My friend Elena belongs to one of the local Friends of the Library groups and over the years has called me before each of their book sales. For years I went to every sale and found many great buys. For the last couple of years, however, I have begged off, telling her that I simply have too many books. Well, actually, I hate to admit that I am using so much of my bookshelf space for my miniature settings, but that's the way it is. So, books go; miniatures stay.
Last week she called me about the upcoming sale and once again I said, "No, thanks, Elena - UNLESS you find something really, really special."
Well, did she ever!
On the day of the sale, the doorbell rang and rang and rang, insistently. I couldn't believe somebody could be that rude and was ready to yell at whoever it was for being so impatient. When I opened the door, however, it was Elena, clutching a black leather book and looking as if she'd seen a ghost.
"What in the world....?" I asked.
"Oh, Wanna! You are not going to believe what has just happened to me," she said, carefully placing the book on the coffee table as if it might explode, then throwing herself onto the sofa with a shudder. I poured us coffee and put some cookies on a plate and settled on the loveseat. "So tell me," I said. "What's going on?"
"Well, you know how I like historical fiction. This morning I was making a last minute check of the tables and saw an old black leather book from the early 1900s called The Regiment. So, while I was waiting for them to open the doors for the customers I began reading ....
The captain was not unused to sleeping on bare ground, but he missed the four-poster of his mother's ancestral home. Each night as he wrapped himself in his cloak, he recalled the blissful contentment of sinking into a feather ....
"I swear, Wanna, a FACE began poking up through the pages!"
Hallooooo! Anybody there?
"I didn't get a lot of sleep the night before, thinking about all the last minute details for the book sale, so thought it was probably the result of that, or maybe indigestion from the huevos rancheros I had for breakfast. So, I kept reading."
... His regiment of Her Britannic Majesty's Service had its headquarters nearby, where a cousin was commander-in-chief of the forces stationed there, which made it much easier to secure a furlough ....
I say! The unaccustomed light is hurting my eyes, so someone must be reading this. Can you HEAR me?
"Well, then, I began to doubt that it was my restless night because I thought I heard ...."
... He had passed the first night of his journey deep in the heart of a magnificent forest, enjoying the scenery, but aware that such a wild place was also likely to harbor bandits ....
Stop! Don't turn the pages quickly like that!
"... a VOICE! And then I knew it wasn't indigestion, either! "
... It wasn't a bandit he met, however, but a great shambling bear, "Ursus Styriacus," ....
"At that point, I just froze, with the book open in front of me and that agonized face talking to me through the pages ..."
Wait! Please! Don't close the book. You MUST listen to me! I'm in this blasted story, trapped, and I’m not even one of its characters! Help!
Bless you, sir or madam, for hesitating. Just one moment; give me one moment! Please; I just need someone to hear my story.
You'll listen, but get on with it? Oh, my most fervent thank you. Yes, yes, I will tell you speedily.
Well, it began this way.
The author of this book has a very fertile imagination. Anyone who has read his previous works knows that he writes multi-generational stories that require family trees at the beginning to keep all the characters straight. Well, sometimes he doesn't keep them all straight, you know? There are so many potential characters in his head all the time that sometimes it just becomes overwhelming.
You don't understand? Well, I don't really know how to explain it because it is quite a mystery to me as well..
No, wait! Don't close the book! No! Just give me a little more time.
As I was saying, when he began this story, the writer decided to keep it to only two generations this time, leaving quite a few characters behind in his head. I, of course, was a person from an earlier time, a more mythological time. You have noticed my pointed ears, have you not? Well, as anyone can plainly see, I do not belong in a story about a captain in Her Britannic Majesty's Service. But somehow, another character who has had a grudge against me for some time because I wasn't interested in her advances, cast a spell on me, and ...
What? Who was she? She was another character in the author's head, a sorceress, also from an earlier time, and upset that I didn't want to be with her. Well, she made sure I wouldn't be around at all. She cast a spell so that I was imprisoned within this book without the writer's knowledge or my consent, a mere spectator caught between the pages - and not even a character in the story!
Why aren't the others wanting out? Because they're all part of the story; I'm in limbo here.
For how long? Well, it's been many years, but I really don't know how to calculate the passage of time, other than to be aware of a brittleness of the paper and the deterioration of the page edges. I've also noticed a certain black speckling on some pages, too, and frankly, the leather has a bit of a musty smell, ....
