The Little White Horse

Lately, my husband and I have been reading aloud together The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.   A strange choice for an alpha male you might think.  It came about Little White Horselate one night at the end of a road trip.  We were talking about favorite childhood books and I began telling him the story, describing how many times I’d read it, how much it had meant to me.  Two weeks later the book arrived in the mail with a note saying – let’s read this together…

Elizabeth Goudge  (24 April 1900 – 1 April 1984) was an author I continued to be enchanted by, reading her later books one by one as they continued to appear during my teenage years.  They are full of amazing descriptions of nature that make you long to run outdoors,  Her interiors are just as enchanting, brimming with detailed furnishings and wonderful food from the simplest meals of bread and cheese to sumptuous multi-course meals complete with delectable desserts.  She had a gift for storytelling and the talent to breathe life into even the most minor character.

Reading the Little White Horse aloud to each other has been enlightening.  Elizabeth Goudge’s prose is a close to poetry as one can get without tumbling in head first.  maria and Miss HeliotropeAlliteration, metaphor, meter – you name a poetic technique it and you’ll find  it in her writing.  I realize now how much I learned from reading her books; how attuned I became to the rhythm and cadence of lyrical speech; how many techniques I unconsciously absorbed.  Furthermore, she had an amazing vocabulary – she never flaunted it or used a word gratuitously, but neither did she hold back for fear of losing a reader. (Though I can’t imagine one escaping the magic web she wove, after even the first sentence.)

The other thing I noticed was how deeply she influenced me spiritually.  She was Christian in her orientation, but in a way that tinted her spirituality rather than infecting it.  She used magical realism, myth symbolism and legend to en-lighten  her themes of sacrifice, conversion, discipline, healing, and growth through suffering.  It’s probably Magic+Realism+A+literary+mode+rather+than+defined+genrefrom her stories that I learned to love this genre and employ it in my own work.  I’ve spent a lifetime delving beneath the surface of the metaphors of myth and symbol to discover how they link to human psychology, biology and spirituality.  To this day my favorite novels are fairy tales, legend and myth rewoven and retold by modern authors in the context of today’s culture, knowledge and wisdom.

The Little White Horse is a unicorn – all the covers give it away.  I guessed it from Maria’s first glimpse.  Reading it again now, I realized that when Elizabeth wrote this, in 1946, the year I was born, unicorns were not considered to belong to children.  (The Lion and the Unicorn are the traditional symbols of the United Kingdom – the Lion represents 400px-Royal_Coat_of_Arms_of_the_United_Kingdom_(Both_Realms).svgEngland and the Unicorn, Scotland.  The animals are pictured in the royal coats of arms of both countries.)  Even when I read the book twelve years later, unicorns had not been exploited, diluted and turned into toons by the ad industry to the point of nausea.  At that time unicorns were not cute.  Nothing about Elizabeth’s writing is cute, conventional or sentimental – perhaps that is the best lesson of all.

Happily for me, my husband is also a poet as well as a fellow “Elephant’s child full of elephant2‘satiable curiosity.”  His willingness to explore, try new things, and let go of preconceptions has enriched my life immensely.  Imagine my pleasure when he too succumbed to Elizabeth’s charms.  I wish she could read this tribute and revel in my gratitude.  Perhaps she can…


This entry was posted in Fairy Tales, Girls, Heroine/Hero's Journey, Poetry, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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