The Book of Dragons

For that is the title of the collection of short stories from which the illustration that graced our March box cometh! It was a delight to revisit such a strange and imaginative, if also rather E. Nesbit-y collection. It’s available to read and enjoy in full and for free here, for which we are immensely grateful.

I think of all the great and lasting novels in her impressive list of works, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, and The Wouldbegoods are the two books Edith Nesbit wrote that had the strongest impact upon me. As a small and only child, the ‘absent parents, large family of banded-together siblings’ trope appealed hugely to me, and, of course, the Bastables’ entrepreneurial spirit was something I found terribly exciting and engaging. I loved how the children were rounded, flawed, objectionable, and sometimes dangerously and anti-socially awful, but by and large, with their hearts in the right place. They weren’t afraid of hard work, and had their own version of London-past that was veritable catnip to my tiny mind. I still have an affection for Lewisham I can’t imagine having developed otherwise, for starters, and, come to think of it, Nesbit’s works are certainly why I have more respect for carpet than for most household objects.

There always seemed possibility, strategy, something to think about, something to do, some way out of even the most appalling situations that befell the children in Nesbit’s works. The Railway Children is many people’s favourite, certainly, it’s the one we see mentioned most often in your subscribers’ questionnaires here at Prudence and the Crow (which surprised me – if you’d asked me to guess, I would’ve thought Five Children and It which would take that place), but for my part, I’m in the ‘floods of hopeless tears’ bit every time I get to the end of it, and, accordingly, these days I simply don’t even start it. But I turn to the Bastables fairly often. My favourite venture of theirs is definitely the one where they start up a newspaper – I recently came across some old childhood papers of mine where I’d tried to imitate this repeatedly with my own fabled characters.

Nesbit herself had a full, if rather turbulent and tragic life, as did so many of our most beloved and prolific authors. I knew very little of her until doing some googling for this post, perhaps as much by choice, as anything – her worlds are so real to me that the more anonymous she seemed, so much the better. In this day and age, though, I’m so used to following my authors online, to knowing how they look, how they react, how they write, what they love, that I thought I might break through that imaginary wall. It was worth doing, and I shan’t attempt to summarise, but, as so often, Wikipedia will give you a good headstart if you’re curious.

Nesbit’s driven storytelling, firm grasp of magical worlds and great sense of practicality amidst adventure continues to inspire and delight me whenever I return to her works. I enjoy reading them now as much as I ever did, and find I have an appreciation of her directness of language (and of her present-narrator, my best-beloved of literary devices) that only increases, however much more I’ve read in between revisiting her tales.

I wonder sometimes how well-travelled her books are outside the UK. Certainly amongst people I knew who read (to my mind, reading amongst children was not nearly as common as it is now, not, at least, in my school), Nesbit’s stories were a staple, and the BBC TV series of Five Children and It was a marvel to us all, but I don’t know if I hear of them read as widely Stateside, or, indeed, in translation. We’ve had one or two American subscribers respond with extensive joy on receiving, say, The Treasure Seekers, and say they’ve not come across the stories before, but, of course, one or two are just that, and trends take a little more development! We’d love to know, here, or on Twitter, your favourite E. Nesbit tale, or, if you’re a current Prudence and the Crow subscriber and would like to receive one of her books some time, do drop us a line through our Contact Us page on the site, and we’ll see what we can do!

We hope you’re enjoying the first breaths of spring, and that you’ve got something lovely/horrible/mindblowing/amusing/whateverdoesitforyou to read for now. The April envelope design is my favourite to date, and I’m very excited for that blog already, but, until then, Happy Now! ~Prudence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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East of the Sun, West of the Moon

Kay_Nielsen_-_East_of_the_sun_and_west_of_the_moon_-_soria_moria_castle_-_he_took_a_long_long_farewell_of_the_Princess

Yep, our February ‘theme’ was the 19th century Norwegian fairytale collection put together by zoologist Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and folklorist (there’s a title) Jørgen Moe. East of the Sun, West of the Moon is just one of the stories contained within, but it’s also the title of the most common English collection, and it’s the one we have. The artwork used is by Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen, and they’re some of the most famous, beautiful and evocative fairytale illustrations we can think of, so it was a pleasure to incorporate them.

Should you wish to, you can read all the stories from the collection online here, which is well worth a few of anyone’s hours. The very shortest story in the collection is minuscule indeed, and you can read it here on our Instagram page.

The illustration used on the envelope is from the story The Three Princesses in the Blue Mountain, and on the bookplate, the girl riding the polar bear is our main character from East of the Sun, West of the Moon itself.

As with all fairytales, the collection’s European roots mean that there are many crossovers and influences between these tales and others you may have heard, or grown up with, and the infinite variations on the same themes that come with the telling and retelling of these stories and tropes make fairytales one of our very favourite genres to visit and explore. They’re the backbone of so much of all fiction (some would say, of all fiction), and the way we choose to read and understand them can tell us so much about the social and cultural world not just that we live in, but that we inherit.

