Thursday, August 16, 2007

It Was Once

I used to hide when I read. Not physically, but I’d lose myself in something so completely, so wholly, that it took me away. I was sure that I’d melted through time and space, that I was within the pages, that I’d become one with the story itself.
I’ve hidden in many books, stories, and poem over the years and I was fortunate to have found so many of them here:
The Canadian Readers Book IV, W.J. Gage & Co., Limited / T. Nelson & Sons, Limited, 1931. Copyright 1921.

It was my dad’s school reader. I found it when I was seven or eight and discovered it contained everything I ever needed in a book and everything that made me know I was a writer.

I still have it. It’s got one of my favorite poems, A Hindu Fable by John Godfrey Saxe. It’s been around for quite some time in slightly different versions, but you’ll know it. It’s the poem about six blind fellows who happen upon an elephant and, after feeling a different part, each describe what the elephant is like.

It’s got famous stories and excerpts from well-loved books. I read Damon and Pythias and King Arthur’s Sword. I learned of Phaeton and The Hammer of Thor, and Christmas Dinner from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
There’s an excerpt one of favorite books, Heidi, by Johanna Spyri, and my favorite poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter, by Lewis Carroll.
But it was the Brothers Grimm who transported me with The Shoemaker and The Elves.

I could feel myself in the poor shoemaker’s shop. I felt cold and dark and it was so real to me. I’ve read the story countless times and never tire of it.

Back when I was young it spoke to me of something half-remembered as if I’d lived in the time of the poor shoemaker. I felt this familiarity in my cells.
I love this story and the feelings it evoked in me. Years ago I studied German and learned enough to read a simple version of this story, Die Wichtelmänner, in its original tongue. For practice I translated it back to English. It took me 10 evenings to do it.

Out of curiosity I compared my version with a translation in a child’s storybook and found them very close. It was a satisfying find.
It is my favorite story. I’ve let the German go although I like to believe I can still get through Die Wichtelmänner.

Even if I find I can’t, those first few words, “Es war einmal” literally “It was once” our “Once upon a time,” still transport me.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I lose myself in books too. I have to make sure all my work is done before I crack the spine or nothing gets done.

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Terrie Farley Moran said...

What a beautiful post! I have one book left from my own childhood. Poems of Childhood by Eugene Field with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish. My oldest grand daughter (turned age 5 last week)wants me to read the book to her and we will start today. I've picked The Sugar Plum Tree as the first poem to read.

I no longer have The Brothers Grimm but I do remember the shoemaker.

Thanks for this post. Childhood reading is the best!

Terrie

Leah J. Utas said...

I understand completely, Anonymous.

That's going to be a wonderful memory for your granddaughter, Terrie.

Dawn said...

I think that's why we become writers - to recreate that magic we experienced when young.

Crabby McSlacker said...

I agree, great post!

One of my favorite childhood books was an odd one: "Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinnely and Me, Elizabeth," by E. L. Konisburg. Not as classic as the Brother's Grimm, but for some reason it's stayed with me all these years. It dealt with childhood friendships and witches and racial issues and all kinds of things. Crap, now I'm going to have to find it somewhere and read it again!

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