A Story of Dutch Resistance

Judging by the cover, this looked self-published (it’s not); my expectations were minimal. I was pleasantly surprised by the writing, and found the story of Everett De Boer’s family’s work with the Dutch Resistance compelling. Journey Through the Night is four volumes (written in Dutch 1951-1958, translated in 1960) published as one.


The De Boer family is likeable. The architect father has pluck, the mother is kind-hearted, oldest son John is capable but inclined to hesitate, and impetuous Fritz can’t keep out of trouble; the other siblings have cameo roles. They are Christian — the winsome kind whose faith is more acted upon than spoken of, not off-putting.

What impressed me most in a world of checkpoints, false IDs, and fascist occupation was the advantage of being relaxed and calm, casual and nonchalant. Terror is perilous.

The De Boers had recently read Isaiah 16:3 Hide the outcast, don’t betray the fugitive, when a young man knocks on their door, seeking refuge. A procession of Jewish families and resistance fighters are hidden and helped. Such a small thing, and yet it changed the course of war: simple courageous people opening their homes and risking their lives for all kinds of strangers.


What I discovered while reading this book:

DKW cars (Dampf-Kraft-Wagen = steam-driven car) photo courtesy of Wikipedia


The Dutch National Anthem —another example of music bolstering courage

“OSO!” (Orange Shall Overcome) the slogan of the Dutch Resistance (here’s a link to learn more about the Dutch Resistance)

The Dutch writer Anne de Vries is a male. (Rainer Maria Rilke comes to mind as another writer with a conventionally female name.)

Favorite quotes:

No one could stop the course of the sun,
and no one could stop the course of God’s justice – not even Hitler.

True during war or peace:

Don’t let impatience make life miserable for you.


I highly recommend this to readers who liked Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place and Anne Frank’s Diary.


What’s on Your Nightstand, March 24

DSC_3970Although I love the concept of What’s on Your Nightstand, a monthly overview of one’s reading, I have only participated a few times. In a rare and wonderful synchronicity, I  deep cleaned my nightstand area yesterday.

My husband had surgery two weeks ago (he’s fine, thank you) that allowed me seven hours of reading in the waiting room. There was a huge flat-screen TV that looped through Travels in Europe with Rick Steves for 4.5 hours. Eventually, a penguin documentary came on. Occasionally I glanced up, but it wasn’t bad background sound.

Keeping my mind occupied was A Pianist’s Landscape, a book of essays about playing, learning, performing and teaching the piano. This was a book sale find. The cover and title drew me in. Carol Montparker is a Steinway Artist; her essays have been in the New York Times. Delightful!

I’m working on consistently reading poetry. It’s one of those things that takes an effort, but offers rich rewards. I found Wis£awa Szymborska (w sounds like /v/, £ sounds like /w/; thus, Vees WAH vah shin BORE skuh) funny, dark, random, full of irony, beauty and profundity. Many poems didn’t strike a chord in me. But some did. When asked why she didn’t write more poems, her answer was “because I have a trash can at home.” I kept forgetting that these poems had been translated from Polish. The translations are magnificent!

“Disappointing” — two historical novels. Widow of the South centers on the Carnton Plantation near Franklin, TN. I didn’t like that a major part of the plot centered on a contrived and fictitious relationship between Carrie McGavock and one soldier/patient. It was a weird Jayber Crow-ish intimacy.

A Separate Country tells the story of defeated Confederate General John Bell Hood’s life after the war in New Orleans. He marries Anna Maria Hennen, a young society belle, and they have 11 children in 10 years, including three sets of twins. The author uses a scaffolding of facts but most of the story is fanciful. The tone and language is a bit salty for my taste.

I made small progress on my goal to read through Shakespeare’s canon with Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2. Before I read these, I had thought Falstaff was witty and clever. No, sirrah! His self-aggrandizing, manipulative, lying behavior erased any gladsome thoughts of this main Shakespearean character.

My Kindle read – did you know if you have Amazon Prime you can borrow a book a month on your Kindle? I’m a junkie for books on how to write. To say I have dozens would be only a minor stretch. I love to read them, to re-read them, and to promise myself that someday I will do what they say.

I was reminded to slash away at adverbs and adjectives. Yes. But I really enjoyed Rosenblatt’s comments on education: “Teaching takes a lot of wheedling and grappling but basically it is the art of seduction. Observing a teacher who is lost in the mystery of the material can be oddly seductive.”

