Gargantua and Pantagruel, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (6 ratings)


The dazzling and exuberant moral stories of Rabelais (c. 1471-1553) expose human follies with their mischievous and often obscene humour, while intertwining the realistic with carnivalesque fantasy to make us look afresh at the world.

Gargantua depicts a young giant, reduced to laughable insanity by an education at the hands of paternal ignorance, old crones and syphilitic professors, who is rescued and turned into a cultured Christian knight. And in Pantagruel and its three sequels, Rabelais parodied tall tales of chivalry and satirized the law, theology and academia to portray the bookish son of Gargantua who becomes a Renaissance Socrates, divinely guided in his wisdom, and his idiotic, self-loving companion Panurge.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 1088 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
  • ISBN: 9780140445503

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Showing 1 - 5 of 6 reviews.

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Review by

Bawdily funny, grotesque and excessive in its descriptions. One of the most compelling of the hard classics; an encyclopedia of medieval marketplace culture.

Review by

Once upon a time, I was reading books on a list of "100 Significant Books" in <i>Good Reading</i> to make sure my mind didn't turn to mush. I was surprised to find I honestly adored just about everything on the list--until I came to number 25, Rabelais' <i>Gargantua and Pantagruel</i>. Reader, I hated it.Its author is one of those names that's become a word in itself, such as Machiavellian, Shakespearian, Darwinian, Freudian... This is how "Rabelaisian" is defined, quite accurately, on : of, relating to, or characteristic of Rabelais or his works2 : marked by gross robust humor, extravagance of caricature, or bold naturalism.Gross is right, with a side of crude, and as for the "bold naturalism"--just know that means nature as in bodily effluvia, not the beauty of the wild. There's perhaps nothing more tedious than reading through a longwinded book that's supposed to be uproariously funny and wise but only bores you silly, when you're not going ewwww--and I have been known to laugh at bawdy Shakespeare jokes. This book is pedantic, rambling, misogynistic, and Rabelais was way too overfond of lists. Very, very long lists. I do get its importance. Sorta. I can certainly see the line connecting <i>Gargantua and Pantagruel</i> to Swift's <i>Gulliver's Travels</i>, Joyce's <i>Ulysses</i>, even Gregory Maguire's <i>Wicked</i>. Have I mentioned how much I hate <i>Wicked</i>? I do. (Not a fan of <i>Ulysses</i> either.) I also get how subversive and irreverent it was when published. Nevertheless, as one reviewer put it, there's only so much codpiece jokes one can take. (Never mind poop and fart jokes.)

Review by

I came to Rabelais through Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" and through Dave Praeger's "Poop Report" website.Upon reading the first hundred pages of "Gargantua and Pantagruel", I , like George Orwell, thought Rabelais was in need of psychoanalysis. Deeper into the books, I, like C.S. Lewis, came to understand that all Rabelais' written perversities were, dare I say, legitimized by the foundations of gospel. The book, we are to understand, was meant to be humorous, in the spirit of Shrovetide, of Mardi Gras, Twelfth Night. It was meant for the people, and the people consumed it with much pleasure, and still do. His influence is broad.Rabelais is today considered a Erasmian Christian humanist. You will also find within his writings the teachings of Erasmus' enemy, Martin Luther. I was absolutely fascinated by this. I was blown away with Rabelais' knowledge of the ancient philosophers, of medicine (he was a Doctor of Medicine), of theology (he was a Benedictine), of all things. Truly he was a Renaissance man of deep learning and also a perverse nut.M.A. Screech's new translation is wondrously filled with fulfilling footnotes. I am usually angered by footnotes and consider the writers of them to be boorish. Not so with Screech.It pains me to even attempt to review such a work, spanning 5 books and 1041 pages. I would like to digress on scatology, Panurge's codpiece, Pantagruel's stature, and much more, but I am overcome. I highly recommend Rabelais. I find myself quoting him on subjects throughout the day to people I come across. I feel I should perhaps one day read it again and take notes, while laughing aloud. I plan to read those Rabelais quoted so much: Plutarch, Virgil, Homer, Socrates, Plato, Pliny, Cicero, on and on. I wonder what his library looked like? On his lists: they are excellent and cover several pages at a time. For some reason I was sent into hysterics by: "Additional item: Toasted Tidbits".

