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The Court of Tartary

The Court of Tartary

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Published by Brian Salmi
brilliant and hilarious "sci-fi" short story, from tp caravan, in which an english literature professor wakes up on morning to discover he has been transformed into a steer
brilliant and hilarious "sci-fi" short story, from tp caravan, in which an english literature professor wakes up on morning to discover he has been transformed into a steer

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Published by: Brian Salmi on Jun 01, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The name of T. P. Caravan, too long absent from Science Fiction,returns now on the byline of a rather intriguing story. Concerning itsauthor, we submit the brief information that "Mr. Caravan is anextremely shy man. He is on the faculty of the College of the City of  New York, and is an authority on 18th Century English literature. Oncehe was an aerial gunner, but now he's too fat." Herewith his account of a Johnsonian scholar in a Kafkaesque situation.THE COURT OF TARTARY by T. P. CaravanPROFESSOR DUNBAR bawled into the cowboy's ear, and the cowpokeslapped him across the rump with the end of his rope, shouting,"Git up, thar." And the professor bawled again and began torun.Edward Harrison Dunbar, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., L.L.D., member of the Modern Language Association and authority on eighteenthcentury literature, was not prepared for the situation in which hefound himself: it had never been mentioned by any of the writersof the Age of Reason.Kafka, of course, had treated the subject, but Professor Dunbar seldom read anything written after 1798. "Classic restraint and control,"Professor Dunbar used to tell his classes: "these are the essentials of the pure style." Now he ran bellowing across the dusty plains of Texas. "Pure English isthe best English," he used to say. "Cleanse your speech of colloquialism.Put limits to your imagination, restrain your fancy, remain within therules. Speak with clarity and precision."And now he bawled at another cowboy and the cowboy flapped his hatand yipped at him. Professor Dunbar couldn't help it; his instincts senthim running wall-eyed back to the herd.
He had awakened this morning with a vague feeling that somethingwas wrong. Something was, of course. He had been turnedinto a steer. But he had always been a man who woke up easilyand gradually, and as he lay in a gentle half-doze, waiting for the smellof coffee to tell him that breakfast was ready, he tried, without anyanxiety, to account for the uneasy feeling. His most recently published paper, the one proving that Boswell was the true author of 
had been attacked by several fools in the scholarly journals, but he had hisrefutation prepared: it wasn't that.The college magazine had been suspended again for another four years, but that happened after almost every issue: it wasn't that His lectures for the rest of the term were fully set up: that was all right. His childrenweren't in trouble, his wife wasn't in debt, and he hadn't been too drunk at the faculty club for several months.Smelling coffee at last, he decided that his uneasiness was justthe aftermath of some forgotten dream, and he opened his eyes.He came to his feet with a bawl of amazement: he had beensleeping among cows.His first thought was that this was some student prank. Theundergraduate body became more ingenious and unbearable eachyear; in Professor Dunbar's ideal university, no student under sixty years old would ever be admitted. But even the most brilliantand sadistic freshman would be unable to . . .His next thought was that he was insane, but he brushed thatthought aside as easily as he brushed a fly from his back: he knew perfectly well that he wasn't insane. He wasn't insane becausehe was a scholar. He was a sane scholar, and he mentally recitedthe first eighteen verses of Gray's
to prove it. But he wasstill surrounded by cows, and a dozen yards away a group of cowboyswere drinking coffee out of thick china mugs.
His third thought was that this was a dream.His fourth thought told him that he knew it wasn't a dream.One of the cowboys rolled a cigarette, and Professor Dunbar'smind stopped its hysterical stuttering. He bawled out an appealfor help and started picking his way through the sleeping animalstoward the men. Having spent his life in a university town, he wasrather frightened by the nearness of the other steers. Roused byhis bellowing, the rest of the herd came to its feet. They were allaround him, nervous, bawling. He was frightened enough by his predicament, and his fear spread to them and theirs to him. Fran-tic, he tried to push his way through the herd. His eyes rolled, histail lashed out, his voice rose in terror.Professor Dunbar was spooked.The herd stampeded; he stampeded with it. He got one footinto the bucket full of hot coffee and he got a hat flapped in hisface and somebody shot a gun off behind his back and a thunderclapof panic burst within his head.He ran and he ran until he couldn't run any more, and eventhen he kept on running. And even as he ran he wondered if hecouldn't prove that Edward Young was the true author of thethird book of 
Gullivers Travels,
 because he knew that if hestopped thinking scholarly thoughts about the eighteenth centuryhe would have to admit that he had turned into an animal. Soas he ran he considered the evidence turned up by the publicationof the Tickell papers and the discovery of Swift's old laundrylists and
 Night Thoughts
and the graveyard poets and Gray's
and the lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea, and he hadto admit that he was an animal.He thought he was a cow because he had always thought of 

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