Friday, March 18, 2005

"Book of Sorrows" passage, by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

I was recently rereading one of my favorite books by Walt Wangerin, called "The Book of Sorrows" (the sequel to "The Book of the Dun Cow"). The books are fantasies with allegorical and parable aspects. They tell the story of a rooster called "Chauntecleer" who is lord over the animals of the earth who finds himself engaged in an ongoing battle with evil in the form of "Wyrm" (an insidious evil, as wickedness and sin is in this age). In the pages running up to this passage, John Wesley Weasel (Chauntecleer's warrior and well-loved friend) is going to and fro about the earth searching for animals in need of help, because the world is embraced in a winter so cold the trees have petrified (a winter instigated by Wyrm's hatred of the animals and, especially, Chauntecleer), causing mass starvation. He's searching for these animals, not only to help them, but to help Chauntecleer. John Wesley, in his wisdom, knows that "the gloominesses" Chauntecleer is experiencing are not only from sorrow over friends lost in previous battles to Wyrm, but are a result of all-consuming guilt at his failure to save them. JW hopes that he can help Chauntecleer by providing him with other animals to help, so thus he roams the earth. (The following is one of the loveliest and sweetest passages I've ever read, and I’d like to share it.)

"Busy John Wesley Weasel was racing a long way around the lower apron of a barren moor, exulting in his energy, when one wild sound rang down the mountain and transfixed him.

Lonely, long, and full of anguish was the cry, a bugling that thrilled the Weasel to his loins.

But this was a bitterly empty fastness. This was the haunt of the northern winds. Who?--

The bugling rose up again. Oh, the voices in the wilderness! John Wesley peered to the top of the moor, and there saw a singular Stag with his head thrust toward the sky, his antlers embracing his withers--bugling.

Look at that! One black Stag on the mountainside, declaring himself against the universe!

“Hoopla!” breathed John Wesley at the sight. And he cried out, “Hey!” Here was courage he couldn’t help but respect. Who stands alone against the sky to challenge it? “Hey! Hey! Hey!” the Weasel shouted, darting across the moor and climbing with happy speed. “Hello, you somebody!” John has to meet the one he honors, and that right now. A Weasel of compulsions. Bt that is a Stag of aristocracy! One, maybe two, in all the world. “Hey!”

The Stag saw him coming, dropped his head and didn’t move.

“Is okay!” cried the Weasel. “John, he’s no troubles. He’s a scrapper too, is John.”

Fourteen points, those antlers. Deep-chested, the Creature, and thick in the neck: marvelous. But his eyes were low and suspicious—and he did not move.

John Wesley was seldom in his life caught off guard. But he was taken by the great black Stag and didn’t see the lesser body leap from heath behind him. He was bumped and slithered forward. Up again in two twists, he tightened himself into a defensive posture and hissed, ready to rip a body apart.

“De La Coeur!” shouted the Stag.

A Fawn, a child wide-eyed and terrified, stamped out pitiful hooves in front of the Weasel, presenting her forehead as though it had horns.

This was the enemy?

“De La Coeur!”

Now John was perplexed. He could drop the Fawn with one cut at the fetlock and he told her so: “Lucky punch! Lucky punch!” he warned her. And he said, “Baby!” But she ignored the warning. In spite of her terror she charged him, and he had to scramble backward.

“Don’t hurt Papa!” she cried.

“De La Coeur!” bellowed the Stag.

“Baby!” squealed John Wesley, in the humiliating situation of running from a child, “John just come to say Hello!”

“Don’t hurt Papa!”

“Papas can fend for them own selves!”

“Leave us be!”

“De La Coeur! Lie down!” This was the Stag with final authority, papa and parent, imperious. The Fawn collapsed, so helpless, after all. The Stag said, “He could kill you.”

“Right!” said John Wesley Weasel. “Is stupidnesses to chase John Double-u.” And he sat down as well, to sort things out. “Why-come a baby, she’s fighting for her—“

He looked at the Stag, who still had not moved—and he understood. “Oh, Papa!” he said. And then he said, “Oh, Baby! What courageousness in you!”

