The White Deer

Opening line: ‘If you should walk and wind and wander far enough on one of those afternoons in April when smoke goes down instead of up, and near-by things sound far away and far things near, you are more than likely to come at last to the enchanted forest that lies between the Moonstone Mines and Centaurs Mountain.’

King Clode has three sons, Thag, Gallow, and Jorn. Princes Thag and Gallow are mighty huntsmen like their father, but Jorn is quieter, loves song and plays the harp. One day while hunting in the enchanted forest which borders their land, they come in pursuit of a white deer, swift as light and as lovely to look upon as a waterfall in sunshine. But all is not what it seems in the enchanted forest. What appears to be a deer is not a deer; what appears to be a princess may not be a princess. Each of the princes is set a perilous task to win the hand and break the enchantment on the princess who has a memory of trees and fields and a memory of nothing more. But is that the only enchantment that needs breaking?

The White Deer by James Thurber is one of those delightful new fairy tales that I will add to my list of ‘further reading’ or books that have helped influence the Pooka novels. I’ve been aware of The White Deer for quite some time now, but books by James Thurber are difficult to find. Despite his fame and success in the early part of the 20th century, he isn’t as well known now. I’ve only read Fables of our time (a satirical and witty collection of fables reminiscent of Aesop or Kipling) and The Wonderful O (in which a pirate bans the letter O from an island he’s invaded), both of which are good examples of Thurber’s wit and way with words. I wasn’t going to buy any books on my trip south, even though I know I would come tantalizingly close to lots of book stores. It was while Chris and I were wandering around the market in Cambridge that I saw The White Deer. I gasped and snatched it up: it’s been out of print, I’ve been wanting to read it for ages, it was only £1.25. I felt no regret breaking my moratorium on purchasing new books.

The White Deer is partly satirical as well, at least in the sense that it is conscious that it is a fairy tale and comments on both the genre and its place in it. But that isn’t to say that The White Deer doesn’t also respect its genre; it does. Moreso than the previous two works I’ve read by Thurber, The White Deer demonstrates effortless wordplay. This would be an excellent little story to read aloud. ‘Delight’ is simply the best term to describe the experience of reading this book. Nope, no regrets at all.

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