Farmers in their alpine valley are haunted by Fængler, a cunning old enchanter, who ruins their lives by using an ancient wishing chain of powerful stones to spoil crops and steal children, cows and goats.
Young Berwald and his sister Clara set out, without their parents knowing, to climb into the next valley, seize the chain, free their neighbourhood of fear, and wish for whatever they want. But they soon learn that the wild world beyond their home is full of strange forces – some good, some dark and twisted – and almost every wish they make adds new complications and disagreements.
Who can rescue them from this fearful and dangerous adventure? Before Adam, their angry and worried father, can reach them, he must learn to follow seemingly useless leads, and to listen carefully to the tale that lies behind the villain’s bitterness.
A timeless fantasy tale given new life and enchantment in this vivid retelling in verse.
|Publisher:||Thames River Press|
|Product dimensions:||9.00(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Born in Birmingham in 1943, Michael Tolkien grew up in South Oxfordshire and North Yorkshire. He studied classics and English at St Andrews and Oxford. He has lived in Rutland since 1968 and was a secondary school teacher until early retirement in 1994. Since 1998 his verse has been published in two booklets and five full collections, most recently in 2012. His work has been widely and favourably reviewed. Two of his major themes are deceptive appearances and the conflict of active and contemplative approaches to life. This is also apparent in his recent narrative verse adaptations of Florence Bone’s now largely forgotten fantasy fiction for children.
Read an Excerpt
By Michael Tolkien
Wimbledon Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2012 Michael Tolkien
All rights reserved.
Strange tales have been told in lands of tall peaks, their beings larger than life, bravely holding terrors at bay, but this one has more to say about the human heart and how tenderness triumphed over guile and torment. A story of two deep valleys, one dark with dying pine and spruce, battening in a bitter outcast and his bewitched crew, the other where spirits of field and forest still favoured humankind, alive with streams, lowing cattle, laughter of children, music of axe and saw in making goods and managing woods ...
* * *
Here Adam the forester earned his keep and accounted to no one for his care of trees, wayward goats and wandering cows whose bells clanged high and low Belong! I belong to you! He was like a pine at the peak of its strength, heard and saw what many missed in their noise and hurry through forest glades, either by moonlight when the Guardians and Wardens danced, or in bright sun when they took the guise of what they cared for.
Adam worked hard to build his own wood house and win the love of a girl in the village below who had made a childhood promise to be his bride. And one spring day he brought Maria home to their tall-roofed chalet in her long dress embroidered with flowers of every season. he shook in threatening rage. At the moon's dark he set out in boots that muffled and trebled his stride over pathless ways to prowl round farms and steal young cattle from their stalls. He left his prints on moss and sandy fords. Delicate flowers drooped and withered where he'd passed.
Though they hated and feared the haunter for stealing goats and cows he did not need, people envied his precious weapon, an ancient silver chain of nine wonder-working stones. Long-dead silversmiths took a hundred years to make sure its wearer might realise every wish. However it came his way, Fængler wore it day and night. Out of spite he could spread disease, make storms crush cattle under falling trees ... Or so everyone believed, and blamed him for any misfortune that struck their lives. No wonder there was a long-held hope, weak as it seemed to be, that someone strong and cunning would be born to them, surprise the evil coward and his miserable sentries, seize that silver necklace and so remove all power to do them harm. Every parent dreamed of bringing a saviour to the valley.CHAPTER 2
BIRTH AND DREAMS
After a day's cutting and shaping, Adam crafted every comfort for the homely log house with its blazing hearth that warmed their one wide room, filled with all they wanted when long winter snows lay heavy and locked them in. Time to carve and construct a cradle for their firstborn engraved with gentian and edelweiss finely etched. The child grew in the womb and gallivanted like a spring goat! A strong son, dreamed Adam. The one who'd deal out doom to Fængler, filch the chain and set the valleys free.
* * *
While her husband talked about his hopes Maria sat thoughtfully at her spinning. And a cold shiver ran down her spine. 'What use is the selfish wishing power of a necklace? Look at Fængler and his miserable band. Those stones weigh on him like a granite yoke.' 'But you learn to wish only the best wishes,' said Adam. 'Our son might bless all the valleys.' 'Too difficult,' sighed Maria as her fingers spun finest thread to clothe the child of their love. 'One mistake in a wish and there's no return.' And she was wiser than she knew. No wish goes unheard in alpine valleys thick with woods and overlooked by echoing, treacherous rocks. Tucked in tight and dreaming under months of snow everything that grows, moves or flies recalls the old tongue it once shared with all mankind. One faint wish shakes them like a summons.
