We all would like to find Zen in the Art of writing. Sometimes it can be a frustrating or even elusive process that can seem challenging and even daunting to some. However, Bradbury writes that the three main ideas you need to remember when writing are: WORK, RELAXATION and DON’T THINK. But how would those help you find Zen in the art of writing, I hear you ask?
WORK doesn’t sound like a Zen idea. It conjures up images of effort, sweat and exhaustion. However, Bradbury believes you can find Zen in ‘WORK’ by instead of being a slave to it, striving to become its partner, “Once you are really a co-sharer of existence with your work, that word will lose its repellent aspects”. Often we think of work as something we need to feel guilty about if we are not doing it, or on the other hand, we can feel exhausted and fed-up if we are working too much. Work can be a means to an end, often work is just a process we go through to make money, “The money becomes the object, the target, the end-all and be-all”. If that’s all it is then work degenerates into boredom because it is only a means to an end. So, don’t frame your work or be creative for the sole purpose of making money or fame and fortune. Those are great and a happy by-product of your work but Bradbury believes that you, the writer, who is curious about creativity, actually wants to “make contact with that thing in yourself that is truly original. You want fame and fortune, yes, but only as a reward for work well and truly done. Notoriety and a fat bank balance must come after everything is finished and done”. That means that while writing and creating they shouldn’t really be a factor in the process but an after-thought. As I have written before, you must be authentic, write for the joy of writing and the rest will come. Often the greatest reward a writer can have, although being paid for your art is nice, is when, “someone rushes up to you, his face bursting with honesty, his eyes afire with admiration and cries, “That new story of yours was fine, really wonderful!”. At that moment the money and the work all seem worthwhile as you have touched a person who has seen and felt something from your writing, they have enjoyed what you have created and reacted to it.
Each of you, curious about creativity, wants to make contact with the thing in yourself that is truly original.
Bradbury believes that once we have made a partner of work and not dwelled on whether work will make us money or make us famous but rather on the art of writing itself and the joy of weaving stories, then what comes next is RELAXATION. The ‘WORK’ becomes less like ‘WORK’ and we settle into a happy rhythm. “The mechanical begins to fall away. The body begins to take over. The guard goes down. What happens then? RELAXATION”. We relax into our creativity and through that the muse can flow more freely and there is less pressure on you. You are creating for the beauty of it, for yourself, which lets the originality and authenticity come through and thus improves your writing.
‘The mechanical begins to fall away. The body begins to take over. The guard goes down. What happens then? RELAXATION’.
The last idea that Bradbury encourages writers to take on is ‘DON’T THINK’. Bradbury is not telling you to not think at all, obviously some effort has to go into creating a story but to not OVERTHINK. Get what you want to down on paper, let it flow, you can edit it later, let the joy of writing flow. remember when you were a child and you just wrote whatever came to mind, let your imagination go back to that place without judgement or fear and create. This goes hand in hand with the RELAXATION, not overthinking leads to more relaxation which leads to more creativity and in turn more ‘WORK’. I hear your scoffs, and Bradbury has an answer for you, ”Impossible! you say. How can you work and relax? How can you create and not be a nervous wreck? It can be done. It is done, every day of every week of every year. Athletes do it. painters do it. Mountain climbers do it. Zen Buddhists…do it. Even I do it. And if even I can do it, as you are probably hissing now, through clenched teeth, YOU can do it to!”.
WORK, RELAXATION, DON’T THINK are not mutually exclusive, they should be used simultaneously. They naturally flow into one another as each facilitates they other. ‘ For if one works, one finally relaxes and stops thinking’. True creation occurs then and only then’. That’s true of this process anyway around, if you don’t over think, you will relax and work will come easier. If you relax, you won’t over think and then work will become easier. These are Bradbury’s three tools to help us find Zen in the Art of writing. A kind of mantra if you will. A writer can got lost on their creative journey, “Through wanting literary fame too quickly. From wanting money too soon. If only we could remember, fame and money are gifts to be given us only after we have gifted the world our best, our lonely, our individual truths”. Writing comes from you, from your experiences and perspectives of the world, “There is only one type of story in the world. Your story”. So WORK on that and DON’T THINK so you can RELAX into your creativity. As Bradbury says, “The time will come when your characters will write your stories for you, when your emotions, free of literacy cant and commercial bias, will blast the page and tell the truth. Remember: Plot is no more than foot prints left in the snow AFTER your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. PLOT is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when action is through. That is all PLOT ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal, It cannot be mechanical. it can only be dynamic. So, stand aside, forget targets, let the characters, your fingers, body, blood and heart DO”.
