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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #161
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

I would really like to read people's thoughts on the meaning behind what is going on in The Almond Tree. More a mystical tale than a straight supernatural one perhaps, but the strange nature of the birth at the end and the father's premonition of his own death surely evoke the uncanny, though they could equally be jumbled memories of a fanciful imagination.

I have read this story over and over and over, but each time I arrive at different ideas. I don't think I'll ever fully understand the meaning I catch glimpses of throughout the narrative.

'I believe in what the Germans term Ehrfurcht: reverence for things one cannot understand.'
― Robert Aickman, An Essay

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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #162
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Thank you for raising the question of 'The Almond Tree'. Forrest Reid devotes quite a few pages to this story in his study of de la Mare, and R L Megroz looks at it too in his study. They both say that what the author is trying to do is present the breakdown of an adult relationship filtered through the perception and imagination of a young boy, as he tries to make sense of what he sees and hears and is told.

It’s a sensitive study of how our imperfect understanding affects what we think we know, and how a child uses their highly creative powers of invention to construct stories to fill in the gaps. We can if we wish apply the same lessons to ourselves. The actual events in the story (of birth and death) are not its point – the way we see things, is. And even when outer events are dramatic, it's implied, it is our inner life that has a stronger call on us.

Incidentally, Reid (a good friend of de la Mare) argues that the story suffers because it is told in the first person. We can believe in the Count who tells it, he says, and we can believe in the boy: but we can’t quite believe the Count was that boy. Also, very practically, he adds that a boy would not remember some of the detail the Count says he does.

Of course, it could be (I would add) that the unreliability of the Count’s memory is another subtlety in the story - was it really quite like that, or is that just how the Count makes sense of it now? A reflection then on the complexity and ambiguity of memory.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #163
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

I'm puzzled why the BBC adapted it as part of their series of adaptations of de la Mare's ghost stories. Only adds to the confusion about which of de la Mare's stories are ghostly.

Top ten de la Mare ghost stories:

Seaton's Aunt
All Hallows
Crewe
A Recluse
A:B:O
The Tree
Winter
Mr. Kempe
Out of the Deep
The Green Room

I found a reading of Bad Company, which is a more conventional de la Mare ghost story, but worth checking out:

Pseduopod 315: Bad Company - Pseudopod

'I believe in what the Germans term Ehrfurcht: reverence for things one cannot understand.'
― Robert Aickman, An Essay

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Old 3 Weeks Ago   #164
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

I originally posted this query in the "Questions" section over a month ago, but received no replies. Perhaps I'll do better re-posting it here. (Note to moderators: If this is improper practice, then my apologies. If one can choose, then I'd appreciate your deleting the earlier post and leaving this one here).

"Winter" is a favorite Walter de la Mare tale of mine. After so many readings, I don't think it withholds too many secrets from me, but there is one that persists: the Shakespearean epigraph to the story from 2 Henry IV, act 1, sc. 2. Falstaff is bantering with the Chief Justice and asserts, as de le Mare quotes him:

"All the other gifts appurtenint to man, as the malice of this age shapes them, are not worth a gooseberry."

Any thoughts as to how this quotation relates to de la Mare's story? I have a few tentative ideas, but they are murky and unsatisfactory.
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Old 3 Weeks Ago   #165
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

The narrator spends the majority of the story surveying the gravestones in the desolate churchyard many of which display sentiments of despair at the prospect of bodily dissolution and the loneliness of the grave. There is very little sign of the expected Christian hope for the joys of the life hereafter.

The lingering sense of unease comes from the series of epitaphs in the first person as if we are listening to echoes of voices from beyond. When the narrator eventually meets 'the figure' it violently recoils from him as if he embodied the same miserable and fatalistic aspects of the sleeping dead.

I first thought that perhaps what the Falstaff quote is suggesting is that in the other world (the afterlife or some parallel dimension that has, for some brief moment, touched on ours) moral values are reversed and black is white and white is black i.e. where our 'appurtenant gifts are not worth a gooseberry', but that doesn't seem right to me now.

The figure's clothes are 'richly coloured' (perhaps suggesting magical robes?) and it is holding a divining rod saying that it is looking for 'the way'. Is the figure trying to find some escape from the terrors of the other world, only to find that they have simply retraced their path back to the cold and bleak world of their birth? This would make it an overt morality tale with the unquiet soul trapped forever between the worlds. For example, the figure is encountered on the 'Northern skirts of the graveyard' i.e. where murderers and strangers are buried.

But why then, does the narrator say the figure is 'not of my kind, nor of my reality'? Is it perhaps, a fallen angel in its 'richly coloured' robes? One of the gravestones is to an 'Asrafel or is it Israfel?' the name of an archangel from the Quran and the subject of a poem by EA Poe on the sorrows of angels changing place with mortals.

Taking the Shakespearean epigraph into account, with its relativistic tone, it suggests to me that not only is this world 'a vale of tears' where virtue goes unrewarded, but so is the next and so on ad infinitum without escape.

"The iniquity of oblivion blindly scatters her poppy seed and when wretchedness
falls upon us one summerís day like snow, all we wish for is to be forgotten." - WG Sebald
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Old 2 Weeks Ago   #166
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Thank you, Derek, for the thoughtful and thought-provoking reply. I am beginning, however, to think that this is as much a riddle as "The Riddle"!
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Old 2 Weeks Ago   #167
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

A conference that might interest those withing range of Cambridge, UK: Reading Walter de la Mare 21 September 2018
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Old 1 Week Ago   #168
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

Quote Originally Posted by Al de Baran View Post
To commemorate the actual All Hallows, I thought I would share the following link, in which political philosopher John Gray, of all people, uses de la Mare's tale "Winter" (another favorite of mine, along with "A Revenant") as a touchstone for his interesting reflections. I hope that others here find Gray's short article interesting and enjoyable.

Ghosts in the Material World
John Gray reads the aforementioned article here:


Gray has a number of his articles in audio form.
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Old 7 Hours Ago   #169
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Re: Walter de la Mare Strangers and Pilgrims

I can't find any details about the revised versions of The Return. I'm not even sure which version is the one I have read. Anybody here know how significantly revised the later editions were?

I maintain it could be edited into a great story, but it's too bogged down by repetitive pontificating to hold up to the standard of de la Mare's finest strange stories. Winter, Strangers & Pilgrims and The Green Room cover much of the same ground in a superior manner. The Return is too talky, which is also why A Revenant doesn't make my top ten.

'I believe in what the Germans term Ehrfurcht: reverence for things one cannot understand.'
― Robert Aickman, An Essay
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