One of the books I’d like to buy, should I ever get the chance to return to Ireland (of which there is little chance) and should I fail to find it here (of which there is a good chance), is James Stephens’ The Crock of Gold.
The book calls itself a fairy tale for grownups. CS Lewis read it early in his life and perhaps he was thinking of it when he said what he did of That Hideous Strength. I think both books attempt the same thing, in a way. However, to think The Crock of Gold is quite like the last of Lewis’s Science Fiction would be a misapprehension.
Stephens’ book is Irish. It is set in Ireland, has Irish names, Irish creatures, and most interesting of all, is spoken in Irish ways. Not only are the characters given to using Irish English idioms, being Irish, but the conception of the humor in the longer monologues of the Philosopher and others at the beginning of the fourth book leaks out into the explanation Stephens gives for the subsequent behavior of the Leprechauns of Gort na Cloca Mora. In other words, there is a curious expansiveness of speech that is parodied by an expansiveness of consideration affected by the reasonings and disquisitions of the characters which seemingly inadvertently touches the author as well. (However else the Irish speak, their speaking is not terse.) I think it is a fine joke, and a very funny book.
It is the straight-faced and preposterous eloquence in service of a tale that attempts what fairy tales all do: to dispel the threat of a cold and scientific process to overwhelm life and imagination. It is ambitious enough, but the wonder of what Stephens does is that it is carried out at the level of folklore and with the elements and feel and characters of folk culture. It is about the triumph of the folkloric over modernity—the modernity of a hundred years ago.
It reminds me of what Richard Weaver says when he remarks that when we say that philosophy begins in wonder we affirm that sentiment is anterior to reason. The Crock of Gold is very jolly.