Drolleries

Halloween is a magical, mystical time of year for me. There’s a delicious chill in the air. It’s time to settle down in front of the fireplace. Time for pumpkins, spices, and all things spooky! For me, spooky includes weird and unusual, and that’s exactly what I’ve been finding in my online adventures.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I love learning new things. I especially love finding an interesting fact and following it to see where it goes. At any given time — but especially in the fall of the year — you’ll find me reading and studying an odd variety of things.

For what it’s worth, I’m currently reading a book on the history of Area 51, one on the unsolved 1921 murder of Hollywood producer William Desmond Taylor, and Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, translated by William Weaver. I have Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse on my bedside table, as well.

Eco’s 1980 novel is undoubtedly the most challenging. It’s a murder-mystery set in a fourteenth century monastery with a large scriptorium, or library. Monks there work at copying manuscripts, and as monks were wont to do, they occasional add drolleries in the margins of the books.

I was familiar with the word droll, meaning a sort of dry humor, but what, exactly is a drollery, or drollerie, as it is often spelled? A little browsing, a bit more reading, and I was rewarded with a literally fantastic display of monstrous, yet humorous art, mostly depicting animals, but oftentimes including humans and plants all jumbled together in grotesque forms. In fact, grotesque is a synonym for drollerie.

Here’s a good definition:

Drolleries, often called a grotesque, are decorative thumbnail images in the margins of Illuminated manuscripts, most popular from about 1250 through the 15th century, though found earlier and later. The most common types of drollery images appear as mixed creatures, either between different animals, or between animals and human beings, or even between animals and plants or inorganic things. Examples include cocks with human heads, dogs carrying human masks, archers winding out of a fish’s mouth, bird-like dragons with an elephant’s head on the back. Often they have a thematic connection with the subject of the text of the page, and larger miniatures, and they usually form part of a wider scheme of decorated margins, though some are effectively doodles added later. One manuscript, The Croy Hours, has so many it has become known as The Book of Drolleries. Another manuscript that contains many drolleries is the Luttrell Psalter, which has hybrid creatures and other monsters on a great deal of the pages.  From – Educalingo

But what was the purpose of adding these weird doodles? I can’t answer that question. It’s been suggested that adding drolleries was simply a way to break up the monotony of what was probably rather dull reading. Other suggestions are that drolleries were a bit like today’s political cartoons in that they reflected thoughts and feelings about the state of the church or society.

Many drolleries showed animals — in a rather abnormal way. One of the most popular animals was the rabbit. Although timid in reality, drollerie rabbits were often violent and evil. A good article discussing these wicked creatures can be found here at Ancient Origins: Drolleries of the Middle Ages Included Comical Yet Sinister Killer Rabbits. It’s worth reading.

From the article:

“Apart from aggressive rabbits, drolleries also depict a variety of other animals . This type of drollerie had its origins in bestiaries, which are compendia of beasts that were hugely popular during the Middle Ages. Bestiaries are thought to have lost their appeal by the second half of the thirteenth century, as evident in their decreased production.

Nevertheless, the creatures of such bestiaries retained their popularity and continued to be depicted as drolleries. Such drolleries include both real animals, including birds and stags, and fantastic creatures, like dragons and unicorns. It may be added that these creatures are normally drawn based on their descriptions as found in the bestiaries.”

One reason I enjoyed learning about drolleries is I seem to have created a few of my own, not as marginalia in any manuscripts, but as part of my Inktober participation in previous years.

Perhaps you remember “Monsterus Whalus”, my comical blue whale from October 2018.

Or my inky dragon from 2017:

I had fun drawing both of these “monsters” as well as many others. They are, I suppose, my own version of medieval drolleries, although I had never heart of such a thing. Of course, I’d seen medieval illustrations, and I’ve long been a lover of mythical creatures, such as those described by Jorge Luis Borges in his Book of Imaginary BeingsIn a similar, but slightly different vein, there is also a nice collection of caricatures and “monster” drawings by Leonardo da Vinci.

Drolleries fascinate me, and the more I read, the more intrigued I become. There is a lot of information online, and if you’re interested in learning more — and seeing examples — you might find these links helpful:

800 Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts are Now Online

Killer Rabbits in Medieval Manuscripts

The Aberdeen Bestiary

You can also take an up-close look at a facsimile edition of “The Book of Drolleries” – The Croy Hours.

