BOOK REVIEW: "The Lively Lives of Chrispin Mobey" By Gabriel Quyth (AKA Gary Jennings) 1988

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Consider this a cautionary review of a book most of you would never have heard of in the first place, much less found. I debated even posting it on here as it's pretty much entirely offensive to our people, I'm not sure anything good can come of even reviewing the thing. I'm posting it here, but if anyone thinks even reviewing it is doing more harm than good, and I should take it down, I will

The book is actually a compendium of 9 short stories all concerning the same character, a clueless, virginal, well-meaning missionary named Crispin Mobey. The stories relate his various missionary journeys, all of them disasters, on behalf of the (fictitious) Southern Primitive Protestant Church. "SoPrim" as it's generally called, seems to be a generic Campbellite evangelical denomination, and is probably a stand-in for either the Baptist or Churches of Christ denomination.

Quyth/Jennings dedicates the book to "The American missionaries I have encountered in the South Pacific, Latin America, and the Far East. None of those missionaries will thank me for this."

Nor should they be expected to: As a sort of hapless evangelical everyman, Protagonist Crispin Mobey is stupid, Amerocentric, ignorant, pretentious, loquacious, poorly trained, and bumbling as hell. He's a sort of Clouseau of the 'go ye into all the world' set. Having been a poorly trained missionary myself for a short time in 1983, and having met more than a few in my fanatical youth and my time at bible college, I have no reason to doubt that this description fits many. Certainly it fit me at one point. And yet it's still pretty mean-spirited, you know? I mean it seems to me to be missing the point to rag on people who are trying to help, even if they're a bit fumbling in their efforts. If you're going to make fun of people who are willing to love you, then you've really got no regard for anyone, yes?

Have I mentioned that the book is a comedy? It's actually got some pretty funny stuff. It's probably not as funny as it could be, and I'm not sure why it falls short for me, but perhaps it's just my Christian bias.

I have no idea when, or even if these stories were published separately or when, so I'll just give an overview in their order in the book.

1) Sooner or Later or Never Never — introduces Mobey as a new graduate of SoPrim bible college. He's sent off to Australia to convert an obscure Aboriginal tribe. He fails miserably, converts no one, but ends up killing a record number of dingos, and ends up living with some beatniks in New York City.

2) Kingdom Come — Mobey is sent to the obscure civil war beleaguered South American nation of Oblivia as part of an impartial United Nations team, trying to stop the war. Cold War Humor abounds, and Mobey ends up accidentally impersonating Jesus to a bunch of Indians who make him their king, and attempt to overthrow the Oblivian government.

3) Lhude Sing Cuccu! — Following deportation after the Oblivian Fiasco, Mobey takes a vacation to England to visit his ancestral family home. There he discovers that his ancestors were witches, cannibals, outlaws, and perverts, which ultimately got them deported to Virginia where (evidently) such people were regarded as outstanding citizens in the 1600s. Mobey attempts to redeem the family name by spending a night in the ruins of Mobey Castle, where he meets his fairy godfather, who is more of a fairy (in the colloquial sense) than a godfather. He attempts to cure his supernatural benefactor of his perversions by forcing him to attend psychotherapy in London, but this results in multiple arrests as the Fairy gets involved in a homosexual threesome with Gog and Magog, and Mobey is forced to flee the country under the pseudonym "Oscar Wild." This is the first of the stories to have an actual supernatural character in it, and the focus of the stories starts to change a bit at this point.

4) Let Us Prey — A wave of senile delinquency is plaguing the nation, and yet retirement communities for Americans in Mexico seem unaffected. Hoping to redeem himself from the fairy fiasco, Mobey and an elderly SoPrim official infiltrate one such community of American expatriate retirees to figure out why. Vampirism ensues. It seems retired vampires have to drill little holes into the teeth of their dentures…

5) Be Jubilant My Feet! — A Virginian plantation owner in Louisiana is under siege from voodoo worshipers. He sends a desperate telegram requesting "Mercenaries" to help him out, but because of his accent, and the Cajun telegrapher's accent, the message gets garbled, and ends up requesting "Missionaries" instead. Mobey shows up, manages to prevent anything good from happening, and, in general, makes a bad situation even worse.

