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sheldonia-21a

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It is often said a writer is judged by his second book. In the case of Balzac La Peau de Chagrin was his second (if his Physiologie du Mariage is excluded It is not a literary work in the strictest sense).Yes Physiologie earned him notoriety as a rake that made him bristle with irritation. He protested .”Many women readers will be disappointed to learn that the author… is young,steadygoing as an elderly departmental manager, sober as an invalid on a diet…and a very hard worker.’ Of the last he was absolutely correct.)
His potboiler days were behind him and his head was teeming with ideas that never flagged. The novel that established him as a literary star came with La Peau de Chagrin. His day-book contains the germ of an idea: The discovery of a skin representing life. Oriental fable.’In January 1831 he sold it to Messieurs Charles Gosselin and Urbain Canel for the sum of 1,135 francs, a work in two volumes under the title La Peau.. which he was to deliver by 15 February. He was as usual in no hurry to get down to work. But working never frightened as much as his promises were easier given. He often ended up with contracts with the publishers that required inhuman labor something of twelve labors from Hercules. The book got off to a slow start.
When he noted down the idea first he thought of it no more than a fantastic novel in the manner of Hoffmann. He even referred to it as’ a piece of thorough nonsense in the literary sense..’ The story is about a magic talisman,an ass’s skin, which makes all its owner’s wishes come true. The only catch was that the skin would shrink with fulfilment of each wish, and when the skin disappears so will the owner. The aged and decrepit antique-dealer shown in the illustration sells to the central character, never dared to express a wish lest he should die. Balzac pondering over his work saw, as a true genius he was, hidden depths of human condition. He knew his father who had retired to his country estate in order to prolong his life. What would longevity mean? Is it not miserliness and to achieve it men economize their activities and their emotions? For them it carried all their wisdom because they dared not wish another. As the dealer discloses to Raphael his life-lesson,’Man expends himself in the performance of two instinctive acts which drain away all the sources of his being. All the forms of these two agents of death may be summed up in the two words ‘will’ and ‘can.’ ‘ By his genius he turned the Hoffmannesque fantasy into an allegory. It was set in his time. The truism,’It is the property of a good fable that the author does not know himself all the riches it contains’ was true in this case.
By this book mingling fantasy with realism he made the story vivid and totally absorbing. Jules Sandeau found it impossible to put down. The book made the young man from Tourain, unknown three years ago, who had with three works became the most sought out of all publishers, the golden boy of the booksellers and the women’s favorite author.
(Ack: Prometheus-The Life of Balzac/Maurois-Pelican bio)

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I am giving an extract from my current novel.

Outline: Death of old King Tristan in a hunting accident. Ghost runners make their appearance.

It was the beginning of spring. The old king Tristan of Gothenburg along with his knights moved towards the Gilbarden fen that marked the western boundary of his kingdom.On the Western side of the Wolverine castle he had marked vast expanse of grasslands as his royal preserve. There his livestock grazed fattened on juicy grass and it also attracted herds of caribou. This was what got him out that day. He had promised his son a caribou head and it was all that mattered. Even as the sun declined and the landscape was beginning to take a spectral aspect all he could think of was his trophy. He was yet to spot one.
At last one stumbled in his sight. It was a monster of a caribou. ‘He belongs to me,- alone!’ shouted the king waving away those who had come closer. He had it right before him that moment, its eyes locked with his. It snorted as though it made his kingly ambition as trivial pursuit. It cared not a whit for the weapons nor for the stalwarts intent on their game. It was the master and it asserted its superiority in a terrain, ringed by sedge and peat bogs. It made a stir and shot past wild rushes. Never had such a worthy opponent set the king keen on bringing it down. He felt mocked by its brute vitality. It had him on the run and he lost it among the swirling mists.
He knew the sun was on decline. By night the terrain was treacherous. But he hadn’t given up. Dismounting from his horse he and his party moved forward. He heard clicking sound, and it was a tell-tale sign. The monster walked behind the mist and vapors that oozed from the bogs. The curtain would lift soon he knew. He had his long spear in his grip. It lay easy and snug. He motioned his warriors to back off. It had taunted him. It was an insult. He wanted all the more to fell the monster himself. The melting ice by spring had shown patches of lichen turquoise and yellow .The wet balls of velvet of many summers he kicked aside. A slight breeze, and the vaporous mist lifted. There he stood a caribou bull some 7′ feet high to shoulder. In quick glance he knew it should weigh at least 400 kilo. Unconcerned at being seen it stooped to munch lichens that gleamed wet and succulent. The king made a cautious step and tensed. The caribou paused, staring at him and carelessly shook its antlers. It was as though it dared him. He made a step forward at which the beast tensed. The king was determined. He let go his spear and he lunged forward to catch the handle in recoil. It had found its mark! He felt splash of blood and it was warm. Before the beast heaved in pain charging blindly he had to finish the job. He made a move to get his hand-axe from his leather thong that held his tunic. Before he could extricate it the beast turned and charged towards him. He sidestepped to plunge the short thick blade into the head. He could only lodge it on the cheek but it had cut into a vein and blood spurted in thick jets. A soft moan and the caribou wheeled to side. A sudden stab of pain cut through his own cheek. A point of its antlers had gored through his matted white locks into his cheek. It hurt. He was brought down under the weight of the beast. In throbbing pain he struggled unable to throw off the cascading shoulder,body rump and all. Then went everything dark. But for the ten warriors the king would have choked to death in the bogs plowed around in slush and blood.
Soon the king gained consciousness. One dressed his wounds with tincture of pine oil and covered with birch barks. His eyes gained its lustre. When offered wine he made a libation to the fallen beast and drank the remains in one gulp. He handed over the wine horn to his valet and ordered to have the skins carefully saved. He insisted the head should be carefully cut. It was his present for his son Mark who had turned eighteen. He felt elated. He ordered his party to strike eastward for his castle. One wagon was reserved for his trophy and it followed in the rear. It was night and under the massing stars the party cantered to an easy gallop.
Some twenty leagues on the king felt strangely light headed and he saw glow worms flitting about marking strange patterns on the enveloping gloom. The king riding on his piebald horse casually wiped his nose with back of his hand and he saw blood. He thought it nothing serious. His thoughts were making a weave of his son and his daughter. The glowworms had become a swarms and their luminescent calligraphy were profuse with whorls and curlicues that struck him as bizarre. His right cheek throbbed with pain. Knight Jonas Rood who rode to his side to inquire saw the gash too. It was dressed. Yet there spilled out strange luminescent blue and white lights. The knight gasped to see flecks of red dots of light furiously charging about as though it claimed dominance. The blues and whites had petered out and the cheek was swathed under one cloud of red light. Jonas Rood gasped,’Ghost runners!’ and fainted. Even when the party reached the place gate the king’s hands held the reins and the horse knew his master. He trotted surefooted through the gate into the palace and into the hall that was built in stone chiseled and molded after the Romanesque style.. The horse and his master trotted through passage ways paved in flagstones, followed by a gasping rally of menials. The horse stood only when the prince Mark and his sister followed by a ghastly pale Queen came towards it. The king was dead and only a nasty slash on his cheek and stains of blood on his gloved hand struck menacing. One would have thought he was asleep on the horse.
A silent scream struck terror on the royal household to see three or four light points blue and white cartwheel about the dead king’s head and glide into the cold night.
Ghost runners had come visiting.
Benny Thomas

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magus-11

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nature-cure

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