And here, you’ll find images of the Luttrell Psalter, courtesy of the British Museum:

Visual Books – The Luttrell Psalter

For me, the grotesques or drolleries are strange, frightening, humorous, and puzzling all at the same time. I do want to know more about them, and I do want to indulge myself in drawing more of my own imaginary “doodle monsters”. They are such fun to make.

Who knows, really! Maybe that’s why medieval monks drew their own drolleries. Maybe they were just having fun.

 

26 Comments

  1. Ah, thanks for that information! ^_^ I’ve always enjoyed them, too, but didn’t have a name for them. Two “connection” thoughts came to mind — three, actually. First, my professor had us watch the movie version of _Name of the Rose_ back in the late 80s. I had not heard of the book at that time, and I haven’t read the book yet since. So, just the movie for me. And while it’s very gritty, it’s one of those movies that I will never forget because I came from a fundamentalist religious background where mainstream entertainment and “fun” was deeply frowned upon or forbidden. That was a very deep theme for me — that you deserved not only punishment for “having fun”, but *death* for mocking religious matters in a such a low and petty manner. I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil anything for you. But I encourage you to stick with it because the story is excellent social commentary on the harmful nature of authoritarian organizations who have punitive attitudes toward the very real human need for levity, laughter, entertainment, and different perspectives — not to mention having the freedom and courage to question what you’ve been taught to see if it still holds true from a different perspective. And there’s, of course, layers of social commentary beneath that obvious theme, too, but it’s a brilliant literary work on the topic of idealistic and dogmatic piety vs. human nature/psychology. (The movie starred Sean Connery, Christian Slater, and F. Murray Abraham if you’re interested in viewing it after reading it.)

    Second, I’ve always thought of these things as the first sketchbooks. LoL … I know that wasn’t their intent, but the way they meander across the pages in variety of ways reminds me of a sketchbook. And I’ve seen images of one in which a cat walked across the page and left inky pawprints. It’s humanizing (to make that point again) to realize these things happened to them, too. They got bored, they doodled, they probably swore at cats that messed up their hard work. In the end they had to accept that perfection just isn’t always going to happen.

    The third, you might not be so familiar with, but fans of Monty Python might chuckle at the idea of evil, killer rabbits. If you’re not familiar, the knights in quest of the Holy Grail “ride” out to a monster’s cave, and a little white rabbit hops out. The knights get upset that they’ve been led on such a hunt. “What’s he going to do? Nibble your bum?” So, they send one to kill it, and it bites his head off. LoL … The rabbit attacks them, kills several of them, and the knights end up retreating. “Run away! Run away!” I wonder now if their inspiration for that scene might have come from a very long and true history of Medieval disenchantment with rabbits?! ^_^ And that makes me question why rabbits were harbingers of evil back then in the first place! I know that in Japan, rabbits are symbols of lonliness, and in many cultures they represent fear and are tricksters. But they also represent fertility and good luck. So, I can see how pious people might twist fertility and trickster symbolism into something representative of evil. And I can see how people might have come to view a symbol of fear as a bad omen. But I can also see how the fertility thing might be seen as a prosperity thing and be turned into “good luck”. So, having raised rabbits as a child, this business of seeing them as evil is both hilarious and utterly fascinating to me.

    Anyway, sorry for the lengthy comment, but I thought I’d share my thoughts for fun. ^_^ They’re kind of all over the place on this one. LoL …

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love your thoughts! As for “drolleries”, there is so much there to ponder over. Yes, I’ve seen the “inky paw prints” (I almost included them as part of this post) and even though I’ve never been an avid Monty Python fan, I’m aware of the connections with the sinister rabbits and the drolleries. There was an article online I came across about that, too. You might have already read it, but if not, I can look back for the link if you want it.

      Part of me is almost dreading reading Eco again. I read Foucault’s Pendulum several years ago — all over one weekend. I felt as if my brain had taken in more thoughts than it could hold, and I was hyper-active for weeks afterward. I’m planning to take a little time with “The Name of the Rose”. This is actually part of my “Halloween”-themed reading, and hopefully I’ll have the book finished by the end of the month.