6) Ignis Fatuus — In New York City again for an ecumenical conference, Mobey takes a wrong turn on the subway and ends up in hell. Actual honest-to-gosh hell. It seems that his missionary activities were inadvertently sending so many people to hell that God Himself requested that Mobey be sent there before he died simply so he couldn't do any more damage. In hell, Mobey attempts to continue his missionary duties by preaching to the damned, which adds to their torments. Satan is impressed, as he'd never thought of this particular torture before, and offers Mobey an administrative post in the Hades organization.

7) P.U. — SoPrim's only church in Japan is in danger of schisming into two separate denominations, the traditional Southern Primitives, and the "Plug Uglies," in a story that discusses why some fundamentalist types are just really, really unattractive.

8) Homo Sap — While coming back from Japan, Mobey ends up in South Korea, where he falls in love with the lovely Miss Yu, and runs afoul of a local mad scientist, who's attempting to give plants the ability to walk. The scientist asks Mobey to baptize his creations, but Mobey refuses, and predictably all hell breaks loose.

9) Not with a Bang but a Bleep — Crispin Mobey becomes the first Missionary Astronaut! Predictably the ship goes way off course and ends up in heaven, where Mobey is informed that henceforth, people will fly to heaven in space ships, so as to save them all the bother of having to die first. Thus, Mobey has brought about the end of the world.

Ignis Fatuus is easily the best of the bunch, really funny and somewhat thought provoking.

The second best of the bunch is the highly offensive first story, 'Never Never' which does a great job of introducing the character and going into exacting detail on his idiocy. For instance, he's uncircumcised, but decides to have himself circumcised to better fit in with the Aborigines who go about naked. He never thinks to look at them first, however, he simply relies on reports that they're all 'clipped.' Hence, he goes through excruciating pain and travails for no payoff, other than us, the readers, laughing at him. He attempts to learn Aborigine, so he goes to a defrocked Catholic Priest, who not only teaches him the wrong Aborigine language, but he also only teaches him phrases like "How much will it cost for you to get into bed with me, little girl?" Finally, in preparing for his mission Mobey relies entirely on 100-year-out-of-date reports, which seem to have been mostly fraudulent or based on massive oversimplifications in the first place.

There's a curious bit of discontinuity between the first and later stories. 'Never Never' appears to take place in the 1950s, despite the fact that no dates are mentioned. It ends with Mobey taking up with a commune of beatniks in NYC which he mistakenly thinks are Italian, since they have names like "Daddio." All the remaining stories are clearly set in the 1980s, though, again, no dates are given.

Supernatural stuff starts showing up in the Fairy Godfather story, and in the others afterwards, and the focus changes from making fun of Missionaries in specific, to making fun of aspects of religion itself. I resisted this, but it led to the Mobey-in-hell story, which was a scream, albeit yet again highly offensive to any believer. There's an odd bit of discontinuity in the last story, where we're told that hell doesn't exist, that it's just a smoke-and-mirrors thing to keep Satan occupied. This doesn't really jibe with Mobey having actually been there earlier, however.

There's a lot of humor derived from people's names, which, in the Dickins sense, portray people's personalities: Colonel Obnox, Reverend Pillgarlic, Yurin Smegmoff, etc. And this takes the form of place names on occasion, too: Abysmuth, Mississippi; Bayou All, Louisiana, etc. I had hoped for some insights into the nature of my native south, but aside from some broad humor mostly revolving around an inability to understand accents, there isn't really any. The author is apparently just commenting on the fact that most American missionaries are southerners, but has no great knowledge nor observations about the south itself. Go figure.

The real triumph of the book - assuming there can be a triumph to a book as singlemindedly sacrilegious as this one - is that though Mobey is such a prig and a loser, we never stop liking him. Even though he's clearly not cut out for his chosen profession, and even brings about the end of the world because he's so bad at his job, he remains an innocent fool.

I've got a lot of caveats about this thing on a theological level, of course, but my hugest and most objective one is that there's a lot of Rape humor in it. For instance, in the Oblivian story, we're told the locals are so ugly they reproduce only by rape. Similar jokes abound, and given the context of the book, we're supposed to believe it's true. That's taboo for me, I just don't find it funny.


No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, a thousand times, no, there's nothing in this book that any conservative ever in the history of the world would like at all.