Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Reading Undine

Ondine (photo)
"Ondine," photo by Eva the Weaver
 Of all fairytales I know, I think Undine the most beautiful
- George MacDonald
I'm not ready to go as far as MacDonald, but I will say that reading Undine, the classic fairy story by Friedrich Heinrich Karl de la Motte, Baron Fouqué (how's that for a French-German hybrid name?), was very pleasurable for me. Here's why.

When I read a new fairy tale, or one I've forgotten, it's like eating a nectarine. You know what it's like. You sit at the table, and in just a moment the soft peel is off that perfectly round fruit. Then it falls apart into slices, tailor made for human mouths. Twelve, thirteen little bites, and it's done--delightful, tangy, juicy, sweet. A perfect snack.

But never a meal.

Now imagine you could have a tangerine and you could eat it for a good half hour, like you would a full dinner. Sound nice?

<< Well, no, you might say. Halfway through the meal, my tongue would get so cloyed from the sweet, juicy, intense thing that I'd lose my appetite.

But suppose I could make it last that long without cloying your palette?

<< Then it would be so watered down that it wouldn't have any flavor, you might object. Or any nutrition at all!

Ah, and there's the beauty of Undine. Somehow, reading this story was like reading a fairy tale that lasts and lasts. Its sweetness is strong enough to engage the palette, but not so strong that it cloys. Its substance is light enough to draw you into the magic of faerie, but not so light that it feels empty or watery.

Somehow--I don't know quite how--Undine draws you into a longer adventure, all framed in the old fairy tale storytelling tradition, with light touches of description and only glimmers of the inner life of the players. Just like a real fairy tale. And yet it doesn't lose your interest in the places where it takes you or the people who live there.

A meal of tangerine. A meal where the tangerine is somehow transformed into something much larger, more substantial even, without losing its essence.

So maybe I can see why MacDonald called it the most beautiful fairy story. Still seems like strong praise. But surprisingly good? I can agree with that.

Note: You can find Undine free at Project Gutenberg, or on an e-reader near you.

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