      Years ago, I remember renting the movie. I started to watch it, but I got distracted, or maybe I was just disinterested. I’m not sure what happened, but I returned it unwatched (except for the first few minutes). I looked online at a number of sources, but the movie was “unavailable” through Prime, and required a subscription at other places. I want to share it with my husband, and he’s definitely not going to sit down and read Umberto Eco, so finally I did find it available for purchase. It should arrive in the next day or two. Even so, I plan to continue reading the book.

      Right now so many interesting little coincidences and synchronicities are happening around me that I’m trying to soak everything up. (I have a post coming up next week that deals with my synchronicities.) It makes life interesting, and I love the little things I’m learning. I’m especially fascinated by drolleries, I think, because at one level they are so simple, yet I think we could spend a long, long time digging down to all the meaning behind them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Watching the movie might help inspire continuing the book. In high school, one of the few books that gave me a lot of problems and I just could NOT do it was _Moby Dick_. Nothing appealed to me about it, and it’s one of the few book reports that I put minimal effort into and hoped my previous honor roll grades could pull me through instead. Years later in college, I tried to read it again … and failed again. I read a lot of difficult literature as an English major, but … ugh, this book! Then many MANY years later, I saw the DVD at the library and decided this stupid book was not going to get the best of me. So, I watched the DVD and then read the book again. This time I was able to stick with it, finish it, and even enjoyed reflecting on it afterward. Sometimes, for whatever reason, we just needs a little extra help visualizing, getting past the author’s style, or motivation to work through the language. :3

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      2. Funny you should mention Moby Dick. That’s always been one of my favorites. Of course, I’m the one who re-reads Treasure Island every summer, and loves Robinson Crusoe, too, so I guess I just have an affinity for books about adventures on the sea or on deserted islands. The movie did arrive late last night, so we’ll watch it soon. Probably not today since we have football to watch 🙂 but one day soon. I’m going to try my best to get through the book. In some ways, I think knowing Eco’s writing style will be an advantage. I know what to expect. I know I’ll need to play a few “brain games” while reading. I think I’m prepared. I’ll probably enjoy the book more than the movie. My other Halloween readings this year are “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (always a fun story), and The Wind in the Willows. I also want to see the film “Monster’s Ball” and I checked out “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf, which I’m planning to curl up and read this morning before football starts. Not everything is “horror” or “Halloween-based” on my list, but these are all films and books that have come into my experience recently as “the cosmos revolves”. I pay close attention to what things come up through this process of synchronicity. As often as not, I find that things all “tie together” in some very interesting way. It’s all part of my way of celebrating the Halloween season.

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      3. Sounds wonderful. ^_^ I’m a big fan of Sleepy Hollow and all the derivatives that have come from that original tale. And I do the same thing with Halloween themed books and movies/TV series. (And in general — probably why my TBR list will outlive me!) Everything connects in the big picture. 🙂

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      4. Yes, exactly! I may not always see the connections at first, but if I keep following to the places I’m led, eventually it all comes together. It’s a fascinating way to approach life. I have to say, though, that I’m not enjoying “To the Lighthouse”, except for reading parts about the young woman artist. I will probably put the book aside. I’ve started reading “Wind in the Willows”, and I’m in love with the creatures. I’ve also made my way through the Prologue of The Name of the Rose. I am looking forward to getting into the real story. I did take a little time to look up the Auvignon papcy (not sure I spelled that right) to get a bit of the historical knowledge for the story. I love Halloween and how it sparks so many new ideas and interests for me. It might seem like I’m off on tangents, but I think you can understand how “one thing leads to another” and I find direction and purpose in that.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I was just talking to someone about this recently. We were talking about something, and I connected it to something else, and she said. “I guess you like history. I never liked history.” And I thought, “How can you not like history?? Everything has a story. Everything!” So, I said it’s probably because she learned it by having to memorize dry names and dates without context. Because everything happens through cause and effect. Everything has a story: events, places, people, science, technology, languages, music, … everything. Everything evolves and changes with time, and everything is connected to everything else in some way.” It’s as if she never realized this before, which is a shame. Understand the connections — the cause and effect and the relativity of one thing to another — and you can’t help but gain a better understanding of the world we live in and human nature. So, yes, I understand exactly what you mean. I love learning new things and seeking more connections. ^_^