‘It is wise a writer who knows his own subconscious.’ And not only knows it but lets it speak of the world as it and it alone has sensed it and shaped it to its own truth’.
So if we can consider everything we have learnt from Bradbury and his ideas and ways to find Zen in the art of writing we can find one overarching theme and the only thing left to do is give the last word to the man himself. ‘The true test is in the doing. Be pragmatic, then. If you’re not happy with the way your writing has gone, you might give my method a try. If you do, i think you might easily find a new definition for WORK. And the word is LOVE’.
I hope you have enjoyed this three part series on ‘The Art of Zen in Writing’.
All she could see was sea, an endless unknown blue. She had been treading water for a while now assuming someone would come and save her or show her the way, but that hadn’t happened. She didn’t know what to do. She could just pick a direction and swim but what if it was the wrong direction, she could expend all that energy and have nothing to show for it, she would die having accomplished nothing. Of course, she could always stop trying, sink into the blue, let the water wash over her and never have to worry about anything again but the thought of not existing terrified her more. She wanted to live, to explore, to try new things, to meet the future and find out what life had in store for her but she knew she couldn’t do that aimlessly bobbing about in the sea. She just needed to decide which way to swim before her time ran out.
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Getting in touch with your Muse often conjures images of Greek goddesses with flowing locks sparking inspiration within the artist. As we all know, from time to time, getting in touch with your muse can be a bit hit or miss. Sometimes The Muse will visit you and you will have weeks of prolific work, at other times The Muse will be reluctant to show herself , flighty and unco-operative, leaving the writer at a loss. The Muse, or what I will choose to substitute as ‘Creativity’, can often evades us when we look too hard for it. When we try too hard to be the next Dickins, Wilde or Woolfe, creativity is stifled because we are not speaking with our own truth, our own experience.
Art will fly if held too lightly,
Art will die if held too tightly,
Lightly, Tightly, how do I know,
Whether I’m holding or letting Art go?
For ‘Art’ substitute, if you wish, ‘Creativity’ or ‘The Subconscious’ or ‘Heat’ or whatever the word is for what happens when you spin like a fire-wheel and a story ‘happens’.
Bradbury believes that we must feed our Muse/Creativity the same way that the body is fed and then grows over time. Everything we experience ‘sounds, sights, smells, tastes and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small…impressions and experiences and our reactions to them’, are kept within you and your subconscious and feed your Muse/Creativity. Bradbury believes that the subconscious is the core of the individual and where originality and creativity stem from. Each individual has experienced life differently, ‘no man sees the same events in the same order, in his life. One man sees death younger than another, one man knows love more quickly than another’ and onwards it goes making each individual an original. So writers must harness their own experience and originality tucked away in their subconscious to imbue their writing with their own truth, this will make their writing original and aid creativity. Bradbury believes that we all have it in us and , ‘All that is most original lies in wait for us to summon it forth’ that often we are looking outwards for inspiration that we miss what is already inside us.
When people ask me where I get my ideas, I laugh. How strange -we’re so busy looking out, to find ways and means, we forget to look in.
Bradbury also advises feeding your creativity not only with your own experience of the world but also by consuming the experiences and knowledge of others, often a lot of what we read or consume is thrust upon us, so we can make a conscious effort to consume what will be a healthy diet for our Muse/Creativity;
Bradbury encourages writers to read ‘authors who write the way you hope to write, those who think the way you would like to think’ but Bradbury is very careful to stress that you should also, ‘ Read those who do not think or write as you want to write and so be stimulated in directions you might not take for years’. What he is saying is read extensively, keep an open mind to everything and make your own critically, well thought out decisions about what you consume. Often creativity can be sparked by not only the good but also the bad and indifferent.
