Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Goblin King & The Baker's Daughter

... Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way to the castle beyond the Goblin city to take back the child you have stolen.” Daphne threw down the play in disgust. Forget the screaming baby, choose the Goblin King, she thought. That's what she would have done, but she knew Sarah didn't.
The amateur dramatics society was performing The Labyrinth and Daphne as Sarah was word perfect, but she argued the script should be updated, they should end the story differently. Give it the ending all teenage and grown up girls wanted: to stay with the Goblin King in his castle. Her will was strong, but in each rehearsal the director refused to discuss it. And it didn't help that the boy cast as the King was wimpy. If that had been the case in the film, she too would have saved her infant brother.
The eldest daughter of a baker with 15 younger siblings, the 'noisy brats' as she called them, she wanted to run, but with nowhere to go, she plastered her bedroom walls with posters of the Goblin King and spoke to him hoping that he'd hear her.
One evening after a busy day helping in the bakery and caring for her siblings, Daphne flung herself on her bed and sobbing said “Goblin King! Goblin King! Wherever you may be, use your power over me!”
There was frantic tapping at the window. Had he come? There were shrieks of laughter and the angry voice of her mother, “Climb down this minute!” Three of her brothers were in the apple tree outside her window.
Daphne and Jareth sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” They chorused before scrambling down hurriedly.
I have no privacy!” Daphne shouted, “I wish the Goblin King would come and turn the world upside down! Right now just for me!” She fell asleep in her clothes and dreamt of the castle's ball where she let Jareth seduce her. But when she awoke she was in the same bed and late for Sunday morning rehearsals.
Racing to the village hall, she passed a blind beggar, dressed in black with a brimmed hat and white stick. She stopped, turned around and went back; his strange appearance was vaguely familiar. His hand shook a tin mug in an appeal for silver. Daphne generously gave a pound from her jean pocket. Could it be the Goblin King? She continued to stand in front of him, waiting for him to transform before her. Instead from the folds of his cloak he drew out two crystal balls, twisting and turning them in his hand, releasing them like bubbles. Her two futures floated towards her: one with the blind beggar, but living without his love and without his great kingdom; the other, an adult life chained to lazy kids and feckless husbands. As the crystal balls were carried away, Daphne was bitterly disappointed.
The blind beggar spoke, “My kingdom was great, but it's gone. My will was once strong, but love destroyed it. A shabby, blind beggar doesn't have to live up to a young girl's expectations. Wish again and I'll fulfil it.”
Daphne didn't want either of those lives he had shown her. She saw The Labyrinth in her head and knew what she had to ask for, “Then I choose freedom! I wish to be turned into a creature of the night. Turn me into a snowy white barn owl!” And as the words left her lips, it was done. The Goblin King had freed the baker's daughter from captivity.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Bookworm

The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg
With an open book in both hands, one held closed between his legs, and another beneath his elbow, he tried to find the precious line. The sentence that had popped into his head ten minutes ago; he would not rest until he found it. He was certain he had read it, but couldn't recall the title of the book nor the name of the author, so to prove himself right he would locate the paragraph and page that contained it. In his paint-splattered faded jeans and Ralph Lauren polo shirt he searched; leafed carefully through, savoured words, and skimmed pages. A precarious business from the top platform of a wooden ladder, but a posture, that was for him, perfectly normal. This was where he spent most of his time: perched atop a ladder, dusting, alphabetising and cataloguing. The platform was his lookout and his seat for reading.
Killed By Books!” He announced to the book-lined room. That would be very apt for a bibliophile he mused, as he visualised his fall and the books and shelves that would topple with him. All his life, he'd wanted to be buried in books, rather than soil or sand. He paused to mop his brow with a handkerchief from his back pocket, and found his eyes drawn to Carl Spitzweg's painting: The Bookworm. He'd purposely hung it in this sanctum, his own private library, unconsciously recreating this same captured scene over and over. Visitors, when allowed, often remarked on the resemblance. He didn't see it himself although he too was of an average height with poor eyesight, the beginnings of a double chin, and hair more salt than pepper. His days on the ladder had given him a permanent curve of the spine; his figure a capital S: head and bottom jutted out like a tortoise forced from its shell.
His dear mother had christened him Fitz Williams, for she admired Jane Austen and always fell in love with bit-part characters. Colonel Fitzwilliam, the cousin of Darcy, was her favourite, and by sheer luck she had married a Williams. But in being thus named, Fitz knew he had, in one regard, disappointed her: he had not wanted to join a regiment or hoped to be a Colonel. In his early youth, he made up for this by becoming a collector. He had bowed to his mother, “Madame, Col. Fitz Williams at your service.” And his mother declared he had at last found his vocation.
Indeed, Fitz sniffed out books just like a blood-hound: using his bulbous nose to track down rare, expensive, autographed, and first editions. He particularly liked gilt lettering, unusual bindings, and copper-plated pictures, and had, over the years, built up an impressive collection which he now housed in his own private library. A 'den' with antique armchairs, a sheepskin rug, and a flickering log fire. But he didn't just collect books, he collected language; attracted to how words felt pushed round his mouth and how they rolled off his tongue. He tasted them as you would a fine wine or meal. Sentences were descriptively delectable.
Books were not separate from him, they possessed him. He saw himself as characters in every novel, was drawn into every plot as it unfolded. He poured over pages until his eyes hurt or the light faded. He caressed book covers and put on white gloves to conserve ones marked by time. He memorised the smell and texture of every book and recorded how he obtained it, scrupulously noting dates, inhaling scents and thumbing pages.
In this private world, The Bookworm got easily diverted. Engrossed, for a second he stopped. What was the line he'd been looking for? He forgot... And hastily returned to his reading.