Audiobook  This long audio book was mostly tedious, but I was so glad I finished this life of Anna Leonowens. I was reminded how powerful a teacher can be. Prince Chulalongkorn attributed to Anna the decision he made to abolish slavery (without war!) in Siam (Thailand).

For Fun   I love Jane Austen, but I don’t consider myself a Janeite. Among the Janeites was an entertaining read. What struck me was how many ways there are to read Austen. People see virtue, wisdom, feminism, eroticism, autism, therapy, and more in her books.

DSC_3968Reading in preparation for Easter: Silence, by Shushaku Endo and Nikki Grime’s At Jerusalem’s Gate, Poems of Easter.

Revisiting Medieval Civilization

I read and loved this book about 15 years ago. In a rare act of courage and rationality, I decided to sell it, a proclamation of shelf reclamation. Because, you know, when would I actually read these 624 pages again? Just opening the book and noting my penciled responses ushered in delight and rediscovery, then gnawing regret. I knew I had to pull some long nights and re-read it one last time. And get as much in my commonplace book before the deadline to mail it.

Rereading Civilization brought back all the best parts of home schooling and banished from memory the days of despair, inadequacy, frustration, exhaustion. What I loved was learning history, reading literature, connecting dots — the enlivening of a formerly dead subject.


Cantor, a Jewish historian from Winnipeg (Winnipeg is a delectable collection of syllables you have to repeat aloud ten times), is a winsome writer. The Civilization of the Middle Ages has been a bestseller for decades because his writing is both interesting and accessible.

I got a sense of the wide sweep of history, but reveled in descriptions like this:

Despite his scholarly achievements, Augustine was no armchair theologian. As a priest and as bishop of Hippo (a fairly poor, undistinguished, and remote town in North Africa), he was deeply involved in the lives and the problems of his flock. What Augustine said about people and God came not only from his multicultural background but from his profound commitment to the needs and troubles of people. This is a rare combination at any time, particularly within the church, whose scholars have usually been cloistered from the life of the community.

One other quote, fodder for thought:

One can posit this rule: The more important your family as the shaper of your life, the more medieval the nature of a society.

There is a bonus in the back. Ten movies that portray the Middle Ages. And *you* can access this list, including his commentary, free! Here’s how: click on the link above, which will take you to Amazon. Click on “Look Inside!” In the box under “Search Inside This Book” type in *film* (don’t type the asterisks). Click on page 567. Or you could check out my previous blog post on Medieval Movies.

Ironically, writing this review made me want more Cantor. I just ordered In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made and I’ve added Inventing Norman Cantor: Confessions of a Medievalist to my wish list!

::     ::     ::     ::     ::

The book is chock full of fun facts. Here are some that made it into my journal.

10th century technological advances:
the horse collar,
the stirrup,
water mills,
saw mills
and lateen sails.

The average 11th century knight was 5’3″.

Vassal comes from the Celtic word for ‘boy’.

Three power blocks:

Both Constantine and Justinian I came from Balkan peasant stock.

The year 400 – at least 80% of the population
never moved more than ten miles from where they were born.
Year 1050 — 80% didn’t move more than
twenty miles from their birthplace.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Best Book of 2014

I told myself I’d go slow. No big gulps. Savor the words. Take my time. Reflect. Enjoy.

And I did…the first 36 hours. But last night I had three hours open and three hours left of reading. Turn the light off at 10:00? C’est impossible!

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, dear reader, is the best book Jan Karon has written. Like a master chef with discerning taste, Karon has adjusted the flavor of her writing so it is not too sweet, not too bitter, not too peppery, not too bright; but the perfect combination of spices, textures, and taste. There are overtones, undertones, aromas, and the kind of finish that both satisfies and makes you yearn for more.

Laughter plays peek-a-boo throughout the text. Last night I read a section to my husband that required a working knowledge of both The Cat in the Hat and Poe’s The Raven to fully understand the rich humor. When Curt roared at the punchline, I loved him more than I had the minute before. There is humor on the surface, too: the spray tan provides more than a few guffaws.

There are three scenes that sing to the deep recesses of my soul. They, alone, are why I know I will be reading this book again and again. And, perhaps, again.

Jan Karon nourishes. Literary quotes to ponder, authors and titles to explore, music to review, idioms to delight in. And a bookstore—Happy Endings—that  plays a big part in the plot. There are also problems that can’t be fixed, people that fail, people that never fail to irritate.

If you’ve read certain kinds of Christian fiction, you are familiar with what I call the two-dimensional didactic. The pasted-on-the-end moral message, the perfect hero and wicked villain, the thin patina of plot splashed on the important main point. Gag. No. Thank. You.

