Spinning tales



[Saint Eulalia
by JW Waterhouse]



This is the season of the gloaming and I feel it strongly:

The hermit--if he be a sensible hermit--will swallow his own thoughts, and lock up his own emotions during these weeks of inward winter. He will know that Destiny intended him to imitate, on occasion, the dormouse, and hi will be conformable: make a tidy ball of himself, creep into a hole of life's wall, and submit decently to the drift which blows in and soon blocks him up, preserving him in ice for the season.

I always return to Villette when the chill enters my bones. Immediately after the above passage Charlotte Bronte goes on to say:

Let him say, "It is quite right: it ought to be so, since so it is.' And, perhaps, one day his snow-sepulchre will open, spring's softness will return, the sun and south-wind will reach him; the budding of hedges, and carolling of birds and singing of liberated streams will call him to kindly resurrection. Perhaps this may be the case, perhaps not: the frost may get into his heart and never thaw more; when the spring comes, a crow or pie may pick out of the wall only his dormouse-bones.

The dangers of hibernation are real and frieghtening. I must remind myself that the dark night is somethng to be endured, that I cannot dwell too long in the vaulted halls of Dis.

And the best way to combat the cold hush of winter is with the telling of tales, something that I lately cannot stop thinking about. (So much so that I have been wishing that there was some sort of story-spinners club...do these things exist? Where bone-weary people can convene over wine and fire and take turns in the serious creation of a story?)

I finished Don Quixote (finally!) and found myself weeping at the end, not merely for his passing, but more for the end of a tale so well told. The strangest and most unexpected element of the last 400 or so pages was the obsession with establishing the veracity of the second part of Don Quixote (over the "False Quixote" which was written by Avellaneda between the publication of the first part of Don Quixote and Cervantes' second part). It's such a huge concern of the characters that Don Quixote forgoes the jousts at Zaragoza simply because the false Quixote attended them. There's an immense amount of subtlety that lies beneath the apparent simplicity of the tale, a tale that seems to recount the actions and beliefs of two characters so transparent that anyone they encounter is immediately amazed at their strangeness and simplicity. Sancho and Don Quixote are mad, but they are the lifeblood of stories:

'Oh Senor,' said Don Antonio, 'may God forgive you for the harm you have done to the entire world in wishing to restore the sanity of the most amusing madman in it! Don't you see, Senor, that the benefit caused by the sanity of Don Quixote cannot be as great as the pleasure produced by his madness?'

What are we without madness? Without illusion? Without fantasy?

I've been listening to about four CDs on constant repeat: Neutral Milk Hotel's An Aeroplane Over the Sea, The Decemberists' Picaresque and their new release The Crane Wife, and Regina Spektor's Songs. All of these artists are consummate storytellers. They sing of things that I puzzle over and try to untangle and understand. But when I get to the center (or something that passes for the center), I am left as bewlidered as when I started. I am left feeling as though I have arrived at the gateway of myth.

The great story requires equal parts fantasy and simplicity, and a core of something that can only be so well-known that when one considers it closely and with concentration, the well-known turns into mystery. I mean that the core of a story is something like the core of a myth. It is utterly recognizable and always elusive. I remember reading the stories of the Norse and Celtic gods and experiencing a moment of utter amazement when I realized that I was reading the familiar, beloved stories of my youth, but that they had donned new and strange garb.

I had been raised on the sunshine and honey of Greek myths, where the darkness is of such a different shade (a fuzzy ebony, or perhaps something liquid and limpid as the river Lethe, but never, ever like the frozen ice-shrouded dark of Odin hanging from the tree). And despite being able to recognize the differences in tone and concern and motive, the stories began and ended with the same things.

So with darkness and cold creeping in through the window and the layers of clothing, and with the Crane Wife playing on my stereo, and with Don Quixote surrendering his lance, his armor, and his dreams, I seem to have fallen into a spell of morbidity.

Book-shopping yesterday resulted in quite a few new titles, but all with the chill of winter layered in beween their lines. I'm embarking upon Nabokov's Pale Fire for the first time, I found Borges's Book of Imaginary Beings, I retrieved a new, annotated copy of the Waste Land, and I've been re-reading my favorite phrases from Dylan Thomas' stories. And with every word silently mouthed in my mind I find myself rushing on, seeking to lose myself, to wrap a shroud of lightly printed text around my shoulders and settle in for the long goodnight.