Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Rocking Horse Land

Rocking Horse Land
Laurence Houseman (1894)

This is a Victorian fairytale, in some ways more modern than the popular ones that we're used to hearing. It's about a young prince who gets a very special rocking horse on his birthday. He rides and cares for the horse during the day but at night sets him free to return to his home in Rocking Horse Land. The horse promises to return each morning as long as the prince promises to set him free each night. As the boy grows older, he forgets to set the rocking horse free and the horse is greatly saddened by the prince's broken promises. The prince is overwhelmed with guilt and decides to let the horse return to Rocking Horse Land for good, wishing only for the horse's true happiness.Years later, the prince is now a king and buys a rocking horse for his son. This rocking horse is the son of the king's old horse. So the king tells his son the story of his own rocking horse, bidding him to guard the new one well and to be a kind and thoughtful master to him. (Art by: Katherine & Elizabeth Pope)

Here's a caption from the very beginning of the story:

"Prince Fredolin woke up, both eyes at once, and sprang out of bed into the sunshine. He was five years old that morning...His fairy godmother had sent him a toy with the most humorous effect. It was labelled, 'Break me and I shall turn into something else'. So every time he broke it he got a new toy more beautiful than the last. It began by being a hoop, and from that it ran on, while the Prince broke it incessantly for the space of one hour, during which it became by turn--a top, a Noah's ark, a skipping-rope, a man-of-war, a box of bricks...and nine hundred and fifty other things exactly. Then he began to grow discontented because it would never turn into the same thing again, and after having broken the man-of-war he wanted to get it back again; also he wanted to see if the steam-engine would go inside the Noah's Ark, but the toy would never be two things at the same time either. This was very unsatisfactory. He thought his fairy godmother ought to have sent him two toys, out of which he could make combinations." (From: The Victorian Fairy Tale Book. Hearn, Michael Patrick; pg. 319. Pantheon Books, 1988.)

Although they were historically repressed as a culture, the Victorians didn't hold back in fostering a new era of fairytales. Rocking Horse Land is an enchanting tale and my summary hardly does it justice. It's basically a story about growing up, letting go of childhood and irreversible change. Though I loved reading about the boy and his rocking horse, the passage above is what struck my fancy the most. In the story, the rocking horse is the last present that the boy sees on his birthday but he is first entirely distracted by the gift from his fairy godmother.

This gift intrigues me. Who would not jump at the chance to have a toy that could be all toys? It's like the Everlasting Gobstopper of playthings! (The irony that he has to "break" the toy in order to get a new one is not lost on me, and imagine purposefully breaking your toys!) Ah, but all things have limitations and soon the prince is dissatisfied with his magical bauble--arguably more frustrated than he would have been with a regular toy. Even in fairy tales it's human to want more. It reminds me of modern trends in technology--tiny gadgets that can do all things with no need for a computer, radio, phone, TV and electric shaver. I wonder when we'll get to the point of our own dissatisfaction.

The story isn't just about being a kind person and keeping promises, it's about change, and the fairy's gift is a symbol of change. After he breaks the toy it can never be the same thing again and can never be two things at once. We ourselves go through so many persona and become different people at various stages of our lives. We can never really be our childhood selves again and although we harbor a love and nostalgia for the things and activities of our youth, or recount the glory days of college, they cannot be reclaimed. Once it's gone, it's gone for good--we can only be happy with who we are now and optimistic about who we'll be next.

And that's what I have to say about with it as you wish.

and it started in earnest...

a restless longing for better circumstances

Through all of my fictional wanderings and adventures of the written word, I've often landed on glimpses of how life could be if things of fantasy were truly possible (or if I worked harder, saved more and exercised frequently).

I would probably be content to live my entire life behind the ancient bindings of books, but I know it cannot be. Reality is overrated, but fairy tales, ah, they are blankets for the soul. However, fairy tales would not be so resilient and resonate with so many if they did not teach us something about reality. So, this will be my wish list--an outlet to examine all the 'what-ifs' that fantasy inspires. A place in reality to find contentment, and a place to jot down the fancies that are found in books... so that I don't forget them.

This will be the place to catch all of my stumbling ideas and reactions to the many (many, many) stories that occupy the world. And maybe in the midst of it all, a pattern will emerge and I'll learn something about what it's like to simply be, reality or none.