To continue the story of the book left behind the house, under a fir tree in the snow…
You might or might not remember me saying I went out to walk the dogs, during the first mountain snowstorm of the year, on our usual path past an enormous fir tree in the forest behind our house. And that I found a package, propped up, wrapped in brown paper and string, dotted haphazardly with stamps of a kind I had never seen before (and that no one I know has been able to identify since.) That was surprising enough, but the most surprising thing, of course, was that the package was addressed to me.
Taking it home, unable to hold my curiosity, I ripped away some of the brown wrapping. The book inside was called ‘Snotty Saves the Day’, and claimed to be part of the history of a place called ‘Arcadia.’ Horrible title, that was my first absent thought. But then something nagged at me a little bit,t he way it does when, during broad daylight, you see the repeat of an image that came to you earlier in a dream.
When I got home, I had a chance to examine the parcel more closely. Inside, as I mentioned before, was a letter, supposedly from a scientist in a world—he said—that occupied the same space as ours, but because it moved at a different frequency, was impossible to see! This world, it became clear when I read the book through (which didn’t take long, since the story of Snotty itself moves pretty fast; the scholarly footnotes that accompanied the text were a bit more complex, and I held them back to study closely another time), the world where Arcadia was found, was like our own in many unexpected ways…and unlike, too, in the way I find fairy tales are both like and unlike my everyday waking life.
The main way ‘Arcadia’ seemed to be like our world, if I could believe what I was reading (and I quickly began to believe in the truth of it), was that it was—is—heading for potential disaster. Arcadia was—or is—involved in a horrible war, and whoever sent me the book had just managed to smuggle it out in time. And why?
Because it was true, the scientist said. Because Arcadian science had discovered fairy tales are true. They had discovered the solution to their intractable social problems were in the old stories, though this fact caused violent reaction in those who had reason not to believe what was staring them in the face.
(Not unlike, I thought, startled, our own world’s response to the challenge of climate change, or to the necessity to find peaceful solutions in a world over-equipped for war, or the shortsightedness of cutting funds for infrastructure, education, etc. Or…but there were so many parallels.)
It was true, the Arcadian scientist said, that this story of Snotty actually happened. ‘Snotty Saves the Day,’ which looks like a children’s story about a horrible little boy who falls down a rabbit hole, and fights an enemy who hides from him his own memory of who he is, that story actually happened . And that another Arcadian scientist—a physicist murdered before she could finish her work—had studied and footnoted the tale.
That was the book I held in my hands.
Now it so happened that, maybe by coincidence (was it?), I have been making a study of fairy tales, myself, for a few years now. A couple of traumatic happenings in my own life—the failure of an overly ambitious project in England, and the larger cultural shock of the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001—had turned me inward, made me wrestle more with my own ignorance about the world, forced me to try to clear my sight enough to see more of what was in front of me. And had, in my reading, turned more and more to our own old stories, and back to where the old stories merged with what we call history. And I had begun, dimly, to see that there were more truths in those stories—the poems, the epics, the myths, the legends, the fairy tales—than I ‘d been led, by my teachers, to believe.
I had begun to see, in fact, that the reason these stories were either ghettoized in the dusty reaches of ‘literature’ (kicked upstairs, as it were), or (the opposite strategy) dismissed, scorned as being only for children or for the credulous uneducated, was, in fact, because of the explosiveness of the truths they contained.
These stories are scorned and ignored just like the child Snotty in the book so mysteriously sent my way (and how was it sent? I heard an owl hooting when I found it, is that a clue?), but these stories are the root of who we are. We have, like Snotty, forgotten. It may be that we have wanted to forget. But forgetting who you are, I have learned the hard way in my own life, does not lead to a successful end.
Fascinated with the Arcadian book, that afternoon I pulled an armload of my own collection of books about the old tales down from the shelve3s, and read, long into the night, by candlelight when the storm finally knocked out the electric power in my little alpine valley.
I read, much of the nigh, and when the storm cleared, I went outside in the snow to look at the moon and wonder: Where was this other world that held Arcadia? Where was Snotty’s world?
Was it right here? Could I reach out, somehow, and answer it back?
[TO BE CONTINUED EVEN MORE…]