” As for John, tied up like a sack in the chimney-corner, down came his cheese again crash upon his head, and, not being able to say anything, he said nothing”
From “The Dutch Cheese” by Walter de la Mare (1925)
The above paragraph (the last of that particular tale) comes from the second story of Mare’s collection “Broomsticks”, a book that scared me rigid as a child, solely on the basis of that one paragraph and the fact that it was followed by an engraving of two grave stones on the next page.
To my childish mind the combination signified some horrific end to some poor man’s life and I couldn’t bear to even read the rest of either the story or the book itself. Somebody trussed up in a chimney having an enormous round cheese crash down on him from a great height and being unable to do anything about it represented the last word of horror for me at that time.
Indeed it has only been fairly recently that I have bought myself around to actually reading the story that finishes with such a seeming death blow. No fear was involved however, it was mainly simply because I hated the thought of all the ideas I had hitherto cultivated about John and his fate being spoiled by grim reality.
Somehow I wanted it to be about him falling foul of some wild dairy-product based experiment or other, the victim of a criminal gang who had left him to his fate.
Indeed the idea of some massive cheese crashing down a chimney to end a persons life was a pretty powerful image for me and I really did not want to spoil the magic of that happening and the tombstone engraving that followed it. They both spoke volumes on their own, but the immediate juxtapositioning made the impact even more telling. I was more than happy to allow this John his mystery fate and go on with my life.
However the story would not let me rest and would return to haunt me every now and again and I would pick up the book, frightened to read any of it aside from that paragraph and yet another look at THAT engraving.
Having read the story now has kind of killed some of the horror and anxiety ( I am not going to relate it because, I hope, the same state of tension I had in relation to it will perhaps manifest itself mildly in whoever reads this post), I see the graves, now, are merely background to a plethora of flora and fauna and I can now see the bird singing on one of the plants and also the snail crawling along the bottom of the picture. The graves are NOT the subject of the engraving at all.
And so sadly, the joys of childhood imaginings have been left behind and I can never view De La Mare’s story in the same way again. It leaves me sadder but wiser and only a little bit relieved.