The 2½ Pillars of Wisdom

Pomp and circumstance.

If you enjoyed Frasier, you’ll probably enjoy Alexander McCall Smith’s The 2½ Pillars of Wisdom which is a collection of stories about a German Romance philologist, Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, who often finds himself in situations where he is a fish out of water, but refuses to acknowledge it.

Von Igelfeld has somewhat 19th century notions about friendship, and touts his friend Prinzel as a great athlete and swordsman, although he is just as bookish as von Igelfeld. A duel at von Igelfeld’s instigation gets the tip of Prinzel’s nose inverted.

On the other hand, von Igelfeld despises his other colleague, Unterholzer, who has the knack of getting the better of von Igelfeld without trying. It is because of von Igelfeld that Unterholzer’s dog loses three of its legs, although the dog later becomes an object of religious veneration. Dr Lisbetta von Bruatheim, the dentist von Igelfeld was planning to marry, becomes Frau Unterholzer. Unterholzer is also honoured by the Portuguese government for his work on the language, much to von Igelfeld’s chagrin.

Von Igelfeld’s great claim to academic fame is his weighty tome, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, which is not always treated with the respect he thinks it deserves. He rescues the library copy from relegation to storage, and learns that the copy he gave the dentist is used to boost her height.

Overall, the stories are enjoyable, but best when von Igelfeld is digging himself a deeper hole. There are times when the plot seems to lose focus and unnecessarily rambles on, a good example being the plotting and politicking at Cambridge. Von Igelfeld likes to think he is the centre of attention and needs to be kept there.


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