Through the wide chalet window Maria seemed to see glossy oaks and alders shed their leaves all at once, pines turn their sheen to feathery black. Then a low sunbeam set alight a clump of alpenrose: blazing smiles that told her however blighted and anxious the days ahead, there would be light and hope. And though winter set in early and hard, their son was born, his wife's wise words. 'How I'd like to drape the lucky chain around his little neck. If I gave it to the one we love, wishing the best of wishes, how could he fail to be happy and bring good fortune to our farms?'
Maria snatched up the baby and held him tight. 'He has my wishes without a magic string of stones. I'll sing to him in the old, unhurried tongue. Your eyes are as blue as gentian flowers, Your cheeks pinker than Alpen Rose. I will hold you to my heart in love Until you grow into a man whose love Will be giving, who'll learn to wait and see. May your best thoughts make you truly free.' Such selfless wishing stirred kindly laughter among the spirits of the forest who had made sure he was named Berwald.
A year later, Clara filled the cradle to bless the festival of light, golden-haired, eyes the blue of hair bells, her happy cries like water running over smooth stones. Adam wished harder than ever to quell the curse of Fængler and bring home the lucky necklace.CHAPTER 3
Ten winters passed. Snow once more gave way to summer and the restless children ran out to greet returning gentians. Were they happy to dance away days in their own dear valley Or did they long to leap over familiar heights and learn how it was for others in the wide world beyond? Berwald could not wait to be a strong, brave man, chop down pines, build the best chalet, wrench the chain of wonder-working stones from the wily hermit's neck, rob that felon of father's herds and return them to their fold.
* * *
'You're not the only one who's overheard mother and father,' said Clara to her brother who shouted: 'Let's go before we're missed. By nightfall we'll be back with our wishing chain.' They forded Mittlebach, deepest stream that divided the meadows, climbed slopes they'd only seen from home. 'What shall we wish?' Clara asked Berwald. He longed to wield an axe and the power of riches. Clara was not so eager to grow up. She'd be too tall to hear and answer all the small growing, crawling things she loved. 'I would like to find father's cows and goats but I am not sure about taking the magic chain.' Berwald strode ahead. He'd do both and soon. Gentle laughter mingled with the bubbling stream they scrambled beside and mistook for its music. More with high hopes climbing into the unknown. She might listen. The boy's losing touch with us.
Words from kindly spirits of Gentian and Forget-me-not. Berwald hopes to become a man in a day. His first wish when he's got the necklace. Why not sing them a warning song while they rest and gather strawberries? He wouldn't listen to those who know. Other boys have passed here and returned no older or wiser. Berwald still knew some seeing dusk from a window with mother and firelight behind them, thought Clara. 'Aren't trees powerful and proud!' She said. 'It makes me feel everything stands for something else, which means magic is true. I hope I won't lose touch with the flower talk.'
Berwald was more concerned with how weak his legs began to feel as they left the last pines behind and tramped over hard-packed snow, now rosy-purple in the sun's last rays. Pin-pricks of light winked far below: one must be the glow from their own fireside. Mother would be soothing baby in its cradle, father returning from his long day in the forest. Why weren't they there to sit down and eat? Strawberries don't last. They longed for bread and cheese.
'Fængler's hideout can't be far away.' Clara tried to cheer Berwald, who felt less brave than when he scorned the flowers in broad daylight. 'What's that?!' Both held their breath as they heard a long, hollow howl echo over frozen rocks, followed by a deep baying. 'Wolves!' said Berwald, trying to sound matter-of fact. Clara shuddered and recalled tales about wars of wolves and men, amusing when father's axe and gun hung on the chalet wall.
Her brother felt it was time he took the lead. 'Let's get out of this snow and down the other side. I'm sticking to what we've decided to do.' Clara squeezed his hand, glad of his courage. As they slithered down the far side, Berwald shaded his eyes from the moon which wouldn't mind its own business and distracted him from looking for a safe, sheltered hollow. Suddenly he plunged below a clump of alpenrose. 'Jump down, Clara. Here we'll be as warm as if we were fast asleep in our own brown chalet.' Clara was not so sure. 'I'm soaking wet Then Clara heard a stir in the snow. Something was casting it off with a tune of tinkling chimes.CHAPTER 4
SNOWBELL AND EDELWEISS
Who can predict whether a plant will be modest or proud? There are some haughty spirits hiding out on high, cold slopes. Edelweiss thinks HE's the most important upland inhabitant since people climb icy rocks to find him clinging to steep cliffs and greet his wool-grey flower as if it glittered like a jewel. It suits him to be sought out and consulted like a sage. Snowbell, often called Soldanella, who has to push aside half-melted ice, makes a kind, mild-mannered companion if you listen to the lilt of her violet-tasselled petals.