When you read  Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, you learn without any awareness that you are being taught. The subjects are wide ranging: diabetes, exercise, how to help the bereaved (be there), how to say ‘no’, how to cope with retirement, how to give and receive grace.

DSC_1740I love the map of Mitford. I love these phrases:

the benediction of her father’s deep tenderness /
a selfish view that masquerades as noble /
that they would be shielded in their joy /
his favorite tryst for plain talk /
under the stairs, a good place to have a cry /

My favorite phrase describes this book: a plenitude of grace.

E. Goudge’s Island Magic

0848813421When Hope at Worthwhile Books reviewed Elizabeth Goudge’s first novel, I wanted to read it.  The setting is St. Pierre, the capital of Guernsey, a channel island between England and France. Island Magic quenches two of my current fascinations: island culture and late 19th century rural life.

André and Rachell du Frocq are barely eeking out a living on a farm called Bon Repos (“Good Rest” or, as I like to translate it, “Sweet Tranquility”), a place that comes with a benediction written on stone outside the farmhouse:

Harbour and good rest to those who enter here,
courage to those who go forth.
Let those who go and those who stay forget not God.

The characters of André, Rachell, their five children, Grandpapa, and the stranger Ranulph— who is taken in after a shipwreck—, are vivid and unique; they linger in my thoughts days after I finished the book. Among the five siblings are a humanitarian, a poet, a failed academic, an adventurer, and a joyspring.

The story is sad and yet not without hope. The children have individual minor tragedies, they also have the confidence and security of being part of a bustling family. The tension resides between husband and wife as they begin to think about conceding failure at farming. The stranger’s assistance is helping the bottom line, but brings more marital conflict.

Typical of Goudge, there is a fairy element in the story. Themes of faith, bitterness, the value of beauty, hard work, service, gratitude, grief and sacrifice make the story shimmer. One point of the plot beggars belief. Of course I can’t identify it without giving away part of the story.

Rarely—and happily— I come across a sentence, with which I can fully relate, and about something I’ve never before seen in literature. Island Magic delivered! This is used to be me!!

How thankful she was for her one great gift—the gift of making her nose bleed at will.

Here is a great Christmas quote:

Christmas Day at Bon Repos was something terrific. The du Frocqs took the whole of December preparing for it and the whole of January recovering from it.

Goudge’s mother was a native of Guernsey; summer visits to the grandparents were part of Goudge’s childhood. Her final thoughts on island living in this book are a bit idealistic, but they reflect some of the necessities of interpersonal relationships in a closed society.

You can’t be an individualist on our Island. There’s so much magic packed into so small a space. With the sea flung round us and holding us so tightly we are all thrown into each other’s arms—souls and seasons and birds and flowers and running water. People understand unity who live on an island. And peace. Unity is such peace.



November Reads


Les Miserables  I’m on page 420/1232. Part of me (about 35%)  says Why, oh why have you not read this before? The greater part thinks it is splendid to have the exquisite joy of reading this for the first time while I’m in my fifties. A friend warned me about Waterloo; she got bogged down. But, you know, I really only know Waterloo by its name. To me it was exciting as reading Shaara on Gettysburg. This sentence describing the cavalry grabbed me for its onomatopoeia and the progression of 3-, 4-, and 5-syllable adverbs:

They rode steadily, menacingly, imperturbably, the thunder of their horses resounding in the intervals of musket and cannon-fire.

The Hobbit  I’m on Disc 3, listening to Rob Inglis’ superb reading of Tolkien’s classic. I laugh at my teenage self who didn’t care for the book after reading three pages. It was all so confusing: hobbits, Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, seed cakes. I’m trying to wait until Curt is home so we can listen together. To have two such magnificent books going through my head is an embarrassment of riches.

Arrow of God
I’ve read several excellent books on Africa, but they since they have all been from a colonial perspective, I read Chinua Achebe’s novel. It took me about 2/3 of the book to get into the story of a Nigerian village. An old priest struggles to keep the old culture in the midst of change.

He found it refreshing to be talking to a man who did not have the besetting sin of smugness, of taking himself too seriously. 103


The Invisible Child: On Reading and Writing Books for Children  I expected Katherine Paterson’s book to be a memoir. As in a narrative. Instead, it was a collection of speeches. Once I got over that disappointment, I found many quotes to copy into my journal. Paterson’s books make me uncomfortable; they aren’t nice happy books. Oh, but they are powerful: one made me hiccup-sob 15 minutes.

