Aldous Huxley wrote The Crows of Pearblossom as a Christmas gift for his niece Olivia in 1944. Now quite grown, she writes in the book’s afterword about his visits to her childhood home and how the story languished “nearly in oblivion for many years.” It was published in small format in 1967 but has been out of print for decades.
The story — SPOILER ALERT: Mean old snake keeps eating crows’ eggs. Mr. Crow seeks Owl’s advice on the matter. Owl makes fake eggs out of baked clay and plants them in the nest, where snake promptly eats them and gets the worst tummyache of his life. In pain, he flails about, which only worsens his situation as he becomes knotted around a tree branch. And now he’s a clothesline for baby crows’ diapers.
It’s a short and straightforward story but it is perked up by the illustrations and Huxley’s wry side bits, as when Mrs. Crow is frightened to encounter the snake but once she ascertains that he’s helplessly knotted she stands and lectures him on “the wickedness of eating other people’s eggs.” Even in such a short story, Huxley has managed to get in not just the obvious lesson about dealing with bad guys, but also a nudge at the vagaries of human courage and a nod to the difference between natural consequences and a good talking-to.
As for the illustrations — Blackall has created lovely pen and watercolor drawings and she’s added clever side notes visually as well. The crows’ nest is a domestic scene with bed, bassinet and grandfather clock. Mrs. Crow reads Nest magazine in bed. Mr. Owl wears bunny slippers. The story says the snake checks the crows’ nest “every afternoon punctually at half past three” — so Blackall has given snake a wristwatch on his tail.
Another charming bit is the endnote entry for Blackall, which says, “Her father once arrived at a party as Aldous Huxley was leaving. They may or may not have crossed paths in the vestibule.”
It’s a clever story cleverly illustrated and of interest not just for storytime readers but for literature buffs. —Lisa Parsons