A small context: At the beginning of the 20th century there was a peculiar trend towards highly romanticized peasant books that plagued English literature, which is now referred to as the “Loam and Lovechild” genre. You would probably recognize its tropics even if you haven’t read about them. Think of rolling hills under golden rays of sunshine, think of tanned Lotharios manfully working in the fields, think of excruciatingly serious power games and social dramas that take place in the local meetinghouse. Very high in melodrama but low in self-esteem.
In 1932, the writer Stella Gibbons ended the trend in one fell swoop. Her book Cold Comfort Farm is such a perfect, icy satire of the tale of clay and love children that it killed them on the spot with the malevolent efficiency of a velociraptor. In Cold Comfort Farm our heroine Flora Poste is an astute city girl who decides not to earn an honest living after the death of her parents and moves to the country to live with the Starkadders, their distant relatives on Cold Comfort Farm, a small patch of miserable country in England’s South Downs.
Within moments of your arrival, you and Flora realize that the Starkadders are all completely detached from reality. Amos is a saliva-speckled preacher who couldn’t write a birthday card without condemning the recipient to eternal hellfire. Seth is an eternally horny farm boy, lascivious to the point of gross absurdity, apparently always with a different button on his shirt to turn on. Aunt Ada Doom, the elderly matriarch, is a nervous, domineering old man, permanently and decidedly traumatized by an unclear event in her childhood. Meanwhile, the farm itself is always on the verge of collapse, suffocated by sukebind weeds and Starkadders dying so frequently that the family has to do an annual census just to find out who can still work and who fell into a well when no one had searched.
In the midst of it all, Flora is the perfect sanity, educated and focused, intrepid but not unfair, determined to bring them all back to some level of common sense and to lessen Aunt Ada’s joyless stranglehold on the family. And immediately I realized what that story was, even if Cold Comfort Farm couldn’t: It’s a point-and-click adventure by LucasArts.
I’m honestly surprised it hasn’t happened yet. The book is laughing out loud funny with a focus on sharp dialogue, and every character has a problem that needs to be solved, even if they are not yet aware of it. Not only that, the farm is also a perfect setting: reserved, isolated, full of personality. I could easily imagine it being on a shelf next to Monkey Island, and before people say the idea is outlandish, let me remind you that someone made an adventure game from I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, one of them of the least friendly, least adaptable stories you will ever read.
But the truth is, I love the idea so much because Cold Comfort Farm appeals to me personally. Like Flora, I was a town kid drawn into the Sussex countryside (actually in the shadow of the South Downs) by circumstances, and like her, I was less enthusiastic about what I found and immediately missed the hard concrete below mine Feet and all the trappings of modern society that I can fall back on. I would have wished for a sharp, satirical book like this as a teenager, flanked by cross-eyed sheep and soaked fields as far as the eye can see.
Dear god, I’m glad to have it now.