Somewhere at Wuthering Expectations – I suppose in a post about Puck of Pook’s Hill, Pykk claims to have seen “the Trout from Little, Big being described as a gateway between different states of the world, which is true,” which is not true, I mean that I or someone else used the word “gateway” or something like it, or mentioned states of the world, but is true if books are different states of the world and repeated elements and borrowings serve as ways to move among them. So, true, and certainly true of Grandfather Trout.
“Suppose one were a fish,” Crowley writes, much like Richard Jefferies had written a century earlier in “Mind under Water.”
Fish-dreams are usually about the same water they see when they’re awake, but Grandfather Trout’s were not. So utterly other than trout-stream were his dreams, yet so constant were the reminders of his watery home before his lidless eyes, that his whole existence became a matter of supposition. Sleepy suppositions supplanted one another with every pant of his gills. (Book 1, Ch. IV, “Suppose One Were a Fish”)
Since the fish is a fictional character, his doubts are warranted. This particular fish is uncertain if he even is a fish. He is perhaps a victim of a curse. Perhaps someday he will be freed from the curse.
That however truly a satisfied fish he might appear to be, or however reluctantly accustomed to it he had become, that once-on-a-time a fair form would appear looking down into the rainbow depths, and speak words she had wrested from malign secret-keepers at great cost to herself, and with a strangulating rush of waters he would leap – legs flailing and royal robes drenched – to stand before her panting, restored, the curse lifted, the wicked fairy weeping with frustration. At the thought a sudden picture, a colored engraving, was projected before him on the water: a bewigged fish in a high-collared coat, a huge letter under his arm, his mouth gaping open. In air. At this nightmare image (from where?) his gills gasped and he awoke momentarily; the shutters shot back. All a dream. For a while he gratefully supposed nothing but sane and moonshot water.
I could not find a colored version of the Tenniel picture, sadly. Please note that Grandfather Trout has misremembered the position of the letter. Little, Big has barely begun at this point. The lifting of the curse takes place 530 pages later in my edition, but offscreen, so to speak. Why write it out twice?
In the meantime, the fish sleeps and dreams and eats mosquitos, “the endless multiplication of those tiny drops of bitter blood.”
I had thought about working more on the prose of Little, Big, the best descriptions and metaphors and details, applied to more conventional objects than a talking fish; “my models were Dickens and Flaubert and Nabokov,” says Crowley, and it shows, not just in the sentences, but in the patterning, the little gateways that lead from scene to scene parallel to or against the movement of the plot. The hard stuff in the art of fiction. I’ve been writing about the easy stuff.
The “Suppose One Were a Fish” section of Little, Big is for some reason available, for $30, as a poster.