Soon, very soon, it will be warm enough to go camping. We’ll pitch our canvas lean-tos and split our time between reading, lying in the sun, and cooking, cooking, cooking. Every so often, it will rain and we’ll pull the covers over our heads and sleep in, hoping the water-proofing holds.
The English author Magnus Mills has written an entire novel about tents, set in a monstrously large meadow. The 2015 novel The Field Of The Cloth Of Gold, a New Arrival at the Lennoxville Library, is narrated by the second man to wander into the Great Field. The first, a character named Hen, wants his privacy.
Accordingly, our hero, after careful consideration, sets up his home on a different plot.
“[T]he forces of nature were equally hard at work. The embankment, for example, was gradually being enveloped by a sward of fresh greenery, with new shoots appearing every day over its entire length. Other parts of the field were dotted with thistles and similar species, while reeds and rushes continued to flourish at the water’s edge.”
He, and we, never leave this space, huge but somehow claustrophobic, packed with hard biscuits and milk pudding and, as time goes on, with more and more people.
‘Never see him when it’s raining, do we?’ Brigant continued.
‘No, I suppose not.’
‘Nor when there’s a howling gale.’
‘Like I said, fair weather friend.’
“Obviously Brigant had lost touch with current affairs while he was laid up. His store of gossip was totally out of date, and he was due for a bit of a shock next time he peered into the south. I didn’t say anything though: he’d find out for himself soon enough.”
Read it simply as an absurdist fable about human foibles. Or think of it as a meditation on immigration, or even on colonialism.
But for those who love history, Mills clearly intends this book to reflect the story of early Britannia, its peoples, political failures and conquerors.
Julius Caesar invaded in 55 BC, but made rather a hash of it. The Emperor Claudius arrived in AD 43 and settled in. Some 80 years beyond, a Great Wall was built to keep the barbarians at bay, but the Roman Empire collapsed less than a century after that.
“[I]t occurred to me that I should have brought along the biscuit imprinted with the letter J. Over the past day or two, I’d been harbouring a vague notion about using it to demonstrate the similarity between the various settlements dotted across the field; and maybe even initiate some rudimentary trading. Naturally, Hartopp would have been a key player in such a project (he was, after all, a leading exponent of biscuits) but unfortunately I’d forgotten my sample. The opportunity was lost.”
And in the Great Field, a druid is eventually displaced by a newcomer.
All is told in a deadpan tone by a guy who just wants us all to get along. And yet he watches discord and disappointment take root around him. And helps it grow himself.
Fables are multi-layered, and yet their characters are often simple creatures, created to drive home carefully selected truths.
The innovative poet E.E. Cummings wrote his own, in a 1950 children’s book titled Fairy Tales (reprinted in 1978, illustrated by John Eaton and filed at the Lennoxville Library in C-134).
It’s filled with stories that are odd, and oddly beautiful.
An elephant falls for a butterfly. It ends happily.
An old man drives everyone wild, though he only ever speaks one word. Here’s a surreal and fun tale for children who only want to know “why”.
A house is lonely: even “the afternoon rarely came near the house because the afternoon was too busy putting the moon to bed.”
That’s another thing all campers love… watching the moon.
— Eleanor Brown, May 13, 2016