Professor Dormouse and The Leaves

If I have seemed surprisingly silent on a subject that has been much occupying my time and mind of late, it is not because I have nothing to say, but because I thought it best to save this here blog from a typhoon of needlessly detailed research results, best reserved for the thesis into which they will, eventually, find themselves.

This is why, although I have kept you all relatively up to date with the fortunes of one Stanley Pleeber, there has been a little less on the many wonders of his collection, notwithstanding the aforementioned de Grasbourg texts. Today, however, I do feel obliged to bring to your attention a couple more of the tales contained within this glorious and incorrigible text.

The first – of which you may have heard – concerns a dormouse who becomes professor at an ancient Mitteleuropean seat of learning. He is qualified in every way except two. One, he is a dormouse. Two, he despises socialising. The point of the story (so far as I can tell) is to suggest that it is the second of these – that which would seem the more easily correctable – which will present the larger problem.

Unlike many of the tales appearing in the de Grasbourg collection, The Dormouse Professor would not appear to have its roots in the usual rural communities to which ancient story seekers sometimes turn. More likely it is, as I have long hypothesised, of religious origin: most likely penned by a frustrated mouse-loving monk beckoning from the region we now call Northern Austria.

Our second story is of firmer peasant stock; conceived in the countryside by ruddy-faced farmers and their superstitious wives. It rolls in the hay like a keen cliché; shirt and trousers torn in all the usual areas. Like a lot of these tales, it goes by many names. In the interests of simplicity, I will call it The Leaves. As such narratives go, this one is far from complex. One day a certain man discovers that leaves from a certain tree on the edge of a certain town have developed an extraordinary power. They have, it seems, developed a life of their own. He tries in vain to convince his fellow villagers of this fact. They do not listen. They think he is confusing the natural patterns of the season for a dark conspiracy. ‘The leaves always turn orange in the autumn’, they say: ‘it doesn’t mean they’re two-faced’.  They gather around – as mockers do – and poke him (metaphorically) with increasingly sarcastic remarks. When they’ve just about finished taunting the poor man, all the leaves drop off the ‘magic’ tree, run along the ground like rats and devour every man, woman and pig in the district.

De Grasbourg, of course, does the story as little justice as only he is able. Other versions of it are, however, so effective that I have for years struggled to perceive the beauty of autumn. To see a leaf tumble off a tree and flutter lightly to the ground is, for me, a deeply frightening sight.


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