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Told Again: Old Tales Told Again

Told Again: Old Tales Told Again

by Walter De La Mare, A.H. Watson, Philip Pullman

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Originally published in 1927, Told Again is an enchanting collection of elegant fairy tales, showcasing the formidable talents of a writer who used magical realism before the term had even been invented. Walter de la Mare (1873–1956) was one of the most celebrated writers of children's literature during the first half of the twentieth century—so


Originally published in 1927, Told Again is an enchanting collection of elegant fairy tales, showcasing the formidable talents of a writer who used magical realism before the term had even been invented. Walter de la Mare (1873–1956) was one of the most celebrated writers of children's literature during the first half of the twentieth century—so much so that W. H. Auden edited a selection of his poems and British children could recite de la Mare’s verses by heart. His abundant literary gifts can be savored once more in this new edition. With marvelous black and white illustrations by A. H. Watson, this volume includes a splendid introduction by Philip Pullman, the contemporary master of fantasy literature.

The significance of the nineteen adapted classics in Told Again lies in de la Mare’s poetic insights and graceful prose, which—as Pullman indicates in his introduction—soften and sweeten the originals, making these tales appropriate for younger readers. In "The Four Brothers," the siblings allow the princess to choose her own husband rather than argue over her; and in "Rapunzel," de la Mare discreetly leaves out details of the prince’s tortured, blind search for his love. Familiar stories, such as "Little Red Riding-Hood," "Rumplestiltskin," and "The Sleeping Beauty" are also made new through de la Mare’s expansive, descriptive, and lyrical prose. Pullman covers important details about de la Mare’s life and captures the stylistic intention behind the rewriting of these wonderful favorites.

Reviving the work of a writer who exemplified a romantic vision and imagination, Told Again is a remarkable retelling of fairy tales touched by mystery and magic.

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"[A] wonderful book."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post

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Princeton University Press
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Oddly Modern Fairy Tales
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Told Again

Old Tales Told Again

By Walter de la Mare, A. H. Watson


Copyright © 1955 The Literary Trustees of Walter de la Mare
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4008-5199-7


The Hare and the Hedgehog

Early one Sunday morning, when the cowslips or paigles were showing their first honey-sweet buds in the meadows and the broom was in bloom, a hedgehog came to his little door to look out at the weather. He stood with arms a-kimbo, whistling a tune to himself—a tune no better and no worse than the tunes hedgehogs usually whistle to themselves on fine Sunday mornings. And as he whistled, the notion came into his head that, before turning in and while his wife was washing the children, he might take a little walk into the fields and see how his young nettles were getting on. For there was a tasty beetle lived among the nettles; and no nettles—no beetles.

Off he went, taking his own little private path into the field. And as he came stepping along around a bush of blackthorn, its blossoming now over and its leaves showing green, he met a hare; and the hare had come out to look at his spring cabbages.

The hedgehog smiled and bade him a polite "Good-morning." But the hare, who felt himself a particularly fine sleek gentleman in this Sunday sunshine, merely sneered at his greeting.

"And how is it," he said, "you happen to be out so early?"

"I am taking a walk, sir," said the hedgehog.

"A walk!" sniffed the hare. "I should have thought you might use those bandy little legs of yours to far better purpose."

This angered the hedgehog, for as his legs were crooked by nature, he couldn't bear to have bad made worse by any talk about them.

"You seem to suppose, sir," he said, bristling all over, "that you can do more with your legs than I can with mine."

"Well, perhaps," said the hare, airily.

"See here, then," said the hedgehog, his beady eyes fixed on the hare, "I say you can't. Start fair, and I'd beat you nowt to ninepence. Ay, every time."

"A race, my dear Master Hedgehog!" said the hare, laying back his whiskers. "You must be beside yourself. It's childish. But still, what will you wager?"

"I'll lay a Golden Guinea to a Bottle of Brandy," said the hedgehog.

"Done!" said the hare. "Shake hands on it, and we'll start at once."

"Ay, but not quite so fast," said the hedgehog. "I have had no breakfast yet. But if you will be here in half an hour's time, so will I."

