In Prehistory, Folklore, & Culture

Satire by
Robert Wilfred Franson


December 2011

In the long, long ago

Once upon a time in the long, long ago, in the foggy dawn of Prehistory when the world was overrun with fierce beasts and men had to be fiercely confrontational to survive among them, a new dimension of human behavior was discovered. Or invented, or stumbled into: it depends who you ask.

And no, snoring is not the new dimension, but we have to start with it. The beginning went something like this, back in cave-man days:

In a Northern land, where not only the mountainsides but even the fertile valleys were thoroughly inhabited by fierce and generally hungry bears, there lived a burly young man named Snorri Snarlisson. Now. Snorri was brave enough — as brave as I have to be, but not stupid about it, was how he put it to himself — but he had the problem, as he came of age, of needing to live up to his father's reputation. Snorri's old man, the feared and respected Snarli Thumpisson, was not one to give an easy pass to youngsters not measuring up to the mark. For only bravery could keep their clan alive, let alone fed, among the fleet deer and elk, and against the deeply hungry bears and other predators.

To understand this vital passage of prehistorical times, we must glance at one earlier generation: Thumpi the Bear-Mauler, possessing no patronymic for he was the founder of the clan. A mighty man was he in a land where danger walked anew every day and scarcely slept by night. Legend says (or folklore, or shameless lying — depends who you ask) that Thumpi was the first man who ever came into that country, and the first act he did there was to smash an attacking bear senseless with blows from his huge fists. Then he ate it.

Some time later, he found Hefti and brought her back to be his wife. She suggested that they move into a cave, at least for the wintertimes. When he grumbled at this restriction of the free life in the open, she told him that with a settled hearth she could keep a fire for warmth. They picked out a dry cave with a pleasant view, Thumpi walloped the cave bear who disputed their claim to it, and they moved in. Later with her hearth fire, Hefti discovered (or invented, or stumbled into, etc.) the cooking of food, which Thumpi really liked. So they settled into cave life.

Thumpi's well-earned reputation as Bear-Mauler not only began to keep the bears at bay, but helped discourage human interlopers from contesting for their valley. This kept the peace for a long while, until in great old age Thumpi died. In a drunken dare he'd agreed to wrestle a saber-tooth tiger bare-handed, and lost. His descendants, and neighbors who knew what was good for them, all agreed that if he'd been sober it would have been different.

Snarli Thumpisson, a solid fellow himself but being of a subtler cast of mind than his dad, knew that knocking bears rump over mead-kettle would get tiring real soon. Snarli could do this when he must, but sooner or later anyone was likely to slip, to land something less than a stunning blow, and give the victory to the bear. Even leaving aside saber-tooth tigers, it was a hell of a way to earn a living. Yet if he looked weak, hungrier neighbors might overrun his little clan and possess the valley. What to do?

While still a teenager Snarli hit upon a two-fold plan. He could and would be brave enough in hunting antlered creatures for food, and fighting bears if he must. He wouldn't let the family starve, and would defend cave and valley when necessary. Additionally, so not to seem too much less of a fierce berserker than old Thumpi, young Snarli would adopt a permanent expression of ferocity, a face intimating that Snarli rejoiced in an ingrained angry deadliness that would as soon knock your head off as spit in the grass.

This expression which Snarli discovered (or invented, etc.) became known as the snarl in his honor, if that is the word. Anyway, it worked: Snarli roved the valley with his fearsome expression, and no man from outside dared stand up to him and dispute his clan's right to it. Only occasionally did he have to fight a bear, and he didn't do it bare-handed.

Now we arrive at Snorri Snarlisson, who in his generation faced the next level of problem. The fierce expression of old Snarli, and Snarli's real readiness actually to fight when provoked, restrained the increasingly peaceable but still covetous neighbors from assaulting their valley. Like his father before him, the burly but thoughtful young Snorri realized that a few well-chosen and talked-about battles with bears and men would stand in for a lifetime's heavy work of constant battling — which no one, barring the great Thumpi himself, could count on surviving. Thumpi likely had more than his share of luck, too.

To meet the pressing semi-neighborly challenge, the teenage Snorri, thinking in the pioneering manner of his father when young, evolved the next generation of solution. In addition to happy deer-hunting and necessary bear-fighting, Snorri adopted his own two-fold strategy. It would be hard to imitate his father's perfected snarl. Instead, Snorri began wearing a bearskin the year around, a thick one in winter and a thin one in summer; and giving out that the bear-like fighting disposition of his forefathers not only was continued in him, but actually was manifesting in his appearance. In other words, Snorri looks like a man-bear, or bear-man: don't mess with him.

This worked well by day, but he couldn't be watchful all the day and the nighttime too. He had to sleep, and interlopers eventually might risk sneaking into the cave by night, when even mighty Snorri slept; and he could be clubbed while asleep. To secure the night, when the fiercest expressions and bearskins would not be seen, Snorri realized that noise didn't depend on light, and might suffice. He began practicing noise-making while half-asleep, enhancing the natural small sounds of sleep into great snorts, chuffles, hacks, smacks, coughs, grumbles, growls, and anything else that came to his drowsy self. Snorri strengthened the habit into full sleep, and indeed sounded rather like a sleeping cave-bear. The message issuing from the dark cave-mouth was clear to nosy men and wandering beasts: Do not disturb!

Snorri's family complained for quite a while, but eventually they came to consider this snoring to be a comforting sound of the dark hours, the night's All's-Well of their cave and clan. They even gave him feedback on when his snores were particularly loud and scary: at first by way of complaint, later as compliment and tuning.

Sometimes Snorri caught his father, old Snarli, looking at him with what he'd swear was a twinkle in the eyes amidst Snarli's ever-snarling grimace. Then Snorri and Snarli would nod to each other in private acknowledgment of their shared secret, that they'd invented cunning: the deliberate modification of behavior from the natural in favor of the efficient.

Thus snoring became the habit and salvation of the clan. Eventually it was adopted far and wide, and since a propensity for snoring proved a survival trait for humanity, evolution encouraged the clans which tolerated these fearsome noises of the cave night. Of course, sooner or later the cave-wives inherited or adopted some ladylike snoring themselves, and occasionally resorted to a discreet elbowing of cave-husbands' ribs when the latter's snoring escalated belike a riotous revel of bears.

As the clan's neighbors became more peaceable, the next generation got along better. Young Whistli Snorrisson was obsessed with the cute cave-girls in the neighboring valleys. He realized that sounds command attention, but he needed more than growls and snorts. To woo the girls, Whistli augmented his natural happy expression with variations on Snorri's night-snores, pursing his lips to make the sounds more pleasant and even enticing. As he sat upon some rocky outcrop and perfected his new art of whistling, the cave-girls would come flocking around. Whistli thus discovered (or invented, etc.) the first of the arts, music, as well as the joys and rewards of practicing it.

This is snoring's role in the origin of culture; but the latter is a long, long story for other times.


© 2011 Robert Wilfred Franson

Thanks to Robert W. Enstrom for suggesting to me, long ago,
the value of snoring in prehistoric caves.

No snorers were upbraided during the preparation of this essay.
Not tested on bears.

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