She knew the rhyme, ‘One for sorrow, two for joy…’ but wasn’t superstitious of the magpie who visited her each day; she had had enough sorrow to fill a hundred lifetimes, so one magpie couldn’t alter that. The magpie always welcomed her to the garden with a rattling caw and perched on the wooden chair next to her as she read her book in the warm sunshine. Eventually, to her sorrow, he fell asleep in her lap and didn’t wake. Her heart broke for the last time and her eyes closed, as the sun shone and the birds sang.
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‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury is a classic book that you always find on those ‘100 books to read before you die’ lists. It’s a book that everyone has heard of and you feel like most people have read, either through force at school or self-improvement in adulthood. ‘Fahrenheit 451’ for me, had come up in recommendations, reading lists and in my peripheral reading vision, time and time again but it was only this year that I decided to read it.
Being an avid reader, I empathised with the main message of the book which is the importance of reading and, not just critical thinking, but independent thought. Loud flashy images, screens which fill entire living rooms and short meaningless entertainment have taken over Bradbury’s unspecified world and has distracted the populace to such a degree they no longer think for themselves or are interested in learning or growing in intellect. Obviously this is perfect for the government because they can now do what ever the heck they like and everyone will be too distracted and dumbed down to notice (Does this sound familiar?). Interestingly, Bradbury doesn’t lay the blame solely at the feet of the government as other dystopian literature does but also on the individual populace for allowing this to happen, as one of his characters states, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” As many people have said before me, this book can be applied to our society as a cautionary tale, a reminder to not always buy into the new fad, to continue to read and think for yourself no matter the year, decade or century. Not to be drawn into the ‘tyranny of the masses’ and follow the crowd but to continue to think, discuss and analyse our society for its betterment. As you can now see, it has become one of my favourite books and Bradbury one of my favourite authors. I highly recommend it and quite frankly could go on and on about this book, but that’s not why we’re here today.
As all of us are at some point, I was looking for some guidance on how to continue to grow as a writer. Imagine my joy when I realized that Bradbury had actually written a book to help me do just that! So, who better for me to get advice from than one of my favourite authors!
‘Zen in the Art of Writing’ is a series of essays which concentrate on certain elements of his writing methods and inspiration. It has many pearls of wisdom and advice which I will be taking through into my writing and you might find useful too. So here are some top tips from Ray Bradbury on how to become a better writer.
Writing during difficult periods of your life
Bradbury believes that writing teaches us that we are alive. Who here cannot say that after a particularly good writing session they haven’t felt more alive and satisfied. He believes that through writing we can begin to understand that life is ‘a gift and a privilege, not a right’ and we must earn that because although our writing cannot prevent us from experiencing life’s negatives it can revitalise us despite everything around us. Therefore for Bradbury writing is not only about embracing life and exploring it but also about survival, as he says, ‘Not to write, for many of us, is to die’.
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
I very much empathised with this as there are days when I don’t write and in the back of my mind the page is always calling me. Often it can be satiated just by writing for 20 minutes, often there are days where the feeling takes me and I can write all day. Even Bradbury himself states that he becomes uneasy after even a day not writing and after three he starts going a bit loopy. The point is not to be too hard on yourself and to practice as often as you can but this can often be difficult if life is taking a downward turn. The key is to keeping going despite everything, Bradbury says,’ The smallest effort means to win’ against the world and not writing can mean that the ‘world would catch up with you and try to sicken you’. He believes that even ‘an hour’s writing is tonic’, it’s the little bit of poison that is taken to build immunity to life’s own venom. Writing makes sense of life, both the light and dark, it can help the reader and the writer to work through life’s horrors. As Bradbury says, ‘Who amongst us has not had a cancer-dead friend? Which family exists where some relative has not been maimed by the automobile?….The list is endless and crushing if we do not creatively oppose it.’ Now Bradbury may come across a little flippant here but he does go on to say that writing can be a cure, that although we never get over these things it can be a form of ‘therapy’ and that when life throws you a curve ball or a tragedy, ‘You must leap to set up your diving board and dive head first into your typewriter’. Obviously everyone is different and deals with life in a different way, some things in life hit harder than others, but writing as a form of working through your own feelings and extracting meaning from difficult situations is a workable theory. It may help us all to make sense of life and to push through our difficult periods and come out the other side.
