Sunday, January 16, 2011

Both Steel and Quicksilver

Puzzle on his way to redemption
This post clearly falls under the “odd posts” of my blog title. No real bearing on anything important, just random musing from a rather serendipitous experience this long weekend. I was on my comfy sofa finishing Platero and I, a book that had been on my to read list for a long time and I suddenly realized that this was the fourth book I had read in the past couple of weeks with donkeys making a major appearance! The others were Patricia Lynch’s Strangers at the Fair and Other Stories (selected stories from her Turf-Cutter’s Donkey series), May Sarton’s Joanna and Ulysses, and a re-read of Rumer Godden’s Operation Sippacik. Immediately, several other books with donkeys came to mind—one of my favorite Stevenson’s, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes and Maureen Daly’s The Private War of Sgt. Donkey. And a couple of donkey characters—Eeyore and Puzzle, the donkey who finds redemption in The Last Battle. And how could I forget Modestine/Neddie, the donkey in the early Angela Thirkell books. I had picked up the Sarton and Jiminez in the books I’ve been weeding at the American Islamic College—not thinking about them both being donkey related—as I said, Platero had been on my to read list and I had never read any May Sarton (as least not that I remember, though possibly I did as an undergrad) and thought it was time that I give her a try. 

Eileen with Long-Ears
What is striking is about how loved these donkeys are! Stevenson after twelve hard days of getting little work out of Modestine says, “For twelve days we had been fast companions; we had travelled upwards of a hundred and twenty miles, crossed several respectable ridges, and jogged along with our six legs by many a rocky and many a boggy by-road. After the first day, although sometimes I was hurt and distant in manner, I still kept my patience; and as for her, poor soul! she had come to regard me as a god. She loved to eat out of my hand. She was patient, elegant in form, the colour of an ideal mouse, and inimitably small. Her faults were those of her race and sex; her virtues were her own. Farewell, and if for ever—.” Of Platero, Jiminez says, “He is tender and loving as a little boy, as a little girl: but strong and firm as a stone…He is made of steel. Both steel and quicksilver.” 

These two donkeys were real and so loved that they have monuments honoring them. Platero in Moguer, and Modestine in the Cevennes.

The tiny Sippacik
Sippacik was also real—Rumer Godden based her book on a true story and the illustrations for it are by a Captain who was a member of the United Nations blue berets who figure in the story. Both Operation Sippacik and Daly’s Small War of Sergeant Donkey are about donkeys rescuing injured doing wartime and how they respond to the demands of the brave, young boys who tend them.  In Sarton’s book, the donkey Ulysses rescues the young, despondent, Greek artist. 

Ulysses with Joanna's supplies
I used LibraryThing (users can tag books, so I thought I’d find more than just a subject search would turn up) and sure enough, hundreds of books with a search on donkey. Many of them are about biblical donkeys (the donkey at the stable, for example), but I found some other interesting things to put on the to read list. So, some other interesting titles (comment if you’ve read these—comment if you haven’t!!): two women adventurers--Dervla Murphy’s Eight Feet in the Andes and Freya Stark’s The Southern Gates of Arabia (I really liked her A Winter in Arabia and planned to read more of her work). Another May Sarton, The Poet and the Donkey, this time the donkey saves a poet rather than an artist? Paul Gallico’s A Small Miracle (I think I read this in high school?). Two children's and one young adult--Gerald Durrell’s Donkey Rustlers and Lloyd Alexander’s Four Donkeys, plus Jean Morris’ Donkey’s Crusade.

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