Oh, sorry. Yes, I know your time for recreational reading is limited. Well, as I was saying, the sorceress's curse was that I had to stay in here until someone listened to my entire story.
You simply cannot imagine how terrible it's been, here in the dark for long stretches of time, with the weight of that heavy leather cover pressing, pressing down....
Haven't others read the book over the years? Well, several have tried. But they were so startled when they began to read and saw me pressing up through the pages, that they slammed it shut before I could tell my story. Consequently the book has never been read in its entirety, and NO ONE has ever heard my entire story, which is the only way I can escape her spell.
I am so tired of the adventures of this rather self-absorbed young captain. I've been wandering back and forth through this book, cover to cover, watching listlessly while he encounters another villain, narrowly escapes the Black Plague, wrestles with his conscience. If I never hear another "Yes, sir; yes, Your Majesty," or see another simpering young girl batting her eyelashes and heaving her bosom, I will be eternally grateful.
I want to go other places, other than the places I’ve gone in this book, and they're not even real. Oh, I want to smell real loamy soil and decaying leaves, not the mildewing smell of decaying paper, and to be able to walk through a real forest, not something flat on the pages like the interminable forest in this book.
If I get out, maybe I can continue living. Surely there's some place in the real world for a person with pointy ears. Can't someone help me come out into the light?
I know in your world that people often use books to escape reality, but I want just the opposite. I want reality so I can escape this book.
No, please, please. Wait, wait, let me finish, please.
Don't close ....
"WHAT!?" I cried. "You slammed the book? You only had to listen to his story and you left him IN THERE?"
"Well, my goodness, Wanna. How did I know he wouldn't leap out and attack me or something?"
"Oh, good grief! Give me that book!" I said, and took it from her.
"If you insist on doing this, I'm leaving," she said, rising hurriedly and grabbing her purse. "I don't have an adventurous spirit like you do and I don't want to have to explain anything to the police or Immigration or anything. You can email me later and let me know what happened."
"Bye, Elena, and thanks," I said, walking her to the door. "It's been a bit boring around here lately and I've been needing something to read."
I shut the door quickly, poured myself another cup, reached for a cookie, and began to read ....
The captain was not unused to sleeping on bare ground, ...
And I finished the entire book and I let him tell his entire story. And that's how that little pointy-eared fellow got first to El Paso and then to FairyLand. I don't think I ever had a more fervent hug and Thank You in my life!
Mother Goose tells me she has never seen anyone happier or more cooperative. "Wanna, I was so glad you called me about him. He's taken Fior's place in the Fairyland Nursery after Fior got his farrier's license."
Last I heard, in his free time our pointy eared friend has been seen frequently in the FairyLand Forest, stopping to run dirt through his fingers and smelling the trees.
How this convoluted story within a story within a story came to be is about as confusing to explain as it was to write.
It all began with an email from Barbara Brear of South Africa, who makes beautiful miniature printed books and had once ordered some of my miniature book covers. She wrote me, paraphrasing, "I'm wondering, Wanna, if you could write a story for me about a pointy-eared fellow who gets trapped somehow in a book. The book has a face coming up through the cover, and your story of how he got there will be actually printed inside. I want to contribute something for the Guild Auction, and will make only three of these miniature books with the character trapped inside, one to sell, one for me, and one for you."
After a great deal of thought and angst, I figured out how to do it, got the story written and sent to Barbara, who had it printed within the miniature book (shown in the photo at the top of this page). It was sold in the 2008 auction of the Miniaturia Guild of Cape Town, South Africa. Recently she sent my copy, covered in leather and with the entire story printed inside. It is a real treasure, and I really enjoyed our collaboration.
At that time, the story ended for Barbara with the SLAM! of the book, keeping the character still trapped inside.
HOWEVER, I just couldn't stand to think of that poor fellow endlessly wandering back and forth until the book rotted away and turned to dust. So after much more thought and angst I finally figured out that adding the literary frame of Elena's visit for these pages would allow me to let him escape.
I just hope you understand, because I'm still not sure I understand this.
All I know is, somehow I managed to have him pop out into my living room, and Mother Goose arranged for him to get to FairyLand.