The Reluctant Prisoner of Words


"Once upon a time in a far away land the word was thought to be akin to a spade, or a shovel - necessary, useful - as close to the Body as the arm that bound the working man to the handle of his simple honest Tool.


In this fertile world of long ago, a scribe once wrote - 'A sentence should read as if its Author, had he held a plough instead of a pen, could have drawn a furrow Deep and Straight to the end.'


This Man, whom none of you children will remember (for he died a slow and humiliating death after falling Head first into a hole of his own Digging), believed that the Word best said is that nearest to not being spoken at all - a point with which many a modern-day parent might concur ...


'Nay,' wrote our scribe, 'Nay' - (such florid expressions being paradoxically common in these utilitarian days of Olde) - 'almost the word must have taken the place of a deed by some urgent Necessity, even by some misfortune, so that the Truest Writer will be some Captive Knight.'


Let us dwell for a moment on this Captive Knight, this poor fellow holed up in a deep dark Dungeon, scribbling 'Help me Father, I am the Reluctant Prisoner of Words!' onto a parchment secreted in the heel of his boar-skin boot." - Stop that Elsie! leave him alone!


Where was I ... The Knight writes only because the right of action is denied him. Children, I put the question to you - what Knight worth his Title would choose to pen even a nice straight plough-like furrow had he the opportunity to wield the Sword?


Please put down your hand Elsie, this is not the time for questions.


Let us ponder briefly the location of this cruel Prison deep beneath the damp flagstones of a Ruined Castle, and note that unlike the Princess, unlike our dear, dear Rapunzel, the Captive Knight has only to Rise up to make his escape, while our feminine subjects must descend, Fall - Once more Elsie and you're out! You hear?


Of this pre-digital Newtonian Universe, a universe that inhabited the same Vectors as our own, but of which I am certain you children know nothing save that silly story about the Apple and the Head - which I can assure you no more occurred than did the arrival of Santa Claus on his out-moded reindeers - of this other universe, the one for which I long but to which I fear I have bid my last Adieus, it has been written -


'The best Style was the Style unnoticed, the Best Manners, the most Unobtrusive; the most convincing Behaviour, spontaneous and unself-conscious ... In this world the 'Best writing Dropped from the Writer as Simply and Directly as a Stone Falls to the Ground.'


What was that Lucy Gray?

What about the stones?

Would they hurt? Hurt who (or is it whom ...)

Whatever are you taling about? It's a metaphor Lucy, or a simile. You learn that next year. Where was I...


What a lovely world it must have been, don't you think, Children?

Whatever is wrong now Elsie? Are those tears I see? What it is? Oh for goodness sakes, Santa? What about Santa? Of course he'll be coming. Yes, Elsie. Now, now, don't cry. There, there. Look! Out the window. I think I saw Him! There! He's just checking out the neighbourhood. For the Chimneys, no doubt. Checking out his descent path. Well we don't know how they fit, Elsie.


Santa will work it out in discussion with the Reindeers, won't he? Well there's no point worrying about it, is there?


Elsie, you'll just have to wait.


There's the Bell Assembly. Quick children, up you get. Time for the school song! I hope that wasn't you groaning Elsie! Or was it you Lucy Gray?

1. Henry David Thoreau, quoted in The Electronic Word, Democracy, Technology and the Arts, Richard A. Lanham, University of Chicago Press, 1993, p.241

2. Thoreau, see above.

4. Thoreau, see above.

10. Thoreau, see above.