Sunday, November 26, 2017

Excerpt from La Belle Sauvage, Volume One of The Book of Dust

Excerpt from La Belle Sauvage, Volume One of The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman:

The lawns all sloped gently up to a great palace, glowing at every window, where people (too small to see in detail at that distance) moved about as if at a ball or a reception for important guests. They danced behind the windows, they stood talking on the terrace, they wandered here and there among the fountains and the flowers in the garden. Scraps of a waltz played by a large orchestra drifted down to the travellers on the grass, and scraps of conversation too, from the people who were walking to and fro.

On the other bank of the little river there was . . . nothing to see at all. A thick fog covered everything beyond the edge of the water. From time to time something would make the fog swirl and seem about to part, but it never did. Whether the opposite bank was like this one, cultivated, beautiful, wealthy, or whether it was an empty desert, they couldn’t tell.

[...]

The path to the palace led through the gardens, among the little trees with lights, past the beds of roses and lilies and other flowers, past a fountain with glowing water and then another with water that sparkled and a third that sprayed up not water but something like eau de cologne – and after all that, the travellers seemed not a yard closer to the building on the hill. They could see every window, every column, every one of the steps leading to the great open door and the glowing space inside; they could see people moving about behind the tall windows; they could even hear the sound of music as if a ball was in progress; but they were just as far from the palace as they were when they started.

‘This path must be laid out like a sodding maze,’ said Alice.

‘Let’s go straight across the grass,’ said Malcolm. ‘If we keep it right in front of us we can’t go wrong.’

So they tried that. If they came to a path they crossed it. If they came to a fountain they went round it and carried straight on. If they came to a flower bed they went right through it. And still they were no closer.

[...]

Wandering towards them was a little group of two men and two women. [...] They were young and elegant, dressed for a ball, the women in long gowns that left their arms and shoulders bare, the men in black and white evening dress, and they each carried a glass. They were all laughing and talking in that light happy way that Malcolm had seen lovers doing, and the dæmons, all birds, fluttered around or settled on their shoulders.

‘Excuse me,’ he said as they approached, ‘but . . .’

They ignored him and walked closer. Malcolm stepped right in front of them.

‘Sorry to bother you, but d’you know how we can—’

They took no notice whatsoever. It was as if he didn’t exist except as an obstacle in the path. Two went one side of him, laughing and chatting, and two went the other, hand in hand, murmuring into each other’s ears.

[...]

He found that he could return to the canoe in just a few steps. Somehow that wasn’t surprising.

[...]

[Malcolm climbs a tree for resin to repair his canoe ...] Then he looked out of the tree and across the great lawns and flower beds as far as the terrace and the house beyond it: gracious and comfortable, splendid and generous. He thought that one day he’d come here by right, and be made welcome, and stroll among these gardens with happy companions and feel at ease with life and death.

Then he looked the other way, across the little river. And he was high enough in the tree to see over the top of the fog bank, which only extended upwards for a few feet, as he now discovered; and beyond it he saw a desolation, a wilderness of broken buildings, burned houses, heaps of rubble, crude shanties made of shattered plywood and tar-paper, coils of rusty barbed wire, puddles of filthy water whose surfaces gleamed with the toxic shimmer of chemical waste, where children with sores on their arms and legs were throwing stones at a dog tied to a post.

[...] Bonneville! It’s him!

[...]

‘That’s the place where people go when they forget. You seen the fog on the other side?’

‘Yes. And I saw what was behind it.’

‘That fog’s hiding everything they ought to remember. If it ever cleared away, they’d have to take stock of theirselves, and they wouldn’t be able to stay in the garden no more.’