I wish to be with those who know secret things, or else alone.
~Rainer Maria Rilke
We are at odds. Writing is not an act of seclusion, it is an act of reaching out, of embracing, challenging, or calling forth. It is an outward act which requires silence and seclusion, but then calls to the world it meets, embracing it and welcoming it in. […]
I’m grateful for the demands of my life, there is less time to write, more time to feel and know the world around me. Ora et Labora, the blessings of balance. It is what the Romantic’s lack, balance, aching muscles, roots, and the soothing resistance of bread dough. Not everyone is suited to physical labor, but the presence of mundane tasks is an essential to creative wholeness.
If the writer takes up his own voice as he works, though—if he has any compassion, any empathy, any truth in him, he’ll find that he’s spoken for others as well as for himself.
For a long while, I sat and read and pondered and stared. I was wondering how to answer—how to explain that, at the very least, saying solitude is a communal act and silence is terribly vocal may be on some essential level true, it doesn’t make it any easier.
Then I realised that everything I have to say on this subject, I’ve already said in a story called “Ragabone.” You can read it here.
And that’s all I have to say.
It’s raining in Scotland. I’m in Scotland, sitting in a coffee shop partly because I got tired of sitting in my office but mostly because I read an article offering a paean of enthusiasm for espresso. I have an espresso beside me, savouring the article’s description of it as exquisite wine anyone can afford. Out my window, I see the rain, the fog, and the sea.*
Life could be a whole lot worse.
You’re here, presumably, because you like to read about fairy tales. I have one for you this week. Not on Monday, so this will be a little different. The story is called ‘The Godfather’. No, it has nothing to do with Marlon Brando. It’s much older than he is, in fact, and it starts like this:
A poor man had so many children that he had already asked everyone in the world to be godfather, and when still another child was born, no one else was left whom he could ask. He did not know what to do, and, in his sorrow, he lay down and fell asleep. Then he dreamed that he should go outside the gate and ask the first person he met to be godfather. When he awoke he decided to obey his dream, and he went outside the gate and asked the first person who came his way to be godfather.
Yesterday’s instalment of ‘unsettling wonder’ was cancelled. I had a migraine, and spent the afternoon trying to recover. Today you must endure a similar disappointment, as the migraine continues (albeit abated enough to let me work) and the demands of my other projects don’t let me blog with any depth on Tuesdays.
What I can offer you is the tale itself, with all it strangeness and delight. It’s called ‘Herr Korbes’ and is a variant of a tale I wrote about here. I found it a lark and a laugh, and hope you will, too. Hunt’s 1857 translation, cheerfully copied and pasted from SurLaLune, is below the jump.
Let me know what you think.
Reading through Grimm’s Household Tales
Mrs Fox’s Wedding
his story isn’t strictly a fairy tale. It’s what Tolkien classified as a beast tale, and as such is demonstrates the beast tale’s function of social satire and scorn of humankind. The tale seems innocuous enough when it’s about foxes. When, however, it’s told simply as a human tale, as in the version by Synge and Bierce, it stings bitterly—makes us shudder and flinch. At least it does me.
And why shouldn’t it?
But the beast tale gets behind our defences, presenting our own deficiencies in ways that linger in the mind with perhaps a different grain of truth than the haunting and murderous folktale collected by Synge, or the stinging social deconstruction of Bierce. There’s something ludicrous in an animal in clothes—a ludicrousness that Lewis Carroll, for instance, recognised and used to great effect.
Reading Grimms’ Household Tales
his tale is perhaps better known in other versions. Joseph Jacobs collected it as ‘Tom Thumb’ in English Fairy Tales. He drew from the same English tale that Fielding used for his play of the same title. Hans Christian Anderson transmuted it to ‘Thumbelina’, demonstrating (if proof were needed) his fondness for female protagonists. Perrault called it ‘Hop o’ My Thumb’. And here we have the Grimms’ ‘Daumesdick’, or ‘Thumbthick’.
The tale itself is really delightful. You can read it here. It balances two disparate and striking elements which may be essential to the fairy tale as a genre. I’m not entirely sure on this point—it’s a concept I’m working with—but the harmony or dissonance or dialectic or call it what you will seems to be a continual thread through most of these tales: the tension between threat and play.