Seriously Funny: The Fantastical World of François Rabelais

Unique and often controversial, the works of François Rabelais, a 16th-century monk turned physician and legal scholar, are deeply humanistic, sharply satirical, and seriously, playfully humorous—antidotes the doctor sagely prescribes for the ever-questing human body, mind and spirit.

Composed during a pivotal time when anti-clerical and Protestant ideas rocked the Roman Catholic world, these influential philosophical and kaleidoscopic creations have captured the imaginations of countless readers, including the French historian Michelet, who wrote, “Rabelais collected wisdom from the popular elemental forces of the ancient Provençal idioms, sayings, proverbs, school farces, from the mouth of fools and clowns. But refracted by this foolery, the genius of the age and its prophetic power are revealed in all their majesty. If he does not discover, he foresees, he promises, he directs. Under each tiny leaf of this forest of dreams, the fruit which the future will harvest lies hidden. This entire book is a golden bough.”

In his most famous works, Rabelais unlocks an outrageously fantastical world with two giants, father and son kings Gargantua and Pantagruel. A series of five books including Pantagruel (1532), Gargantua (1534), and three other works in a single-volume English-language edition is perfect for a week of lively discussions. While some contemporaries were threatened by the freedom of his thought and physicality of his language and imagery, today’s reader is more likely to enjoy many hearty chuckles and revel in the breadth of genius that is undeniably Rabelais.

Learn more in our recent newsletter featuring Rabelais, and a blog post by Denise.

“I am, by means of a little Pantagruelism (that is, as you know, a certain merriness of mind pickled in contempt for things fortuitous) well and sprightly and ready for a drink, if you are. Do you ask me why, good folk? … Physician, heal thyself.”

– Rabelais



For Denise Ahlquist, keeping a sense of humour has been essential during her worldwide travels as a senior academic consultant for the Great Books Foundation. She’s been privileged to lead discussions of great literature with participants of all ages in diverse settings. Spending time seriously thinking about what makes something both great and humourous sounds like just her kind of fun.


Use to find the required edition.

Gargantua and Pantagruel, by François Rabelais, translated by M.A. Screech
(Penguin Classics, 2006)
ISBN-13: 978-0140445503

Participants are required to obtain the specified edition to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion. Details will be provided at registration.

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