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Yes… nothing stands alone without context, and it’s so important to understand the various histories of different cultures and all the fascinating inter-connections of our world. I knew you would understand completely what I was saying. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Right?? I encountered my first real rabbit foot charm many years after I lost my last pet rabbit (who was actually my first pet rabbit, too). And I remember being utterly confounded that such a thing was considered lucky because it didn’t do the rabbit much good! Otherwise, I was also quite aware of how dirty their feet can get, stepping in poop all the time. LoL … How is that lucky?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, most of my rabbits were white rexes, but the tuft parts on the bottoms of their feet were more yellow than white because they pee and poop constantly. They are definitely rodents in that aspect, like gerbils and guinea pigs. I did train them to pee in a litterbox sometimes, but they’re not like cats or dogs where they can hold it until they can release it in one specific place. So, you have to sweep or vacuum after they run free. ^_^ Even if they are clean house bunnies rather than living in outdoor runs, they’re rodents. So, I wouldn’t relish the idea of carrying that in my pocket. LoL … But you might be onto something with the idea of fertilizing the garden!

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      3. We very briefly had a few bunnies when I was a child. We had a sort of menagerie. Geese, pigs, bunnies, horses, and lots of cats and dogs. I always wanted chickens, but that never happened except when we were down at the farm for the summer. Oh, we had gerbils and hamsters and guinea pigs, too, plus my chameleons. I fell in love with lizards when I was about 9 years old. Bunnies are cute, but I’m content with having our one cat. I can give her all the time and attention she needs, and she has brought a lot of joy into our home. I was happy being “pet-free” for many years, but I’m happy now that I gave in and agreed we should get a cat.

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      4. I’ve had a “zoo” at various times, too, and am down to one cat and one dog now. The only time I haven’t had a pet was the “between” times when one was lost before another was gained. They are some of the best friends I’ve ever had. ^_^

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      5. Flower Child is the “perfect pet” for us. She’s not a cute, snuggly little lap cat except at night when she curls up beside us to sleep — and this is ideal for us. She needs love and affection in her own way, and she returns it in her own way. It makes us very appreciative, more so, I think, than if she were constantly climbing all over us wanting to be cuddled and petted.

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      6. Yes, I’m at a place in life where I have no time for needy pets. And both of mine are content to just sit with me and keep me company or nap, so they are the perfect companions for me right now. We are all low-key personalities, so it works. LoL …

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I agree! As an interesting side note here, yesterday my husband and I sat down to watch “Nature” — we had several episodes recorded on the DVR. As I scrolled through, I saw one program all about “Remarkable Rabbits”. Yes, of course, we watched it. We learned a lot about the furry creatures. It was quite an interesting show.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This posting is great fun to read. Hallowe’en is also a favorite time for me. Excited, imaginative memories and sensations. If had known what a drollery was, I had forgotten, though I do recall that sometimes the human faces on the literally marginal figures resemble the monks’ own supervisors’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure I’ve probably read about “drolleries” in the past, but either I’d forgotten or else I just never learned the actual word for the illustrations. I’m always doodling “weird little monsters” around this time of year, and I really enjoyed reading about the “killer rabbits” and other drawings. It’s interesting that the faces might have been those of the supervisors. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “In Cornish dialect a ‘droll’ is an oral story.” told by a droll teller—a storyteller traveling hamlet to hamlet across the moors to tell stories, play the fiddle, and sing old ballads about Cornwall’s past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How interesting! Thank you so much for sharing that little tidbit of info with me. You know at some level it’s got to be connected there. Droll, drolleries, and “droll” stories. I’m utterly fascinated by all I’m reading and learning.

      Like

  4. Oh I love those kinds of books, I am fortunate enough to live in an area with many relics that can still be looked at, including a few grotesque hybrid creature sculptures and miniature doorways.
    We just don’t make things like it today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, how fascinating! Our modern society has a lot of good things going for it, but we’ve lost so much craftsmanship, especially in architecture and things like book-binding, sewing, and other “handicrafts”.

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