John Shea's 'Tales from Webster's'

I am pleased to present a glimpse at John Shea’s Tales from Webster’s project — a prefatory note about purpose and method, followed by one tale, which is a tale unto itself but also serves as a note to readers of the book of tales.

The “tales from Webster’s” are a new literary form invented by me.  What is a “tale from Webster’s” — a poem in prose, a short (very short) narrative, a verbal arrangement?  A combination of all of them?  There may be no conclusive answer. On the other hand, the structure of the “tale” is clear.  The bolded key words on the left of the page are consecutive entries in Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition (World Publishing Company, 1970).  The text on the right is my connective tissue that links the key words into a kind of narrative, scene, or evocation of personality.  The tale is read the customary way, from left to right, beginning at the highest point — with the additional frisson of a leap across the white space after each dictionary entry.  There must be at least five key words; and the linking text is no more than three lines long. Get ready for some good, not-so-clean, intellectual fun. — John Shea

* * *

A Note to the Readers of This Book

                                                Welcome, friends, to this bold

a·be·ce·dar·i·an                    undertaking.  I’ve worked long and hard on it, night after cruel

night, wrestling with a slippery muse, while you, no doubt, were


a·bed                                       or relaxing with a gin and tonic somewhere near a soothing

oceanfront or a grove of whispering pines.  I, on the other hand,

have suffered the fiery torments of


A·bed·ne·go                           , and I’m still waiting for a savior like Daniel to deliver me.  I

speak, please note, metaphorically.  But I’ve gone


a·beg·ging                              for a wise and intrepid audience.  Is there an


A·bel                                       among you, perhaps, who will read and treasure my work?  But

maybe Abel was not the best choice – slain by his own brother. 

Well, then, is there a broad-minded philosopher like, say,


Ab·é·lard                                who will find my tales to be delightful and . . . wait!  He lived a

troubled life, lost his lover, became a hermit, was charged with

heresy.  Forget him.  Let me rest under the shade of this fine


a·bele                                     while I think.  I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, that

reading the Tales from Webster’s will lead to great woes.  Not at

all!  But I admit you won’t find anything about


A·bel·i·an                              groups in these pages, because, Lord knows, I’ve forgotten just

about all I knew – or half-knew – about math.  And the Tales may

not bring you up to date on the hot tourist spots of


Ab·er·deen                             , either.  But let’s face it, even an


Ab·er·deen An·gus               should find plenty of aesthetic excitement in these pages.  And if

you are not entertained, enlightened, and quickened, perhaps it’s

because of an


ab·er·rant                              gene, some tiny difference in the six billion nucleotides in your

body.  Gee, I hope that’s not the case.  I may be on shaky ground

here, but you might be able to minimize the results of the


ab·er·ra·tion                          by reading the complete Tales two or three times through.  Your

consciousness might be expanded.  It might even help to buy

copies and send them to friends and relatives.  Far be it from me to


a·bet                                       any kind of uncertain scheme, but I can assure you that if you

bought several copies of the Tales from Webster’s, I, for one, would be very happy.  But let’s hold that idea in


a·bey·ance                             for the present.  Like you, I tend to


ab·hor                                     solicitations, pleas for money, aggressive marketing.  I suspect,

too, that you and I also share an


ab·hor·rence                          for violent computer games, dishonest politicians, and flip flops

worn anywhere but at the beach, where they belong. . . .  Oh, you’re not sure that you find the frightening rise of flip flops


ab·hor·rent                            ?  Very well.  Just don’t expect any positive treatment of flip flops

 in this collection.  In the meantime, I, the author, will


a·bide                                     , waiting for the readers that I know are out there.  Handsome ones,

elegant ones, with a twinkle of wit in their eyes.  Eager to search

out the new and unusual.  Ready to laugh and marvel.  My faith is


a·bid·ing                                .  And now excuse me while I go check on the proper

pronunciation of Abednego.