Bierce inspired this work. The author piqued by boredom picked up Bierce's Devil's Dictionary in late March 2006. By mid-June he had defiled more than 300 of Bierce's quotations, and had produced 300 blighted new ones. All these were posted by mid June under the banner of DevilsDictionaryDefiled.com. In other words, the work chose itself, wrote itself, organized itself, and published itself; the 'author' did little but to sit at the computer and watch.
It is clearly a derivative work. It barely distinguishes the new author's work from the previous one's. It frequently falls short in the realm of wit. And the "wisdom" is frequently argumentative. Bierce defined plagiarize as "copying the ideas and style of a writer whose works one has never read," Furthermore he lambastes writers for trying to make serious points without using wit. The author pleads "nolo contendo" on all counts.
It is not terribly difficult to ape Bierce's cynicism (see Devil's Dictionary X.) It is slightly more rare for one to see the world in a way consistent with Bierce's own view. These two aspects, the author believes he has represented fairly well, though too frequently by simply echoing Bierce. Harder still is the goal of instilling entries with some native humor. This author has yielded to the temptation to make points in passages that are pretty far from being funny. Yet this, too, seems to be carrying on a Bierce tradition. As funny as his Devil's Dictionary was as a whole, many entries are a bit less than funny. Herein lies the chief distinction between Bierce and Twain - it was the latter's ability to produce humor with a predictable regularity compared to a more spotty success of the former. When it comes to humor, the author of this blighted work is clearly dwarfed by the shadow of a midget. For all these flaws, it is hoped that Bierce is presented afresh and some timely topics are addressed in a similar style.
According to Twain, the climate is better in heaven, but he would prefer hell because "the company is more interesting." Bierce, as he drew near the end of his days, moved south into Mexico's blistering desert climate both to prepare for and to speed his transit to his more permanent home. If this author were to bump into him in the next life there is little doubt that Bierce would express fierce objections to much of the editorial trimming and rewording. A goodly portion of his ire he directs at people responsible for editing his work. Yet there is an overwhelming sense that Bierce was trying to be helpful in his work and that he would be warmly disposed to any person who saw the power of his ideas and attempted to resurrect the work and to extend Bierce's sensibilities to new audiences.
Using Google, the original Devil's Dictionary text can be found on line in at least at least three places. And all of them are good. But there are a number of ways in which the original version strikes one as stale or dated. There are a number of words that may have been abused in Bierce's day that have fallen out of common usage, there are those that have changed, there are those in which Bierce's apparent misogyny seems unsuitable for today's audience, and there are those that could be made perhaps a bit more mellifluous to the modern ear. Furthermore, we had hoped to consistently hyperlink together entries that held elements of similarity or seemed part of a narrative thread. Doing all of this together is a tall undertaking and it deserves a man-year or more of time from a bright and witty person. So it has been given really short shrift, again on all counts. May Bierce's spirit forgive us.
Why go to the trouble at all? It's because the dismally dark world Bierce inhabited may just be the best thing to illuminate our own. This blighted work is surely far from enough to do that; but we hope it is something of a start.
11 June 2006