Books are not TV or, heaven help us, MTV or the Internet. I suppose it would be possible to write a book whose plot jumped around like a frog on pep pills, but that’s not what books are about. If that’s the kind of writing you want to do, I think you should be in a more hectic medium. Books are meant to be read slowly and digested. These days people don’t pray much or go to services of worship, they don’t commune with nature—why, they hardly go to a national park without a TV set, a laptop, and a cell phone. The book is almost the last refuge of reflection—the final outpost of wisdom. I want children to have the gifts that books can give, and I don’t believe they can get them from a book that attempts to imitate the frantic fragmentation of contemporary life. 55


Baby Island  I responded to Carol Ryrie Brink’s book here.


Trudel’s Siege A little know book by Louisa May Alcott. My review.


Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other Back in the 80’s, our telephone used to ring often throughout the day and evening. When we got overwhelmed with calls, we used to joke that it was time to move so our phone would quiet down. Lately, we get one, perhaps two calls a day. (Keep in mind that we only have a land line. Would it be different with a cell phone?)  Does this example resonate with you? It is just one of the things I’ve reflected on since I’ve read Sherry Turkle’s book. I didn’t connect with the first half of the book, an exploration of the role of robots as companions for the elderly and caregivers for the young. 

In the second part of the book, Turkle examines our increasing connectivity with each other online, but how oddly we are more alone than ever. I was struck with Turkle’s use of the word tethered to describe the pull and grip that technology has on us. I highly recommend this second half.

My own study of the networked life has left me thinking about intimacy—about being with people in person, hearing their voices and seeing their faces, trying to know their hearts. And it has left me thinking about solitude—the kind that refreshes and restores. Loneliness is failed solitude. To experience solitude you must be able to summon yourself by yourself; otherwise, you will only know how to be lonely. 288



Books for Brave Girls

If children can keep their wits about them and are brave,
they can always help in some way, my dear.
We don’t have such dreadful wars now; but the
dear God knows we have troubles enough,
and need all our courage and faith to be patient
in times like these.

In Trudel’s Siege, a book written by Louisa May Alcott when she was sixteen (1848), sickness, poverty and hunger lay siege on Trudel’s family. Her father, a linen weaver, is too sick to work; her mother, a lacemaker, cannot work while she nurses her husband; the old Grootmoeder could only knit stockings to sell. Inspired by the story of the siege of Leiden, Trudel looks for ways she can get food for her family. She gives her precious kitty, Jan, to the baker’s family in exchange for bread, sausage and milk. She goes out looking for odd jobs she can do in exchange for food. 

I can hear modern objections to this story: Why isn’t this girl in school? No child should have the burden of providing for the family! Where were social services?

I actually find the self-reliance, tempered with faith in God’s provision, very refreshing. So it’s a twinge too earnest. Trudel struggles with her sacrifices…for one minute. Such selflessness is usually only found in books. But Trudel’s satisfaction—her compensation—comes as she sees her parents and grandmother’s hunger abated. Alcott improves with age: who can forget Jo March’s satisfaction/sorrow when she sells her hair?


Carol Ryrie Brink’s book Baby Island (1937) could be Robinson Crusoe: the Young Mommy Edition. I found the Foreword essential for a modern reader to get this book.

When I was a small girl, it was the fashion in our circle
to borrow the neighbors’ babies. I myself was never a
very accomplished nursemaid, although I had many happy
hours pushing the perambulator of a young cousin; but
some of my friends had a positive genius for taking care
of and amusing babies. They never thought of receiving
pay for this delightful pastime. Minding a baby was its own reward.

When the ocean liner is sinking, twelve year old Mary Wallace’s first thought is to save the babies she has made friends with. She wakes her sister Jean, ten, and they find the twin toddlers and three-month old baby unattended. After scooping them up and getting in a lifeboat, a father gives them another toddler to hold while he returns for his wife. Suddenly they are cast off and adrift on the ocean.  

Mary is certain they will reach a little island.

Why the public library at home is just full of books about
shipwrecked people who landed on tropical islands. And
did you ever see a book written by a person who was
drowned at sea? I never did.

Whenever Jean gives way to tears, Mary rallies the troops:

Remember who you are.
Remember you are a Wallace.
Sing ‘Scots, Wha Hae wi’ Wallace Bled!’
and you’ll be all right.

The supplies, especially the canned milk, in the lifeboat sustain them until they land on a island. They build a shelter, find more food, build a pram and a playpen, while the baby gets a tooth, the toddler learns to walk and the twins start talking. They learn very practical knowledge of tides, “more today than I ever learned in school.” Mr. Peterkin, an old curmudgeon, lives on the other side of the island with his goat and parrot. 

