Friday, July 21, 2017

Mysterious motel

David Macaulay
David Macaulay is an illustrator skilled at showing the way things work. And The Way Things Work is the title of what may be his best-known book, but he has also illustrated books showing how cathedrals, pyramids, castles and other structures were put together. Yet Macaulay's most unique book may stand out less because of his illustrations than because of his prose.

Motel of the Mysteries (1979) is a nifty piece of satirical fiction set in the year 4022. It seems that back in 1985 "an accidental reduction in postal rates" quickly buried most of a country known as Usa under several feet of junk mail. One of Macaulay's illustrations shows just the top of the St. Louis Arch sticking up out of the ground.

Now a daring explorer named Howard Carson, who in the illustrations looks like someone from the 1930s, falls down a hole and thereby discovers something called a motel. And in one of its rooms he finds two skeletons, one on a bed and the other in a bathtub, except that Carson thinks he has discovered an ancient crypt and that one body lies on the Ceremonial Platform and the other in a "highly polished white sarcophagus." To him, the toilet is the Sacred Urn, the television is the Great Altar, the remote control is the Sacred Communicator and a bra strewn across a piece of furniture is a "ceremonial chest plate."

And so Macaulay has his fun with junk mailers, the United States Postal Service, archaeologists and even motels and those who stay in them. Perhaps by the year 4022, nobody will think this is funny, but so far time has not dulled the wit of Macaulay's wonderful little book.

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