This magnificent Buck stood four hooves frozen in a low lake of ice, immobilized and faint from his imprisonment. He couldn’t have defended himself. This dappled daughter of his had meant to protect him, with her life if she had to.

“Oh, Baby!” John Wesley’s heart nearly burst to see such heroism in an infant. The greymoor, peopled with two souls only, was a stage for the drama of defiance; and the Weasel was filled with awe. “John,” he said, “John wouldn’t hurt such fine somebodies, no.” But then, with the next thing he said—which he intended as nothing more than a homely and reassuring compliment—he hurt her anyway. He said, “Your Mama brung you up wondersomely brave.”

The Fawn drew a sudden breath, then turned her head aside and burst into tears.

John Wesley himself was smitten. He could murder Basilisks. But he couldn’t bear to make a baby cry.

“Well. Well. Not brave?” he stuttered. “Not brung up? Not?—“ So strong one minute, so weak the next. Can Weasels ever think up soft words to dry tears? No.

“Her mother, “ whispered the Stag, and his head was low to the ground, “died. She lost her teeth and couldn’t eat. And died.”

“Oh, “ said John Wesley. “Nobodies told me—“

And there matters stood for a long while, till the Fawn’s weeping subsided into quieter sadness.

Well: John should have something for sad Buggars. Sadness wants some action to perk it up. “Well!” said John. “Then here’s the reasons why John came. Yump! To set a fine somebody free.

He etched the ice around the Stag’s hoof, picked a groove there, gnawed the groove, cracked the ice and released that hoof.

“See? Does John want to hurt somebody’s Papa? Nope.”

The Fawn had raised her head to watch him.

He did the same for the second hoof. The great Stag sighed. Gladly, the Weasel attended to the third hoof, too; but while he made his rapid scratches, he felt a warm sensation on his back. He looked up and was immediately discombobulated. The Fawn had crept near and was licking him.

He coughed.

John Wesley Weasel, so skilled in war-craft and belligerence, had never learned how to handle affection. Therefore, he made a savage face and snapped, “Bite your tongue, Baby!” But he who couldn’t convince her that he was good, now could not convince her that he was bad. She dribbled all over him in gratitude, her eyes both moist and close and huge. He swore, but it made no difference. Thundering, rough-cut oaths, but she kept licking him. He fairly attacked the third and fourth hooves, damning the ice, intimidating the ice to speedy water, and the Stag stood free.

But then the great body could not support itself. The Stag toppled and fell—and then John Wesley was saved, because De La Coeur ran to the neck of her father and left him alone.

“Babies!” he said with a whole new meaning.

But the couple looked weak indeed, and he could not leave them merely to feed on one another.

John Wesley took a deep breath and hazarded again the dangers.

Warily he said, “Is Deers, might-be, hungry?”

They gazed at him. They were starving.

“Now, Now, “ he warned, “no thankings John, mind you. No slobberings on a Double-u, who’s a blood warrior, fightings, brawlings, and so forth—.“ He couldn’t stand another attack of sweetness out of the Baby. Nevertheless, he described the Lord-and-General-of-All, praising that Rooster extravagantly as foresighted and full of glory, and he directed both father and daughter south to the food bins and to health. And then he shut up.

The great stag whispered, “Black-Pale-on-a-Silver-Field.”

“What?” said the Weasel.

“It is my name,” said the Stag. “I give it to you whole, as a gift. We will go and find your Rooster.”


“Bloody warrior?” asked the Fawn De La Coeur, from her father’s neck.

John Wesley frowned like battle-axes. “What?”

“Thank you.”

“Spit to thanks.”

So he said. But she kissed him anyway, and the Weasel was gone across the moor like a shot, running on three legs, trying mightily with the fourth to wipe the sweetness from his face.”

(Pages 157-161, Book of Sorrows, by Walt Wangerin)

1 comment:

josie said...

Hey thats really cool; I really like that!