Taking Joy in your work
I don’t think many of us need to be told to take joy in our work, it is inherent in the craft. Bradbury believes that all writers should harness this ‘Zest’ and ‘Gusto’ and imbue your work with it. Don’t be distracted by the commercial markets, what’s popular or the ‘avant-garde coterie’ because if you are, you are not being yourself and ‘without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer’. Take what annoys you, what you hate, what outrages you about society and use it in tandem with your enthusiasm to create. Bradbury tells of the numerous times he would walk around the neighborhood at night to think about his writing, only to be stopped by the police often enough that it birthed ‘The Pedestrian’. A story of a man who is arrested and study by government scientists because he prefers to look at ‘untelevised reality and breathing in un air-conditioned air’. Ideas and inspiration can also come from the things you love; objects, concepts, people. Use your enthusiasm for what you love and weave stories around them. Even the most unassuming of items can be sources of inspiration, a spider’s web, a scientific journal, a shoe. As Bradbury says, ‘ Ideas lie everywhere, like apples fallen and melting in the grass…’
The first thing a writer should be is excited. he should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms…’
Bradbury’s gives his formula as this, ‘ What do you want more than anything in the world? What do you love? What do you hate? Find a character like yourself who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him orders, Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go. The character, in his great love or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story‘.
Bradbury also talks about how as writers, we should also use our ‘Gusto’ to help us to find joy even with the more technical side of writing. Grammar checking and drafting are not to most glamorous of tasks for the writer but Bradbury urges you to take ‘ joy in the first draft, in the hope that your joy will seek and find others in the world, who, reading your story, will catch fire too…’ That initial joy of getting it all down on paper will get you through the drafting and redrafting and will even help those that stumble with ‘grammatical tools and literary knowledge’. Passion is key, so use your ‘Zest’ and ‘Gusto’ to move you to find ideas, write and enjoy your craft.
What else can we learn from Ray Bradbury? Find out in Part 2, coming soon!
In the style of the original Grimm Fairy tales which I have loved all my life.
Once there was a poor, young girl who lived in the forest with her father and aunt. Her father was a woodsman who hunted in the forest and provided what he could for his family. He spent long days hunting in the woodland and worried about leaving the young girl on her own at the cabin. Needing someone to look after the girl as she grew, he asked his spinster sister to come and live with them. Unfortunately for the girl, her aunt was a greedy, resentful and spiteful woman who blamed everyone else for her own hardship. She always concentrated on what she didn’t have rather than be grateful for what she did have. She soon became jealous of the girl’s youth and carefree nature which gave her a beauty that could only be found by having a happy soul. The aunt, who’s soul was dark and unhappy, resented that the girl seemed contented despite the fact that they were so poor
“Why do you smile girl, do you not see that we have nothing, what is there to be happy about?” she would snap.
“We have a roof over our heads and we have each other and the forest to feed us, we have everything we need.” The young girl would always reply with an innocent smile.
The aunt would always snarl at her and exhale in exasperation but in her heart the girl was delighted to live in the forest. All she needed was what the forest could provide for sustenance, a clear, babbling stream, the beautiful birdsong which rose to a crescendo every morning and the cool cover of the variety of mighty trees that surround their humble wooden cabin. One of her favourite things in the world was to walk barefoot amongst the fallen leaves and hear their crunch underfoot. She loved to see the squirrels scurry up the trees and perform acrobatic feats and catch glimpses of skittish deer in the bracken. She felt at home in the forest.
As the years passed, being a resentful woman, the aunt grew tired of the girl’s carefree nature and was determined to dampen the light in her eyes. The aunt gave the girl all of the most back-breaking chores around the house and would berate her for the smallest mistake, whether it was true or not; not enough firewood, too much firewood, more water, not enough water, not the right berries, too much dust on the floor, and on and on. Day after day the aunt berated the girl to beat down her soul and slowly the light died behind the girl’s eyes. The father knew that something was wrong but was always too tired from hunting and managing the forest to understand what was wrong with the girl. He could see that she was not the lively carefree girl that he once knew when she was young and this troubled him.
