The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Crock of Gold is divided into six short books containing two central plot lines. The first focuses on the Philosopher and his wife, the Thin Woman, who live in the center of a dark pine wood in a fairy land. Initially, there are two philosophers married to two women, but one Philosopher decides he has attained all the wisdom he can bear and dies. His wife soon follows, and the Philosopher and the Thin Woman are left with two children, Brigid Beg and Seamus.

A neighbor named Meehawl MacMurrachu comes to the Philosopher for advice on where his washboard may have disappeared, and the Philosopher deduces that the leprechauns of Gort na Cloca Mora took it. He advises Meehawl to go to a hole under a tree in a nearby field. When Meehawl does so, he finds instead a little crock of gold. The leprechauns try to get the crock back, consider the Philosopher their enemy, and kidnap his two children.

Meanwhile, in the second plot, Caitlin, the beautiful daughter of Meehawl MacMurrachu, is lured by the song of the great god Pan. She goes off with him “because he was naked and unashamed.” Meehawl goes again to the Philosopher for advice. The Philosopher promises to help get Caitlin back. When the leprechauns return Brigid Beg and Seamus, the Philosopher sends the children in search of Pan. The god gives them no satisfactory answer, so the Philosopher sets out to meet with the Celtic god Angus Og to seek his help in recovering Caitlin. He has...

(The entire section is 517 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Ireland. Island nation west of Britain that was united under British rule in 1912—the same year James Stephens published The Crock of Gold. (In 1922, Ireland was partitioned into the Republic of Eire and Northern Ireland, which remained part of the United Kingdom). The Ireland depicted in the novel, however, is an Ireland of the imagination, carefully repopulated with all the lost idols of local mythology (and one visitor from overseas, the Greek nature-God Pan). Like William Butler Yeats and other champions of the so-called Celtic Twilight, Stephens believed that the soul of the Irish people was contained within its myths, and the territory mapped by his novel is a figurative internal landscape rather than a mere figment of geography.

Coilla Doraca

Coilla Doraca. Pine wood, in whose heart stands the small house in which two Philosophers live with their ambivalent wives, the Grey Woman of Dun Gortin and the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath. Except for one small clearing a short distance from the house, the wood is a very dark and still place, because neither the sun’s light nor the wind can penetrate the close-set branches. The hearthstone of the house eventually becomes the tombstone of one of the Philosophers and his wife, the Grey Woman of Dun Gortin.

Gort na Cloca Mora

Gort na Cloca Mora. Rocky field where a crock of gold is buried, having been hidden there by the Leprechauns (Leprecauns in the novel), one of six clans of fairies in the...

(The entire section is 630 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bramsback, Birgit. James Stephens: A Literary and Biographical Study. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959. Has a good chapter on Stephens that may be useful as a short overview of his life and work.

Finneran, Richard J. The Olympian and the Leprechaun: W. B. Yeats and James Stephens. Dublin, Ireland: Dolmen Press, 1978. Has many quotes and insights from Yeats on Stephens and his place in Irish literature.

McFate, Patricia. The Writings of James Stephens: Variations on a Theme of Love. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979. Good at placing Stephens in historical and literary context.

Martin, Augustine. James Stephens: A Critical Study. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1977. Strong in critical analysis and debating themes.

Pyle, Hilary. James Stephens: His Work and an Account of His Life. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1965. Groundbreaking work in separating fact from fiction in Stephens’ life. A sympathetic account traces his origins, motivations, and influence.