The Cream of the Jest is a later entry in James Branch Cabell’s Dom Manuel series. The series as a whole is a fantasy series, and this entry takes a philosophical turn: after the first few chapters of standard high-fantasy fare, the narrative pulls out to reveal the point of view of the narrative’s author, Felix Kennaston.
Kennaston life slowly starts to blur with his fantasy world. He finds himself constantly dreaming of Etarre, a mysterious, Beatrice-like figure; but every time he tries to touch her, he wakes up. Soon his neglected wife begins to blur in to Etarre, and his increasingly-philosophical dream worlds begin to become less distinguishable from his day-to-day life.
Though The Cream of the Jest is a kind of capstone to a larger fantasy series, the book itself feels more like philosophy than fantasy. Kennaston’s journeys through his dream worlds explore a series of thoughtful threads, from the interface of thought and reality, to the power of religion, to the human condition.
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