One day, the aunt sent the girl into the forest to collect berries for their evening meal, she shoved the basket into the girl’s stomach. ‘You have been a useless child for so long, I don’t know why I bother sending you out into the forest again and again. You never get enough berries and they are always too bitter and small, this time there must be more than 500 berries in that basket or don’t come back because you are clearly of no use to us,’ she shouted after her.
The down-trodden girl trudged into the forest along her normal route, the leaves crunched beneath each step but she no longer found any joy in it. Search as she might she could not find any berries along her usual route. She desperately searched and searched for hours, terrified that she may not be able to return home. The girl had always been told to stick to the path in the forest so as to not become lost and she had always followed this advice and been safe. But the light of day was growing dim and she only had a handful of berries in her basket, nowhere near the 500 her aunt wanted.
“My aunt is right, I’m no use to anyone, I can’t even complete a simple task like collecting berries. Maybe I should stray from the path, there may be more berries further into the forest and if I get eaten, then it will be no great loss.”
So she strayed off the path into the enveloping forest, the once friendly trees threw eerie shapes across her path as the sun was setting. More than once she tripped on upturned roots and caught her cape on grasping branches that seemed like clawing, gnarled hands in the encroaching darkness. The girl pressed on, searching around her feet for the berries she needed but it was becoming more and more difficult to recognize where she was. A low mist began to descend on the forest, so she could barely see her hand in front of her face. It curled around the trees, flowing and turning through the jagged branches. The girl was becoming afraid as she had been wandering for hours and had realized that she was lost. The noises that were so familiar in the daytime became sinister and supernatural at night. She clutched at her chest in fright, wound her cape closer around her and walked faster. Eventually the girl was so gripped with fear she stumbled quickly forward and her foot caught in the root of a nearby tree. Forward she tumbled and tumbled down a leaf-littered hill.
The noises that were so familiar in the daytime became sinister and supernatural at night…
The girl checked that she was intact and tried to stand but her ankle was terribly painful. She hobbled to stand and began brushing the leaves off her clothes and looked up to find she had fallen into a mossy hollow. The moss was a luscious emerald green, fluffy, soft and cool underfoot and had even begun to creep up the earthen walls. In the middle of the hollow she saw an ivory tree illuminated by a warm shaft of light, though she could not think where it could be coming from as the hollow seemed so cosy and enclosed. Small, indigo wisps, resembling fireflies, seemed to dance through the shivelight and land around the tree trunk. The tree had a silvery bark that reminded her of a birch but its trunk was thicker and had more texture with fissures and deep cracks which betrayed its age. It grew on its side as if it had once been felled by an unknown force but refused to die. Its milky white roots were still gripping the ground, thick, and weaving intricate patterns through the moss that surrounded the tree. The branches grew upwards away from the tree trunk and each limb looked delicate but strong at the same time. Each branch grew an abundance of leaves which were dusky pink arrowheads and seemed iridescent in the light. The girl felt a strong sense of comfort here, almost as if the tree was calling for her to sit at its side and rest her weary soul. She was so tired and frightened that a cascade of emotion built in her chest and burst forth into sobs of relief. The moss around the trunk looked dry and soft, so she hobbled over to the tree and slumped down at its side. As she sat onto the moss it seemed to envelope her perfectly and it released an earthy perfume that reminded her of the happier days of her childhood. She lay her head back against the ivory trunk and began to weep more fervently. The girl was so terribly miserable, despite this moment of respite and even because of it. She felt useless and lonely and knew that eventually she would have to go home with no berries, only to be thrown out. She wept and wept.
A gentle, melodic voice broke into her sobbing, “Why are you crying?”
