Christopher Moore’s The Serpent of Venice is a sequel to Fool that mashes up Poe and two Shakespearean tragedies—Othello and The Merchant of Venice—and is set in 13th-century Italy.
What was the genesis of The Serpent of Venice?
Everything in Venice is just a little bit creepy, as much as it’s beautiful. I thought it would be the perfect spot for a monster story. And as I studied the history, I realized there was also a political comment I could make.
The Serpent of Venice is about merchants and politicians trying to start a war for profit in the Middle East and being undone by a goofy little fool and a black general. That’s not an accidental metaphor. I liked the idea of playing with it because it’s something that happened in 13th century Venice. And once you put a Moorish general in charge of a crusade, you can add a Jewish moneylender.
Pocket, the fool, has quite a mouth on him. Is that your voice?
I love British cursing—the cadence of it, the joy in the sound of the words, and the vulgarity of it. Pocket’s not only speaking truth to power, but he’s doing it in the most outrageous, profane way that I can possibly think of, yet [in a way that] one hopes is a little poetic. Is he my voice? All of the trickster, rascal characters that I write have the voice I aspire to. In real life, you can’t be that obnoxious and get away with it.
There’s a good deal of silliness in the book. Do you keep a list of silly bits you want to try to include in a book, or is it spontaneous?
Sometimes I’m lucky enough and they just happen when I’m on the page. But if I come across something [when researching a novel], I’ll make a note of it, then plug it in when I’m writing.
Shylock’s daughter disguises herself as a pirate when she sails off with Pocket to elope with him. She embraces her inner pirate with such gusto.
Naval battles at the time involved lashing your ship to another ship and being “piratey.” Jessica starts off as a sheltered, repressed Jewish girl on an island city where Jews were repressed, and I thought it would be funny for her to get all piratey in the company of all these ex-pirates.