The First Spring Day

by Christina Rossetti

I wonder if the sap is stirring yet,
If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate,
If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun
And crocus fires are kindling one by one:
Sing, robin, sing;
I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring.

I wonder if the springtide of this year
Will bring another Spring both lost and dear;
If heart and spirit will find out their Spring,
Or if the world alone will bud and sing:
Sing, hope, to me;
Sweet notes, my hope, soft notes for memory.

The sap will surely quicken soon or late,
The tardiest bird will twitter to a mate;
So Spring must dawn again with warmth and bloom,
Or in this world, or in the world to come:
Sing, voice of Spring,
Till I too blossom and rejoice and sing.

A rare find

Many people know the 2008 movie The Secret of Moonacre, which is very loosely based on The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge and, though a popular film, a less than adequate adaptation. But there has been another one: the series Moonacre from 1994, starring Camilla Power as Maria Merryweather, who is known to Friends of Narnia as Jill Pole in the BBC adaptation of The Silver Chair.

I have been looking for episodes of this series, but, until yesterday, never found one. Now I have found the first episode, uploaded on YouTube just a few weeks ago, and while it is far from perfect, it does have its own charm.

There is no Wiggins, which is a pity, and Maria has a cute but somehow misplaced little brother. Sir Benjamin is too gloomy and serious, and the parson shows up much too soon. Wrolf is a lovely wolfhound, though in all fairness it would have been quite a challenge for a television production from the 90s to include a lion, no matter if real or animated. We all know the wonderful animatronic Aslan from the BBC version of Narnia, but that worked so well because it is made quite clear that he is a lion—it would be odd indeed to call a visibly false lion a dog.

All those flaws aside, this first episode has really captured the mood of the story, the gothic novel turned fairy tale, through a curious orphan girl called Maria who grows as she helps others grow, just like Mary in The Secret Garden. The brightness and warmth, and the blue and the night, of the Sun Merryweathers and the Moon Merryweathers, is captured surprisingly well, and Maria’s room is gorgeous. But most of all, I am delighted by the inclusion of the parson and the village and its people, and by the way all characters, at least those seen so far, are treated with respect.

As it is, my suspicions that there is no truly adequate adaptation of The Little White Horse have now been confirmed, but I am glad to have learned that one is close enough in its beauty and charm.

Of course, you can watch it for yourself. 🌙

On a random note

I used to think it a pity that while The Little White Horse got two adaptations, Elizabeth Goudge’s other novels (safe for Green Dolphin Country) got none, and technically I still think so, but now I also think we really need another adaptation of The Little White Horse.

One that doesn’t suddenly disappear, and one that actually gets the book right.

I want a Christian (or in this respect very tolerant and sensible) director and screenwriter. No, seriously, I want it to be a piece of Christian media in the same way that The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings are. In a good way. And I mean in a really good and sensible way, not a sort of low budget production from a vaguely cult-ish American production firm nobody ever heard about and that also includes “Christian” things that were never intended by the author (that is, sadly, the downside of a certain kind of Christian media).

I want all the things included that don’t fit the mainstream Hollywood taste—the “middle aged love” as a Guardian article once called it, the blend of history and faith, the creative approach to magic, the way the backstory really works. I want all the characters to really look the way they were described in the book, I want a fat and jolly Benjamin, and a Puck- or Peter Pan-like Robin, I want the parson and the villagers, and Miss Heliotrope as a serious character, and Marmaduke Scarlet as a mysterious character, and all the little animals. I want the writers to understand that the characters are not separated into the categories “dark and mysterious” and “comic relief”. And I want Maria to be flawed and grow as a character.

I want all the odd and strange and silly aspects played straight. Wrolf is not a black dog who magically turns into a lion, he is a big golden lion that is somehow accepted by everyone to be a dog. The pink geraniums are a very, very important plot point. Maria’s spiritual connection to the very real boy Robin is an important part of their relationship.

I want the movie, from an aesthetic point of view, to be the ultimate dream fantasy of your average little girl. Pretty dresses, pony riding, lots of glorious food, flowers, enchanted rooms, the whole of it all. But I want the spiritual and emotional themes to be addressed in a very mature, serious manner, and with all the depth of the book. No toning down. None of that terrible business of children’s book adaptations making the tone darker and more mature, and the themes and values sillier and easier.

We need that. I think, in some ways this really might work better nowadays than just a few years ago: the cottagecore trend could help with the style, and older romantic couples are slowly and steadily becoming more acceptable again. A mini series might work better than a movie-they usually do—but I think a movie could capture it neatly, too.

Sally Eliot, née Adair of Damerosehay

Like all only children, she was in some ways too old for her age, and in other ways too young; she still fell over material things as though she were fifteen, but immaterial things, such as friendships, the griefs of little children, the desires of men and the jealousies of women, she handled with an instinctive sensitiveness that a woman fo thirty-five could not have bettered.

As a Matter of Fact

Georgette Heyer’s romances are particularly good, because:

  1. she did meticulous research and applied it very elegantly, making her books historically very accurate without info dumping,
  2. her prose is very witty and funny, and it reminds one of writings from the early 19th century without imitating it,
  3. her heroines all have agency and strong characters, but in a realistic way for their time,
  4. all books have plots/stories beyond the romance and could carry themselves equally well as comedies, mysteries, swashbucklers, etc.,
  5. both romantic leads always have independent characters, relationships and interests beyond their romances,
  6. there is no sex but more sexual tension than in most novels with sex,
  7. very good side characters who lead their own lives and could very well work as “heroes of another story” rather than just extras,
  8. good balance of trademark style and variety,
  9. bold use of various relationship dynamics for her main couples and outside of that, rather than the usual will-they-won’t-they,
  10. pets, kids, funny relatives, etc. to give a very complete, fun feeling to the whole story and as common ground for heroine and hero.

On reading comprehension

There are so many posts online claiming that decent reading comprehension and critical thinking would cause a reader to interpret all sorts of things into writing that were never intended to be there, and would also cause them to have a negative opinion of any book they read.

But in my experience, and with the many bad reviews I have read, and annoying discussions I have participated in, only show that in most cases, the opposite is true. The amount of nonsense people read into books, and false claims they make while discussing them beggars all belief.

I have read numerous reviews that describe and criticize things that never appeared in the books in meticulous detail. I have argued with people whose interpretation of the author’s intentions and the characters’ actions are so unfounded that it makes one wonder if they have ever learned to read or think. I have seen people run down books based on aspects of them they have made up themselves.

And it’s not only a matter of (a lack of) formal education—many people who act as though being an English major were somehow their identity can hardly understand even a simple text. And reading is, after all is (and should be!) a widespread interest, and accessible and available for everyone.

The real problem lies with the individual approach to reading, the way many readers decide what would happen in a book beforehand, and the arrogant conviction that one could break down an individual literary work into a simple set of tropes, upon which to decide whether a book is good or bad, problematic or not.

And people often find exactly what they are convinced to dislike in a book, and, given the chance, often choose the most negative interpretation.

And because of all this, actually learning to read properly is important. Not only to know when a blue curtain means depression, but also when it doesn’t, and not only to know when a story is terrible and problematic, but also when it isn’t, and not only to know that when a pleasant story is actually only shallow and stupid, but also when it actually is good.