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Check Out My Tabs Above - All about books and about people with a passion for reading and writing books in all their forms - old and new. Books as love affairs, memories, surprises, identification and physical entities are part of the passion.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

King of The Golden River -That First Special Book

Today, in a lifetime of reading what must be thousands of books I’ve learned that books are not just paper and card, they’re parcels of ideas wrapped in words and images pulsing with a concrete magic that draws you back time and again.

I first experienced that unique feeling with a little book called King of The Golden River by John Ruskin. The book was small, with a blue bound cover with a golden N on the spine - the imprimatur of Nelson the publishers,

Nine years old, in a new strange school in a new new town, mourning my father and very confused, I landed in the lugubrious care of a tall, bony, spinster teacher who did not believe in ‘relevant literature’ for scruffy working class kids so she read to us Keats , Dickens and bits of Shakespeare. She had this long cupboard in the corner of the room and if we were good we could choose our own books from there, keep them in our desks and read them privately to ourselves. Ourselves!

I chose this small blue book with the letter N on the spine, I read and re-read Ruskin’s elaborate fairyvtale about three brothers who live in a wonderful valley - two brothers greedy and destructive, the youngest Gluck, humble and kind. The valley is destroyed the destructive older brothers but the kindness and courage of the youngest brother.leads to a magical replenishment of the valley. The brothers don’t benefit from this as by then have been turned to stone.

I read this book many times in that first hard year. I had no idea that i was reading well above my age. I had no idea that it was a moral fable intended to feed my imagination and teach me the values of living a life of virtue. Ruskin – a moralist in the enlightened Victorian traditions - first wrote this tale for twelve year old Effie who later became his wife.

Much, much later, I learned that - a man of his time - Ruskin held that to educate of the imagination, developing the ability to feel, to empathise was central to evolution of tbmoral human being.

But Ruskin’s high falutin’ principles and the challenges of his style went straight over my troubled nine-year -ld head., I just loved the story, the wonderful woodcut illustrations, the well wrought, exciting flow of the words. I recognised this book’s intrinsic beauty and identified with young Gluck who made the golden river flow again – with the help of the King, of course.

I have this edition of the book on my shelves, having found it in an Oxfam shop forty years after I held it in my desk like treasure in that strange school. This is the book I went back and back to, the book that set me on the road to being a voracious reader – and,most probably, a writer …

If you’re wondering what it’s all about here are a couple of extracts from

The King of The Golden River

‘…The mug was a very odd mug to look at. The handle was formed of two wreaths of flowing golden hair, so finely spun that it looked more like silk than metal, and these wreaths descended into, and mixed with, a beard and whiskers of the same exquisite workmanship, which surrounded and decorated a very fierce little face, of the reddest gold imaginable, right in the front of the mug, with a pair of eyes in it which seemed to command its whole circumference …"

‘… It was the most extraordinary looking little gentleman he had ever seen in his life. He had a very large nose, slightly brass-coloured, and expanding towards its termination into a development not unlike the lower extremity of a key bugle; his cheeks were very round, and very red, and might have warranted a supposition that he had been blowing a refactory fire for the last eight-and-forty hours; his eyes twinkled merrily through long silky eyelashes, his moustaches curled twice round like a corkscrew on each side of his mouth, and his hair, of a curious mixed pepper-and-salt colour, descended tar over his shoulders. He was about four-feet-six in height, and wore a conical pointed cap of nearly the same altitude, decorated with a black feather some three feet long. His doublet was prolonged behind into something resembling a violent exaggeration of what is now termed a "swallow tail," but was much obscured by the swelling folds of an enormous black, glossy-looking cloak, which must have been very much too long in calm weather, as the wind, whistling around the old house, carried it clear out from the wearer's shoulders to about four times his own length .’

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