On reading Aesop, then taking a little break.

The connections made in my title are purely coincidental. Reading Aesop has not sent me scuttling to shelter. Although, the story from the 1937 collection, Great Short Stories of The World, I’ve been reading this week is, The Country Mouse and the Town Mouse, and now I think about it, on one level it is a story about taking holidays.

Reading it took me back to childhood, but not in either a positive or a negative way. It was just a story that I remember regularly sighing about because it had popped up in yet another comic or collection.

I’ve been trying to decide whether it really was one of the most repeated stories, or if I just noticed it because it wasn’t a story that I liked. After all, I was happy with the variations on fairytales.

I can imagine that some adults would think these anthropomorphic mice make a child-friendly tale. They must be lovely to illustrate. The plot is time and region-less, and so can be made specific in ways that some of the other fables by Aesop can’t.

I can still remember a very English Tudor-period version that I liked to look at but, even then, the story failed to grab me. I didn’t know why. The story has as much going on as The Hare and The Tortoise, which I did enjoy, so I assumed it was a matter of taste.

Now, returning to it as a translation made by Thomas James, and first published in 1848, I wonder if it was that the set-up seems flawed. I’m wary of blaming Aesop, who was the aural storyteller of these fables. The versions we read weren’t written down until long after his death.

James says the town mouse was condescending. ‘How is it, my good friend, that you can endure the dullness of this unpolished life?’ But, his story begins by stating that these two mice are friends, old acquaintances. So, my question is, how is it that they know so little of each other?

Story worlds, the theory goes, must be consistent, should have a logic that keeps the reader absorbed in them. In the best case, we readers are so involved we suspend our disbelief and are surprised when we remember our world works differently.

The greatest fantasies achieve that, even at their most fantastic. When I read either, Alice in Wonderland, or Through the Looking Glass, no matter how much Alice shrinks, stretches or distorts, or how far she falls, I’m convinced, because each event is shown to fit logically with the next. Even at the end of Wonderland, when Carroll uses the cliche of ‘it was all a dream‘, he does it in such a way that Wonderland and the real world intersect plausibly.

This may well be ‘a particular type of story… known as the Beast Fable, a brief incident related in order to point a simple moral…’ but I’m sorry it was chosen as an example for inclusion in an anthology called Great Short Stories of The World. I would have preferred The Lion and The Mouse, or one of the ones that feature a wolf or a fox.

These are, of course, only my opinions. I’m prepared to be corrected.

I am, however, also allowed to dislike something… even if it is a classic.

In the meantime, please accept my excuses, dear readers and fellow bloggers, I need to drop out of sight for three weeks. My partner, Ray, who is usually standing, unsung, in the background of my writings, has just returned home after a quadruple heart-bypass operation.

While he would happily continue in the role of ideal reader, checking for sense, non-sense and typos before I post, I’m of the opinion that he should follow the recuperation guidance and take things easy. So, I’m putting a few things on hold to supervise his recovery.

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

I’ll be back here on January 4th. Hope to see you then. In the meantime, I wish you all the very best festive wishes. I hope you all find lovely ways to celebrate.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

The bargain.

The thing about my muse is he’s always been a little elusive. I know the kinds of places where he hangs out, he’s a story-muse, lurking between the lines of other people’s writings. But I’ve never been able to predict which pages will reveal him.

Typically, he leapt out from the challenge set by Diana Wallace Peach, for bloggers to share dialogues with their muses, after her deadline. Luckily, Diana is a forgiving, generous soul who gave us an extension.

Give my muse an inch and immediately he takes advantage. So, instead of the conversation Diana had suggested, my muse led me back to that afternoon, around a year ago, when he finally fixed on a form.

Up to that point he’d had two modes of presence. Mostly, he preferred to be almost invisible, hovering just beyond my eyeline. No matter how quickly I turned, or craftily I looked into mirrored surfaces, I’d not see his shape.

This, no doubt, was influenced by his preference for omniscient narrators. Although, now I think about it, perhaps his disembodiment had been inspired by the number of omniscient narrators in my early reading. It all depends on whether he’s been directing my reading, or my reading has directed him. I’d ask, but he’s not the kind of muse who provides anything I request.

At other times he’d shift from one form to another without worrying whether I was midway through a project, or not. I’ve known him to grin suddenly from a corner of a complicated abstract painting; stare out from a crowd scene in a film; uncurl from misshapen lumps on trees, fissures in rock-faces and shadowed lamp-posts on deserted streets. He’s got that kind of sense of humour. He loves jumping from one novel to another, to a poem, to a flash fiction and back to a novel again, crossing continents and centuries, clothes and shape. Often I didn’t realise until hours later that he’d been there.

So it was a shock to find that not only had he settled into a perfectly formed and detailed miniature, but that he had seated himself on the edge of the top shelf in the bric-a-brac section of our local charity shop. He was leaning forward. One leg dangled, the other was crossed across his knee and he was resting his elbow on it, watching as I entered the shop.

Jasper, I thought, as naturally as if I’d always known his name.

Despite his plain brown habit, he stood out. Perhaps it was the large nosed face, or the wrinkles of concentration on his forehead. Maybe he winked. He certainly smirked as he saw me turn away from the bookshelves.

One hand cupped his cheek, half hiding the twist of his lips, but I could see by his eyes that he smiled, and I smiled back, then moved hurriedly forward, in the opposite direction to the bookshelves, past the other browsing customers, to claim him.

He was heavy, reassuringly so, and had gravitas. I’d not expected that, especially since I could see that he was slyly picking his nose. Well, I thought, it probably could be worse. At least I’d got him now. From this point on, I would always know where to look.

Jasper quirked an eyebrow.

I settled him on my palm as I scanned the bookshelves. Was I really going to buy my muse? Was that even possible?

Jasper gave me a straight look. He jiggled his dangling foot, and waited for me to find my money.

What price? Well, the charity shop charged me £3.50.