The crock of gold

James Stephens (1882 - 1950) is a remarkable Irish writer and poet well known for his retellings of the Irish fairy tales and myths. He has also written original novels, the most famous of which is ‘The crock of gold’ written in the style of a fairy tale, complete with magical beings and supernatural occurrences. I read this novel through its excellent translation in Marathi (‘Sonyache madake’[सोन्याचे मडके] done by G. A. Kulkarni) and after enjoying its quirkiness and keen humor, I felt reading the original was a must. 

This is a story of two extremely wise philosophers and their shrewish wives who are very wise too – albeit in a very different fashion.  One of the philosophers and his wife commit suicide early on in the novel and then contribute to the events that happen thereafter through their absence. The philosopher left behind, driven through his love of knowledge and of its sharing, cannot stop advising his fellowmen on their troubles. One such fateful advice leads the titular crock of gold from passing through the hands of its rightful owners to Meehawl McMurrachu, a small farmer. The farmer’s tenacity in holding on to the gold causes further perplexing events which need the intervention of the gods themselves to untangle.

The narrative is full of good hearted humor and pleasing unpredictability. Stephens speaks lovingly of all his characters, showing their weaknesses and at the same time showing them repenting and improving their behaviors. The philosopher is driven only by reason and thought in the beginning but with each new encounter with the humans, gods and other fantastical entities he goes through a transformation, finally to comprehend the meaning of feeling and love. His wife, likewise, travels a road of epiphanies and overcomes the hatred in her heart to become attached to her husband. This novel is indeed about transformations and almost all the characters undergo changes. But alongside transformations, this is a novel of innumerable juxtapositions – man against woman, thought against feeling, thin against fat, old against young.  These comparisons make for a very interesting reading especially when they come wrapped in Stephens’ excellent and perceptive humor.

The elements from the fairy tales are very much present in the narrative. Stories and characters float in and out in the true fashion of the fairy tales. Goodness exerts itself in excesses, wickedness is banished, love is found, intellect is freed, and everybody lives happily ever after. And this journey from ‘once upon a time’ to ‘happily ever after’ is indeed an enriching and pleasurable one!

‘The crock of gold’ can be downloaded for free from the Project Gutenberg site or from Amazon for those with Kindles.   

So here goes!

Sometimes after many years have passed since a book was read and an impression was made, we realize that we no longer share the same ideas with our older self. I had first read Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient eight years back and it was the burnt patient’s tragic and tempestuous love story which had made an impact on me. But now when I re-read the novel, the more silent love between the nurse and the Indian soldier created a resonance. This made me think of other novels, other stories, other words that I had read before, and I wondered which of them may have changed colors with time. This activity turned out to be tedious. In fact it was difficult even to recall all the wonderful books that I had enjoyed reading and that had influenced me. In this blog I hope to capture the impressions that the books that I am now reading are creating. I think it will also be a lot of fun to write about books that I love and to bandy ideas with people who are also passionate about reading.
So here goes!