Review by

Gargantua and Pantagruel at over 1000 pages can be a gruelling read. The penguin classic edition contains all five books published under Rabelais name in 16th century France and Mr Screech in his excellent introduction says that many students are advised to read only a part of book four. I am no student and so I started at the first page of Rabelais prologue to book 1 "Pantagruel: The horrifying and Dreadful Deeds and Prowess of the most famous Pantagruel; King of the Dipsodes, Son of the Great Giant Gargantua" and finished with the last page of "The fifth book of Pantagruel" which probably was not written by Rabelais. It is gruelling because I found the writing very uneven, some marvellous passages full of ideas, satire and bawdy humour are interspersed with some typical medieval writing with its mania for lists. Some of these lists go on for pages and many of them are meant to be funny, but the passage of time and the translation from the old French have taken away much of the humour.Book 1 tells the story of the early life of Pantagruel, his birth, his infancy, his studies in Paris, his meeting with Panurge; his lifelong friend and finally his battle with the giants where he becomes the King of the Dipsodes (The Thirsty ones). Much of this book is bawdy, some of it is gross and most of it is fantastical. Here is an excerpt from a story told by a mendicant friar: A wounded lion comes upon an old woman who falls backwards in shock with her skirts chemise and petticoats riding up above he shoulders:<I>"He contemplated her country-thing and said, 'You poor woman! Who gave you that wound?'As he was saying that, he saw a fox and called him over: 'brother Renard. Hey! here! Over here! There's a good reason' When Renard came up the lion said:'My fellow and friend, someone has given this woman a nasty wound between her legs. There is manifest dissolution of continuity. See how big the wound is: from her bottom to her naval it measures four, no, a good five-and-a-half spans. It's a blow from an axe. I fear it may be an old wound, so to keep the flies off, give it a good whisking inside and out. You have a brush fine and long. Whisk away; whisk away I beg you, while I go looking for moss to put in it. We ought to succour and help one another. God commands us to.Whisk hard; that's right my friend, whisk hard, that wound needs frequent whisking; otherwise the person cannot be made comfortable. Whisk well my good little comrade, whisk on. God has given you a brush; yours is becomingly grand and gross. Whisk away and never tire. {A good Fly-whisker, ever whisking flies with his tassel, himself will ne'er fly whisked be. Whisk away, well-hung! Whisk away my dear} I won't keep you long"</I>The humour or bawdiness here has not travelled well from 16th century France and while Frenchmen at the time may well have been splitting their sides, it did not have that effect on me today.Book 2 is titled Gargantua and tells the story of Pantagruel's father. In some ways it is a similar story to Pantagruel dealing with Gargantua's birth, infancy, education in Paris and then his battle against the tyrant Picrochole who invades his kingdom, however in Rabelais prologue it is clear that he is looking for this book to be taken more seriously as he invokes both Plato and Socrates in the first paragraph. More time is spent detailing Gargantua's education and it is very much a humanist education. He is taught to excel in the arts of both peace and war, there are chapters on the ideal lay abbey, there are chapters on politics, heraldry and the true meaning of colours. There is still much bawdiness, but it does not now take centre stage, however Gargantua's fight with the army of Picrochole is just as fantastic and over the top as Pantagruel's exploits in the previous book.Book 3 takes us back to Pantagruel and the first ten chapters are a comic philosophical debate between Pantagruel, now a wise king and his elderly and confused friend Panurge. The style is quite different from Book 1 and yet there is still a little bawdiness, but the humour is more controlled. Here is Pantagruel explaining how a newly conquered territory should be governed:<I>You will therefore, you drinkers, take note that the way to hold and uphold a newly conquered land is not (as has been to their shame and dishonour the erroneous opinion of certain tyrannical minds) by pillaging, crushing, press-ganging, impoverishing and provoking the people, ruling them with a rod of iron: in short by gobbling them up and devouring them................ I shall not quote you ancient histories on this matter; I will simply recall to your mind what your father saw, and you too if you were not too young. Like new-born babes they should be suckled, dandled and amused; like newly planted trees they should be supported, secured and protected against every wind, harm and injury; like convalescents saved from a long and serious illness they should be spoiled, spared and given strength, in order that they should conceive the opinion that there is no king or prince in the world whom they would less want for a foe, more desire for a friend......</I>Book 3 then launches the question that will provide the focus for the rest of the book and those that follow; Panurge wants advice as to how he can avoid becoming a cuckold if he chooses to get married. There is much discussion on the legal situation and of legal ethics, Rabelais was trained in law and brings much learned argument to the discussions. Panurge also seeks advice from doctors on possible medical remedies and Rabelais a trained doctor has much fun ridiculing some of the "old wives tales" that Panurge is advised to follow. The question remains unresolved and Panurge and Pantagruel agree to seek advice from the oracle of the Divine Bottle. This involves putting out to sea to travel by the North west passage to india.Book 4 sees Panurge, Pantegruel and the their comrades; the choleric Frere Jean, Carpalim, Epistemon and Eusthenes on board ship sailing the seven seas and making various landfalls in mystical and semi mystical lands. There is increasing literary plundering from Plutarch's "Moral Tales" and Erasmus' "Adages" as Rabelais targets reform of the Catholic church with a biting satire of the Pope and his entourage. There is also more politics and diplomacy in their dealings with the hostile Chidlings. There is some fine writing throughout this book.Book 5 is now generally thought not to have been written by Rabelais, although there is much conjecture that it was pieced together from bits of stories and essays that Rabelais left behind. It continues from where book 4 left off. The comrades are still searching for the oracle of the divine bottle. In this book they reach their destination after a tangle with the legal profession on the island of Kitty-Claws. Everything seems to end rather too neatly not at all in Rabelasian style, however there is still much to enjoy.It has been said that there is nothing quite like Rabelais and after reading him I would agree. The mixture of bawdy humour, philosophy, fantasy, and social satire is a heady one indeed. At times I was astounded by the brilliancy of the writing and at other times I was a little bored. Knowing what I do now I would not attempt another complete re-read, but I will go back and read some selections. There are many chapters and they are quite short and many of them can be read outside the context of the books. The penguin classics edition provides help for the modern reader, each chapter has an introduction from Mr Screech that highlights the sources used and the targets for much of the satire, they also provide a useful summary placing the writing in the context of the times. Rabelais used puns extensively, word games and irony in much of his writing and Mr Screech explains where the translation does not do justice to the word play. Difficult to give this book a star rating, because as a classic of 16th century literature it should get five stars, but I am going to rate it from my own reading experience and so give it four stars.

Review by

Imagine that the world insisted that Dante's Comedy, the Vita Nuova, the writings on Monarchy, his book about using Italian instead of Latin, and some random thing written by someone claiming to be Dante were all one book, and insisted on printing them together in one 2000 page behemoth. That is what happens here. 'Gargantua' and 'Pantagruel' are rollicking. The third book no doubt repays close study by people really into the Renaissance and who get off on making fun of the Papacy. The fourth book is somewhere in between. The fifth book, according to this translator and editor, isn't by Rabelais at all. Now, these are four utterly different books. I recommend the first two to everyone who appreciates a good dick joke. If you're really, really, really keen on puns, know latin, greek and hebrew, and are deeply, deeply invested in whether it's better to be a Lutheran or a Papist, you'll probably get a lot from the third and fourth. But even if that's the case, I'd go with the first two books here and Erasmus' 'Praise of Folly,' which is funnier, more comprehensible, and much, much shorter. <br/><br/>So, if you're in college and someone offers a course on Rabelais, you should definitely take it. If you're in the soi disant real world, maybe go with the name-calling and farting of 'Gargantua' and 'Pantagruel' instead. <br/><br/>

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