Mezentian Bridge

by wjw on February 2, 2018

So in last night’s dream, I had recruited a group of friends to re-enact the famous game of bridge played in E.R. Eddison’s classic fantasy novel The Mezentian Gate.

The Zimiamvian fantasies of Eric Rücker Eddison deeply impressed me when I first read them, age thirteen or so.  I loved the stirring Jacobean prose, the fact that the characters were proper Medieval aristocrats rather than prim Edwardian moralists, and that there was a fair amount of absolutely deluxe sex going on.  I think these were the first fantasies I read that actually had sex in them.  (See “Edwardian moralists,” above.)

(Of course these were the days when Sprague de Camp was bowdlerizing Conan stories by taking out the lesbian bondage-and-flogging scenes.  And what’s a Conan story without a lesbian bondage-and-flogging scene?)

A friend representing King Mezentius was N, and I, as the Vicar of Rerek, was his partner at S.  Friends representing Barganax and Fiorinda were partners (of course) at E and W.

There was a good deal of trouble actually getting my friends to sit down and play bridge, since they were much more interested in hanging out with each other.  I had stacked the hands to correspond to known cards played by the characters in the novel, though the rest of the cards were distributed at random.

I tried to inject elements of roleplaying, since my Vicar of Rerek would of course rather have stabbed Mezentius in the kidneys than partnered with him, and would rather have smashed Barganax’s skull than overtrumped him.  (The Vicar’s attitude toward Fiorinda was never clear, but when all was said and done, he never meant good toward anybody.)

I don’t know what possessed my dream self to want to do this.  I like Eddison, sure, and I used to play bridge regularly, but I haven’t in decades, and wrangling a bunch of unenthusiastic but compliant friends into playing bridge with me, let alone in costume, isn’t the sort of thing I’d normally do.

And then I woke up, and I realized that there was no famous bridge game in that book, or any book by Eddison.  I, as the dream’s author, had inserted a nonexistent scene into an actual novel, and then compelled me, who was not only the author but a character in the dream, go to the trouble of trying to re-create it.

I suppose that, insofar as I am my own author, I’m allowed to order myself around, but I hope it’s to better effect than to re-create a famous hand of a card game that never existed outside of my own brain.

Or maybe I was telling myself that anything that I labor to accomplish is no more useful than to re-create a game that never existed.

Or not.

Frankly, Dr. Freud, I’m stumped.

Brad DeLong February 2, 2018 at 4:46 pm

But would it not have been more goodly for thou to have dreamt that thou wert Lessingham? And that thou hadst just completed and bore in thy memory his ten-volume history of the Emperor Friedrich II Hohenstaufen?

wjw February 2, 2018 at 5:15 pm

It wouldst.

Phil Koop February 3, 2018 at 3:34 pm

You weren’t reading Borges before drifting off to sleep?

But you know, there was a very famous imaginary bridge hand that was quarreled over publicly by those eminent experts Sidney Lenz and Ely Culbertson, rivals for the esteem of the bridge-playing public. It was based not on an E. R. Eddison novel but on a real-life event, the Bennett Murder case. Only David Daniels, in his classic book The Golden Age of Contract Bridge can really do justice to it. But briefly, Mr and Mrs Bennett were hosts to a bridge game in their living room. Partnered together, they bid aggressively and reached a difficult contract with Mr Bennett declarer. He went down and his wife began to berate him (“you’re a bum bridge player”), whereupon he slapped her several times. (Daniels writes “according to testimony at the trial … Mr Bennett appears to have acquired the habit of slapping his wife freely about the head in moments of stress.”)

This broke up the game, and before the visitors could leave, Mr Bennett was already packing his own bags. To no avail: Mrs Bennett retrieved a loaded pistol from her mother’s room, chased her husband into the bathroom, and shot him dead. She was defended with suitable histrionics by the great James A. Reed and acquitted after an 8-hour deliberation by the jury.

Anyway, the case engendered enormous publicity (think OJ Simpson) and both Lenz and Culbertson felt compelled to suggest lines of play. But the thing is, the hand the were analyzing was not the actual corpus delicti; none of the players was remotely good enough to remember full deal even without the stress of dealing with a murder. So it was just a reconstructive guess based on whatever hazy facts the survivors could recall.

And there was an interesting coda to the tale. Myrtle Bennett never gave up bridge, although

… she occasionally encounters an explicable difficulty in finding a partner. Recently she took on one unacquainted with her history. Having made an impulsive bid, he put his hand down with some diffidence. ‘Partner’, he said, I’m afraid you’ll want to shoot me for this.’ Mrs. Bennett, says my informant, had the good taste to faint.’

wjw February 3, 2018 at 3:48 pm

Now picture that game with Renaissance princes, who have armies and assassins within call, and you’ll get an idea of what my dreamself was aiming for.

Phil Koop February 3, 2018 at 5:57 pm

Well if your waking self had written up your dreaming story (absit any person from Porlock), I’d have bought it!

A readership of one, possibly. 😉

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