“The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”
The recent flooding in Britain brought the author Cowper to mind. No: not the poet William Cowper, nor John Cowper Powys who was a prolific novelist, essayist, letter writer, poet and philosopher; a writer of enormous scope, complexity, profundity and humour. Rather, John Middleton Murray who mostly wrote science fiction under the pen name of Richard Cowper, writing Profundis with much humour.
I was actually reminded of Richard Cowper’s short story, ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, partly because I enjoyed the story and partly because it is set where I live. The flooding of the Somerset coastal plain and levels and the restoration of the ‘Wetlands’ topography, albeit sometime in the future, was added muse.
The story itself became a prologue in The Road to Corlay. The Piper of Cowper’s story being Tom of Cartmel, a thirteen year-old lad raised by the wizard Morfedd. Bestowed with a forked tongue and a magic pair of pipe, Tom’s musicianship had an eerie effect on its listeners. It charmed animals and evoked a transcendent state of consciousness in humans. A momentary state which left the human listener dazed and given prescient knowledge of their world, whereupon they adopted the fervour associated with the coming of ‘The White Bird’.
The Road to Corlay was the first volume in what eventually became a trilogy; the other two volumes being ‘A Dream of Kinship‘ and ‘A Tapestry of Time’. Set in the future, some one thousand years after global warming had left a large percentage of the planet’s lower-lying terrain ‘drowned’ under the oceans, civilization had regressed to a medieval level.
On the Eve of the Fourth Millennium a civilization, struggling to rebuild following ‘The Drowning’, was being crushed beneath the authority of a powerful and repressive Church. The people instinctively yearned for some alternative, some signs of a renewal of technology and its progressions. Rumours and whispers of the advent of ‘The White Bird’ abounded. The ‘kinship’ associated with ‘The White Bird’ being resolutely humanistic was viewed as heresy by the Church, a heresy that must be suppressed.
The Piper At the Gates of Dawn was used as the title for Pink Floyd’s debut album and is an apt title for the Lawrence Rosenthal composition – played by flautist Louise di Tullio – that is used to accompany the above video. The use of the title for these and Cowper’s story, are claimed to be an allusion to its use as the title for chapter 7 of Kenneth Graham’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’.
Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden.
Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humorously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter.
All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.
“Rat!” he found breath to whisper, shaking. “Are you afraid?”
“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. “Afraid! Of him? O, never, never! And yet—and yet—O, Mole, I am afraid!”
As an author Richard Cowper may not have received the fame and literary credit that was given to C S Lewis, R R Tolkien and Kenneth Graham, nevertheless I found that he wrote engaging stories, sharing their themes involving symbolism, kinship and the ultimate triumph of good over evil.
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