Sunday, October 7, 2012

James-A-Day: The Treasure of Abbott Thomas

Steinfeld Abbey glass
Wow, this story has a lot of Latin in it.  "The Treasure of Abbott Thomas" was written in 1904.  It shows some influence from mystery stories, what with the secret code and all.  I'm not a huge fan of the rather long code-solving bit, but I do like the stained glass window that contains the code, and I love the treasure-hunt down the well and how carefully Abbott Thomas concealed his hoard (though what use he planned to get out of it I cannot guess).

We only catch a small glimpse of the treasure's guardian.  That's quite enough, too.  It's an amazing description, don't you think?  Horrifyingly close and intimate.

At the very end of the story, Gregory comments, "One thing I did notice in the carving on the well-head, which I think must have escaped you. It was a horrid, grotesque shape perhaps more like a toad than anything else, and there was a label by it inscribed with the two words, "Depositum custodi."  My question is, what does that look like?  A well-head is apparently the part that sticks up out of the ground, so it would be the stone surrounding the well itself--but this is clearly quite a large well and earlier the 'curb' is described as being stone carved with reliefs of suitably scriptural scenes.  So in this case it would seem that the well-head is some part of the surround, not the whole thing.  Does it stick up?  Is it where you draw the water?  Does anyone know what it would look like?

This painted stained glass is a piece that really is from the Steinfeld Abbey mentioned in the story; MRJ saw it and other pieces in 1904 while cataloging one Lord Brownlow's collection (these days you can see it at the V&A).  So, you can imagine the stained glass in the story as looking similar to this, and now we know where James got the idea.

The BBC did adaptations of MRJ's stories back in the 1970s.  I haven't watched any of them yet, but I might.  "The Treasure of Abbott Thomas" is supposed to be fairly good, so if you'd like to watch it, the whole thing can be found on youtube at this link.

I've been doing a good deal of rather frantic sewing on a dress for my niece, so yesterday I listened to some of the "Podcast for the Curious" while I was sewing.  I quite enjoyed it; it's two British guys who just talk about every detail of whatever story they're doing that week.  Bits get read aloud, but not the whole story.  It has made me realize that I read too fast and miss some of the detail; listening to the stories read aloud (as, after all, they originally were meant to be) would be really great.  As a rule I don't like audiobooks, but I would like to listen to these!


Amy said...

Thanks for that link--I'm excited to learn that some of James' stories have been filmed.

JNCL said...

Okay, serious confession time--never heard of this author before, no idea what's going on here. My curiosity was MAJORLY peaked when I saw your post pop up in my reader feed, so I came over to check it out. Now I'm off to Goodreads to find out MORE. Thanks for potentially adding to my TBR pile! :) Ah, book bloggers--happily feeding each others' addiction!

JNCL said...

Ah, Gothic. That explains it. I've never really done much Gothic, though I've been thinking lately, what with "Gothic in October" and all, that I needed to make it my next big undertaking in reading--if I ever find time! Maybe when I'm choosing reading challenges for 2013!

Jean said...

Well, J, you've just got to try out some James! I bet you'll love it.