The Easter Egg by Saki

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I was looking around for some “Easter-type” short stories to read for this weekend and found one on line, H.H. Munro’s (a.k.a. Saki) “The Easter Egg” that I thought would fit the bill. I was actually looking more for stories in the “spirit” of Easter than this one turned out to be, but I’m glad I read it nonetheless…

Madame Barbara is ashamed of her son, Lester, who has proven time and time again that, unlike the “good fighting stock” of the family which he was born into, he has all the worst qualities of a coward. Saki describes Lester and his shortcomings wonderfully:

“As a child he had suffered from childish timidity, as a boy from unboyish funk, and as a youth he had exchanged unreasoning fears for others which were more formidable from the fact of having a carefully-thought-out basis. He was frankly afraid of animals, nervous with firearms, and never crossed the Channel without mentally comparing the numerical proportion of life belts to passengers. On horseback he seemed to require as many hands as a Hindu god, at least four for clutching the reins, and two more for patting the horse soothingly on the neck.”

If the hapless Lester were not offered some chance to redeem himself for his life of craven timidity, this wouldn’t be a short story worthy of Saki, though, would it? The opportunity presents itself when he and his mother travel to Knobaltheim “…one of those small princedoms that make inconspicuous freckles on the map of Central Europe.” It seems the Prince, a steadfast representative of the old guard of Europe and opposed to “progress” is coming to town for some grand affair. Among the gifts for this dignitary is the Easter Egg in the title of the story. But something seems not quite right about this and Lester is the first to notice…

I’ll leave the details for those industrious enough to read the story. I was particularly fond of the last lines of this story, which are quite good and almost goose-bump inducing. A very short story and worth a read.

The story may be read at http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/EasEgg.shtml

Or listen via YouTube at http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wc6EUa7Mra4

I own a copy of Saki’s collected stories, pictured above, but rather than dig it out, I read this one on line at the link provided above.

(below: Illustration from Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant”)

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Two other short stories I like to read around Easter are Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant”  and Leo Tolstoy’s “The Three Hermits” (which I also once blogged about here). Both are quite good and are appropriate for the season, I think.

Have you read any of these stories? What do you think of Saki’s works? Do you do any special reading around this holiday?

(Below: gratuitous picture of my Mom’s Easter Egg tree.  Did anyone else grow up with an easter egg tree in the house each year?)

 

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“Three Are Ye, Three Are We…”

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Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “The Three Hermits.”

This is a great little short story that I first read back in 1994. It was part of an anthology I own called “The World of Fiction.” Essentially, it is an illustration of a point made in Mathew 6: verses 7&8:

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

***Spoiler Alert! Read no further if you would first like to read this story (linked below) for yourself. I urge you to, as it is only about five pages long***

An orthodox bishop is traveling by ship to the “Solavetsk monastery” with some pilgrims when he learns from a fisherman of an island inhabited by three devout hermits. His curiosity piqued, he persuades the captain of the ship to stop at this island and put him ashore so that he might meet these men. The bishop finds there three very old men, dressed in rags, with long beards, and one hardly able to articulate his words. The bishop proclaims he is there to “do what I can to teach you…” He asks them how they go about their prayers to save their souls and those of the rest of mankind. They respond, “We pray in this way, ‘Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.’ ”

The bishop surmises that they must understand something of the trinity but then advised them, “You do not pray aright,” and proceeds to teach them the Lord’s Prayer, which turns out to be an agonizingly slow task, due to their frail memories and vocal chords. When, finally, he thinks they’ve “got it,” he departs and wishes them well, no doubt quite pleased with himself. A while after sailing away from the island, though, he and the other passengers see a disturbance on the waves pursuing them very rapidly. Wondering what it might be, they soon realize it is the three hermits, gliding supernaturally over the water. They are despondent because they have already forgotten the bishop’s instruction and wish to be trained anew. A realization then hits the bishop and he says, ‘Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners.”

Maybe what I like about this story is that the church official is actually able to see that his dogmatic approach to prayer may not be the best after all.

This story may be found free on-line in many places, one of which is linked here.

This is the second Tolstoy short story I’ve read this year for my project (the other being Master and Man). I still have neither read War and Peace nor Anna Karenina, choosing instead to test the waters with his shorter works first. What about you – have you read much Tolstoy? Do you think I would like W&P or AK?