Sunday, September 25, 2016

Huxley's "The Crows of Pearblossom": seriously kidding around

First published as a children's chapter book in 1963, The Crows of Pearblossom is a story Aldous Huxley created for his niece in 1944 while she was staying with the Huxleys in the Mojave desert.

In an Abrams picture-book edition with illustrations by Sophie Blackall, Mr. and Mrs. Crow are still bedeviled by the snake who lives at the bottom of their tree and steals their eggs. The book is meant for kids ages four to eight, and if there are any parallels to Brave New World it's that the world may not be all that it seems. As a Christmas gift to his young niece Olivia during World War II, Huxley's story has dark edges that were likely meant as an introduction to the adult world that faced very uncertain challenges ahead.

The story itself was nearly lost when fire destroyed the original manuscript. The Huxleys' California neighbors had a copy, and gave it to Olivia when her uncle died in 1963. In the book, Mrs. Crow catches the snake eating her 297th egg that year -- she does not work on Sundays, you understand -- and requests that Mr. Crow go into the hole and kill the snake.

The Rattlesnake (as snakes throughout literary history are wont to do) thoroughly enjoys his thievery:

"I cannot fly -- I have no wings;
I cannot run -- I have no legs;
But I can creep where the black bird sings
And eat her speckled eggs, ha, ha,
And eat her speckled eggs."

Instead of killing him, Mr. Crow decides to teach the snake a painful lesson and confers with his wise friend Mr. Owl. Mr. Owl bakes mud into the shape of eggs and paints them to look appealing. These dummy eggs are left in the nest to trick the Rattlesnake, who unknowingly eats them the next day.

When the eggs get to his stomach, they cause the Rattlesnake such pain that he thrashes about, tying himself in knots around the branches. Mrs. Crow goes on to hatch "four families of seventeen children each" and "uses the snake as a clothesline on which to hang the little crows' diapers."

It's a story that young readers will probably thrill to be scared by, filled with the kind of darkness that children instinctively suspect hides out in the trees and woods. The new illustrations are colorful and swirling, owning more than a bit to Huxley's history of LSD use, and fans of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey will like Brooklyn artist
Sophie Blackall's artwork.

Olivia de Haulleville

And little Olivia? In 1982, Olivia de Haulleville entered Indonesia as member of the entourage of H.H. The Dalai Lama during his consecration of Borobudur. She continued her pilgrimage there by the name of "Tara" and was requested to write a history of Buddhism in Indonesia by the ethnic Javanese Buddhist teacher, pak Sumarsoeno. In 2000 she published
Pilgrimage to Java, An Esoteric History of Buddhism. Her son, Michael A. Cassapidis is a Tibetan monk in the Gelugs-pa order. She now lives near Joshua Tree National Park and has a Facebook page with the following quote:

If I were given a wish
To be what I wish
I would wish to be
Who I am

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