INCUNABULA MEDIA (2022) — Illustrations by D. M. Mitchell
LUCY LANE CLIFFORD [Mrs W.K. Clifford] (1846-1929)
My previous reviews of this publisher: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/12/07/unfinished-business-a-ghost-story-anthology/ and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/10/28/the-frontier-guards-by-h-r-wakefield/
My reviews of other older or classic books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below….
THE BAD GIRL
A very brief and strange tale of a girl who once poked her tongue out at the postman but feels sorry for a clock with a cuckoo in its head. Or does she feel sorry more for the cuckoo than the clock? Possibly the most disarmingly simple but inscrutable work ever written! One that even I can’t scry! Could be a fable with a Christian moral to love her Granny, but it could equally be something sent to earth to send me mad at last. To take berth in my brain.
THE WOODEN DOLL
“Many a time the poor wooden doll wished it were a tin train, or a box of soldiers, or a woolly lamb, or anything on earth rather than what it was.”
But not a human being, it concludes!
This is marvellous stuff, another snippet of an inscrutable fable with an even more inscrutable moral. Disarmingly imperfect in its perfection.
THE NEW MOTHER
“The baby’s high chair stood in one corner, and in another there was a cupboard, in which the mother kept all manner of surprises.”
This is a cautionary tale to end all cautionary tales… for two little girls called Blue-Eyes and Turkey who try to be naughty but not fully succeeding to be naughty enough to see the man and woman dance on a strange adolescent girl’s peardrum. The new mother comes to replace their real loving mother in punishment for their near-naughtiness and is something or someone that will ever haunt my nightmares! Utterly deadpan and disarmingly off-the-wall. Unmissable.
(Information I found: https://www.turkeytravelcentre.com/blog/the-blue-evil-eye-in-turkey/)
FROM OUTSIDE THE WORLD
“…a town-hall in the market-place, and a clock on the town-hall that had lost its long hand, so it pointed to the hours with its short one, and never troubled itself about the minutes.”
A girl crosses a mountain to find out the meaning of life, love and death, and to shake off her negative thoughts about the world in her hometown being about money and selfishness. She finds another town with many mixed but generally inspiring messages from its inhabitants, including the power of art — to fill the ‘death chamber’ in her own heart. Even though that chamber remains, I infer, when she heads back for her home across the mountain, she now almost imperceptibly seems to think of that mountain as a hill.
THE WHITE RABBITS
This is a nursery rhyme, first read today in my late life, that will be cherished forever, even more than the ones my mother read to me when I was very tiny and I later read to my own children!
THE POOR LITTLE GIRL
A boy taunts his sister about her ever-smiling doll with glass eyes. Why isn’t the doll alive? The girl is stoical about its non-aliveness, but I somehow felt it straining to be alive with the power of the author’s pen as imparted to the reader’s own power to bring it alive, especially when the boy threatens to turn it into a scarecrow!
THE COBBLER’S CHILDREN
“—good work lives for ever. It may go out of sight for a time; you mayn’t see it or hear of it once it leaves your hand; you may get no honour by it, but that’s no matter; good work lives on; it doesn’t matter what it is, it lives on.”
The two siblings, a girl who cross-stitches her name into a sampler and a boy who builds a table with the gift of new tools. Their shoemaker father dying, having often taught them that their best work will add value to the world forever, and as he dies, under soft stars and, I guess, the philosophy of Platonic Forms as well as Loves.
This story is its own sampler. The child’s shoe he left unfinished an obliquity of truth for each of us to take away.
ROUND THE RABBIT HOLES
“…the tall girl with the pink apron, whose eyes seemed to know some strange language her lips had not yet learnt to speak,…”
A sister story, literally, to the previous story above, if not its sequel. It’s absolutely wonderful, conjuring up all the magic of when I watched WATCH WITH MOTHER on the black and white, single channel TV in the 1950s. Now I Watch with the New Mother!
This story is an experience I shall never forget. Possibly one of the greatest ever stories for poor tired old souls like mine.
Front page version of above review:
THE BEAUTIFUL LADY
This is an even more exquisite sequel to the previous two stories about the boy who made the table, putting good things into the world. Yes, EVEN more. And if I dared divulge its ending you would lose the power of its utter poignancy. This triptych of three stories turns out to be a most significant landmark in my reading journey.
And this third one contains one of the most inscrutable memorable passages, too…
“The little one was glad the china dog she won off the Christmas-tree stood upon the mantelpiece, for half a dozen times did the beautiful lady look up at it; and for ever afterwards it seemed to have a remembrance of her, though it only told it to the little one.”