The Crow and I grew up entranced, and sometimes terrified by, the wonderful Storyteller presentations of several European fairytales – if you’ve never seen these, they feature the best beloved John Hurt, and the magical puppetry of the Jim Henson workshop (best known, of course, for Labyrinth). If you pop over to this link, you can find the episode concerning the tale of The True Bride, which is clearly a strain of the same story (Wikipedia tells me it’s the German version of it, which seems logical). We also hugely recommend making a vat of tea and perhaps some biscuits or carrots or whatever you nibble whilst consuming entertainment, and then losing yourself in the entire Storyteller series, which is all available up there. Truly, important stuff.

It won’t have escaped regulars’ notice that East of the Sun, West of the Moon is also the title of the a-ha album we’ve listened to the most during the making of recent boxes, and in light of that here’s a bonus, a daft and poor quality little YouTube clip of the title song because grainy, quiet, daft a-ha are our favourites.

We are asked so often to find magic, to find escape, to find imaginative reads for our subscribers, and the hunt often starts with these oldest tales, from wherever in the world we can find them, and the many ways they’ve strained through time into novels, children’s and adults’ alike, good and bad, thrilling and cautionary. This book is the tip of the iceberg of one of our greatest human traditions, and it also celebrates the collection and preservation of these stories, which, in a tiny way, is also, we like to think, what Prudence and the Crow is all about.

Speaking of which, as February’s been a short month and it’s nice to give people a chance to get a recurring subscription that comes out after the first of the month, we’ll be keeping recurring subscriptions starting with a March box open until 4th March, so, should you wish to join us thus, or to buy a one-off, 3, 6 or 12-month gift subscription for someone, do head over to www.prudenceandthecrow.com and sign up!

Finally, we launched the PatCReadingList Project this month – to further knowledge about what’s been read in schools in our ship-to countries over the last thirty years, we’re calling for recommended reading lists, recollections and core course texts in various ways: hop over to the post for a detailed explanation of what, where, why and how-to! We’ve had some wonderful responses, and the more the very much merrier (esp. Americans – we’d love more from you!), so please do join in, definitely do share the post around (shareable Facebook post here) and, hopefully, we’ll come up with some interesting things to share right back in the future.

We wish you a beautiful and delightful March, for that is what’s next. Happy Leap Day!

~Prudence (and the Crow)

 

Last Night I Dreamt…

young_daphne_du_maurierA couple of words on the January ‘theme’, because it’s always nice to join the dots. Our ‘cover star’ on the inner envelope this month was, as you may have deduced (or will simply now know, if you’re still awaiting arrival, which you may well be, in which case, er, spoilers!) Daphne du Maurier. Born in London in 1907, she died a Dame, in Cornwall, in 1989.

A prolific and fascinating writer, du Maurier’s most famous novel is likely ‘Rebecca’, a much-requested and much-loved regular feature in our questionnaires, which we always enjoy sending out, and if you’ve never read it, it’s the one with the opening line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”, which is the answer to a good many pub quiz questions. Never out of print, Wikipedia gives me the incredible fact that the novel sold 2.8m copies in its first 17 years of publication.

The tie-in to our unusually cinematic postcard is that du Maurier, either famously or surprisingly, depending on whether you already knew it or not, wrote the short story, The Birds, which inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic film of the same name. If you’d like to hear a marvellously 1950’s dramatisation of du Maurier’s short story, I highly recommend the Escape one, from 1954. A fine and wintery tale of fear and panic for a chilly January night. You may wish to close the curtains whilst you listen, if you’re near, well, any birds.

Her novels span the historic, romantic, gothic and pre-modern, but her short stories are even more interesting (to me, at least), and varied. The Guardian kindly reprints her bizarre and long-lost tale, The Doll, which contains lightly disturbing scenes and (mostly implied) sexual content you might not immediately associate with her name. I rather enjoy happening upon collections of her short stories, and it’s always a pleasure to send them out – they appeal to such a wide variety of genres, and contain true gems of atmosphere, imagery and language.

There’s so much more to know and read about du Maurier, I won’t pretend to offer anything more than a starting point here, but she offers a most fascinating and, in true 20th century authorial style, controversial figure. If you’ve yet to enjoy her work, try the links above, and, if you subscribe with us at Prudence and the Crow and would like to read more of it, just drop us a line through our Contact Us page with your name and thoughts, no matter the genre you’re signed up for, and we’ll update your preferences so that at some point, one of her finest will wing its way to you!
All the best for now, and we hope to bring you more of these slightly-themed, slightly-interesting posts as we go along, to make your box last a little longer each month!

Yours,
~ Prudence (and the Crow)