The other day I watched ‘The Hippopotamus’, directed by John Jencks based on the novel by Stephen Fry of the same name. I have not read the novel. In fact I did not know until I watched the film that Fry was also a novelist.
The film features Roger Allam as a rather compelling poet-turned-miracles-investigator Ted Wallace. For some reason, I kept thinking of the late Christopher Hitchens and Oscar Wilde simultaneously while watching this strangely engaging film. Wilde, I can explain by the fact that Fry famously played the great author in a television series. Hitchens is a little more complicated. As a much celebrated atheist with a vast grasp of history, politics, literature and culture as a journalist Hitchens was also a great wit. Wallace’s character and the way Allam looks, not to mention his voice, in the film reminded me of Hitchens throughout.
At a personal level, Wallace’s, and therefore Fry’s explanation, of whether the poet’s is a useful profession I was deeply reminded of a piece I wrote in April 20, 2014. Wallace tells a boy named David (Sebastian Croft), to whom he is godfather,that a strike by poets would not have any material impact at all as opposed to sewer workers. (I am paraphrasing here.) When that was being said I thought of this passage from my 2014 post about poets and poetry.
“Poetry is an unnecessary talent. Having written it since 13, I think I have earned the right to say this. That said, not all talents should be judged for their worldly utility. The real worth of poetry lies in its inspiration quotient.
I have not done a scientific study to say this but I am fairly certain that great poetry has inspired people to do great things. The poet is necessarily is an inspirer or an illuminator. Poetry is a catalyst. If a single poetic line inspires people with genuine utility-oriented talents to do great things that help humanity at large, then poetry serves its purpose as does the poet. However, it is not the poet’s business to do things. Poets lead a life of conceit where doing worldly/mundane/utilitarian things is anathema.”
At one point Wallace also mentions the fact that other creative artists such as painters have a whole lot of paraphernalia to create unlike poets who have only words. That too sounded rather familiar to me, now doing both painting (for the past four years) and poeting—not a word—for over 40.
Like the movie and my 2014 post, this one too has no particular point to it other than just writing about an interesting discovery. Not that Fry writes like Wilde but one kept getting the sense that there is close resonance between their styles. Fry comes across as far more acidic. The film is quite verbose in a good way, quite like Wilde’s plays.
Now that I know about Fry the novelist I will get a copy of ‘The Hippopotamus’ from the library.