Back to Doon Hill again and to Reverend Kirk. His strange story is leading us further than we had thought first. Not that I want to write a thesis about it, I’m not qualified to do so in any case, but we can try to make things a little clearer, on a bibliographical level at least. I wonder what our friend Sherlock Holmes would have thought of such a case … Conan Doyle, who happened to be very keen about occultism, would certainly have had something to say about all this. Indeed, didn’t he write something about fairies? We’ll do some research about that. Last time, I mentioned that I had received two editions of The Secret Commonwealth and that I was about to read one of them. Of course I had chosen the modern version of the text, in the beautiful 2007 New York edition. Since then, however, I’ve received two other books which made me change my mind. It could be helpful to compare different versions and interpretations of the book. Remember we’re not reading fiction… it’s something very special…
One of the two books I’ve just received is the Dover edition. A Bibliographical Note reads : “This Dover edition, first published in 2008, is an unabridged, slightly altered version of the work published by Eneas Mackay, Stirling, Scotland, in 1933. The punctuation and spelling in Robert Kirk’s text have been modernized for ease of reading. The Introduction by R. B. Cunninghame Graham and Comment by Andrew Lang (introduction to the 1893 edition) are unaltered. Six black-and-white illustrations by H. J. Ford have been added.”
I was very tempted to begin my reading with this book, first because it contains a modernized version of Reverend Kirk’s essay and secondly because I already have, in my library, in the Dover edition, most of Andrew Lang’s fairy books which include H. J. Ford beautiful illustrations. These marvellous books have enchanted generations of readers of all ages and I do like them very much.
But finally I’ve chosen Robert Kirk, Walker Between the Worlds, R.J. Stewart’s edition (2007) and I don’t regret it. Here’s the right man to write about such a book. I don’t know where Robert Kirk happens to be presently, if he be anywhere, but would have he some choice to do for that matter I don’t doubt it would have been this book. The Secret Commonwealth is a little book but it’s not easy task to read it. The subject is rather puzzling in itself and it must be replaced in its social, religious and historical background which R.J. Stewart does extremely well. We had fallen on the first edition of his book in 2004 when visiting Balquhidder church. Since then the author has founded his own publishing house and published a new edition of the book.
Let me introduce R.J. Stewart, if you don’t know him already, though his picture speaks by itself. What a charismatic look !
Robert John (R J) Stewart was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father came from a Gaelic speaking family originally from the Western Highlands. His mother was Welsh, from a Welsh speaking family from the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, with a tradition of singing and playing the Welsh triple-harp. He is known today as a composer, author, and teacher, with 40 books in publication, translated into many languages worldwide. He is widely experienced in theater, film, and television, and is a skilled performer and presenter.
In 1996 R. J. was admitted to the USA as “resident alien of extraordinary ability”, a category awarded only to immigrants of outstanding achievement in the arts or sciences. He now lives in Northern California and in Maryland.
From the late 1960′s to the 1980′s (as Bob Stewart) he worked with traditional British folk music, medieval music, and his own compositions, playing guitar, cittern, and the unique 70- stringed psaltery. During this period he made several albums of Celtic and original music, and wrote music for theater and media. In 1974 he wrote and recorded theme music for The Hobbit (Decca Records) read by Nicol Williamson.
In theater R J wrote music and songs for several major productions in England, and co-founded a theater company, The Avon Touring Co. During the late 1970′s and early 1980′s he composed and recorded original music for film and television, including working on major feature films, Joseph Andrews directed by Tony Richardson, and The Dark Crystal, directed by Jim Henson. He also composed and recorded original music for a number of BBC radio dramas, and for documentary feature films for the BBC and for ITV. Through these films his music has been heard all over the world, and various artists have recorded his original instrumental pieces and songs. Between 1975 and 1983 R J worked with several well known Irish musicians, making an album of original music with Finbar Furey, and working with Van Morrison, writing and producing Van’s recording of the ancient Irish epic, the Cuchullainn saga. The basis for this production was one of R J’s books on Irish mythology, Cuchullainn, published by Firebird book.
I didn’t know this author before reading his edition of The Secret Commonwealth but I now feel like discovering his other books, especially his last one about Merlin. I’ve already read the introduction and the first chapters of The Secret Commonwealth. R.J. Stewart has written commentaries for each of them and they are quite helpful to progress in this cryptic text. This reading is worth the effort. Not that I’m inclined to jump into unknown territories, still less to follow men like Reverend Kirk into the arcanes of mysterious and invisible worlds, but I’m not hostile and I’m even curious about things that can’t be explained today. More than ever I remain quite open-minded to all uncanny things we may happen to encounter on our path as we already had in our Scottish Quest…
A bientôt !