20 May 2022

Wood You Believe It? Another Post on Dendrophilia (With Reference to the Case of Humphrey Mackevoy)

ALCU (A Little Crazy Universe) 
'I am just back from the woods. My thighs are cold from the touch of bark 
and that instrument of my pleasure is still gently throbbing ...'
For many men, particularly those who subscribe to slang terms popular within the American porn industry, to have wood simply means that one is sporting a sturdy erection. But for dendrophiles - that is to say, those tree lovers who are sexually attracted to our leafy friends - this verb implies a great deal more. 
Rupert Birkin, for example, famously entered into a state of erotic delirium when surrounded by various plants, bushes, and young trees and found nothing more fulfilling than to clasp the silvery trunk of a birch against his naked flesh and feel "its smoothness, its hardness, its vital knots and ridges" before then ejaculating on the leaves [1].
Many readers will of course be familiar with Birkin's case. But I'm guessing that far fewer readers will know the story of Humphrey Mackevoy, as told by John Fortune and John Wells in their 1971 novel, A Melon for Ecstasy ... [2]
Constructed from fictional newspaper reports, letters, and diary entries by the novel's young male protagonist, A Melon for Ecstasy describes how Humphrey Mackevoy could only become sexually aroused and achieve his satisfaction by penetrating trees in which he has carefully bored a suitable hole to accomodate his erect penis [3] - a tall, slender laburnum being the primary object of his desire.
Whilst initially his dendrophilia causes him shame and confusion, he eventually comes to accept and, indeed, feel a certain degree of pride in his perverse form of love - even though it leads to his imprisonment [4].    
The book is intended as a satirical depiction of British sexual mores at the time and the manner in which the press sensationalise stories involving illicit sex acts in order to sell papers, whilst at the same time moralising in the name of public decency and family values. 
The novel also contains a series of comic sub-plots, involving local naturists keen to know the origin of the mysterious holes and town councillors worried about the damage being caused to trees located in parks and woodlands over which they exercise authority. 
However, whilst this book sounds like a fun read, it is, in fact, a profoundly irritating and disappointing work. 
Alwyn W. Turner may like to pretend on his Trash Fiction website that A Melon for Ecstasy is a strangely beautiful book of startling genius, containing some stupendous ideas and elegant prose, but he also describes Humphrey's tender embrace of a tree as an act of rape, so I'm not sure we should take anything he says too seriously [5].  
For me, Harry Crews is the critic who best identifies the problem with A Melon for Ecstasy. Writing in a review for The New York Times, he asks: "Is there anything so tedious as comic novel that is not serious?" [6] 
I don't know if we always need the skull behind the laughter to turn comic fiction into great literature, but, like Crews, I don't much care for books that only sneer and giggle and go for cheap gags. 
Ultimately, I feel about A Melon for Ecstasy what D. H. Lawrence felt about Ben Hecht's novel Fantazius Mallare (1922), which includes an illustration by Wallace Smith of the protagonist enjoying coition with a tree: I'm sorry, it didn't thrill me a bit ... [7]
[1] See D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love, ed. David Farmer, Lindeth Vasey and John Worthen, (Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 107-08. 
      And see my post 'Floraphilia Redux' (17 Oct 2016) in which I discuss the case of Rupert Birkin: click here.  
[2] John Fortune and John Wells, A Melon for Ecstasy, (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1971). 
      Note that there is also a Penguin edition (1973) and, more recently, a Prion Books edition published in their Humour Classics series (2002).
      John Fortune (1939 - 2013) was an English satirist, comedian, writer, and actor, best known for his work with John Bird and Rory Bremner on the TV series Bremner, Bird and Fortune. John Wells (1936 - 1998) was an English actor, writer and satirist; one of the original contributors to Private Eye.
[3] Heterosexual non-dendrophiles will of course insist that such a glory hole carved into the body of a tree thirty-three inches from the ground and at just the right angle, is an artificial vagina and is therefore merely a substitute for the real thing (i.e., the female sex organ which they prefer to penetrate). 
      In this manner, they seek to reassure themselves that no one really desires a tree as an object in itself and reaffirm the view that there is only one legitimate orifice in which to place the erect penis and ejaculate. One might remind these people, however, of the old saying popular amongst the Arabs and Turks: One penetrates a woman from duty; a youth for pleasure; and a nonhuman animal or object to experience ecstasy (the title of the novel by Fortune and Wells is a reference to this).  
[4] Fifty years later, and the law will still come down hard on those who love trees - or those, such as William Shaw, 22, of Airdrie, Scotland, posing as a dendrophile and simulating sex with a tree in his local park, in broad daylight and in plain sight of passers-by, including a woman walking her dog.             
      Convicted on a charge of public indecency, Shaw was sentenced to five months in jail in February 2010 and told by the judge that his behaviour was disgusting. Shaw was also put on the Sex Offenders' Register for seven years. Readers who are interested can find the full story in The Scotsman (15 Feb 2010): click here
      However, they should also see the report on the BBC news website published three months later, in which it is revealed that the Airdrie park flasher won his appeal and not only had his prison sentence quashed and name removed from the SOR, but also had the allegation of dendrophilia struck from the public record. Following his appeal, Shaw was put on a year's probabion and ordered to carry out 150 hours of community service. Click here to read the report in full.
[5] To read Turner's review of A Melon for Ecstasy on Trash Fiction, click here.   

[6] Harry Crews, review of A Melon for Ecstasy, in The New York Times (8 Aug 1971): click here.

[7] D. H. Lawrence, 'Review of Fantazius Mallare: A Mysterious Oath, by Ben Hecht', in Introductions and Reviews, ed. N. H. Reeve and John Worthen, (Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 215.
      As Lawrence goes on to explain, a man's coition with a tree might serve as the stuff of comedy, but so too is it - as a form of contact between two alien natures - a deadly serious affair, involving violent struggle as well as sensual delight. By simply turning Humphrey Mackevoy's story into a joke, Fortune and Wells miss an opportunity to tell us something really interesting about paraphilia and the inhuman character of sex. 
      For a further discussion of Lawrence's daimonic dendrophilia and his criticism of Ben Hecht's notorious novel, see my post of 3 Oct 2020: click here
This post is for Dr Mark Griffiths at Nottingham Trent University, who writes a fascinating blog on addictive, obsessional, compulsive and/or extreme behaviours - including a wide variety of paraphilias. His post on dendrophilia can be found by clicking here

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