Some things I am thinking about today....
The magic you can hold in your hands....

The wizardry of words

The Book of Kells

Walter Crane

From  One Writer's Beginnings and On Writing by Eudora Welty:

“I live in gratitude to my parents for initiating me--and as early as I begged for it, without keeping me waiting--into knowledge of the word, into reading and spelling, by way of the alphabet. They taught it to me at home in time for me to begin to read before starting school. My love for the alphabet, Walter Cranewhich endures, grew out of reciting it but, before that, out of seeing the letters on the page. In my own story books, before I could read them for myself I fell in love with various winding, enchanted-looking initials drawn by Walter Crane at the head of fairy tales. In 'Once upon a time,' an 'o' had a rabbit running it as a treadmill, his feet upon flowers. When the day came years later for me to see the Book of Kells, all the wizardry of letter, initial, and word swept over me a thousand times, and the illumination, the gold, seemed a part of the world's beauty and holiness that had been there from the start.”

“It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass. Yet regardless of where they come from, I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them -- with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself. Still illiterate, I was ready for them, committed to all the reading I could give them.”

Kate Greenaway

“I read library books as fast as I could go, rushing them home in the basket of my bicycle. From the minute I reached our house, I started to read. Every book I seized on, from Bunny Brown and His Sister Sue at Camp Rest-a-While to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, stood for the devouring wish to read being instantly granted. I knew this was bliss, knew it at the time. Taste isn’t nearly so important; it comes in its own time.”

Kate Greenaway“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.”

"Children, like animals use all their senses to discover the world. Then artists come along and discover it the same way...or now and then we'll hear from an artist who's never lost it.”

William Morris"We do need to bring to our writing, over and over again, all the abundance we possess. To be able, to be ready, to enter into the minds and hearts of our own people, all of them, to comprehend them (us) and then to make characters and plots in stories that in honesty and with honesty reveal them (ourselves) to us, in whatever situation we live through in our own times: this is the continuing job, and it's no harder now than it ever was, I suppose. Every writer, like everybody else, thinks he's living through the crisis of the ages.

"To write honestly and with all our powers is the least we can do, and the most.”

Eurdora Welty

Eudora Welty

Images above: A page from the Book of Kells (ca. 800), An Absurd ABC  by Walter Crane (1845-1915), a decorative letter by Walter Crane (from the fairy tale Brother & Sister), two illustrations from A is for Apples by Kate Greenaway (1846-1901), letters designed by William Morris (1834-1896), and photographs of Eudora Welty (1909-2001) in youth and age.

And don't forget to sample the latest dishes in the Moveable Feasts, links to which can be found on the second page of comments for this post.


The photographs of Eudora Welty show the sad beauty of the patina of age. Wisdom and the physical marks of passing time gathered in equal measure.

As for the beauty of letters and a child (and an adult)I was very slow learner in many fields and didn't learn to read and write properly until I was seven. And because of this, I can still remember the breathless sense of magic when these odd abstract symbols on a page suddenly began to make their sounds in my head! So I suppose with this sense of wonder still echoing in my mind, it was almost inevitable that I would earn at least part of my living as a writer.

I love the beauty of aging faces, and also well-lived in bodies with all their scars and "imperfections," experience mapped on flesh. (I only wish our youth-obsessed media culture did as well.)

Here's another example, Joni Mitchell, in youth and now, and beautiful always:

Joni Mitchell really just improves with the passing years! Her voice has a rounded mellow quality now, and physically she has an almost regal presence. And you're definitely right about our youth-obsessed culture; when will they realise that an unblemished face is simply a blank page waiting for the years to write their stories.

I love this. I've always had a passion for alphabet books and the decorated initial letters in fairy tale books and it's lovely to see the images here - and of course they are related to illuminated manuscripts like the Book of Kells, why didn't I make that connection sooner?!

I also love what she has to say about children and their relationship to stories heard from adults and then read in books. That struck a chord with me, and goes along with so many of the things people have been discussing in the Desiring Dragons feast, finding that love of stories in childhood and nurturing it - or hanging on to it for dear life! - as we grow older.

Eudora Welty is one of those American writers whose name I know but I've never read her. Now I'm intrigued to find out more...

Cynthia, I recommend her first book The Robber Bridegroom which is loosely based on the Grimm fairy tale. It's not necessarily typical of her work but it's my favorite. She writes about life in the American south with a very strong sense of place. My mother, whose family originally came from Mississippi before settling in Canada was a huge Welty fan so I grew up with these books.

How I have missed your wonderful posts (sick three weeks and away in the North woods of Massachusetts recovering for eight days). This one's a beauty in all respects

Welcome back, Michelle. Tilly and I wish you much healing.

"Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.”

Yes! My mother had 4 sisters and when they got together, how I loved hearing my aunties' stories of their childhood and beyond. It was a magic circle that I sat on the fringes of, as for years they teased each other and laughed about some of the less-than-bright things they'd done. It made me feel part of the sorority of women.

I aggree about the beauty of older faces and the tyranny of youth culture. I have been laid up for the past few days with a chest infection and I have been laying in bed thinking about the books of my childhood.I cannot imagine a life that is not coloured by all the characters and stories that must have shaped me, My granfather was a naval man and told me stories of his travels ,I loved to hear about the West Indies ,India,Malta and Gibralter and the ships mascot a monkey who drank a bottle of ink and ruined the captians dress uniform by peeing blue!!!

I too liked these quotes about children and that eager waiting for a story to come out. I'm not sure that ever goes away, for many of us. When I'm at a dull gathering I listen for someone to begin on a story, and then I lean in to catch what I can. And I think I'm not the only one.

But her reflections on that whole-hearted honesty are, to me, even more potent. Something I struggle toward. Good to know I'm not the only one who finds it hard.

I agree. I love that very last line.

What a great monkey story! And I hope you feel better soon. There are so many colds, flues, and other infections making the rounds at this time of year...

My grandmother and great aunts were like that. When they got together, I loved to sit at the edge and just listen.

Eudora Welty is, quite simply, a master. I highly recommend her work; it will reward you many times over.

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