SchomeBase Litererature Discussion Group Meeting 3 Book Choices of Kickaha Wolfenhaut
First off, I have to admit this is a book I've only read once. My "dog-eared" version is actually on audio cassette (and read SUPERBLY by Paul Eddington) given to me when I was five or six years old.
It's the story of a eleven-year-old Bavarian lad called Ludwig and his faithful horse Renti. While being far from "true life drama" it's just the thing to put that storm-damaged palm-leaf shelter in perspective. Give me a desert island over a snow drift any day! I can't say much more without spoiling the story, but the imagery and dialogue have remained with me for over thirty years. It's a lovely tale of fantastic adventure, love and friendship which still has a message whether you're as young as I was or as old as I am(!) It speaks of courage, bullying, danger, lust, loyalty and greed. Add to that themes on euthanasia, family, animal welfare, poverty, etc. and what looks like a kid's book at the first page will stay with you long after you finish the last.
"Why," said Ludo suddenly, making a discovery, "there's Heidi, and Lotti, and little Sisi!" He turned on the black goat, which was watching him with a glint of amusement in those golden eyes. "They're from my flock! They fell into a gully last spring when the rock came down after the storm, and I though they were dead!"
The black goat shook his horns.
"Yes," he said, "and you climbed down three times to find them, and you never left the place till you were sure there was no hope for them. I told you I'd had reports."
Ludo was bending over his own three goats, which crowded close for him to rub the base of their horns. "Lotti looks marvellous! I think she looks better than she ever did! And Heidi —" He broke off. He had just noticed something about Heidi. She had been an old goat, with a jagged scar across her face, and hoofs slightly overgrown. But now she had none of these things. Her face was whole and sleek, and her hoofs were neat as a kids. Yet it was unmistakably Heidi, with the tawny blotch over her right eye — and besides, she was rubbing her head against Ludo just as she always did. And then the third goat.... Ludo remembered now, vividly, his last sight of little Sisi lying on the ledge half-way down the cliff, with what was obviously a broken neck, and blood all over her coat. Now she skipped up to him and reared prettily for him to pull her ears.
Ludo looked over their heads at the black goat, who nodded. "Yes, I see you've guessed. They were dead. I told you there was nothing more you could do for them. I did it all."
"So I can't — I can't take them back with me?"
"No. Nor will they want to go. You will leave them here with me."
Ludo swallowed hard. "And who are you — sir?" If anyone had told him that he would ever call a goat "sir" he would have thought they were mad. But then if anyone had told him he would ever stand on a mountain pass talking to a goat, he would have thought the same thing.
"You may call me Goat," said the black goat.
Poor Ludo found that he was shivering. He tried three times before he managed to ask the next question, which you, I imagine, will have been asking yourself for some time already.
He asked, in a whisper, for he was really very frightened: "Am I dead, too?"
I haven't read this book for many years but I remember thinking "why yes!" every few paragraphs. It's basically a prescription for a happy land, thinly disguised, I recall, as a story of chance meeting. Sort of an opposite to the Ancient Mariner! The word "utopia" seems to be only used in a derogatory fashion these days, as if to strive for a better world is somehow silly. But many of More's ideas (eg: those on health care) are so "obvious" it's staggering that their implementation still eludes us today, despite their value being appreciated. I'm sure that not every idea in the book has stood the test of time, but if any castaways are washed up with me, we could do worse than refer to Utopia when we build our island society.
But they take more care of their sick than of any others: these are lodged and provided for in public hospitals they have belonging to every town four hospitals, that are built without their walls, and are so large that they may pass for little towns: by this means, if they had ever such a number of sick persons, they could lodge them conveniently, and at such a distance, that such of them as are sick of infectious diseases may be kept so far from the rest that there can be no danger of contagion. The hospitals are furnished and stored with all things that are convenient for the ease and recovery of the sick; and those that are put in them are looked after with such tender and watchful care, and are so constantly attended by their skilful physicians, that as none is sent to them against their will, so there is scarce one in a whole town that, if he should fall ill, would not choose rather to go thither than lie sick at home.
This is a relatively new discovery for me, having only arrived on my book shelf about two years ago. It's an account of some late-Nineteenth Century layabouts messing about out of their depth on a boat trip from Kingston to Oxford. Unlike most of my favourite books, it's not been reread. Not once. There are two reasons. First is superstition; I enjoyed reading it so much that I fear revisiting it now may dilute its effects one day when I really need them, such as when I'm a bit down-in-the-dumps about being marooned on a desert island. The second and main reason is that my health isn't what it once was. I did try to reread Three Men in a Boat once, and had it confiscated by my wife when my laughter actually turned to choking. THIS IS THE FUNNIEST THING I HAVE EVER READ and coming from a lifelong Douglas Adams fan, that's one helluva endorsement.
It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form. The diagnosis seems in every case to correspond exactly with all the sensations that I have ever felt.
I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch— hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into—some fearful, devastating scourge, I know—and, before I had glanced half down the list of ‘premonitory symptoms,’ it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.
I sat for a while frozen with horror; and then in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever—read the symptoms—discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it—wondered what else I had got; turned up St Vitus’s Dance—found, as I expected, that I had that too—began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically—read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diptheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.
I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn’t I got housemaid’s knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid’s knee. Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.
I sat and pondered. I thought what an interesting case I must be from a medical point of view, what an acquisition I should be to a class! Students would have no need to ‘walk the hospitals,’ if they had me. I was a hospital in myself. All they need do would be to walk round me, and, after that, take their diploma.
Then I wondered how long I had to live. I tried to examine myself. I felt my pulse. I could not at first feel any pulse at all. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to start off. I pulled out my watch and timed it. I made it a hundred and forty-seven to the minute. I tried to feel my heart. I could not feel my heart. It had stopped beating. I have since been induced to come to the opinion that it must have been there all the time, and must have been beating, but I cannot account for it. I patted myself all over my front, from what I call my waist up to my head, and I went a bit round each side, and a little way up the back. But I could not feel or hear anything. I tried to look at my tongue. I stuck it out as far as ever it would go, and I shut one eye, and tried to examine it with the other. I could only see the tip, and the only thing that I could gain from that was to feel more certain than before that I had scarlet fever.
I had walked into that reading-room a happy healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.