I had a publishing deal. That was the dream. Or almost. It was a dream, but it wasn’t quite a deal. It was a letter from an agent who had expressed interest in the past and had replied again. That was something. And then I blew it. I complained to her about my years in publishing hinterland – or Neverland – never having published a thing. I searched through my old titles. I couldn’t even remember what they might be about. But they did intrigue. I only needed them in print, with well designed covers and just the right font. And so I had a short series run, gave copies to my family and friends, and told one about complaining to this agent who had interest, but he was on the phone, or there was an event, and he forgot to even take the book when he left. That was the dream. Not publishing anything, just writing, like now, this.
He had been born and brought up entirely within what had once been known as the Arctic Circle – now a sub-tropical zone with an annual mean temperature of 85 degrees – and had come southward only on joining on of the ecological surveys in his early 30’s.The vast swamps and jungles had been a fabulous laboratory, the submerged cities little more than elaborate pedestals. Apart from a few older men such as Bodkin, there was no one who remembered living in them -and even during Bodkin’s childhood, the cities had been beleaguered citadels hemmed in by enormous dykes and disintegrated by panic and despair, reluctant Venices to their marriage with the sea.
Their charm and beauty lay precisely in their emptiness, in the orange junction of two extremes of nature, like a discarded crown overgrown by wild orchids.
The front door of the hollow tree faced eastwards, so Toad was called at an early hour; partly by the bright sunlight streaming in on him, partly by the exceeding coldness of his toes, which made him dream that he was at home in bed in his own handsome room with the Tudor window, on a cold winter’s night, and his bedclothes had got up, grumbling and protesting they couldn’t stand the cold any longer, and had run downstairs to the kitchen fire to warm themselves; and he had followed, on bare feet, along miles and miles of icy stone-paved passages, arguing and beseeching them to be reasonable. He would probably have been aroused much earlier, had he not slept for
some weeks on straw over stone flags, and almost forgotten the friendly feeling of thick blankets pulled well up round the chin
Theodore Sturgeon wrote of group think, or bleshing, as he called it, in his novel More Than Human. The idea is simple, founded on minds working together, the sum of the parts being greater than the whole, celebrated by many in the arts, such as Phil Lesh of The Grateful Dead. It is the dream of musicians and anarchists alike, to be at one with each other, to guide and at the same time follow, and yet it is just that, an impossible dream for anything practical. Human nature is the flaw, our inherent need to always want something more for ourselves. Adam Smith and his capitalist crew celebrate this in what we can achieve – always in terms of monetary success – but it’s a far cry from all those other things we are told to cherish, and in the end, just don’t give a damn about. We lie to ourselves about everything – about who we are and we will achieve – just to get through and not think about the world as we have made it.
I have read Rudyard Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child quite a number of times in recent days for my 92-year-old mother who has Alzheimer’s. While Kipling’s work certainly is dated – with inherent racism, constant spankings and all-out revenge as major themes – it does have surprising merits, beyond the fact that my mother still remembers this story exceptionally well.
For one, there is the phrase ‘satiable curtiosity’, repeated throughout. A mash-up of courtesy and curiosity, it’s the Elephant’s Child’s ‘satiable curtiosity that gets him his trunk and makes him the envy of the jungle.
There is also Kipling’s idiosyncratic notes to his illustrations – mocking his own work – that provides, as they say, meta perspective on the work. But most intriguing of all is the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, a sinister character to be sure, which beats and tricks our hero, but in the end actually saves the Elephant’s Child from being eaten by the crocodile. He also teaches him what an effective tool his trunk actually is – even if it is to go home and beat up his abusive family…all very odd, something to ponder, when I read it once again.