Thursday, 11 July 2013


Narcissus, Caravaggio 1594-96
Nathaniel stood before the mirror, transfixed by his own reflection. “Looking good!” He praised himself, taking in his tanned skin, tousled blond hair and deep blue eyes. He knew he was God-like. He saw the desire in men and women's eyes when they studied him. They all wanted him; to look like him or to be with him. He was in love with himself and, it appeared, so was everyone else around him. The only beauty he saw in the world was himself.
To this modern man, grooming was everything. Many hours were spent maintaining his looks to his high standards. Facial hair had to be removed; skin had to be tanned and moisturised. His bathroom was filled with lotions; his wardrobe with expensive clothing. He worked his muscles in the gym with the aid of additional protein. It was hard work being an Adonis, but the compulsion drove him: he feared being unloved and falling out of love with himself.
His reflection spoke for itself; he never grew bored of looking at himself in mirrors and shop windows. He was constantly distracted by reflective surfaces and besotted with his 'mirror' image. But the attention his 'twin' received was not enough; he wanted others to be as obsessed with him as he was.
Friendly with the owner of a perfumery, Nathaniel developed his own unisex fragrance: drops of his sweat combined with narcissus extract, taken from the petals and bulb of the flower, and named it 'Vanity'. A narcotic scent, the word spread, and soon everyone was wearing it. Once the hype had died down, Nathaniel noticed explicit changes. At first, he became aware that people had grown numb to him. His presence did not evoke the usual reactions: the whispers, the stares, the dilated pupils or the shallow breathing. There was no girlish giggling or attempts at flirting. Instead, people had turned vain and introspective. Daily life was disrupted as everyone was studying their reflections; some even became drunk on their own self-image. Delirious with love and wanting. As the addiction increased, there was a spate of drownings: individuals who were compelled to touch their 'beautiful twin' shimmering in pools of water. A phenomenon that became known as 'Narcissism'. It got so bad, government officials stepped in and ordered 'Vanity' to be recalled, withdrawn from public sale, and discontinued.
Nathaniel complied, because in this short space of time, he had felt sorely neglected. His greatest fear had been realised: watching others drugged had made him fall out of love with himself. He had been ashamed to discover he'd never loved the whole person, and vowed to, from now on, recognise his true self-worth.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Sleeping Lady

The Tiny Sleeping Lady, Malta
This is the story of The Sleeping Lady, but not the one most commonly known by that title. This one was not crafted 5,000 years ago in Malta nor was she painted by the post-impressionist artist, Gauguin, but she was entombed. Buried in sleep; trapped in coma. Her existence was blotted out, as in the past, her story was interpreted as evil. People were discouraged from spreading rumours of sightings. Reclining ladies that were immortalised were often hailed 'Sleeping Mother Goddess', but she was called “Sleeping Magdalene.” There's no rest if you sin. 
Gauguin's Mette Asleep On A Sofa

In repose, to the few that observed her, she was a beauty. Her skin was translucent and her long hair was as dark as a raven's. She was dainty with delicate limbs, which were longer than those ever seen before on a woman. She was temptingly elegant, and laid out on a stone bed even more so, which led people to say that 'her torment would be catching', and so she was removed to an underground temple. A sealed tomb that cannot now be found, for its location if it was recorded has been lost. She was meant to be forgotten about, but in their dreams people saw her; felt her trying to fight her unnatural sleep. A sleep, it was said, she was bound to. They felt how she struggled to toss and turn; how she tried to shout 'Stop!' or moan. They too felt her paralytic state, and saw how despite her best efforts to awake, she in fact remained still.
Other nights, people dreamt what she dreamt; they hallucinated with her. Guardian Angels standing over their beds, Spiritual Guides holding their heads, Gospel choirs, and arrhythmic drumming. Some were euphoric, others woke up fearful, dripping with sweat and dreading this wilderness. A small number were concerned that this lady's sleep was far from peaceful; she was clearly trapped and wandering. They said: 'Nothing hurts as much as a scream in silence.' Too many, however, felt this was her evil doing: Sleeping Magdalene was trying to drug them! Attempting to bring her Hell to them.
Magi were sent to rouse her, but nothing could stir her; nothing could rescue her from this nightmarish dead sleep. Whatever spell had been cast, it was too powerful, and some people worried that if she awoke, her wickedness would overcome them. So they dug an even deeper pit and added more bricks to the outer walls of the temple, in the belief that by doing this, the living could no longer be affected. Interred in the bowels of the Earth, her unwelcome side effects did cease.
However, curiosity about her did not. Where had she come from? People moved; the landscape changed; sleep and dreams returned to normal, but some still wondered. For many years, those in power said her blunder was unpardonable, but nobody knew what that was. It was discovered much later. 'Sleeping Magdalene' anointed men's feet, which at the time was considered shameful. With these hands, she unwittingly touched a holy man's feet and instantly fell into a deep slumber. He marked her with sin to save her from him.