Walter de la Mare Long Fiction Analysis
Walter de la Mare’s novels are diverse in structure, although unified by his recurring themes. Henry Brocken is episodic, with itsprotagonist moving from one encounter to another. The Return has all the trappings of the gothic, with mysterious strangers, supernatural events, and unexplained happenings. The Three Mulla-Mulgars is a children’s story, with a directnarrative and a clear objective toward which the novel’s actions are directed. Memoirs of a Midget is Victorian in structure and is filled with incidents and coincidences; it emphasizes character over the other aspects of novel writing. At First Sight is really a long short story, what some might call a novella; its plot is simple, the problem its protagonist faces is straightforward, and it has only the barest attempt at a subplot.
Early in his literary career, de la Mare concluded that there were two ways of observing the world: inductive and deductive. Induction was a child’s way of understanding his environment, through direct experience, whereas deduction was associated with adolescents and adults—the environment was kept at an emotional and intellectual distance. De la Mare believed that reality is best understood in relation to the self and best interpreted through imagination; childlike—as opposed to childish—observation is subjective, and childlike imagination can make and remake reality according to the imaginer’s desires. Henry Brocken, the eponymous protagonist of de la Mare’s first novel, is such a childlike observer. Critics are often confused by his adult behavior; they fail to understand that Brocken is intended to be childlike rather than childish.
Dreams are a part of the human experience that can be made and remade according to the subjective dictates of the self; de la Mare believed that dreams revealed a truer reality than that found in the waking experience. Given de la Mare’s beliefs, Brocken’s use of dreams to meet with famous literary characters seems almost natural. Brocken is able to converse with characters from the works of such authors as Geoffrey Chaucer, Jonathan Swift, and Charlotte Brontë. The characters are often living lives that are barely implied in their original author’s works. Jane Eyre, for instance, is with Rochester long after the conclusion of Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847). Henry Brocken is about imagination and what it can do to reality. Great literary characters can seem more real than many living people. De la Mare represents this aspect of the imaginative response to literature by showing characters maturing and changing in ways not necessarily envisioned by their creators. Criseyde, for example, is not only older but also wiser than in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (1382). What is imagined can have a life of its own, just as dreams can be more alive than waking experience.
The Three Mulla-Mulgars
The Three Mulla-Mulgars seems to be an interruption in the development of de la Mare’s themes of imagination, dreams, and reality. In it, three monkeys—called “Mulgars”—search for the Valley of Tishnar and the kingdom of their uncle Assasimmon. During their travels, the three—Nod, Thimble, and Thumb—have adventures among the various monkey species of the world and encounter danger in the form of Immanala, the source of darkness and cruelty. Although a children’s story, and although humorous and generally lighthearted, The Three Mulla-Mulgars contains the spiritual themes typical of de la Mare’s best work. Nod, although physically the weakest of the three monkeys, is spiritually gifted; he can contact the supernatural world in his dreams and is able to use the Moonstone, a talisman; Immanala is essentially a spiritual force; it can strike anywhere and can take any form; it can make dreams—which in the ethos of de la Mare are always akin to death—into the “Third Sleep,” death. The quest for the Valley of Tishnar is a search for meaning in the Mulla-Mulgars’ lives; their use of dreams, a talisman, and their conflict with Immanala make the quest spiritual as well as adventurous.
The Return represents a major shift in de la Mare’s approach to fiction, both long and short. Before The Return, he presented his iconoclastic views in the guise of children’s stories and allegories—as if his ideas would be more palatable in inoffensive...
(The entire section is 1850 words.)