Friday, June 25, 2010

The Sea Egg

I am missing my big kids terribly. They are with their grandparents at the seashore this week. They told me they spotted whale spouts far out in the ocean and saw a baby shark on the sand. (In all my years of going to the beach I’ve never had such luck!)

This book by LM Boston is about two brothers who have an adventure during their holiday by the sea. There are a few illustrations by the author’s son, but it is Boston’s beautiful prose that make this story something magical.

L.M. Boston 1967
illustrated by Peter Boston

Brothers Toby and Joe are staying in a cottage by the ocean with their parents.  They explore the beach and a natural tunnel that leads to a cove with a rock pool.

To enter the pool, you went out of a small enclosure like a porch, up stone steps, through a narrow vertical opening, and down further steps into a magical bath.  It was so well built that it was hard to believe it was accidental, and yet had it been made on purpose, it could never have taken your breath away with delight as it did.

When the boys find a sea egg, they leave it in the pool where it hatches into a mischievous triton, a mer-boy of the sea.

Somewhere in that paradise of sun and flashing water, of shining boulders with the ghosts of spent waves hurrying down their curves into the sea, in the tang and the glitter and the eternal singing silence, there might be- if he had not left them forever- a companion that the sea had given them.

One night Toby and Joe decide to sneak out of the cottage and go down to the shore.

Their window was wide open in the hope of air, but the earth was smothered in warmth and could not cool off. They lay in the big bed, too hot for any bedclothes, with the rising moon looking in through the window. Its light fell across their faces and could be felt, as sunlight can. This feel of the moonlight was not in the nature of hot or cold but something indescribable.

“It is supposed to do something to people and dogs,” said Toby.
“What sort of things?”
“It makes them wander and do things.”
“Do you feel like wandering?”
“I don’t know. It’s queer.”
“I feel all prickly. I’ll never go to sleep.”

Their mysterious triton friend leads them on a midnight swim to the island of seals.

Toby and Joe gasped as they looked out. The curving sky, so much bigger than it looks by day, was distant with faint stars that seemed to hang in their places, but the glorious moon was riding up. It dominated everything, even the vast sea that spread under it a creamy silver-blue floor bigger than anyone could think. Across this came now the white pathway of the moon, and the ripples broke in sparklets.

The familiar promontories and rocks looked strange, with bleached silver faces and deep black chasms. The solitary rocks jutting out of the sea and sand were like watchers or crouching animals, and there were more shadowy lurking places, if you found yourself imagining lurking things. Yet the whole impression was shockingly beautiful. Only the moon was real; all the rest was dream and faerie.

The plot is slow and thin, but the writing is lovely. L.M. Boston makes you savor each word.

Then all was quiet, except for that murmurous half telling, half withholding of tremendous secrets that the sea would keep up all night. Each little wave seemed to say, “I’ll tell you-” and then pull back with a smothered “Oh!” to be followed by another wave saying, “Then I will say- “ but whatever it was remained unsaid and unsayable.

And her descriptions of the sea are amazing.

It’s impossible to resist the invitation of the sea as it spreads a curtsy in a semicircle of blue silk toward you, frilled with babbling foam that nibbles at your feet in the sand. Impossible to forget the first taste of blown salt on your lips as a translucent hollow wave as wide as the cove rises up before you and, beginning at the far end, turns over its shrilling waterfall mane in one continuous movement all along the line till it breaks over your shoulders where you stand and completes its perfect curl beyond, and now behind you. Once you are in it, the sea will never stop its challenge, pummeling with surf, jostling with crossed waves, tackling with the full weight of its spring, blinding with its wet white hair, pulling your legs from under you. It is, thought Toby, standing up, breathless, to await the next wave, the very stuff tritons are made of and itself a measureless living thing.


  1. oooh! I do I do! is this a giveaway too?!

  2. I had to track down this copy for myself. Wish I had an extra to give away!