist who bears a striking resemblance to Thompson, and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo (based on Oscar Zeta Acosta), arrive in Las Vegas to report on a motorcycle race. Loaded to the gills with LSD, ether, cocaine, alcohol, mescaline, and cannabis, they destroy hotel rooms, wreck cars, experience visions in the desert, and comment on how the promise of the Sixties — not to mention the American dream — hasn’t panned out.
  27. THE SEVENTIES (1974–83)

  28. 1976. J.P. Donleavy’s The Destinies of Darcy Dancer. Sardonic inversion of a picaresque, set in Ireland.
  29. jong fanny

  30. 1980. Erica Jong’s satirical historical adventure Fanny. A sardonic inversion of the picaresque.

***

TOP 450 ADVENTURES — BY SUBGENRE: 101 Science Fiction Adventures | 70 Crime Adventures | 65 Fantasy Adventures | 61 Espionage Adventures | 40 Atavistic & Historical Adventures | 25 Frontier & Western Adventures | 20 Avenger & Artful Dodger Adventures | 20 Apophenic & Treasure Hunt Adventures | 20 War & Ruritanian Adventures | 18 Picaresque Adventures | 10 Robinsonade & Survival Adventures |

20 ADVENTURE THEMES AND MEMES: Index to All Adventure Lists | Introduction to Adventure Themes & Memes Series | Index to Entire Series | The Robinsonade (theme: DIY) | The Robinsonade (theme: Un-Alienated Work) | The Robinsonade (theme: Cozy Catastrophe) | The Argonautica (theme: All for One, One for All) | The Argonautica (theme: Crackerjacks) | The Argonautica (theme: Argonaut Folly) | The Argonautica (theme: Beautiful Losers) | The Treasure Hunt | The Frontier Epic | The Picaresque | The Avenger Drama (theme: Secret Identity) | The Avenger Drama (theme: Self-Liberation) | The Avenger Drama (theme: Reluctant Bad-Ass) | The Atavistic Epic | The Hide-And-Go-Seek Game (theme: Artful Dodger) | The Hide-And-Go-Seek Game (theme: Conspiracy Theory) | The Hide-And-Go-Seek Game (theme: Apophenia) | The Survival Epic | The Ruritanian Fantasy | The Escapade

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