The hare agreed, and at once took a little frisky practice along the dewy green border of the field, while the hedgehog went shuffling home.

"He thinks a mighty deal of himself," thought the hedgehog on his way. "But we shall see what we shall see." When he reached home he bustled in and looking solemnly at his wife said:

"My dear, I have need of you. In all haste. Leave everything and follow me at once into the fields."

"Why, what's going on?" says she.

"Why," said her husband, "I have bet the hare a guinea to a Bottle of Brandy that I'll beat him in a race, and you must come and see it."

"Heavens! husband," Mrs. Hedgehog cried, "are you daft? Are you gone crazy? You! Run a race with a hare!"

"Hold your tongue, woman," said the hedgehog. "There are things simple brains cannot understand. Leave all this fussing and titivating. The children can dry themselves; and you come along at once with me." So they went together.

"Now," said the hedgehog, when they reached the ploughed field beyond the field which was sprouting with young green wheat, "listen to me, my dear. This is where the race is going to be. The hare is over there at the other end of the field. I am going to arrange that he shall start in that deep furrow, and I shall start in this. But as soon as I have scrambled along a few inches and he can't see me, I shall turn back. And what you, my dear, must do is this: When he comes out of his furrow there, you must be sitting puffing like a porpoise here. And when you see him, you will say, 'Ahah! so you've come at last?' Do you follow me, my dear?" At first Mrs. Hedgehog was a little nervous, but she smiled at her husband's cunning, and gladly agreed to do what he said.

The hedgehog then went back to where he had promised to meet the hare, and he said, "Here I am, you see; and very much the better, sir, for a good breakfast."

"How shall we run," simpered the hare scornfully, "down or over; sideways, longways; three legs or altogether? It's all one to me."

"Well, to be honest with you," said the hedgehog, "let me say this. I have now and then watched you taking a gambol and disporting yourself with your friends in the evening, and a pretty runner you are. But you never keep straight. You all go round and round, and round and round, scampering now this way, now that and chasing one another's scuts as if you were crazy. And as often as not you run uphill! But you can't run races like that. You must keep straight; you must begin in one place, go steadily on, and end in another."

"I could have told you that," said the hare angrily.

"Very well then," said the hedgehog. "You shall keep to that furrow, and I'll keep to this."

And the hare, being a good deal quicker on his feet than he was in his wits, agreed.

"One! Two! Three!—and AWAY!" he shouted, and off he went like a little whirlwind up the field. But the hedgehog, after scuttling along a few paces, turned back and stayed quietly where he was.

When the hare came out of his furrow at the upper end of the field, the hedgehog's wife sat panting there as if she would never be able to recover her breath, and at sight of him she sighed out, "Ahah! sir, so you've come at last?"

The hare was utterly shocked. His ears trembled. His eyes bulged in his head. "You've run it! You've run it!" he cried in astonishment. For she being so exactly like her husband, he never for a moment doubted that her husband she actually was.

"Ay," said she, "but I was afraid you had gone lame."

"Lame!" said the hare, "lame! But there, what's one furrow? 'Every time' was what you said. We'll try again."

Away once more he went, and he had never run faster. Yet when he came out of his furrow at the bottom of the field, there was the hedgehog! And the hedgehog laughed, and said: "Ahah! So here you are again! At last!" At this the hare could hardly speak for rage.

"Not enough! not enough!" he said. "Three for luck! Again, again!"

"As often as you please, my dear friend," said the hedgehog. "It's the long run that really counts."

Again, and again, and yet again the hare raced up and down the long furrow of the field, and every time he reached the top, and every time he reached the bottom, there was the hedgehog, as he thought, with his mocking, "Ahah! So here you are again! At last!"

But at length the hare could run no more. He lay panting and speechless; he was dead beat. Stretched out there, limp on the grass, his fur bedraggled, his eyes dim, his legs quaking, it looked as if he might fetch his last breath at any moment.

So Mrs. Hedgehog went off to the hare's house to fetch the Bottle of Brandy; and, if it had not been the best brandy, the hare might never have run again.

