Book: Good King Wenceslas by J. M. Neale, pictures by Arthur Gaskin, with an introduction by William Morris
1904, Village Press
It’s Day 11 and we are coming towards the end of the 12 Days.
Good King Wenceslas was written in the 19th century, and this book was made soon after, although this particular reprint is from 1904. There is a short introduction by William Morris, and the illustrations are by Arthur Gaskin, who was part of the Arts and Crafts movement. You can find an online version here.
This Christmas carol (if you haven’t heard it) is about a king who sees a poor peasant gathering wood in the snow on Saint Stephen’s Day. The king is determined to personally bring the poor man meat, wine, and wood, and so he and his page travel through the wintry weather to carry them to him.
While the vocabulary might be a bit tricky and old-fashioned for younger readers, that doesn’t really matter as the story is quite straightforward.
The best thing about this book is that, because it is influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, the entire design is beautiful and intentional. Its typeface is designed to look like a medieval manuscript and has detailed illuminated letters and borders. The pictures have a medieval quality and look to be engravings. The simplicity and sincerity matches to tone of the song.
It’s important at this time of year to remember that caring for all those in need is not an extraneous act, but the most essential kind of justice.
With the seriously wintry and bitter weather we have been having this year, remember to look out for each other!
Book: Bertie’s Escapade by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
1949, J.B. Lippincott Company
For Boxing Day we have Bertie’s Escapade. While The Wind in the Willows is obviously far more well-known, this more obscure work by Grahame is also interesting in its own right. It’s a much shorter book, originally published in First Whisper of the Wind in the Willows.
The story concerns a pig named Bertie who decides he is going to go carol-singing on a Winter’s night. He convinces a pair of rabbits to come along. Their names are Peter and Benjie, but I don’t think they are meant to be Beatrix Potter’s rabbits, just named after them.
Bertie isn’t actually a very nice pig. He’s extremely bossy and even threatens to bite Benjie when the rabbit is reluctant to come along. But Benjie is right to be cautious, as Bertie’s plan doesn’t really work out at all and the carol-singers end up being chased off by dogs.
Bertie makes the best of it, however, and he, the rabbits, and a mole (probably not Moley, as he is married, has a job as an elevator operator, and a somewhat gruff personality) have a supper party by stealing a bunch of food from a Mr Grahame. I don’t know if Kenneth Grahame really did have a pig named Bertie and rabbits named Peter and Benjie, but it is an interesting way to end the story.
Bertie’s Stolen Midnight Supper Menu
This is definitely a fun little book, notable more for comedy than sentiment, but reading something funny while eating far too much indulgent food is a very good way to spend Boxing Day.