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Phyllis in Piskie-land

Phyllis in Piskie-land

By J. Henry Harris

New edition, 2010. Illustrations by Patten Wilson. Cathair na Mart: Evertype. ISBN 978-1-904808-84-8 (paperback), price: €11.95, £10.95, $14.95.

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J. Henry Harris 1848-1917 was a journalist, novelist, and short-story writer, probably best known for his collection of Cornish folklore, Cornish Saints and Sinners (1906). In his book Phyllis in Piskie-land, inspired by Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, a little English girl visiting Cornwall is taken into their world and has many adventures. This rare book has been brought out again to delight Carrollians and Cornishmen alike.

Phyllis in Piskie-land is in part a vehicle for Harris’ interest in Cornish folklore, but it is clear that his interest in Carroll’s work goes beyond the syntax of the title of his book. In many episodes Phyllis is taught and entertained by the denizens of Piskie-land, and like Alice she endeavours to be polite to them. Harris’ clearest homage to Carroll is in the beginning of Chapter XI, “The Charmed Shoes”, where the nonsense echoes both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass quite strongly, leading up to the Cornish folktale which concludes the chapter.


“I wonder what’s up now?” said Phyllis to herself; but she had not long to wait before the trumpets trumped, and the Herald at Arms made proclamation that the Lord Chamberlain would scatter to the winds all the letters of the Piskie Alphabet, and whoever picked them up must run top-speed to the palace and give them into the King’s own hand; and the first four letters so placed in the King’s hand would spell the name of the Prince. And the Herald further proclaimed that the bearers of the first four letters would receive the royal favour, and be made the Prince’s guardians out of school hours, and have their heads screwed on well and truly whenever they came to the palace on business.

“Dear me, what a lot of fuss these people make about head-screwing,” thought Phyllis. “And now I understand how anxious the Court Lady must be to pick up one of the first four letters and carry to the King; but I do hope she wo’n’t get the appointment, unless they first sweeten her temper with Golden Syrup.”

There was a great scramble for the letters of the alphabet as the Lord Chamberlain threw them into the air. Those who picked them up ran with all their might to the palace, tossing away their heads as they ran, so as not to be tempted to pick flowers by the way; and the heads went googling on their way after them. The Lady of the Court was one of the runners, but having a tight skirt she stumbled and fell, and came in a bad fifth. “If she hadn’t called me a silly, I should have been sorry for her, after all,” said Phyllis to herself.


HTML Michael Everson, Evertype, 73 Woodgrove, Portlaoise, R32 ENP6, Ireland, 2012-02-06

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