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Short stories

My New Year's resolution was to read more short stories. I have loads of anthologies on my tbr mountain but for some reason I've ignored them for years. The plan is to read one or possibly two a week. It'll be interesting to see how it goes. The first two under the cut.


They by Rudyard Kipling was my first story for this week. It's a supernatural story. Or is it? This is such an ambivalent piece of work that it's hard to tell. The narrator is driving around Sussex in the early days of the motor car. He takes a wrong turn and goes careering down a steep hill in some woods and finishes up in the garden of a large and beautiful house. There are many children, at least he can hear them and catches brief glimpses but... The house is owned by a blind woman and he is made welcome and returns several times. It was hard to know what to make of this one but I liked it for its 'other-worldliness'. Nice atmosphere. The story is available to read online here.

Uncle Dobbin's Parrot Fair by Charles De Lint is the first story in his Dreams Underfoot anthology. It's part of the author's 'Newford' series of books; they're 'urban fantasy' and completely new to me. It's hard to know how to describe this one as it meanders all over the place and you're never quite sure what's real and what isn't. A woman called Ellen picks up a punk youth after he's been beaten up and discovers that 'something' is shadowing him. Ellen likes to read an author called Christy Riddell who writes down myths and legends and talks of things that don't exist. Or do they? As I said, it's hard to know. And, once again, I liked that ambivalence. I've just started the second story, The Stone Drum, which takes place within one of Riddell's books and concerns one of De Lint's ongoing characters, Jilly Coppercorn. I have a feeling I'm going to really love this series and universe.

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To be x-posted to 365shortstories.

Comments

de Lint is one of my favorites: he writes excellent female characters, and is prolific. Some of his books are less satisfying than others, but not dreadful.
I'm really just getting into De Lint. I enjoyed The Little Country but wasn't so overwhelmed that I *had* to find more by him. These 'Newford' books are a different matter though. I've only read two short stories but already I know I want to read a lot more of this universe.
I think The Little Country is utterly forgettable, but was one of his earliest books. He blossomed in Jack, the Giant Killer reprinted with its sequel in Jack of Kinrowan, which is set in Ottawa, but has the feel of Newford. His "Jack" is actually Jacqueline, and it's a fun read.

**WARNING** Spoilers!

Thank you for the link to They; I'd never read it. It's very sad at last, although it starts as a rather sweet, whimsical little story about two psychic people who can communicate with the ghostly children. The full meaning doesn't quite bear in, until the ending: that the man with the automobile has lost a child, and that's why he can "see" them. But he can't ever come back, once he realizes the little ones gathered about the lovely house are no longer alive. It must have hurt him very much. I'm sure it would hurt most people, although it comforts the lady who owns the place, somehow.

Of course, the references to the little boy with meningitis being "better off" dead because he was "that sort" (born out of wedlock, one presumes) were quite sickening to modern sensibilities. But the central character/narrator doesn't seem to echo the dreadful opinions of the dreadful people who reckon the boy's short life was long enough for "that sort." The grandmother's cold assessment that her daughter would "get over" losing her child made me despise the old cow, even though she was speaking as one who had lost a couple of her own. Some people seem to handle sorrow by growing a hard shell around it, and trying diligently never to let their grief, or anyone's grief, touch them again. Surely that's pitiable.

Re: **WARNING** Spoilers!

I must find out when 'They' was written because I'm wondering if he wrote it after he lost his son, Jack, in the first world war. It would seem logical. And thus I couldn't help thinking of the narrator as Kipling himself. Have you had the drama, 'My Boy Jack', over there yet? We got it for Rememberance Day in November and it was stunningly good and very, very sad. Dan Radcliffe as Jack was amazing and the chap who played Kipling (stupidly, I can't remember his name) *was* Kipling. It was quite uncanny how much he looked like him.

Their sensibilites were quite different in those days weren't they? We're shocked but I wonder how much of it was just a method of coping. My uncle (aged 88) was going through my grandmother's photos and bits and pieces recently (she died about 20 years ago) and discovered something he hadn't seen before. That was his baptism record, and my father's... and a brother that he hadn't previously been aware of. The little boy had died somewhere around age 2 - 3 and none of us had known about him. I think they were dealing with tragedy on a daily basis and had to be harder and more realistic than we are. I still find their attitude to illegitimacy harsh though. But one of the uses of reading these old stories is to illustrate how far our attitudes have come, imo. I'm definitely planning to read a lot more Kipling this year.

Re: **WARNING** Spoilers!

When I Googled the story's title it came up as having been published in 1904, about ten years before WWI began, which to me makes it even eerier, as if the author foresaw his son's death. Unless Jack had a sibling who died in early childhood, and inspired the story. It's a terrible thought; I hope it isn't true.

I haven't seen My Boy Jack, but I'm looking forward to it; it gets lots of good reviews online, and I'm curious to see Dan Radcliffe in the role. The only thing other than Harry Potter I've seen him in was David Copperfield, with Maggie Smith!

Your mention of your uncle who died in childhood reminds me of my grandmother, whose first born died after he toddled into the fireplace and caught his clothes on fire (they left him asleep in the house and went outside to weed the garden). But she never mentioned him; other people told me the story.

Don't know if Steve Allen was well known in England: he was a comic, a composer and a TV talk show host. He's dead now, but years ago he appeared on TV to publicize a book he had written about his mother's deep secret: she had an illegitimate son who never lived with them, but whom she visited when she could, and longed to introduce to Steve, but never got up the nerve. After she died, he found out about his brother and met him, and he choked up a little as he told the story; he was visibly moved to pity for his mother and the brother he scarcely got a chance to know before he, too, died.

Today the two would have grown up together, and no one would bat an eye. I'm glad that the old social standards have gone by the wayside. They were cruel and unnecessary.

Re: **WARNING** Spoilers!

Oh lord, that story of your grandmother's first child is just awful. We romantisize the past a bit too much I feel.

No, I don't think I know of Steve Allen but so many families have this kind of secret, you know. When I was looking into my own family history I discovered that there was no father listed on my great grandmother's birth certificate and have assumed that means she may have been illegitimate. It may have explained why my own grandmother was very forgiving of such things when she came from a generation which mostly wasn't.

So am I glad that the old standards have mostly gone.

Re: **WARNING** Spoilers!

Found this on Wikipedia:

On a visit to America in 1899, Kipling and his eldest daughter Josephine developed pneumonia, from which Josephine eventually died.

So that explains it. Oh, dear.

Re: **WARNING** Spoilers!

It does indeed. I just checked and the older girl in My Boy Jack was called 'Elsie'... not Josephine. So they did indeed lose a child. How dreadful. I know the infant mortality rate was higher back then but I'm damn sure knowing that didn't ease the pain one iota.

I've just ordered Something of Myself, Kipling's autobiography, because I'm interested now and want to know more.