* * *
Clara stole out of their hollow. The moon showed her a patch of snow punctured by a tiny dark bell that shook with new life. 'Soldanella, what a surprise find you here!' 'I have shuffled off my snow-house to welcome summer,' replied the flower whom valley-dwellers thought brave and gentle, enduring late snows without a complaint. Clara was hungry, afraid of wolves and longed for home, but tried to sound strong. 'Berwald is growing up fast and we're off to take the lucky silver chain from Fængler.' Soldanella chimed loudly. Perhaps she was amused, astonished or both. 'So many have failed. Plans are not the way. Fængler can only be foiled if you make the Rose-hearted wish, the purest kind whose power is at the heart of everything. Wishing that will make him a weak old man.' 'How easy just to make a wish!' laughed Clara.
At this Soldanella almost jangled out of tune. 'To make a truly rose-hearted wish is easier and harder than taking an axe to your enemy, and no one can tell you how. All other ways only SEEM to crush the cunning of evil.' 'So who can help us?' Clara felt defeated. 'Lady Alpenrose perhaps. She can sense what kind of wish you are making. But she's and such wide views, he should be wise. You'll find him beyond that crag, living in a cleft between two grey rocks. He knows the best way to reach Fængler's cave. Be polite. He's used to respect from visitors.'
Sunlight woke the children to an unknown place. They washed away sleep in a stream and ate wild berries. Soldanella's advice meant little to Berwald. He'd cut a heavy stick with his forest knife. What use were rose-hearted wishes? 'At least let's find the Edelweiss,' begged Clara. 'Very well,' he said. 'But don't expect me to make that wish.' 'You can't,' she insisted. 'First you have to discover what it is.'
Descending the mountain side showed them the world beyond, stretching countless miles, and a broad river snaking into misty distance. Then they saw the Edelweiss in his niche, also taking in the view while he proudly smoothed down his woollen cap and folded his shawl of grey leaves about him until he might be taken for a ball of grey velvet. His jet-black eye was severe and penetrating but he ignored the children, even Berwald, who began to laugh at his comic appearance. 'He won't help us,' whispered Clara. 'Ha! Ha! He's just a grey lump draped in a tatty cloak!' Jeered Berwald. 'Hi, Mr Woolly! Fine day!' The flower seemed to look even further beyond them. 'We're wasting time on this knitted statue.' Before Clara could check her brother, she heard a high-pitched, creaky voice. Whose could it be?
Who does that boy think he is? High time he learnt to behave. He'll get nowhere fast if he scoffs at his betters.' 'He meant no harm,' said Clara. 'Why shouldn't I laugh?' shouted Berwald 'Nonsense!' came the reply. 'Listen to one who knows. That won't get you anywhere. Only the GREY wish provides my fine colour and high position. How do you think I got here?' 'Did birds or kindly spirits lift you?' 'More nonsense!' Edelweiss turned shrill and crackly, tapping his head and holding it high. 'Look at this! It's full of hard-earned knowledge. I suppose you've been listening to some vain, brainless flower.'
Grey could never be better than rose, thought Clara; but Berwald broke in with: 'How can I wish the grey wish? I want to get on.' 'That insulting little boy has woken up!' snorted the flower, fixing him with a cold stare. 'First learn manners, then aim high, as I have done, and put yourself first. Don't waste wishes on helping others along.' 'I despise the grey wish,' said Clara. 'I want to return father's flocks and give mother the silver chain to bless us all. You are selfish and stuck up.' 'So much for good advice,' hissed the Edelweiss. 'Children never show respect.' 'Some love their parents and feel thankful for their home,' said Clara tearfully. And she ran down on to flower-filled meadows below the grizzly crags. As she flew along flecks of rose and gold sparkled in her dress and tinged her shoes and stockings. Without knowing, she'd begun a rose-hearted wish.CHAPTER 5
The king of birds has a keen eye for prey and is quick to kill but war-lords of old worshipped him as warrior of the air, befriended his families, made them feel at home among men. His children bore hero names and knew when they were needed. Legends recall birds of great size, loyal allies and lethal enemies who rescued riders from ambush and restored outnumbered troops. They learnt ways to boast and taunt, still ready on the tongues of descendents driven off long ago to nest on deserted crags. Hunters and herdsmen shot them for stealing game and harrying flocks
* * *
Berwald needed to ask more about the grey wish. 'Will it make me grow up more quickly?' 'Yes, and grow old,' chuckled the Edelweiss. 'I don't want that! How about other wishes?' asked Berwald. 'You could try the fearful red wish,' said the flower with a mocking smile the boy missed. 'That would force a way into Fængler's realms. But you must consult the eagle who is proud to have turned red from his years of cruelty. He prefers young goats to boys but take care he does not pounce on you.' 'I'll look out for him,' said Berwald uncomfortably. 'Sorry I laughed at you to begin with, but you seemed far too small to be of such importance.' Another offence the flower decided to overlook. 'You'll learn that size does not always count. Fængler is no bigger than a dwarf but look at his power. And don't forget the grey wish.'
