09 June 2006

Runaway Bunny source material

Last month I wrote of my fondness for The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown, with pictures by Clement Hurd, over more recent “I Love You More Than That Other Book” books for new parents and young children.

In his 1992 biography of Brown, Leonard S. Marcus writes that the inspiration for this book came from a Provençal love song. The lines he quotes are:

If you pursue me I shall become a fish in the water
And I shall escape you.
If you become a fish, I shall become an eel.
If you become an eel, I shall become a fox
And I shall escape you.
If you become a fox, I shall become a hunter,
And I shall hunt you...
The closest equivalent in the British tradition seems to be a ballad called “The Twa Magicians,” collected by Francis James Child in the late 1800s.
The lady stands in her bower door,
As straight as willow wand;
The blacksmith stood a little forebye,
Wi hammer in his hand.

“Weel may ye dress ye, lady fair,
Into your robes o' red;
Before the morn at this same time,
I'll gain your maidenhead.”

“Awa, awa, ye coal-black smith,
Woud ye do me the wrang
To think to gain my maidenhead,
That I hae kept sae lang!”

Then she has hadden up her hand,
And she swam by the mold,
“I wudna be a blacksmith's wife
For the full o' a chest o' gold.

“I'd rather I were dead and gone,
And my body laid in grave,
Ere a rusty stock o' coal-black smith
My maidenhead shoud have.”

But he has hadden up his hand,
And he sware by the mass,
“I'11 cause ye be my light leman
For the hauf o' that and less.”

O bide, lady, bide,
And aye he bade her bide;
The rusty smith your leman shall be,
For a' your muckle pride.

Then she became a turtle dow,
To fly up in the air,
And he became another dow,
And they flew pair and pair.

She turn’d hersell into an eel,
To swim into yon burn,
And he became a speckled trout,
To gie the eel a turn.

Then she became a duck, a duck,
To puddle in a peel,
And he became a rose-kaim’d drake,
To gie the duck a dreel.

She turn’d hersell into a hare,
To rin upon yon hill,
And he became a gude grey-hound,
And boldly he did fill.

Then she became a gay grey mare,
And stood in yonder slack,
And he became a gilt saddle,
And sat upon her back.

Was she wae, he held her sae,
And still he bade her bide;
The rusty smith her leman was,
For a' her muckle pride.

Then she became a het girdle,
And he became a cake,
And a' the ways she turnd hersell,
The blacksmith was her make.

She turn’d hersel’ into a ship,
To sail out ower the flood;
He ea'ed a nail intill her tail,
And syne the ship she stood.

Then she became a silken plaid,
And stretch’d upon a bed,
And he became a green covering,
And gain’d her maidenhead.
Brown might not have known of this version or any like it. Still, her book's source material seems to have been at bottom about snobbishness and rape, and all the magical transformations laced with sexual innuendo. But she produced a reassuring bedtime story out of it.

Incidentally, Clement Hurd’s picture-book work, along with his wife’s and son’s, is on exhibit at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum through 23 July.


tem2 said...

Steeleye Span recorded a version of this called "The Two Magicians". Have you heard it? Of course the lyrics are online--all lyrics are online...

she looked out of the window as white as any milk,
and he looked in at the window as black as any silk.

hello, hello, hello, hello you coal black smith.
you have done me no harm.
you never shall have my maidenhead.
that i have kept so long.
i'd rather die a maid.
ah, but then she said and be buried all in my grave,
than to have such a nasty, husky, dusky, fusky, musky.
coal black smith
a maiden i will die

she became a duck, a duck all on the stream,
and he became a water dog and fetched her back again.


she became a star, a star all in the night,
and he became a thundercloud and muffled her out of sight.


she became a rose, a rose all in the wood,
and he became a bumble bee and kissed her where she stood.


she became a nun, a nun all dressed in white,
and he became a canting priest and prayed for her by night.


she became a trout, a trout all in the brook,
and he became a feathered fly and catched her with his hook.


she became a corpse, a corpse all in the ground,
and he became the cold clay and smothered her all around.

[final chorus]

J. L. Bell said...

I don't know that recording, but I'm not surprised there are other lyrics to "The Twa/Two Magicians" out there. It's a folk song, after all, and folk could continue to update it today.

She became a nasty virus,
To hide on my hard drive.
But he became a bug update,
Fix 4.2.5.