It’s a whimsical book. Diapers—the need for or the stink or the cleaning of—are never mentioned. And yet I find parts of it plausible. When I was twelve, another twelve-year-old and I ran a day care center for the counselors’ kids at a summer camp. I marvel now to think of the responsibility we had, but at the end of the week all was well. 

What I loved about this book was the way Mary Wallace thought of the needs of others and how that kept her occupied and how her occupation kept her form sniffling and whining. Carol Ryrie Brink writes that her grandmother is in every book. Caddie Woodlawn is based on her grandmother’s childhood, but the spunk and resourcefulness of Mary Wallace is another clear reflection.

It strikes me that in both titles the girls are fortified by stories from books.  We must never stop reading good stories to our kids.




Little House on the Oregon Trail


The first books, other than the Bible, that I owned–the seed corn of my personal library–were the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My dad and mom, both avid readers, gave them to me as soon as I could read. I received a beautiful hardbound copy of the next book in the series each birthday and Christmas. I read and re-read these treasures countless times.

So it makes sense whenever I read a “pioneer” story to have a flash of recognition, like seeing a long-lost cousin as a grown-up instead of a child. Written in 1968 by the 84-year old author, Walter L. Scott’s book Pan Bread ‘n Jerky is a rustic autobiography of a settler who saw a lot of life here in Eastern Oregon.

I call it rustic because the writing is choppy and lacks cohesion.  The author’s eighth grade education isn’t the problem as much as lack of editing. Rustic, because it describes a rough life.  Not unhappy, but full of the vicissitudes of living in a wild country.  Food was hunted, trapped, gathered, and gleaned, seldom purchased.  The pioneers were scrappy folk who eeked out a life any way they could from the land. 

Walter Scott was a horse man.  Many times he earned his bread by handling horses. My favorite sentences of the book:

Horses have played an important part in my life since I was a colt myself.  Many times I’ve been on a horse when I went up but there was no horse there when I came down.  I’ve been bitten, kicked, struck, stepped on, run away with, treed on a corral fence, and had horses fall on me, but I still like horses.

The stories remind us that the “good old days” had their share of sorrow and tragedy. Gold mines used cyanide in the 1890’s and dumped it into the rivers.  A boy lost both legs from cyanide poisoning after wading in the water.  Snowslide, homicides, horse rides, suicides all snuffed out lives.  But there are huckleberries, sage grouse, snowshoes, and horses which mitigate the austerity. 


This a bear killed by the author’s father.

The bonus for me is that all the locations of this book are…local.  Believe me, you East Coast and European friends, not many books are located in Eastern Oregon.  (Okay, I forgot about The Shack.)  Getting a glimpse of life here a hundred years ago was worth the wade through the problematic prose.


The Philosophy of a Photograph

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like Camera Lucida.  Although it is a short book, I found I had to read it quite slowly.  It required a good dictionary close at hand.  It required time to ponder; it made me think longer and deeper than most books do.  So, while I don’t wholeheartedly endorse it, I did enjoy the experience of reading it.  When it came time to watch Jane Austen on PBS, I chose to keep reading this book instead.

Roland Barthes’ first three sentences entrapped me.  Oh, how I know those little touches of solitude!

One day, quite some time ago, I happened on a photograph of Napolean’s youngest brother, Jerome, taken in 1852.  And I realized then, with an amazement I have not been able to lessen since: “I am looking at the eyes that looked at the Emperor.” Sometimes I would mention this amazement, but since no one seemed to share it, nor even to understand it (life consists of these little touches of solitude), I forgot about it. (p.3)

This book is one learned man’s subjective approach to understanding why certain photographs grab him and others don’t. He employs two Latin words: studium and punctum.  The studium is a general, enthusiastic commitment.  It is the part of the photograph that is as it should be, i.e. background, lighting, composition.  The punctum is the detail that breaks the studium: a wound, a prick, a sting, a speck, a cut, a little hole.   This is the “something” which grabs your eye, your mind or your emotion.  He writes as a philosopher, which is to say, he writes about a photograph as a death, a madness, a myth, and a reality. He even writes “Photography has something to do with resurrection.” More quotes:

Henceforth, I would have to consent to combine two voices: the voice of banality (to say what everyone sees and knows) and the voice of singularity (to replenish such banality with all the élan of an emotion which belonged only to myself). It was as if I were seeking the nature of a verb which had no infinitive, only tense and mode.  (p.76) (my emphasis, but what an intriguing sentence!)