She looked up to see the most beautiful stag she had ever seen standing before her, its head was lowered to look at her and its large, kind, brown eyes stared in concern at her tear-stained face. The stag was larger than any of the deer she had ever seen in the forest. It towered above her but despite this she did not feel afraid. The shaft of light illuminating the tree formed a halo of light around the stag’s velvety antlers, each of which seemed to have grown from a pedicle on its head, upwards in an intricate pattern, looping and interlacing, growing out and then round to meet in a crown-like shape above its head. Its russet hide looked smooth and soft as silk; the girl almost reached out to touch it.
Shaking off her fascination, she realised she had been asked a question and took a deep breath,
“My life is miserable. I am lost and I have hurt my foot. I have not collected enough berries for dinner which will be long past by now and my aunt will surely throw me out when I return home” she said.
“It will not do to have you cry” said the stag, pawing the earth with its large black hooves. ‘Why not stay a while and we can talk, tell me more of your troubles’. So the girl explained all about her love for the forest, living with her cruel aunt and how she had come to the stag’s hollow. The stag listened closely and decided that the girl was kind-hearted and would help her. The stag could see that the hearth of the girl’s heart was a dull ember, almost extinguished by her aunt’s cruel treatment, so he reached up to the tree and picked a leaf from it. He bade the girl eat the leaf as it would comfort her. The girl did as he asked and found that it melted in her mouth. As she swallowed a warm, comforting feeling spread down her throat and into her chest as if she had swallowed a beam of sunlight on a warm summer’s day. She felt warmth return to her limbs and hope return to her heart which caused her eyes to tear.
“Thank you” she said, “I thought I would never feel this way again, how can I repay you for this kindness?”
“I am sorry for the trouble your aunt has given you and if it is berries you need, I can provide them to you, for you should not lose your home because of this errand. If I give you these berries however, you must promise never to tell anyone where you found them. If you wish to repay me, I enjoy your company and ask only that you come and visit me every day.”
A large smile broke across her face and her cheeks flushed. The girl had enjoyed talking with the stag so much and she gladly agreed.
The stag touched her basket with its huge antlers and it suddenly filled with the most delicious, full and ripe berries she had ever seen. They were large, scarlet and looked fit to burst with sweet juice. The girl was amazed and so grateful, though her smile grew fainter as she realized she did not know how to return to this sanctuary and so could not keep her promise.
The stag reassured her and said, “Have no fear this is my hollow and I want you to visit again so I will tell you how to return. Just follow the trail of bluebells that bloom on the forest floor and you will find me. It is time to leave my dear, hold onto my antlers and I will guide you out of the fog.” His antlers were as soft as satin under her palms, softer than she had imagined, and so he led her away.
Once they had reached her path home, she thanked the stag over and over again and she could swear that it had smiled. The handsome stag bowed to her and turned into the forest; she couldn’t help but watch it disappear into the mist.
When she returned home her aunt berated her for being so late and taking so long. When the girl handed her the basket, her aunt’s eyes danced with hunger for she had never seen fruits so delicious and full before. She narrowed her eyes in suspicion, “Where did you get these?”
Remembering what the stag told her the girl lied and said, “By the stream, it must be the water that makes them grow so large and juicy.”
“I know that you stupid girl!” spat her aunt, “I see there are at least 500 berries here. I suppose you think you are very clever; I won’t throw you out tonight but let’s see if you can be just as useful tomorrow. I have my doubts.”
Her aunt’s words had less effect on the girl that night and she went to bed clutching to the warmth that had been ignited in her chest.
The aunt eyed the basket full of fruit greedily, ‘Why shouldn’t I have it, the girl was so late back and I had to wait for her when I could have gone to bed. She’s made me so tired and I never get enough food living here. I deserve it after all I’ve done for these people’, she thought. She sat down at the wooden table and put a juicy berry in her mouth. The juice burst forth over her tongue as she bit into the soft skin and it filled her mouth with the sweetest nectar. She had another and another until the whole basket was empty. She went to bed full and satisfied while the girl had gone to bed with nothing.
The juice burst forth over her tongue as she bit into the soft skin and it filled her mouth with the sweetest nectar. She had another and another until the whole basket was empty.
