Friday, May 6, 2011

Story Gnome: The Keeper of Magic Books

"Mother Goose Secrets", a 1925 book by Barbara Webb Bourjaily, employs the cute notion that the "Story Gnome" has told all of the children's tales to the author, who in turn is relaying those stories to the readers.1

The above illustration is from the page that comes before the table of contents. In addition to what's shown above, it also contains the following passage:
When Fairyland became invisible and part of all the vanished past
The Queen called to her, Story Gnome--
"Now are we gone into the Magic Books at last,
With Evileye and Willowitch and all the fairy train
Nor will the Earth with Earthland eyes behold our forms again.
But within these Magic Books we live throughout all Time
To frolic forth whenever called by any Proper Rhyme.
And you will guard these secrets close until that happy day
A loving wish will summon us to children, tired with play."
The tales in the book include extended versions of Little Boy Blue, The Cat and the Fiddle, Humpty Dumpty, Little Miss Muffet, and many others. Most stories are prefaced by the author's interaction with or commentary on the Story Gnome. For example, here's the first paragraph of "Baa, Baa, Blacksheep":
There was once a fairy family that had a wonderful sheep. Where other sheep were white he was black. "Not a hard black like ebony," said Story Gnome, who was telling me this story one evening quite late, "but a soft black, like night, or like the clouds that come before a heavy rain."
The illustration of the Story Gnome appears at the conclusion of every story.

On the last page of the book, there is a note that reads:
Here is [Barbara W. Bourjaily's] own secret: "Of course all you children remember that the Story Gnome said on page one that no matter how many secrets he told, there would always be more secrets left for him to tell. We all know how nice it is to have a secret and so I am going to get that Story Gnome to tell me another book of Mother Goose Secrets in a little while."
Alas, it does not appear that she ever published a second book of Mother Goose tales. She did, however, co-author "The Mother's Cook Book: How to Prepare Food for Children" with Dorothy May Gorman in 1926. And, according to this article from The New York Times, she wrote "feature articles and romance novels".2

One of her sons, Vance Bourjaily (who is noted on the "Mother Goose Secrets" dedication page3), became a noted writer, novelist, playwright, journalist, and essayist. His novels included "The End of My Life" and "Brill among the Ruins".

1. Time magazine wrote this about "Mother Goose Secrets" in its December 14, 1925, issue: "MOTHER GOOSE SECRETS—Barbara W. Bourjaily — Small, Maynard ($1.50). Satisfying explanations for those whose curiosity is baffled by such secrets as, Why did Little Boy Blue go to sleep?"
2. Some of those 1930s romances were "Misty Mountain" and "Love's Choice: A Romance of Misty Mountain".
3. The "Mother Goose Secrets" dedication states: TO "THE THREE" JUNIOR VANCE PAUL


  1. Just bought this old collectable, on amazon. Thanks Chris!