Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, C. S. Lewis

"They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things? I now like hock, which I am sure I should not have liked as a child. But I still like lemon-squash. I call this growth or development because I have been enriched: where I formerly had only one pleasure, I now have two. But if I had to lose the taste for lemon-squash before I acquired the taste for hock, that would not be growth but simple change. I now enjoy Tolstoy and Jane Austen and Trollope as well as fairy tales and I call that growth; if I had had to lose the fairy tales in order to acquire the novelists, I would not say that I had grown but only that I had changed. A tree grows because it adds rings; a train doesn't grow by leaving one station behind and puffing on to the next."

--from "On Three Ways of Writing for Children," (1952).

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Erl-King

The Erl-King

Who rides so late in a night so wild?
A father is riding with his child.
He clasps the boy close in his arm;
He holds him tightly, he keeps him warm.

"My son, you are trembling. What do you fear?"
"Look, father, the Erl-King! He's coming near!
With his crown and his shroud! Yes, that is he!"
"My son, it's only the mist you see."

"O lovely child, oh come with me,
Such games we'll play! So glad we'll be!
Such flowers to pick! Such sights to behold!
My mother will make you clothes of gold!"

"O father, my father, did you not hear
The Erl-King whispering in my ear?"
"Lie still, my child, lie quietly.
It's only the wind in the leaves of the tree."

"Dear boy, if you will come away,
My daughters will wait on you every day;
They'll give you the prettiest presents to keep;
They'll dance when you wake and they'll sing you asleep."

"My father! My father! Do you not see
The Erl-King's pale daughters waiting for me?"
"My son, my son, I see what you say--
The willow is waving its branches of gray."

"I love you--so come without fear or remorse.
And if you're not willing, I'll take you by force!"
"My father! My father! Tighten your hold!
The Erl-King has caught me--his fingers are cold!"

The father shudders. He spurs on his steed.
He carries the child with desperate speed.
He reaches the courtyard, and looks down with dread.
There in his arms the boy lies dead.

--Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1782)
tr. by Louis Untermeyer

The Erl-King (Der Erlkoenig) was a very popular ballad by Goethe, illustrated and set to music many times. The literal translation of the title is The Alder King; it is sometimes translated as The Elf-King, and it is typical of the old tales of the dangerous elves or fairies who lure mortals (drawn by their human beauty) into their perilous realm. It is a fine example of Gothic romanticism, with its mix of death and beauty, and its influence trails into modern literature, from Goethe to Lord Dunsany (The King of Elfland's Daughter) to Neil Gaiman (Stardust).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pilgrims' Pride

From the 1954 Childcraft Volume II, Storytelling and Other Poems, a beautifully designed and illustrated book.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Hidden Folk

"The Origin of Elves"

Once, God Almighty came to Adam and Eve. They welcomed him gladly and showed Him everything they had in their house, and they also showed Him their children, who seemed to Him to be very promising. He asked Eve whether she had any other children besides the ones she was just showing him. She said, "No." But the truth of the matter was that Eve had not yet got around to washing some of her children and was ashamed to let God see them, and so she had pushed them away somewhere out of sight. God knew this, and said: "That which had to be hidden from Me, shall also be hidden from men."

So now these children become invisible to men, and lived in woods and moorlands, knolls and rocks. From them the elves are descended, but human beings are descended from those of Eve's children whom she did show to God. Human beings can never see elves unless the latter wish it, but elves can see men and enable men to see them. It is for this reason that the elves are called the Hidden People.

--an Icelandic story, from Scandinavian Folktales, ed. Jacqueline Simpson.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Just Mooning About

"All that I have to say is, to tell you that the lanthorn is the moon; I, the man i' the moon; this thornbush, my thornbush; and this dog, my dog." --A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare.

"The Moon's my constant mistress--," --from Tom o' Bedlam's Song, Anonymous.

"The moon's too bright,
The chain's too tight,
The beast won't go to sleep tonight." --Leonard Cohen.

"I see the Moon,
And the Moon sees me.
The Moon sees someone
I want to see." -- Old Nursery Rhyme.

"The man in the moon
Came tumbling down,
And ask'd his way to Norwich.
He went by the south,
And burnt his mouth,
With supping cold pease porridge." --Old Nursery Rhyme.

"As we turned to go, the man in the moon, tangled in elm-boughs, caught my eye for a moment, and I thought that never had he looked so friendly. He was going to see after them, it was evident; for he was always there, more or less, and it was no trouble to him at all, and he would tell them how things were still going, up here, and throw in a story or two of his own whenever they seemed a trifle dull. It made the going away rather easier, to know one had left somebody behind on the spot; a good fellow, too, cheery, comforting, with a fund of anecdote; a man in whom one had every confidence." --from Dream Days, by Kenneth Grahame.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Creator's Quandary

"I find my country an inadequate place to live," says Horvendile. "Oh, many persons live there happily enough! or, at worst, they seem to find the prizes and the applause of my country worth striving for whole-heartedly. But there is that in some of us which gets no exercise there; and we struggle blindly, with impotent yearning, to gain outlet for great powers which we know that we possess, even though we do not know their names. And so, we dreamers wander at adventure to Storisende--oh, and into more perilous realms sometimes!--in search of a life that will find employment for every faculty we have. For life in my country does not engross us utterly. We dreamers waste there at loose ends, waste futilely. All which we can ever see and hear and touch there, we dreamers dimly know, is at best but a portion of the truth, and is possibly not true at all. Oh, yes! it may be that we are not sane; could we be sure of that, it would be a comfort. But, as it is, we dreamers only know that life in my country does not content us, and never can content us. So we struggle, for a tiny dear-bought while, into other and fairer-seeming lands in search of--we know not what! And after a little--after a little we must go back into my country and live there as best we may."

--from The Cream of the Jest (1927), by James Branch Cabell.