Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Scene from The Golden Key

"Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
 I doubted if I should ever come back." 
~Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

It's interesting how events lead to other events, in real life as well as in the various trains of thought our minds wander upon. This week a story I've been mulling over led me to recall a writer whose works I'd been drawn to many decades ago, George McDonald. McDonald's writings influenced many later writers including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Madeleine L'Engle and W.H. Auden. The two books I found most stimulating were Lilith and The Golden Key. 

In Hollywood a major objective in film making is to create memorable, unforgettable scenes with memorable lines.  We all know why "The Force be with you," is back in vogue. "I'll have what she's having" is, for example, a line that made the restaurant scene in When Harry Met Sally unforgettable.

So when I remembered McDonald's Lilith I immediately went to to order it. At the same time I decided to acquire The Golden Key as well because of a singular scene that takes place late in the story. A moment later I wondered if this particular short fairy tale might actually be online in its entirety. Answer: Yes!

What follows is a scene that long ago moved me. Forty years have passed but the impression it made remained, and I thought to share it here.

For context, the story begins with a boy who lived on the edge of Fairyland who went on a quest, to find the Golden Key at the end of the rainbow. He finds the key, but has been told he cannot sell it and must discover what it opens. In the forest he meets a girl named Tangle who has been abused and run away into the forest of Fairyland. The two continue on this quest together.

At the long last, the stair ended at a rude archway in an all but glowing rock. Through this archway Tangle fell exhausted into a cool mossy cave. The floor and walls were covered with moss-green, soft, and damp. A little stream spouted from a rent in the rock and fell into a basin of moss. She plunged her race into it and drank. Then she lifted her head and looked around. Then she rose and looked again. She saw no one in the cave. But the moment she stood upright she had a marvelous sense that she was in the secret of the earth and all its ways. Everything she had seen, or learned from books; all that her grandmother had said or sung to her; all the talk of the beasts, birds, and fishes; all that had happened to her on her journey with Mossy, and since then in the heart of the earth with the Old man and the Older man--all was plain: she understood it all, and saw that everything meant the same thing, though she could not have put it into words again.

The next moment she descried, in a comer of the cave, a little naked child, sitting on the moss. He was playing with balls of various colors and sizes, which he disposed in strange figures upon the floor beside him. And now Tangle felt that there was something in her knowledge which was not in her understanding. For she knew there must be an infinite meaning in the change and sequence and individual forms of the figures into which the child arranged the balls, as well as in the varied harmonies of their colors, but what it all meant she could not tell. He went on busily, tirelessly, playing his solitary game, without looking up, or seeming to know that there was a stranger in his deep-withdrawn cell. Diligently as a lace-maker shifts her bobbins, he shifted and arranged his balls. Flashes of meaning would now pass from them to Tangle, and now again all would be not merely obscure, but utterly dark. She stood looking for a long time, for there was fascination in the sight; and the longer she looked the more an indescribable vague intelligence went on rousing itself in her mind. For seven years she had stood there watching the naked child with his coloured balls, and it seemed to her like seven hours, when all at once the shape the balls took, she knew not why, reminded her of the Valley of Shadows, and she spoke:--

"Where is the Old Man of the Fire?" she said.

"Here I am," answered the child, rising and leaving his balls on the moss. "What can I do for you?"

* * * *
Like Antoine d Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, it is a story for children of all ages, 4 to 104.

I know not what you seek, but whatever your dream be sure to nurture it that you might have strength to continue on your quest.

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