Berwald followed Clara downhill but not at a run, and never wondered what might be happening to his sister. Grey wishes weighed him down. And he was so busy searching for the greedy who made for a thorn bush that clung to a crag. It bent and rocked as he sharpened his bill on a gnarled branch, then swivelled his sharp eyes to discover who or what had dared distract him. Facing this presence with its cutting gaze, the boy could not get beyond: 'Oh, please ... Oh, thank you ...'
Eagles have no patience. Luckily for Berwald a beetle with a glistening green back whispered from a rock: 'Ask him about himself.' 'Thank you,' said the boy, trying to clear his throat. 'Eagle ... majestic Eagle, why do you look so red?' The bird levelled his beak at him like a long knife but he liked to brag about his fine appearance. 'I'm red with the blood of my easy prey, Red with the early sun that lights my day. Red with the blood of those who bar my way. Red with the thought of what I can slay.' His eyes caught fire with each red thought and his voice reminded Berwald of something being torn apart. How he wished his sister stood beside him when the eagle sized him up with his red eye. To sound sure of himself he said: 'I am older than I look. I'm off to take the lucky silver chain. I wish ...'
'Make your wish clear, then,' rasped the eagle. 'My time is short and you are not good prey. I once tried child flesh. It's disgustingly tough.' 'My mother calls me as tough as old boots,' stammered Berwald. 'But the Edelweiss told me to consult you about the Red Wish. It's how to overcome Fængler and grow up fast.' 'Quick off the mark, aren't you?' muttered the eagle, preening some stray feathers. 'Now guess my age!' Berwald felt it didn't matter and he didn't care. 'I couldn't begin to.' 'Well, I'm the age of my beak and slightly older than my wings. Caught you there! Ageing eagles never number their years. Mind you, 'The Red Wish will bring you both. Grey is feeble!' pronounced the eagle. 'What about the rose-hearted wish?' asked Berwald, not knowing why. The eagle turned his beak up as high as it would go, making Berwald feel small and stupid. 'Useless!' shrilled the Eagle. 'Think red, wish red to make sure no one else's wishes will succeed, and do that all the way to Fængler's vaults.' To add weight to this lesson he spread his wings until they gleamed scarlet in the sun. Suppose he flew off and left no directions, feared Berwald . 'How do I find my way? Is wishing red enough?' 'It could be!' The bird seemed amused. 'Look for the watch tower beyond those rocks. Make sure you mention me when you talk to the guards. Depending on their mood they may let you in.' He took off with a scream of mocking laughter and darkened the rock face with a menacing shadow.
Berwald felt foolish and unsure of his plans. He could not see what there was to joke about. He found Clara lying beside some gentians, calm and contented from what they had told her. 'Berwald, I may be nearer to understanding what the rose-hearted wish means and how to make it.' He put his hands over his ears. 'Don't confuse me. I'm wishing grey to get the necklace myself, red because Fængler's near and no one else must reach him.'
Excerpted from Wish by Michael Tolkien. Copyright © 2012 Michael Tolkien. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
First Part Under Threat,
II Birth and Dreams,
III Ignoring Flowers,
IV Snowbell and Edelweiss,
V Think Red,
VI Clipetty Clopitty,
Second Part In Shadow,
VII Fængler Surprised,
VIII Deeper and Darker,
IX Dead Wood,
X Fængler's Lantern,
XI The Master's Power,
Third Part Rally,
XII Adam's Search,
XV Bright Beetle,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wish is similar in many ways to Michael Tolkien's other book, Rainbow. The children can speak to flowers, birds, and insects through a language they forget as they grow up. It is also similar to Tolkien's grandfather's series, The Lord of the Rings in a few ways. The children embark on a journey to recover a magical piece of jewelry (in this case, a necklace) that will give the owner power and wealth. This necklace was discovered at the bottom of a pond by Faengler, a miserable, ugly old man. It reminds me of Gollum and the Ring. In spite of these similarities, Wish is a unique fairy tale of the heart. Through the children's journey, we learn that only true kindness and selfless desires will bring about the defeat of their enemy. Their father eventually comes after them and learns this lesson quickly. He must relearn the language of the forest and follow the guidance given to him by seemingly less than reliable sources. Since I read both Rainbow and Wish, I can't help but compare the two a little bit. They are both retellings of Florence Bone's old stories and both written in narrative verse, but I must admit that I enjoyed Wish a bit more. There is more adventure and action, and Tolkien's writing shines through. While Rainbow seemed to be directed at an older audience, I think Wish appeals to a broader audience.