ROUND THE TEA-TABLE
This book continues to over-achieve. This a poem, a cross between the delights and cruelties of a nursery rhyme and Walter de la Mare.
THE BROKEN HORSE
A pink frock now, not an apron, and in this fleeting vignette of a glorious vision of wood coming to life in the shape of toys and other childhood objects. Another wise saw.
“He lived all alone with the tall aunt, who was very rich, in the big house at the end of the village.”
There are dolls, aprons, and lands of dolls, loneliness as aloneless with others, and a pond that gradually circled the world. A wooden goat and a boy and his sister yearning for reunion. Exquisite! Exquisite! I wonder what I would have thought of it if it had been read aloud to me in the 1950s on LISTEN WITH MOTHER? A mother that never grew old but became the ‘New’ one of this book.
“He rested his elbows on his knees and sat staring at the pond.”
THE WOODEN HORSE
Some very deep thoughts by small boys about real things and unreal things — unreal such as those toys made of wood — and about where reality ends and begins. Where does philosophy end and begin, I ask myself, with silent open-mouthed surprise…!
IN THE MOONLIGHT
Anything I quote from – or tell you about – this endlessly rhapsodic storylet would spoil it. About a girl and boy and a crown of buttercups.
Golden Dawns: https://www.ligotti.net/showthread.php?t=1428
“‘But suppose all the poor folk died,’ cried Tommy, ‘what would the rich folk do? They can sit in carriages, but can’t build them,…’”
Tommy meets the rich girls who are his neighbours. A simple fable with a moral for our times.
THE IMITATION FISH
“There is only one fish, mother,” the child said presently, taking the stick out of the water, “but there are three or four ducks. Poor little fish! how lonely you must be, with no other—“
Disarmingly charming to miscount three or four! And this is possibly the most devastatingly beautiful and off-the-wall work in this book so far – about the meaning of life and death, real and false.
A work I shall cherish for however little time I have left.
Goodness knows what it would have done to me, if I had read it as a child or heard it on LISTEN WITH OLD MOTHER!
THE DONKEY ON WHEELS
Another wise saw as this donkey carries a Knight on its back, a Knight without legs who tells the child playing with it that it wants spurs! Another literally charming Walter de la Mare / Nursery Rhyme / Listen to the Old Mother fable that conjures a child’s imagination believing in the reality of an imaginary friend that many of us grown-ups would call an inanimate toy. I was once one such child.
There is little I can quote piecemeal or describe to you from this page of prose that can do justice to its wise power of fabulous flight.
Honestly, an archetype, an icon. Should be in all childhood annuals past and future.
THE PAPER SHIP
A poem as nursery rhyme full of unreal things wanting to be real. (When I finally sail off in a paper ship, the land I reach will be a world of words needing the paper I brought for them as cargo to allow me to read such words thereon.)
THE THREE LITTLE RAGAMUFFINS
A fable with an amoral moral, as three ragamuffins vie for some pineapples from a pineapple seller to the detriment of a little girl called Mary Lee. The learning from ‘experience’ as an ironic lesson for our days.
“Yes—I want to be very little and far off.”
This is a substantive story of young Tony in the Swiss Alps, his father a guide to the tourists in the nearby hotel and carver of wooden objects for sale.
Probably the most poignant and effective story one can care to read. Where has it been all my life? Especially in the context of this whole book, with its distancing as well as wooden objects seeming to be alive, and, here, an alive person becoming wooden in piecemeal stages. It is utterly powerful and memorable. Tony’s song echoes in my head even now, the gestalt I have ever sought?
And I look at my own nearby zigzag slopes anew! “…staggering step by step upward along the zig-zag pathways.” As I do.
“He wondered sometimes what more might be in the distances beyond his home, and in what strange forms the great world stretched itself.”
THE BOY AND LITTLE GREAT LADY.
“…and I am tired of making pathways that lead to empty houses.”
…zigzag or not, “I should go and learn how to build ships, or paint pictures, or write books.”
A boy that was me and the Watch or Listen with the New Mother, little but great, wearing bows on her shoes. Perhaps you, too?
This is a story that mutually distils much that is in the stories of Walter de la Mare all of which I happened to review recently HERE.
This book itself has outdone much that I could not dream of being outdone. Waiting appropriately until this stage in my life. A book also with copious illustrations by D.M. Mitchell, one example of which….
Front cover version of my ‘Wooden Tony’ review linked below:
Tony only one letter short of Toy….
WATCH or LISTEN WITH MOTHER reNEWed.
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