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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

HvS | Letter 3 on "The Borrowed House" (Epiphany)

HvS Sketch of Rhine Mermaids in a  Fountain.
[This third letter from Hilda van Stockum to her daughter Brigid in (an educated guess) 1971 expresses an epiphany. HvS has finally figured out how to end her book, which was later named The Borrowed House.]

Dear Bridgie,

I think I have the answer to my story! It is in the ring. 

[From the beginning of the book, Janna is wrapped up in the story behind Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung opera cycle, which was favored by Hitler and was widely told to young Germans in the late 1930s. The German educational system was made over to support Hitler's racial theories. Nazi racial theories and German myths replaced Bible stories and Greek and Roman history and literature.]

She [Janna] finds the ring in the fountain in the garden. The fountain has three mermaids, which are together with their tails and then lean backwards in a dance. But they had snow on them. She thinks they are the Rhine Maidens, clears the snow off them and finds the ring, which she this is their present.

Now the interesting thing is this: She wants power–she is obsessed with the helplessness of creatures and she wants magic. She imagines she has this power. She thinks if she turns the ring three times and makes a wish it will come true. But then she finds it comes true in a way she doesn't want [the Monkey's Paw theme].

She wants Mina, who won't let her see Sef much, for wise reasons, to be less interfering. When Mina falls downstairs (on the ordinary staircase; the other is too complicated and unnecessary) she feels terribly guilty. She didn't mean that. Then the difficulties she experiences in looking after Sef frighten her. When he disappears to deliver her documents she doesn't know what to do and she wishes with all her heart for Mina back. She turns the ring to that effect, only to find that Mina is ill in bed and only another person for her to take care of. 

She turns the ring and asks for the Baron to be removed–then sees the scene in which her mother turns him out–her weeping and misery–and turns the ring to bring him back with disastrous results at the dance.

I'll have to think up some other examples. I can do this (where I can't use real magic) because I know she doesn't influence events at all. So I don't have that horrible feeling of arbitrary happenings. But people who like magic may think she does.

The interesting thing is that is really her mind that is being affected. Whereas she could have been serene and trustful, thinking it was God's will, she gets panicky and guilty when she thinks it is her own [doing].

I told you once it [The Borrowed House] was a book about God, but I didn't know how. Now I know it is how trust in God changes our attitude so we can deal with things. Hugo tells her that. Hugo has a talk with her after he tells her of the Jewish couple who would not accept his help, but were content to let God's will be done.

Janna says: "It isn't God's will, it's Hitler's will."

Then Hugo says: "It's what you think it is. If you think it is Hitler's will you will feel differently about it than if you think it is God's will, and that is what makes the quality of your life. If you insist on everything being in your own control, you'll find sooner or later that you lack the love, the wisdom and the knowledge to do so. Those who let God rule their lives know He has all three and they have the security and peace the others lack."

So when, through disastrous wishes, she finally contemplates the burning house, Janna knows Hugo is right, that she hadn't the knowledge and the wisdom and the love to steer events properly, she throws her ring in the water, says goodbye to Bruenhilde and the old gods, and is content to be  Janna, to trust God's wisdom and God's providence.

And she does this at the moment she sees the Baron pleading with her mother–because she suddenly wants her mother to be free, to make the choice herself–then, as she throws the ring in the water, her mother sends the Baron away.

Do you know, I almost feel it should be called "The Ring"? And is it not interesting how a book grows–and how opposite it is to what you think? Anyone would say that this idea should come first, that it would be impossible to have everything fit in otherwise. But for me it had to come last, the idea of magic would have repelled me–I can only handle it because I know (though the children won't) that there was no magic, only an illusion. An illusion which caused the child great suffering. And it is an illusion shared by primitive people–who often think they have caused disasters that are natural.

And this magic does not take away from the reality of the story, whereas the magic I envisioned before did. I don't know whether she ever realizes there was no magic–perhaps when she grows older she'll know–but in the book she firmly thinks it was magic, or she would not throw the ring away. And see how beautifully that rounds off The Götterdämmerung [the last opera of Wagner's Ring cycle]–the burning of the heathen conception of magic, the old gods, Brunhild. 

Do you understand now that I sometimes think a book is there, in the beginning, and you only dig it out, and find off pieces? Wouldn't you say so, from the way this story grew?

And yet, done the other way, it would have been all wrong.It would have been a religious and political tract. Perhaps there is a same truth in our lives. That we slowly have to find out the meaning in the seeming jumble of our circumstances, because if we started with the meaning, our lives would be too poor. I don't know. Tell me what you think!
Lots of love,
Mim

P.S. This is not only the answer to the story, it is the answer the the questions people ask: "What does prayer do?" What it does is, [permits people] to be able to meet circumstances freely, because they have chosen them–in the trust of God's knowledge and love. Having chosen them makes all the difference, like [the difference between] a love-act and a rape. Maybe we don't influence circumstances with prayer–but we do influence attitudes and the most important thing about circumstances is the attitude! The only real freedom we have is to choose what IS. "I am who am."
M

Posts on The Borrowed HouseNew Edition of The Borrowed House (Purple House Press) . Letter 1 . Letter 2 . Letter 3 . The van Arkel Portrait

Order a copy of the new (October 2016) edition of The Borrowed House.


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