The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Friday, December 23, 2005

"The Sea Was Wet as Wet Can Be" by Gahan Wilson: An Appreciation by Lynda E. Rucker

Like Gahan Wilson, I never trusted the Alice books. There was something terrifying, in particular, about the ways in which Sir John Tenniel realized The World According to Lewis Carroll. I remember being particularly frightened, even repulsed, by an illustration of Alice who, in following the cake's instructions to eat me, had grown so that her neck was horrifically elongated till she looked more like a monster than a little girl. So it's no surprise that someone of Gahan Wilson's sensibilities finally concocted such a nasty little tribute to one of Carroll's crueler poems.

Wilson's succeeded here in doing something many beginning writers in the horror genre wrongheadedly attempt (or that many unfamiliar with the genre mistakenly think is appropriate): he's populated his story with a cast of thoroughly unpleasant characters who seem bound to get their comeuppance by the story's end. Here, of course, it works, first of all because he's Gahan Wilson, but also because the motley partiers at this fateful picnic seem no more shrill and unpleasant than the attendees of a mad tea party or croquet match in Carroll's Wonderland. As the story progresses, of course, the little party the narrator describes as "a contamination" and "a crowd of bored and boring drunks" begin to seem not so much revolting as simply pathetic; but by then, of course, it's too late. They've made the acquaintance of the charming, even lovable, walrus and his sidekick the carpenter, and as is the case in much of Carroll's universe, what seems so whimsical on the surface of things disguises something much more menacing.

Though "The Sea Was Wet as Wet Can Be" made its debut in a 1967 issue of Playboy, I first discovered it in Ellen Datlow's 1989 anthology Blood is Not Enough, probably the same year the anthology was published. The story never left me, but I couldn't remember who had written it, what the title was, or where I'd read it--only Carroll's avuncular walrus and carpenter, every bit as sinister as I'd always suspected they were. I searched in a desultory way for the story once in a while (though I thought the title was something like "The Walrus and the Carpenter") but it wasn't until a friend of mind coincidentally mentioned having read it this past year that I got the title and author again (but of course! I should have realized that only Gahan Wilson could have written such a perfectly macabre take on Lewis Carroll!), and I found the story online at SCI FICTION.

Reuniting with old favorites has been only one of many pleasures the site has given me, and I intend to spend the final year of its life reading or rereading 300+ of the best short stories writers in the field of speculative fiction have produced, not just since the site's inception in 2000, but over more than fifty years. You should do the same.

Link to story.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's been one of my favorite stories since I first read it in The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural--which is why I've reprinted it twice over the years. I'm happy to find someone who appreciates it as much as I. :-)

2:11 PM  
Blogger lynda said...

Well, I for one am glad you reprinted it twice, Ellen! I was so happy to have the title again (I had tried, without success, to describe the story to people before and what I remembered of it was so weird I really started to think I'd dreamed it). I'd planned to track down the anthology used, or at the library, so I could reread it, but you went ahead and reprinted it just in time for me to enjoy it again.

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy crap. Found this through a google search for the story, remembering only the final line.

8:26 AM  

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