Nate D's Reviews > The Seventh Horse And Other Tales

The Seventh Horse And Other Tales by Leonora Carrington
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Jan 05, 12

bookshelves: surrealism, interwar-maladies, read-in-2012, favorites, britain
Recommended to Nate D by: a huntress, riding a wheel among feline entourage
Recommended for: the hidden bird-girl sisters in the attic
Read from December 28, 2011 to January 05, 2012

Leonora Carrington, expelled from convent school and defying parental wishes in order to study painting, eloped from England with Max Ernst in 1937, at age 19, soon joining her excellent visual work with an outpouring of writing in both French and English, some of the very best that first-wave interwar surrealism had to offer. Along with House of Fear, this collects the majority of Carrington's short fiction from that period, from New York during the war for surrealist journal VVV and others, and for several decades of life in Mexico City afterwards. It's fairly out of print, but cheap used copies do pop up every now and then, like this one.


(Carrington with Ernst (to the left of her, here) and other surrealists)

Among her many merits, Carrington had a real knack, compared to the "automatic writing" employed by many of her contemporaries as a means of excavating the subconscious, for investing her dream-fables with a decidedly non-automatic cohesion. These read like myths or fairy tales, but often totally anarchic or anti-social, and occasionally becoming a sort of horror story. And often with a satiric bent, and usually in rapid, highly-entertaining telling. All of which I'm wild about, of course.

Since there's not a lot of information around, here's what is actually included in this volume (stars indicate the best):



*As They Road Along the Edge (1937-1940) :: Longer (for Carrington) tale of a wheel-riding wild girl in the mountains who falls in love with a wild boar and gets into a confrontation with the local clergy.
True, the people up there were plants, animals, birds; otherwise things wouldn't have been the same.
The cats caterwauled and stuck their claws into one another's necks, then threw themselves in a mass upon Igname and Virginia, who disappeared under a mountain of cats. Where they made love.


The Skeleton's Holiday (1938 or 39) :: Part of a collaborative story with various luminaries of the time like Ernst, Arp, Duchamp, called "The Man Who Lost His Skeleton". Carrington's segment recounts the skeleton's exultant exploits after losing his man. Probably due to proximity to the others, this is the most random-sounding, and the least Carrington-esque of the lot.

*Pigeon, Fly (1937-1940) :: a deliciously eerie fable freed, like most of Carrington, of any obvious moral import.
And here is another thing: the objects around me are becoming terribly clear and vivid, much more alive than I am. You know, Eleanor, I'm afraid. . . . Listen, the chairs in this room are very old, and so is all the rest of the furniture. Last week, I saw a little green bud on one of the chairs, the kind of bud that appears on trees in the spring. And now . . . how horrible . . . it has become a leaf . . . Eleanor!


The Three Hunters (1937-1940)
Monsieur Cyril de Guindre (1937-1940)



*The Sisters (1939)
Perhaps my favorite: Another creepy gothic fairy tale of vivid narrative force and inconclusive lesson. A young women prepares a somewhat ghastly feast for a visiting ex-king, while locked in the attic, her secret sister dreams of moonlight and red. The suggested confrontation never comes; instead they converge in a kind of alternative versions of hedonism. Here is where I'm talking about Carrington's excellently ambiguous moral compass, especially.
Enchanted with his deep reflections, the king rubbed his hands and did a few dance steps. Drusille looked at the trees and thought the fruit looked like little corpses. She looked at the sky and saw drowned bodies in the clouds.
Engadine came out of the kitchen. She was carrying a suckling pig stuffed with nightingales. She stopped with a cry. In front of her an exultant white apparition blocked the way.
His beard was full of sauces, fish heads, crushed fruit.


Cast Down By Sadness (1937-1939) ::
Cast down by sadness, I walked far into the mountains where the cypresses grew so pointed that one would have taken them for arms, where the brambles had thorns as big as claws. I came to a garden overrun by climbing plants and weeds with strange blooms.


*White Rabbits (1941) :: The first of the New York stories, a macabre tale of the neighbors glimpsed across the street. A real place Carrington stayed, perhaps?
He seemed to be unconscious of our presence or of that of a large white buck rabbit which sat and masticated on a chunk of meat on his knee.




Waiting (1941)

The Seventh Horse (1941) :: Another distinctively Carrington-esque wild-girl, this one caught in the garden by her hair, and a husband who wants only to run with the horses...

*The Stone Door (1940s, pub.1976) :: Surrealist occultists write the best fairy tales. Besides The Hearing Trumpet, this is Carrington's only novel that I know of (hopefully another exists somewhere amongst her papers!). Here, she re-edited it from her original into a 70-page novella. It's captivating, and quite different in tone and style from her other work, opening with a series of journal entries from a girl in Mexico (Carrington herself?), retreating from ennui and isolation into a series of dreams that take her across the Land of the Dead and leave her stranded, trapped, at a closed stone door in the mountains. On the other side of which lies interwar Hungary, where a young Jewish boy begins to hear her cries. With a powerful balance of convincing details of a known world being invaded by unreality and pagan rites. I really really must find a copy of the full-length version of this, as soon as possible.
Standing on a hill and looking back along the road I saw the city of tombs still visible in the distance. Before me, the road continued like a dusty ribbon whose borders were marked by heaps of broken sculpture and miscellaneous rubbish such as partially unwrapped mummies in different stages of mutilation, painted tablets in every known and unknown language, books and parchments dried into convulsive gestures, old shoes, sandals, and boots, and any number of pots and casks, urns and dishes in whole or small pieces.
I then understood that the word to address such a primitive and embryonic body would have to come from a language buried at the back of time.
For centuries, they dressed up Love for easy digestion as a fat little boy with wings, pale blue bows, and anemic-looking flowers. behind this bland decoration Love snarled its rictus through the ages. With shrieks of adoration, it flung itself on human breats, "to crush you, to suck your life away. I cannot drag my own weight over the crust of the earth, so you must carry me on your back so that in time you will be crippled with my weight." These words are in every heart in the mating season.
Kneeling before the ram, he caught its spiral horn in his right hand, twisting back its head and exposing the beating pulses of his neck. He cut its throat with the triangular stone. The girl caught the blood in her cupped hands, saying: "Drink the scarlet milk of Paradise, Little Brother, for it is ours. [...] The Old Gods are our food, The New Gods will be revealed to us in time and out of time. The Old Gods are dead; Earth, the Goat will renew the lifeblood of the Myth and will violate the Garden of Paradise."




Originally I was going to go on cataloguing the contents of this book, right through the Mexican post-war, post-Stone Door years. Except I don't really have time at the moment, so let's leave it there for now. Highlight of the later stories, for me, was "Et in bellicus lunarum medicalis", on the fate of a set of surgery-performing Russian rats who, oddly, no one wanted to employ. And weird future-vision "How to Start a Pharmecuticals Business".

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Quotes Nate D Liked

Leonora Carrington
“Do you believe, she went on, that the past dies?

Yes, said Margaret. Yes, if the present cuts its throat.”
Leonora Carrington, The Seventh Horse And Other Tales


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