The next day, the aunt told the girl to go out and get more berries. The girl was confused as to where the whole basket of berries had gone to but the aunt replied haughtily, ‘I don’t have to tell you, now go and get some more’. Each day the girl went out and collected the berries her aunt requested, more and more each day. She would bring back the ripe juicy berries in the amounts her aunt had asked and the girl noticed that each time the basket became empty and her aunt became plumper and plumper. What her aunt didn’t know, is that every day the girl would follow the bluebell trail that led to the hollow of the stag and they would sit and chat for hours. They would talk about the forest, its animals and how the balance of the forest is maintained. Sometimes she and the stag would fall asleep on the moss, with her head resting on his silky smooth coat which was warm and comforting. Each day after visiting with the stag, the girl would return with the berries and feeling lighter and happier; the spark of joy was returning to her eyes which gave her a beauty which shone from the inside out. Having been eating the berries that the girl spent her days collecting, the aunt had become healthier but also rather rotund. This of course she blamed on the girl despite it being of her own doing. Once more the aunt grew resentful of the girl; she grew suspicious seeing her so light and happy. She asked again where the girl had picked the berries, and the answer was always the same: “Down by the stream where they can get juicy and big.”
“But why does it take you so long to get them?” The Aunt enquired.
“They are all deep within the stream and river so my skirts become full of water and heavy, so I move slowly” replied the girl.
“But then why are your skirts not wet when you return home?” asked the aunt hoping the catch her out.
“That is what also takes time, aunt, I must wait for my skirts to dry in the sunshine, otherwise they would become muddy and I would dirty the floors of our house.”
The aunt’s suspicions were not satiated, it seemed that the girl had an answer for all of her questions. Days passed and as the girl grew happier, she seemed to grow more beautiful. The aunt’s anger grew and her jealously began to make her unreasonable. She needed to know what the girl did to make her so happy, so one day she asked the girl to complete what she thought was an impossible task, “Today you must collect three baskets of berries.” The girl told her that would be no problem and skipped off into the forest. The aunt tried to follow but a mist descended and she became lost and had to return home. The girl returned home with three baskets full of delicious berries, the aunt was amazed, but of course ate all three baskets greedily, leaving none for anyone else.
The next day, she gave the girl what she thought was an even more impossible task and asked her to bring back five baskets of berries. This time however, when the aunt followed again, she noticed the girl was following a trail of bluebells, so she did the same. She kept her distance and saw the girl arrive at a beautiful hollow, where a large stag, seemed to be waiting for the girl. The girl seemed to glow with happiness when she saw the beast and the aunt watched them talk and laugh. The aunt was seething with jealousy and returned home in a fury, crashing through the trees and trampling anything in her way.
Later that night she spoke to the girl’s father and said, ” We have only been living off a few meagre berries and the few rabbits you bring in, but I have seen a large stag in the forest, larger than I’ve ever seen, that would feed us all winter if we could catch it and kill it.”
The father, as a good woodsman and hunter, knew that the lore of the forest was never to take more than you need and had always provided enough for the family to live off. But he also knew that winters could be difficult in the forest and a large stag would help to feed the family for the whole season. This also meant he could spend more time at home with his daughter. So he agreed to go with the aunt the next day to the place where she had seen the stag.
The next day, after the girl had left to pick berries, the aunt told the girl’s father to accompany her and they followed the trail of blue bells which led them to the stag’s hollow. There they both saw the large majestic stag sitting peacefully beneath the fallen tree. The aunt noticed the girl’s baskets nearby but the girl was not with the stag, she imagined the look on the girl’s face when she came back to find the stag dead and smiled.
“Now” hissed the aunt,” Kill it now and we shall dine like kings all winter.”
The father was a hardworking and sensible man of the forest and he knew he was looking at a special creature and was unsure about killing it. The stag turned its head and looked straight at where they were crouching. The girl emerged from the back of the hollow singing a cheerful ditty below her breath. In panic, the father, thinking she had not seen the creature, broke from his hiding place and told her to keep back from the beast. The girl looked stricken, as she first saw her father and then the crossbow that he carried. Her father raised his crossbow at the magnificent stag but with no thought for her own safety the girl threw herself across the stag’s body shouting at her father to desist and weeping in desperation.
