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The Crock of Gold

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James Stephens, The Crock of Gold [London; 1912]

My first, earliest, and maybe deepest love in literature was the cozy British fantasy of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, but I'm much more likely to care about the writers who influenced them than the hundreds and thousands of the writers they influenced whether positively or negatively. I can't recall coming across a reference to James Stephens in the mountains of Lewisiana I consumed between the ages of ten and twenty, but his name's unmemorable enough that it would easily have slipped my notice; in any case, it's hard to imagine that the phantasy-obsessed Ulster-born Clive Staples wouldn't have been all over the most famous Irish fairy-tale novel of the 1910s, and its special brew of folkloric fantasy, vaudevillian repartee, and Yeatsian philosophizing.

I've owned a physical copy of The Crock of Gold for going on twenty years, and only got a few chapters into it before being distracted by other things; now, half a continent away from that stored book collection, I read a scanned public-domain copy on my iPad, a chapter a night, for over a month. It's been a lovely palate-cleanser, especially as set against some of the severer novels I've been reading concurrently. (Stay tuned.)

Part of the reason I abandoned it the first time through was disgust at Stephens' epigrammatic misogyny, more in the tiresome, jollying vein of a music-hall act complaining about the missus than in that of the high-brow Shavian wit he seems to aspire to. Spending a lot of time with 1910s fiction has probably desensitized me there, and I've been able to compartmentalize my reading so that I can appreciate Stephens' droll wit, vaulting imagination, and subterranean socialism despite the sexism; and on a much less articulate level, there are prefigurations of Narnia all over this book, but especially in the back half, and I'll probably never be able to not be thrilled by that.

December 12, 2017