News of the contest spread far and wide. From that day to this, never has there been a race to compare with it. And lucky it was for the hedgehog he had the good sense to marry a wife like himself, and not a weasel, or a wombat, or a whale!

The Four Brothers

In the days of long ago, there was a farmer who had four sons. His was not a big farm; he had only a small flock of sheep, a few cows, and not much plough or meadow land. But he was well content. His sons had always been with him, either on his own farm or nearabout, and he had grown to love them more and more. Never man had better sons than he had.

For this reason he grew ill at ease at the thought of what they were giving up for his sake; and at last one day he called them together and said to them: "There will be little left, when I am gone, to divide up amongst four. Journey off, then, my dear sons, into the great world; seek your fortunes, and see what you can do for yourselves. Find each of you as honest and profitable a trade as he can; come back to me in four years' time, and we shall see how you have all prospered. And God's blessing go with you!"

So his four sons cut themselves cudgels out of the hedge, made up their bundles, and off they went. After waving their father goodbye at the gate, they trudged along the high-road together till they came to cross-roads, where four ways met. Here they parted one from another, since on any road there is more room for one than for four. Then off each went again, whistling into the morning.

After he had gone a few miles, the first and eldest of them met a stranger who asked him where he was bound for. "By the looks of you," he said, "you might be in sight of the Spice Islands." He told him he was off to try his luck in the world.

"Well," said the stranger, "come along with me, and I will teach you to be nimble with your fingers. Nimble of fingers is nimble of wits. And I'll warrant when I've done with you, you'll be able to snipple-snupple away any mortal thing you have an eye to, and nobody so much as guess it's gone."

"Not me," said the other. "That's thieving. Old Master Take-What-He-Wanted was hanged on a gallows. And there, for all I care, he hangs still."

"Ay," said the old man, "that he were. But that old Master Take-What-He-Wanted you are talking of was a villainous rogue and a rascal. But supposing you're only after borrowing its lamp from a glow-worm, or a loaf of bread from a busy bee, what then? Follow along now; you shall see!"

So off they went together. And very well they did.

The second son had not gone far when he chanced on an old man sitting under a flowering bush and eating bread and cheese and an onion with a jack-knife. The old man said to him, "Good-morning, my friend. What makes you so happy?"

He said, "I am off to seek my fortune."

"Ah," said the old man, "then come along with me; for one's fortune is with the stars, and I am an astronomer, and a star-gazer." In a bag beside him, this old pilgrim showed the young man a set of glasses for spying out the stars, glasses that had come from Arabia and those parts. After looking through the glasses, the young man needed no persuasion and went along with him. And very well they did.

The third brother, having turned off into the greenwood, soon met a jolly huntsman with a horn and a quiver full of arrows on his shoulder. The huntsman liked the fine fresh look of the lad. He promised to teach him his ancient art and skill with the bow; so they went along together. And very well they did.

The youngest brother tramped on many a mile before he met anybody, and he was resting under a tree listening to the birds and enjoying a morsel of food out of his bundle, when a tailor came along, with crooked legs and one eye. And the tailor said to him, "Plenty to do, but nothing doing!"

The boy laughed, and said, "I have been walking all morning, having just left my dear old father for the first time. Now I am resting a moment, for I am off into the world to get my living and to see if I can bring him back something worth having; and if I don't, then may my fingers grow thumbs!"

And the tailor, prettily taken by his way of speaking, said, "If you are wishful to learn a craft, young man, come along with me." So off they went together. And very well they did.

Now, after four years to the very day, the four brothers met again at the cross-roads and returned to their father. A pleasant meeting it was. For though their old father was getting on in years, he had worked on alone at the farm with a good heart, feeling sure that his sons were doing well in the world and making their way. That night when they were all, as in old times, sitting together at supper—two of his sons on either side of him, and himself in the middle—he said to them: "Now, good sons all, tell me your adventures, and what you've been doing these long years past. And I promise you it will be well worth hearing."

The four brothers looked at one another, and the eldest said:

"Ay, so we will, father, if you'll wait till to-morrow. Then we will do whatever you ask us, to show we have learned our trades and not been idle. Think over tonight what you'd like us to do in the morning, and we'll all be ready."

