Mr Charles

Dear Lady Charles,

My father asked for me to write to explain the passing of your honoured husband Mr Charles. When we heard that a great white hunter would arriving at our village it was said I must be his help on the river as in all the village I have the most quantity of English.

Mr Charles says he would hunt Katongo so the elders first tried to fill him with discouragement; but your husband is too brave and none could speak to him of fear. Our people say that Katongo has lived in the river for two hundred seasons and has drawn to him the knowledge and deception of all things. Mr Charles (who has the great English knowledge of crocodiles) said, “They only live for forty years my ill-educated friends but this Katongo surely is the largest croc in the Zambezi”.

We found Katongo two days later on the warm sands by the broken pools but he fled to the reedy waters at the sight of the rifle. It is only in this moment I know Mr Charles is a fearless hunter. As he wades in to pursue his prey he whispers, “show no fear boy, the wily bugger is pretending to be a log but I see him”.

The polished English rifle splintered the rotten log into a thousand pieces. I think Mr Charles had time to understand: he looked back at me, confused but not afraid, before he was taken. Mr Charles was the greatest hunter from your village of England, but Katongo is still the greatest hunter in our lands.

Yours mournfully,

7 thoughts on “Mr Charles”

  1. This is a very cool take on the theme, and a beautiful story. I loved the language and how it frequently picked up that poetry of a foreign language speaker, and in particular the gentle respect of a person living in nature:

    the elders first tried to fill him with discouragement
    the warm sands by the broken pools
    reedy waters

    – brilliant!

    The broken English made me pause for thought: on the one hand, it is perfectly appropriate for the speaker. On the other hand, it was hard to read in places – the lack of punctuation and constantly changing tenses made it difficult to follow the story. My suggestion for this would be to stick to simpler sentences and make the quirks more consistent – for example, stick to present tense throughout even though it would be unusual.

    My other bug is the quoted speech – it did not feel right that the English in that was verbatim, colloquial and correct. I would not expect a non-native speaker to quote – i would expect them to paraphrase.

    It is an interesting subject, and I would be very curious to see what others think?

  2. Yeah I am much happier with some bits of this than others – the conflict between communicating the story and keeping up the tone was hard to balance.

    The direct quotes were a (failed) attempt to address this.

  3. I liked it – it wasn’t immediately obvious and made you think [well, made me think]. I also liked how there could be different interpretations of what the writer is trying to gain from the letter or the situation with Mr Charles and his death.

    It seems very time I read it, I come up with something else. Great stuff!

    1. Glad you liked it – yeah keeping the motivation about explanation with the bad language (and a natural tendency to mock the great white English imperialists) proved challenging.
      I thought this would be an easy idea to write but had a lot of trouble getting it short enough and still all there.

  4. Ha! I did think of a 419 scam when I read the opening lines, with the “My father asked … your honoured husband…” bits. Except it’s not written in all-caps or comic sans! For shame! 😛

    It’s a difficult style to write in, since 419 English is often broken enough to be unreadable — maybe not something you want to do in your own writing 😛 But then it would make for an interesting effect. Unlike P I didn’t think that there were bits which were difficult to read: I thought you evoked the style while not slipping too far in to it. The piece remained perfectly understandable, so it was a good balance. But I have spent a few months rewriting a 300 page set of notes written in this broken English style, so maybe I’ve inured myself to it.

    I do enjoy the play between Merawaya’s language and the two pompous quotes from Our Great White Hunter. Those quotes are great.

    My only negative observation is that I thought the last paragraph slipped too far into standard English to describe the crocodile attack. Also, England was one of the great colonisers: I wasn’t convinced that someone would confuse it with a village.

    Some lines I loved:
    > and none could speak to him of fear.
    > the most quantity of English.

    Some small nit-pics:

    I think this needs a comma:
    > ill-educated friends[,] but this Katongo
    I thought that some of the other occurrences of “but” could have used commas as well, but not having them adds to Our Narrator’s style.

    I enjoyed this :)

  5. I enjoyed this a lot. I think you captured the broken-english tone beautifully and with a lot of humour. I really enjoyed the moralistic fable-quality and how the theme (subterfuge) unfolded – it had Rudyard Kipling vibes for me.

    There were a few things that broke the tone a little for me: the word “arriving” in the second sentence is a little too hard to read; the quotes break the style for me (and I don’t think you need the second one for the story to be understood); and the description at the beginning of the last paragraph is too well-spoken.

    A lovely, gentle, funny story. Thanks.

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