The Selection: “Bobby and the Key-Hole – A Hoosier Fairy Tale” (Book image above found here)
The Author: Edward Eggleston, making his second and final appearance in Deal Me “IN” 2016. I read another of his stories, Mr. Blake’s Walking Stick for week 1.
When populating my Deal Me “IN” deck for 2016, I learned of Eggleston and found his book “Queer Stories for Boys and Girls,” a collection he describes as including “…nearly all of those which I have written for children in a vein that entitles them to rank as “Queer Stories,” that is, stories not entirely realistic in their setting but appealing to the fancy, which is so marked a trait of the minds of boys and girls.” Then, when scanning the story titles for a couple candidates for inclusion in my project, I just couldn’t allow one subtitled “A Hoosier Fairy Tale” to be passed by.
What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? (For an explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/story roster see here. Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection”of some kind. )
Bobby and the Keyhole – A Hoosier Fairy Tale
At some point along the line of my education, probably in Mr. Hon’s Biology class at Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis, I learned about “fontanelles,” the soft “membranous gaps” in a developing infant’s skull. They allow flexibility both during childbirth and during the early growth and development of the brain. It’s my belief that there are also fontanelles of the human imagination. How much easier for us, when young and still growing, to simply imagine our way to entertainment? For most of us, growing up leads to a hardening of these fontanelles of imagination as the sometimes harsh needs of the “real world” sadly relegate flights of fancy to a minor role in our lives. Bobby, however (the title character of this story), still commands the full power of his imagination – a power that can turn a spot on the side of a creek bed into a doorway into the fairy realm…
Eggleston talks about how fairies are usually only seen by rich people, or at least “people who wear fine clothes” and their encounters are not often in the province of the poor. Little Bobby Towpate may be the exception that proves the rule, though, as he lives in a log cabin along “The Injun Kaintuck” creek:
“Bobby’s play-ground was anywhere along the creek in the woods. There were so many children that there was nobody to look after him; so he just kept a careful eye on himself, and that made it all right.”
Great blue heron image from http://www.pwconserve.org/wildlife/birds/herongreatblue.htm
One day Bobby encounters a “stake driver” bird (sounds like a great blue heron from the description) by his creek. The bird transforms from a natural tadpole Hunter to a supernatural “long-legged, long-necked, short-bodied gentleman, in a black bob-tail coat.” It is through this creature that Bobby learns of a door, a keyhole, and a transmogrifying key.
This may have been my least favorite story of Deal Me “IN” so far, but it was still fascinating to read, and made me recall the “fairy craze” of roughly a hundred years ago (anyone remember the “Cottingham Fairies” (the most famous picture of them is below) a hoax that counted author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle among its dupe-ees?) and the “Fair Folk” of the Prydain Chronicles of Lloyd Alexander. The story includes a lot of eye dialect too, which I always find tedious to read. I did find Bobby’s encounter with the “Sleepy-Headed People” underground very interesting and somewhat reminiscent of the type of creatures Swift’s Gulliver might have encountered in his, er, travels. Worth a read if you’re interested. It’s available online at http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/15167/
Below: our non-imaginary fontanelles🙂