Wonder ClockThe Wonder Clock
by Howard Pyle

When I was a girl, the Howard Pyle folktale books were all favorites of mine.  Pyle’s peasant Robin Hood gave me a sturdy whiff of dusty feet walking dirt roads with street-corner ballads for common people like me, rather than the swashy knightly romances of other versions. I read that book so often that I could instantly flip the book open to my favorite parts. Then there were Pyle’s other books, Otto of the Silver Hand, The Book of Pirates, and of course the two folk-tale books, Pepper and Salt and The Wonder Clock. These last two had a particular nostalgia for me, because Grandma had read these stories to me when I was little, and I in turn read them to her years later. My taste in fairy tales had always been strongly influenced by the Polish and Russian stories that ran in our family. Perrault’s elegant bewigged palace nobles and Disney’s American teenager princesses just couldn’t get under my skin as well as the bears and goosegirls and soldiers and woodcutters and Baba Yaga witches. I liked Pyle’s fairytale story choices because they came from that same earthy background.

So, when I saw that LibriVox was arranging a group recording of The Wonder Clock, I had to jump right on board. By the time we were finished, I had recorded eight of the twenty-four stories in this book, and had myself a fine old time doing it. Usually when I’m recording for LV, I try to choose a time when I’m by myself, so I don’t have to keep stopping for noises like coughs and rustles of movement by other people moving around the room. But for The Wonder Clock, I did most of my recording when my dad was nearby, because there’s not half as much fun in these stories unless they’re shared aloud with someone.

If you’d like to sit back and enjoy being read aloud to, you may simply click on this audio link and enjoy —

[archiveorg wonderclock_1309_librivox&playlist=1 width=500 height=400 frameborder=0 webkitallowfullscreen=true mozallowfullscreen=true allowfullscreen]

If you want to download the audiobook and save it for later, here’s the link to the LibriVox audiobook version —  The Wonder Clock by Howard Pyle. And because a Pyle book is only half as enjoyable without the pictures, here’s a link to a free online text of the original book, complete with all the delicious Pyle line drawings — Text of The Wonder Clock with Howard Pyle’s illustrations .

What sort of stories will you find here? Well, “How the Good Gifts Were Used By Two” is a classic story of misused wishes. Saint Nicholas and Saint Christopher are two very down-to-earth saints, walking through the world on foot, staying at whatever house makes them welcome. To those who play host to these visitors, a magical blessing is given in return. But how you use this gift is up to you, and as usual in these stories, the greedy and the quarrelsome make the poorest use of the golden moment. It’s the poor man and his humble wife who, by simply going about their ordinary morning’s business, received their windfall in a simplicity of gratitude without grasping.

Maybe there’s a theme here. After all, bags of gold play their part in a number of these stories. In “Master Jacob”, three self-important rogues set out to swindle the title character. At first, they succeed in making a patsy of him. But it turns out that Master Jacob is no lamb to go quietly to the slaughter. With his equally sly wife, he cleverly turns the tables on the rogues, taking them for a great deal more than they had got from him. But Master Jacob differs from the trio who started this dance. They were after gain because of their greed, while he only swindled those who had already swindled him. The swindlers are taught a lesson, shamed and humiliated by their erstwhile victim. The money is just a byproduct of all the shenanigans, the evidence of Master Jacob’s gleeful victory.

Probably the most satisfying story in the collection is “Which Is Best?” We begin with the classic set-up — two brothers, one rich and one poor.  The rich brother is grasping and harsh in his dealings with the world. Yet despite this, the poor brother is a happy man — “…it was a merry life that the poor brother led of it, for each morning when he took a drink he said, “Thank Heaven for clear water;” and when the day was bright he said, “Thank Heaven for the warm sun that shines on us all;” and when it was wet it was, “Thank Heaven for the gentle rain that makes the green grass grow.”

The rich brother is severely critical of his brother’s gentle generosity and mercy, blaming him for being a fool. To prove that he is right, the rich brother calls on a straw poll of random men-in-the-street, all of whom agree that the rich brother is right, that success is the only thing that matters. Then the rich man put out the poor man’s eyes, “… ‘for,’ says he, ‘a body deserves to be blind who cannot see the truth when it is as plain as a pikestaff.’ But still the poor man stuck to it that mercy was the best. So the rich man rode away and left him in his blindness.”

Of course, we know that all will end well for the poor man. He recovers his sight and  meets with good fortune, while the rich man comes to a bad end. But what gives this story its particular pleasure is the nature of the poor man’s success. He is given a choice between the allure of flashy jewels, the crass power of minted money, or the useful gifts of wisdom-revealing spectacles, a book of knowledge, and a medicinal apple. He chooses down-to-earth practicality — “Hi! But these are worth the having, sure and certain!” And he goes on to achieve success while remaining true to himself. The same man who gave his last farthing to a beggar at the start of the story is the man who goes about generously healing and curing at the story’s end.