Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time : You are a Joke

Greta seduces you into the text with the second person. She tells you what “you don’t know” but exists despite your blissful ignorance (8). You have to catch up to her understanding of the world. She baits you into an interactive experience with repetitive “have you ever” interrogatives; making you an active player in a 2-dimensional verbal construct (8). Her playfulness and deadpan delivery of serious philosophical questions about memory, identity, death, and the supernatural allows you to laugh at your fears and also at yourself.  All that you question and daydream about, especially in a sci-fi context, is real and influencing your life right now. However, Greta glosses over the significance of a supernatural world to normalize the strange and estrange you from her. You cannot be as cool as Greta.

Starring Greta as Comic Relief to Soldiers Across Time and Space (and even out of it!)

“‘Because we get cold feet sometimes.  At least I do.  Got Mittens, as I say.’ A sickly light dawned in his Prussian puss.  He muttered, ‘Got mittens… Gott mit uns... God with us,’ and roared softly, ‘Greta, I don’t know how I put up with you, the way you murder a great language for cheap laughs.’  ‘You’ve got to take me as I am,’ I told him, ‘mittens and all, thank the Bonny Dew–‘ and hastily explained, ‘That’s French–le bon Dieu–the good God–don’t hit me.  I’m not going to tell you any more of my secrets.'” (Leiber 16).

It seems to me that Greta is the only one, aside from Sid, who ever tries to crack jokes.  There is not much else that is remotely funny to me in this story other than Greta and her wise cracks.  This particular wise crack I found really funny because they are all in this impossible situation–a time war–and yet Greta finds a way to poke fun at the idea that they are petty much trapped in that life.  It honeslty would not matter if she got cold feet or not; she is not going anywhere.  Cosmic vacations are not granted anymore and there really is no where to run to, seeing as they are outside time and space, and also technically dead.  “Got Mittens” is a funny phrase that Greta made up by taking something the German soldiers must say a lot.  In a war setting, “Gott mit uns” really matters because they are calling out to God to help them through this situation.  Greta is able to take something so heavy and make it up lifting– she has her mittens so she must be okay.  We also have to keep in mind the fact Greta is a “nurse” or entertainer to these beaten soldiers.  Because of her “job”, she has to be upbeat and make wise cracks.  From this passage, we can tell that not everyone appreciates her humor but at the very least, there is a comfort in the fact that Greta still has some life in her.  She can still crack jokes.

Greta as Necessary Entertainer

I am dead in some ways, but don’t let that bother you- I am lively enough in others.  If you met me in the cosmos, you would be more apt to yak with me or try to pick me up than to ask a cop to do same or a father to douse me with holy water, unless you are one of those hard-boiled reformer types.  But you are not likely to meet me in the cosmos, because (bar Basin Street and the Prater) 15th Century Italy and Augustan Rome–until they spoiled it–are my favorite (Ha!) vacation spots, and as I have said, I stick as close to the Place as I can.  It is really the nicest Place in the whole Change World.  (Crisis!  I even think of it capitalized!) – page 9

The vast majority of the humor in the first part of The Big Time comes directly from Greta in her capacity as narrator; her observations of the odd cosmos she inhabits and the way in which she relays them to us are as charming as one would hope for from an Entertainer such as herself.  In this particular passage, she acknowledges the ridiculous nature of her situation (as not wholly alive–at least as we understand alive–but still, of course, able to tell the story) and turns it on its head for the sake of comforting the readers.  Rather, she makes herself into as lovable and harmless a character as Illy by twisting her status as Demon, dead, into a silly quirk.  After all, how could you think of someone who teasingly accuses readers of, upon meeting her, either wanting to “yak with [her] or pick [her] up” as a threat?  Her constant self-interruptions present her as endearingly human, too, and make the narrative–particularly in the beginning–come across as more of a journal entry or even as a casual, oral account.  More than that, the way in which Greta tells her story makes it feel all the more real; she puts so much of herself into her delivery of it, all her funny passing thoughts and candid sentiments and genuine emotions, and as a result it becomes quite difficult to experience the story without her humor as the plot progresses into far more serious territory.

Greta’s Comical Thought Process

Fritz Leiber’s use of the parentheses and dashes evoke a sense that Greta Frozane is aware of the reader and shares her feelings with them which can often times be comical. For example, in chapter 4 Greta states “I decided the satyr’s English instructor must have been quite a character, too. Wish I’d met him-her-it” (32). Since the story is about time travel, Greta meets all sorts of “its” (people, aliens, other species) and here the dashes create a comical thought process while still reminding the reader of the stories science fiction elements.