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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Brief new world in Aldous - Gift 1944 - Crows of Pearblossom

illustrations for Aldous Huxley’s The Crows of Pearblossom

The Crows of Pearblossom was penned for Olivia de Haulleville, Aldous Huxley’s niece, as a Christmas gift in 1944, more than a decade after the resounding success of Brave New WorldAldous Huxley (July, 26 1894–November 22, 1963). Never published in his lifetime.

Sure, not the greatest book for children, but there you have it: Aldous Huxley revisited. Feel free to listen quietly and then ran off to do something else. Still wish I owned a copy, though. 

It was published as a young reader in 1967, after Huxley’s death, with illustrations by Barbara Cooney.
Later, Illustrator  Sophie Blackall   recreated another version (Abrams, March 2011).
  • A rattlesnake eats every one of Mrs. Crow's eggs ...
  • until Old Man Owl hatches an idea to solve the problem

The story is been qualified as wonderful, bizarre, terrifying, deeply problematic, funny, disturbing... or
A brave old world of beautiful art and subtle undertones of misogyny. LiteraryJukebox
Judge (for) yourself!
 Mr. and Mrs. Crow, whose eggs never hatch because the Rattlesnake living at the base of their tree keeps eating them. After the 297th eaten egg, the hopeful parents set out to kill the snake and enlist the help of their friend, Mr. Owl, who bakes mud into two stone eggs and paints them to resemble the Crows’ eggs. Upon eating them, the Rattlesnake is in so much pain that he beings to thrash about, tying himself in knots around the branches. Mrs. Crow goes merrily on to hatch “four families of 17 children each,” using the snake “as a clothesline"..

special discussion of Aldous Huxley’s only book written for children (23/11/2013). 

The story begins simply with the line, “Once upon a time there were two crows who had a nest in a cottonwood tree at Pearblossom,” but very quickly introduces the sinister presence of a snake who lives in a “hole at the bottom” of the same tree.
Most of the time he slept but every afternoon punctually at half past three, he used to crawl out of his hole, climb the tree and look into the crow’s nest.
The Crows of Pear Blossom -- look here
Huxley goes on to say that every afternoon,while Mrs. Crow was off buying groceries, the snake would look in the crow’s nest for an egg, which he would then eat.  Then he would crawl back into his hole and go to sleep again.
The story story continues:
When Mrs. Crow came back from the store where she went every afternoon to buy her groceries she would find the nest empty. “What can have happened to my darling little egg?” she would say as she hunted high and low.
This goes on for some time. One day, Mrs. Crow returns a little earlier than usual and catches him in the act.
“Monster!” she cried.  “What are you doing?”
The snake slithers back into his hole and Mrs. Crow tearfully explains the situation to her husband when he comes home. Mrs. Crow wants her husband to kill the snake, but her husband is reluctant. He decides to go see the owl.  “His ideas are very good,” he says.
The Crows of Pearblossom -- sad crow reporting
Mr. Crow goes off to see Old Man Owl. “Come in Abraham,” Old Owl says.  “Excuse me being in bedroom slippers.”
So Mr. Crow shares the story of how the snake has eaten hundreds of his wife’s eggs, and Old Man Owl comes up with a plan to fool the snake with some carefully painted clay eggs, which they spend a few pages fashioning. The owl and the crow dry the clay eggs on the chimney of a neighbor’s house. I love this dialogue:
“What color are your wife’s eggs?” asked Old Man Owl.
“Pale green,” said Mr. Crow.  “with small black spots.”
“Well, it’s lucky that Siggy has been doing some painting around the place,” said Old Man Owl.  
The Crows of Pear Blossom -- chimney

When Mr. Crow and Old Man Owl return, Mrs. Crow demands to know which one of them will kill the snake. When they tell her that neither one plans to do it, she says, quite dramatically:
…then must two hundred and  ninety-seven of my darling eggs disappear down that vile serpents’s throat? Must my heart go on being broken, day after day, forever?”
Mr. Crow tells his wife that she talks too much.  “Keep your beak shut and get out of your nest,” he says. Dialogue like this clearly dates the book, but I’m not going to launch into a feminist analysis just yet. The story itself is problematic enough, as you shall soon see.
The next afternoon, while Mrs. Crow is off shopping again, the snake slithers up and eats the clay eggs. He is very proud of his sly trick, and he even sings a little song about his cleverness. Soon enough, however, he begins to feel sick, tying himself up in knots around the branches of the cottonwood tree. The text, again:

The  Crows of Pearblossom -- SophiaAnd he twisted and turned so much that without knowing what he was doing, he tied his neck in a running bowline knot around a branch and couldn’t get loose again.  But his tail was still free, and he went on lashing about with that.
The excruciating pain continues, and the snake coils himself into such “complicated convulsions” that his tail gets knotted around another branch of the tree. Mrs. Crow returns and gives him a very long “lecture on the wickedness of eating other people’s eggs.”
Both illustrations (Cooney and Blackall) here are just marvelous, breathing even more life into these characters than Huxley has already done with the text.  
The Crows of Pearblossom -- clotheslineBelow is the last page of the book, with the dead snake hanging from the tree. I looked at this picture for a very long time.  
The picture of the dead snake hanging on the line is particularly chilling — you can almost feel the weight of his limp body.

Since that time, Mrs. Crow has successfully hatched out four families of seventeen children each. 
And she uses the snake as a clothesline on which to hang the little crows’ diapers.
PS: Sophie Blackall talks about her illustrations

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