There is no doubt that both Gargantua and Pantagruel were popular names of giants in the Middle Ages, though, curiously enough, no mention of the former in French literature much before Rabelais's time has been traced.
What does, however, seem probable is that the first book of Pantagruel (the second of the whole work) was composed with a definite view to this chap book and not to the existing first book of Gargantua, which was written afterwards, when Rabelais discovered the popularity of his work and felt that it ought to have some worthier starting-point than the Grandes chroniques.
The earliest known and dated edition of Pantagruel is of 1533 of Gargantua 1535, though this would not be of itself conclusive, especially as we actually possess editions of both which, though undated, seem to be earlier.
But the definite description of Gargantua in the title as "Pere de Pantagruel," the omission of the words "second livre" in the title of the first book of Pantagruel while the second and third are duly entitled "tiers" and "quart," the remarkable fact that one of the most important personages, Friar John, is absent from book ii., the first of Pantagruel, though he appears in book i.
There is also in existence a letter of Calvin, dated 1 533, in which he speaks of Pantagruel, but not of Gargantua, as having been condemned as an obscene book.
Both this and Pantagruel itself were published under the anagrammatic pseudonym of "Alcofribas Nasier," shortened to the first word only in the case of the Prognostication.
Rabelais wrote a panegyrical memoir of Guillaume, which is lost, and the year before saw the publication of an edition of Gargantua and Pantagruel, book i., together (both had been repeatedly reprinted separately), in which some dangerous expressions were cut away.
Gargantua and Pantagruel, notwithstanding their high literary standing and the frequency with which certain passages from them are cited, are, owing partly to their archaism of language and partly to the extreme licence which their author has allowed himself, so little read that no notice of them or of him could be complete without some sketch of their contents.
The second book, which introduces the principal hero of the whole, Pantagruel, Gargantua's son, is, on any other hypothesis but that already suggested of its prior composition, very difficult to explain, but in itself it is intelligible enough.
Pantagruel goes through something like a second edition (really a first) of the educational experiences of his father.
At last it is determined that Pantagruel and his followers (Friar John has reappeared in the suite of the prince) shall set sail to consult the Oracle of the Dive Bouteille.
These are - Wha.t is the general drift and purpose of Gargantua and Pantagruel, supposing there to be any?
Those who, as it has been happily put, identify Rabelais with Pantagruel, strive in vain, on any view intellectually consistent or morally respectable, to account for the vast ocean of pure or impure laughter and foolery which surrounds the few solid islets of sense and reason and devotion.
The first is connected with the great blemish of Gargantua and Pantagruel - their extreme coarseness of language and imagery.
The fabliaux, the early burlesque romances of the Audigier class, the farces of the t5th century, equal (the grotesque iteration and amplification which is the note of Gargantua and Pantagruel being allowed for, and sometimes without that allowance) the coarsest passages of Rabelais.
On the other hand, there are in the book, in the description of Gargantua's and Pantagruel's education, in the sketch of the abbey of Thelema, in several passages relating to Pantagruel, expressions which either signify a sincere and unfeigned piety of a simple kind or else are inventions of the most detestable hypocrisy.
The next important date in the bibliography of Rabelais is 1823, in which year appeared the most elaborate edition of his work yet published, that of Esmangart and Johanneau (9 vols.), including for the first time the Songes Drolatiques, a spurious but early and not uninteresting collection of grotesque figure drawings illustrating Gargantua and Pantagruel, and the second edition of M.