Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Clockwork – Philip Pullman

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on July 7, 2011

A well told tale is a precious thing for its palliative effects. There are times when I am in the throes of ennui and listlessness which are disorienting. As a remedial measure, I opt for reading material that is piquant and engagingly provocative to wriggle my way out. The material I read could be a favourite short story which I would have read umpteen times before (usually these are – Rain by Maugham, Retrieved Reformation by O.Henry, Enemies by Chekov, A Piece of Steak by Jack London or We’ll Have Fun by John O Hara), a poem that I wanted to learn by heart but postponed it for want of time (Kipling, Wilde or A.E.Houseman) or a few pencil lined paragraphs that caught my attention during the earlier reads. On my library shelf these books lie in a separate place for easy retrieval – a special place for my literary palliatives. Philip Pullman’s “Clockwork” is one such book that I read time and again for the sheer quality of storytelling and the originality and inventiveness of the story itself. Although intended for children, the story is equally appealing to grown-ups (at least definitely for me)

Set in the town of Glockenhiem in medieval Germany, “Clockwork” is a story within a story triggered by a chain of interlinked events. Karl, apprentice of the town clockmaker is due for his apprenticeship the next day for which he needs to contribute an original piece of invention to the town clock. He is far from passing the test and arrives with his master at the town’s tavern on a cold wintry night where he is met by expectant townsmen and the writer Fritz who starts on tale for the audience in the tavern. Fritz starts with a recently occurred bizarre event involving their prince Otto who returns dead with a mechanical heart implanted after meeting the strange Dr.Kalmenius – a dark and mysterious genius adept at creating mechanical beings and toys with godlike perfection. The need for replacement of Otto’s heart arises on account of the need to save the prince’s son Florian who also has a mechanical heart that was implanted into him as a child by Dr.Kalmenius and which is now failing to function on account of natural deterioration. Kalmenius arrives at the tavern exactly at the time Fritz is narrating the story and leaves a mechanically moving knight Ironsoul (what a name!!!) with Karl to be implanted in the town clock as an output of his apprenticeship. Ironsoul has a razor sharp blade which he uses on anyone who utters the word “devil”. The killing intent can be terminated by singing the famous “Flowers of Lapland” song. Prince Florian who is taken out for convalescence into the fresh air of the forest is deserted by his servant and reaches the tavern where Karl steals him and installs him in the town clock. Karl entertains the evil intention of using Ironsoul to kill people and perpetrate various evil deeds and earn wealth but gets killed by Ironsoul as he inadvertently utters the word ‘devil”. The tavern owner’s daughter rescues Prince Florian and gives her heart to him which transforms him to a complete human being. Ironsoul is taken away by the clockmaker of the town and Fritz the person who started the story in the first place without thinking of a proper ending leaves Glockenhiem. Kalmenius remains the mysterious enigma that he is portrayed to be. And like other fairy tales “Clockwork” too has a happy ending

Clockwork to me is the work of an accomplished master at story telling. The element of suspense filled with a tinge of terror is brilliantly done and the evocation of the atmosphere of a medieval town in Germany and the events of the night sends down a pleasant chill down the spine. In bringing this balance between storytelling, element of horror and an inventive plot lies the greatness of Pullman’s writing.

In a YouTube interview, Pullman revealed that the idea of writing an intertwined story which travels back and forth in time came to him while watching the mechanism of a grandfather clock in a London Museum – indicating the inexplicability of a writer’s mind

Overall, a book worth having in one’s library

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