Friday 22 October 2010

The Pigling Bland eucatastrophe

From the final section of The Tale of Pigling Bland - by Beatrix Potter:


The grocer flicked his whip-- "Papers? Pig license?" Pigling fumbled in all his pockets, and handed up the papers. The grocer read them, but still seemed dissatisfied.

"This here pig is a young lady; is her name Alexander?" Pig-wig opened her mouth and shut it again; Pigling coughed asthmatically.

The grocer ran his finger down the advertisement column of his newspaper -"Lost, stolen or strayed, 10s. reward;" he looked suspiciously at Pig-wig. Then he stood up in the trap, and whistled for the ploughman.

"You wait here while I drive on and speak to him," said the grocer, gathering up the reins. He knew that pigs are slippery; but surely, such a very lame pig could never run!

"Not yet, Pig-wig, he will look back." The grocer did so; he saw the two pigs stock-still in the middle of the road. Then he looked over at his horse's heels; it was lame also; the stone took some time to knock out, after he got to the ploughman.

"Now, Pig-wig, now!" said Pigling Bland.

Never did any pigs run as these pigs ran! They raced and squealed and pelted down the long white hill towards the bridge. Little fat Pig-wig's petticoats fluttered, and her feet went pitter, patter, pitter, as she bounded and jumped.

They ran, and they ran, and they ran down the hill, and across a short cut on level green turf at the bottom, between pebble beds and rushes.

They came to the river, they came to the bridge -
they crossed it hand in hand -
then over the hills and far away
she danced with Pigling Bland!


"Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy stories must have it.(...) I will call it Eucatastrophe (...) the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous end. (...)

"In such stories, when the sudden turn comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through."

From Tree and Leaf, by JRR Tolkien


I would add that the eucatastrophic effect here comes from a prose tale breaking into verse for the final sentence only.



Anonymous said...

Though the parallel is not exact, Shakespeare achieves a somewhat similar effect in some of his plays by writing in blank verse but ending each act with a rhyming couplet.

Bruce Charlton said...

@wmjas - Yes. I too find that technique in Shakespeare is often very effective at 'lifting' my emotions.

A very early example of using verse in this general fashion is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - which is mostly written in alliterative verse, but at the end of each stanza there is are four short rhyming lines. It seems to work very well.

What I do *not* find effective is a prose work interspersed with poems - I find I always want to skip the poems.

Thoreau's Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers is like this - and I don't think I have ever made myself read the verse.

(But also, I don't find Thoreau to be an adequate poet)

Anonymous said...

"What I do *not* find effective is a prose work interspersed with poems - I find I always want to skip the poems."

Surprising, coming from an admirer of Tolkien.

Bruce Charlton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruce Charlton said...

Good point.

I think I did - usually - skip the poems during the early LotR readings of my mid-teens; or go back and enjoy the poems separately, in isolation.

Nowadays I do not read LotR or the Hobbit as a consecutive whole - unless I am reading them aloud to someone in the family. I tend to re-explore them.

I do find Tolkien a genuine poet, although patchy and uneven - whereas I do *not* find most anthologized versifiers to be real poets: for instance Emerson and Thoreau are not real poets for me (despite Robert Frost's endorsement of Emerson, which must be taken seriously).

But then I am idiosyncratic, since I do not rate as poets most of the 'major poets' of the 20th century- not Eliot, not Pound, not even Yeats (yes, I know that sounds silly), not Robert Graves - but yes to much lesser-known/ 'minor' figures such as Dylan Thomas, Walter de la Mare, WH Davies, Houseman... - all of whom wrote poetry at least a few times in a few places.

The best modern poet (in English) is Frost, because (so far as I know) he produced *vastly* more real poetry than any other single individual.