Topical Guide 104
Tales: Folktales, Fairy Tales, Fables
Life: Desire for Another, Different, Better
Distinction or Status: Desire for
Vanity of Human wishes, The
One afternoon, at reading time, we settled onto the lawn, and Miss Louisa opened a book and said, “Today I’m going to read you a story called ‘The Fox and the Clam.’”
“I know that story,” I blurted out, surprised and thrilled. A new feeling arose within me, a warm and pleasant feeling. It was pride. I had already read the story of the fox and the clam, but the other children, to judge from their blank faces, hadn’t; that meant that I was in an elevated position, closer to Miss Emily and Miss Louisa than any of the others.
Little Follies, “The Fox and the Clam”
Miss Louisa began.
“Once upon a time, a fox was on her way home to her family. She had spent all day scrubbing floors in the palace of the lion, who was the king of all the beasts. … Her knees were sore, and her hands were rough and chafed. Her body ached from the hard work she had to do. Her heart ached too, because she knew that she would have to go on doing this work until she died. ‘Oh,’ she wailed, ‘A fox’s life is a sorry life. I wish I could be some other animal.’
“Just then a fairy popped out from under a toadstool. ‘Your wish is granted,’ said the fairy, who had the power to grant wishes. ‘You may be any animal you choose to be.’ …
“She cried, ‘I wish to be a clam,’ and jumped into the bay. By the time she reached the bottom, she had become a clam, and she was happy.
“But just then, along came one of the Royal Clamdiggers, and he dug up the clam who had once been a fox. He took her to the Royal Cook, and that night she ended up in the Royal Stomach.”
Little Follies, “The Fox and the Clam”
Once upon a time: in fairytale that does not only mean something past, but a more colourful or lighter Elsewhere. And those who live happily ever after there, if they are not dead yet, are still alive to this day. Even in the fairytale there is suffering, but it changes, and does so for good. Gentle, badly treated Cinderella goes to the little tree where her mother's grave lies, little tree wake yourself and shake yourself, a dress falls down, the most splendid and dazzling Cinderella has ever seen, and the slippers are all golden. The fairytale always turns golden in the end, there is enough happiness to go round. It is always the little heroes and the poor folk here who manage to reach the place where life has come good.
As a little child aged seven, [Susy] was oppressed and perplexed by the maddening repetition of the stock incidents of our race’s fleeting sojourn here. . . . A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle for bread; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; shames and humiliations bring down their prides and their vanities; those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. The burden of pain, care, misery, grows heavier year by year; at length ambition is dead; pride is dead; vanity is dead; longing for release is in their place. It comes at last—the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them—and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence; where they achieved nothing; where they were a mistake and a failure and a foolishness. . . . Then another myriad takes their place, and copies all they did, and goes along the same profitless road, and vanishes as they vanished—to make room for another and another and a million other myriads to follow the same arid path through the same desert and accomplish what the first myriad, and all the myriads that came after it accomplished—nothing! “Mamma, what is it all for?” asked Susy.
Well, at the Misses Leighton’s nursery school “Once upon a time” did not mean a lighter Elsewhere! I’m glad I didn’t attend that school! Although I don’t remember my own nursery school experience, I’m sure there was nothing as dark and discouraging as the story of the fox and the clam as related by Miss Louisa. Wait. Why do I say that? I mean why do I write that? I don’t remember anything as dark and discouraging as the story of the fox and the clam as related by Miss Louisa, but maybe I’ve repressed the memory. In fact, maybe that’s why I don’t remember anything at all from my nursery school days. To repress the painful memory of the story of the fox and the clam, to repress it as fully as possible, I’ve repressed everything. Definitely something to consider in TTAoMD.
[more to come on Thursday, October 7, 2021]
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