The Photograph sometimes makes appear what we never see in a real face (or in a face reflected in a mirror): a genetic feature, the fragment of oneself or of a relative which comes from some ancestor … the truth of lineage. (p.103)

What characterizes the so-called advanced societies is that they today consume images and no longer, like those of the past, beliefs…(p.119)

In a poignant and personal passage, Barthes writes about looking for
his mother’s essence in photographs after her death and finding her
(There she is!) in a photograph taken in 1898 when she was five years
old.  He concludes that capturing the air of a face (we might call it the soulfulness of a person), although recognizable is unanalyzable.  Barthes died shortly after he wrote this book in 1980. 

If you are a word-bird like me, see if you are familiar with any of these additions to my vocabulary.  Since the book is translated from French, I don’t know how if these words are from the author or the translator.

heuristic = providing direction in the solution of a problem but otherwise unjustified (Einstein often used this word)
eidolon = unsubstantial image, phantom, ideal
hebetude = lethargy, dullness
oneiric = related to dreams, dreamy
phenomenology = study of the development of human consciousness and self-awareness as a preface to philosophy
metonymic = use of a name of one thing for that of another, i.e. the land belongs to the crown
fulguration = flash with lightning
praxis = exercise or practice, customary conduct
palinode = a formal retraction
anamnesis = a recalling to mind; reminiscence

For the one person I haven’t lost (those little touches of solitude!), if you are still interested awake, you can read a seven page excerpt of the book here.

The Sword and the Circle

When I decided to learn more about the Arthurian legends I had a choice between Thomas Malory’s lengthy Le Morte D’Arthur or Rosemary Sutcliff’s trilogy written for children.  Mark Twain is quoted as saying that “the reading of any two chapters of Le Morte D’Arthur would put even the Knights of the Round Table to sleep.”

Heh, heh.  It’s no agony to choose, for apart from time limitations, I believe that Sutcliff is one of the most gifted writers of children’s books.  She has been steeped in the old literature (yes, even Malory); she comes as close as a modern author can to replicating the cadences and word pictures of the great medieval poets.  Her turns of phrases (he drew a breath of quiet), the kennings (compound expression used in place of a noun, i.e. hunger-water for saliva), the pulsing verbs (horses went bucketing along the road) and in particular the vivid similes are quite extraordinary. 


Meanwhile, on a day of late summer when the air shimmered like a midge cloud with the heat… p.89

…the wind howled like a wolf pack in the long dark nights.  p. 103

Then the woman who had come up behind him gathered round her, and one took off her own smock and slipped it over her head, and another wrapped her in her cloak, for she was as naked as a needle. p.151

And the love between Tristan and Iseult would not let them be, dragging at them as the moon draws the tides to follow after it… p.183

I [Iseult]  must end what has been between my Lord Tristan and me, not leave it flying like a torn sleeve. p.191

So much separates us from medieval thought; many stories are thus inaccessible.  Some are plain cheesy. There, I said it. Others ate around the edges of my heart, to quote my friend Di.  My favorite is Gawain and the Loathely Lady.  It  touches the tender psyche of women, most of whom are insecure about their appearance.

In short, King Arthur gets in a bind; an ugly, deformed, misshapen hag (Lady Ragnell) saves Arthur in exchange for one wish.  She asks for one of his Knights of the Round Table to marry her.  He’s devastated to have to honor his word.  All the married knights praise God they don’t qualify to serve their king this time.  Gawain takes one for the team, really for his king, and offers to marry her.  He is kind-hearted and determined to make the best of it.  On their wedding night he steels himself to be a true husband in the biblical way, ahem, and when he arrives at the bed, lo! she is changed into the babe of all babes.  

Lady Ragnell tells him that his kindness broke half of the spell and now he must choose whether to have the babe at night and the hag at day, or vice versa.  He bounces between the options and then asks her which she would prefer.  In asking her preference, he breaks the entire spell, because he allowed her to choose.  The next day the court is astounded at the beautiful woman who is his wife.

It’s a sensitive story, well-told, but it leaves lingering questions.  The puzzle Arthur could not solve without the hag’s help was this: What is it that all women desire?  The correct answer is: Their own way.  Gawain profited from giving Lady Ragnell her own way.  Does Genesis 3 come to mind when you read this?  While the story doesn’t indicate that this will be the pattern of their marriage, the thought of a marriage where I always got my own way is terrifying.   Hmmmm.