15 Jan 2010

A little story

“Well,” said Hilary briskly, “what are we going to do?”…

...He thought back over his own childhood, wondering how he had then filled wet afternoons, but could only think of painting and jig-saws and meccano and picture-books, all occupations that presupposed a tended child that had received many presents. Then he remembered something else and suggested, “Shall I tell you a story?”

“Oh, yes,” said Jean emphatically. Hilary asked jealously, “Who else tells you stories?” “Sometimes Sister Clothilde tells us about the little saints,” Jean explained. “I love stories.” His face was shining with expectant delight.

“I don’t know any stories about little saints,” said Hilary, trying hard to remember what he himself had enjoyed when he was five. I have a horrible feeling it was Winnie-the-Pooh, he thought, but I’m damned if I’m going to introduce any child to that type of whimsicality. He started to wonder how far a parent could be justified in refusing to allow his child pictures or writings that he as an adult must condemn on aesthetic grounds – and was recalled by Jean pulling gently at his sleeve and urging, “Please do begin.”

With sudden relief Hilary remembered little Red Riding Hood. “Once upon a time,” he began, “there was a little girl – “and as he told the story he and the boy looked into each other’s eyes, both of them absorbed in the story and in each other.

Jean was an admirable child to tell stories to. He was obviously and palpably enthralled. His big eyes widened at each apprehension, at the climax his hand reached out blindly to clutch Hilary’s sleeve, and even when the story was finished he still sat motionless, staring thoughtfully at Hilary.

“What did you think of the story?” Hilary asked.
“Monsieur,” said Jean, “did the little girl’s father love her?”
“Oh, yes,” said Hilary with assurance.
“And her mother?”
“Certainly,” said Hilary.
“Then why,” said Jean, his forehead wrinkled, “Did they let her go and meet the wolf?”

Marghanita Laski in Little Boy Lost, 1950


  1. What a lovely living book! Are you currently reading this at the moment? What subject does it come under? xxx

  2. That reminds me of our recent time in the ER - seven hours without a book and Max requesting story after story. I searched my mind for every one I could think of, mostly childhood anecdotes.

    I recently read in CM's writings that fathers and mothers should have a repertoire of stories - "a dozen will do" and that they are more important than books in the first five or six hears of life. Her take is they are better for a child's "digestion" and offer more scope for their imagination to grow upon.

  3. Sarah, I have just finished this lovely old book. It is literature for mums, not kids. I'll try and write a review next week.

  4. Childhood anecdotes are the best, aren't they!! Jemimah loves hearing about her Daddy's childhood. She also loves our 'love story' - how we met, what we were wearing, what we did at the wedding...

    He is much better at telling them than I am. Perhaps I should work at getting up my dozen.

  5. Ny kids always loved the how you met and when we were born stories, too! Now that I have grandchildren, I am raking over my oral stories. Many of those tales we grew up on have pretty gruesome endings, do you remember? Like being thrown into the oven a la Hansel and Gretel. I agree with Jean, why would parents let their little girl meet the wolf in the first place?!!!


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