The old man's one fear that night as he lay in bed thinking of the morrow was lest he might give his sons too hard a thing to do. But before he could think of anything that seemed not too hard yet not too easy, he fell asleep.

The next morning, after the five of them had gobbled up their breakfast, they went out into the fields together. Then the old man said:

"Up in the branches of that tree, my sons, is a chaffinch's nest, and there the little hen is sitting. Now could any one of you tell me how many eggs she has under her?" For he thought the youngest would climb into the tree, scare off the bird, and count them.

But nothing so simple as that. "Why, yes, father," said the second son, and taking out of his pocket a certain optic glass his master had given him as a parting present, he put it to his best eye, looked up, squinnied through it, and said, "Five."

At this the old man was exceedingly pleased, for he knew he told him the truth.

"Now," says he, "could one of you get those eggs for me, and maybe without alarming the mother-bird overmuch? Eh? What about that?"

There and then the eldest son, who had been taught by his master every trick there is for nimble fingers, shinned up into the tree, and dealt with the little bird so gently that he took all her five eggs into the hollow of his hand without disturbing even the littlest and downiest of her feathers in the nest.

The old man marvelled and said, "Better and better! But now, see here," he went on, gently laying the five eggs on a flat patch of mossy turf, and turning to the son who had gone off with the huntsman—"now, shoot me all these, my son, with one arrow. My faith, 'twould be a master stroke!"

His son went off a full fifty paces, and drawing the little black bow made of sinew (which his master had bought from the Tartars), with a tiny twang of its string he loosed a needle-sharp arrow that, one after the other, pierced all five eggs as neatly as a squirrel cracks nuts.

"Ha, ha!" cried the old man, almost dumbfounded, and prouder than ever of them all, then turned to his youngest son, "Ay, and can you, my son, put them together again?" But this he meant only in jest.

With that, the youngest son sat down at the foot of the tree and there and then, and they all watching, with the needle and thread which had once been his master's he sewed the shells together so deftly that even with his second son's magic glass his old father could scarcely see the stitches. This being done, the eggs were put back into the nest again, and the mother-bird sat out her time. Moreover, the only thing strange in her five nestlings when they were all safely hatched out of their shells was that each had a fine crimson thread of silk neatly stitched round its neck—which made her as vain and proud of her brood as the old father was of his four sons.

"Now stay with me for a time," he entreated them. "There is plenty to eat and drink, and there are a few little odd jobs you might do for me while you are with me. Never man had better sons, and a joy it is beyond words to have you all safely home again."

So they said they would stay with their old father as long as he wished.

However, they had scarcely been a week at home when news came that a Dragon which had been prowling near one of the King's castles that was built at the edge of a vast fen, or bogland, had carried off the Princess, his only daughter. The whole realm was in grief and dread at this news, and the King in despair had decreed that anyone who should discover the Dragon and bring back the Princess should have her for wife. After pondering this news awhile the old farmer said to his sons:

"Now, my lads, here's a chance indeed. Not that I'm saying it's good for a man, as I think, to marry anybody he has no mind to. But to save any manner of human creature from a cruel foul Dragon—who wouldn't have a try?"

So the four brothers set out at once to the Castle, and were taken before the King. They asked the King where the Dragon was. And the King groaned, "Who knows?"

So the Star-gazer put up his spy-glass to his eye, and peered long through its tube—north, east, south, then west. And he said at last, "I see him, sire, a full day's sailing away. He is coiled up grisly on a rock with his wings folded, at least a league to sea, and his hooked great clanking tail curled round him. Ay, and I see the Princess too, no bigger than my little finger in size, beside him. She's been crying, by the looks of her. And the Dragon is keeping mighty sly guard over her, for one of his eyes is an inch ajar."


Excerpted from Told Again by Walter de la Mare, A. H. Watson. Copyright © 1955 The Literary Trustees of Walter de la Mare. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Philip Pullman's many books include the best-selling and award-winning children's series, His Dark Materials (Knopf). He recently edited and introduced Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm (Viking).

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