“Please! No father! I love him, you don’t understand!”, she shouted burying her face in the stag’s soft neck.
Seeing his precious daughter weep, he could not bring himself to shoot the stag. In his heart he knew it would be a crime to kill it and rid the world of such a beautiful creature. He lowered the cross bow.
“I will not kill your beast, daughter, he is too magnificent but how can you love an animal?
The stag immediately turned into a handsome young man with the very same, kind brown eyes and velvety antlers on his head, which now appeared like a crown. The father finally understood who and what this magnificent beast was and went down on one knee and bent his head.
“Thank you”, said the young man, “I know that it must have been a temptation to kill such a large animal to feed your family, especially as winter is approaching”. He shot a look at the aunt, who met his eye and quickly looked away, “as you have no doubt realised, I am the Prince of the Forest. I have seen that you never take more than what you need and treat my forest with care. Your daughter and I have grown to love each other and I wish to ask you for her hand in marriage and as a dowry I promise that you will never go hungry again in my forest.”
“I am truly honoured your majesty but I love my daughter and will not give her away so lightly and for a dowry which only benefits me, what say you daughter? Do you want this?”
“I love him father and I want to share his life. We will live happily in the forest; it is my home as well as his.” replied the girl smiling with relief and embracing the Prince.
“Then so be it” said her father, “My daughter knows her own mind and she has chosen. I wish you both every happiness. I hope that you will take care of my daughter your highness and that I can continue to hunt and take only what I need from the forest”
The Prince bowed to the girl’s father and explained that there would now never be a day that his table would not be bountiful and that he would always be welcome at Stag’s Hollow to come and visit.
The aunt listening to all of this and was incensed, “What about me? I deserve something too; I’ve worked hard every day to raise that girl even though she was not mine. She is slow and useless. All of this at my own expense, with no gratitude from anyone!”
The Prince looked at the aunt coolly, after hearing about the aunt’s treatment of the girl he knew this to be untrue. What he did know to be true was that she had been following the girl on more than one occasion and knew that the aunt had brought the girl’s father here to kill him under the pretence of caring for the family. Nothing went on in the forest that the Stag Prince did not know about.
“Well I think I know what you deserve dear aunt. I know that you have enjoyed the berries that have been brought back for you by my beloved. It must be more than 100 baskets by now.” The aunt looked nervously at the girl’s father, who was looking a little confused. “Those berries are the divine fruits of the forest and if you sell them you will become rich, you will also become famous for their delicious flavour.” The aunt’s eyes shone with greed and ambition, for she knew how delicious the berries were and knew that this could come to pass. “I will tell you where to find them as long as you promise to not take more than you need. This is the rule of the forest, everything in balance”.
The aunt nodded fervently, breaking her promise in her mind as soon as she was making it. The Prince told her where to find the berries and the aunt ran to find them as quickly as she could without saying thank you or showing any kind of appreciation or deference.
Once she arrived where the berries grew, she fell to her hands and knees on the bank of the wide river, its cool, quick-running water glinted invitingly in the warm sunlight. A little way out from the bank, just below the surface, she spied the delicious red orbs. She licked her lips and hitched up her skirts to wade into the fast-flowing river. She made a dip in her apron to collect the berries, but as she picked them, she began eating more than she was placing in her apron. She needed more berries, so she waded in deeper and deeper into the river, not thinking of the danger. She could only think of the gold, silks and the fine things she would buy when she was rich. She thought of the grand houses she would buy and those she would be asked to dine in. She thought of the delicious fat geese she would eat and the fine cutlery she would use. The aunt ate more and more, and collected more and more in her apron. She convinced herself that the more berries she had, the richer she would be. Her skirts and clothes were becoming heavier with water, and with every handful of berries she ate and put into her apron she felt heavier and heavier. Mesmerized by her greed she did not realize that she was sealing her own fate. She took more and more, ate more and more and waded further and further and sank deeper and deeper. Eventually she was so heavy she sank to the bottom of the river and was never seen again.
The girl and the stag prince lived happily in the forest forevermore. If you are ever in the forest you may be lucky enough to see the girl and her prince, skipping through the shivelight at dusk.
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