Thursday, June 4, 2015

Nothing but sane and moonshot water - what is it like to be Grandfather Trout?

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.


  1. i've never read LITTLE,BIG, but it sounds like a hoot from the under side perspective. meaning, as i do, looking at the situation from the other side of the reality wall. or just playing with same to the greatest extreme possible. have you ever read the zimiamvia trilogy by eddison? that's about as far out as i've ever traveled, except for my own creations. looking at what i just wrote, i don't think it means anything; oh well...

  2. I have only - merely - read The Worm Ourobouros, but Pykk, linked above, has read the Zimiamvia books. How funny that you mention them. Yes, far out, that's how they sound.

  3. That's a great throwaway reference to Alice; I wouldn't have noticed it but would have loved the idea nevertheless.

  4. The book has a number of images hidden in it. Or just a few and I caught them all, but I bet many and I missed them.

  5. Here is my simple-minded reaction to everything you have written here: Writers worth their salt allow us to imagine different realities (truths), even those of the fish, but we are sobered in our realization that we are probably unable to understand our own realities (truths), so our reading -- if we are alert -- reminds of the many ironies involved in realities and truths, and our smug self-satisfaction with ourselves is shocked into different realities (truths). Too simple? Yeah, that's what I thought.

  6. The Rackham is one I caught, although perhaps because Crowley mentions it specifically somewhere. That picture sure does fit the novel. I suspect there are more Rackham images hidden in the book.

    RT - yes, that seems reasonable, to the extent that I understand you. Art ought to move a person outside of himself sometimes. Into an imaginary fish or what have you.

  7. "Different states of the world" in that the worlds within the world of the book are book-worlds, and the presence of the fish is an introduction from one to the other; he's also conducting the reader from the fictional-mimicked-real world of houses by forests into the fictional-mimicked-magical world of spells and curses, and re-making the point that they are next to and on top of one another, and intersecting, and indivisible: he is entirely a gate because everything is.

    1. ("Within," and also outside the world of the book, are book-worlds, so that he, and everything, is a corridor leading out of Little, Big into some other volume, a two-way leakage.)

  8. (And I could see, so clearly in my mind, the place where the Trout was described like that, even the size of the paragraph and the position on the screen, but when I look afterwards it isn't there. I don't know where it was.)

    Eddison uses meaning-shifting magic names as well -- his "Mercury" is Mercury even though it isn't -- though in his case he was (so I read somewhere) drawing on characters and places he'd invented for his private stories when he was a child. So the conflation might have been a little boy's conflation, and the adult brought it back again and put it to work, which makes me wonder what the Vivian Girls prose book would have been if Henry Darger had somehow woken out of his reclusiveness and constructed a version that was not over fifteen thousand pages long.

  9. I suppose this is why August is given a choice of worlds at the end. As the gateway, he his spent all of that time between worlds.

    His first appearance is the first leak of the fairy world into the real or vice versa, when the unprepared reader says, wait, Grandfather Trout is not just a name, but a fish?

    I figure "gateway" was there, once you pointed it out, maybe even before. I have wondered that about Darger myself, although more prosaically - I wonder how good he really was, so I need something more conventional by which to judge him. But an artist like that, if he is more conventional he no longer exists.