This book has been in my family for four generations, the 1912 edition having been given to my father by his grandmother in 1948.
The premise of the story is given in the introduction; the narrator happens upon a marvelous clock in Father Time's attic, which strikes the hour with songs and puppet dances. Twenty-four stories follow, one for each hour of the day. Each story begins with a verse that corresponds to the hour of the day: lighting the fire, preparing breakfast, sending the children to school, making the noonday meal, milking, tea, bedtime. The verses alone are fascinating, as they bring to life the househould routines of a very different era.
The stories are illustrated with Howard Pyle's remarkable drawings. Each tale has a frontispiece for the title, and the beginning of the text and each picture caption is heralded with a large ornmental letter like those in illuminated manuscripts. The illustrations are gorgeous. Pyle was fond of capturing scenes of nobility and royal splendour, pastoral life, and witchcraft. Some are stylized portraits of princesses in exquisite gowns and classic poses, while others demonstrate Pyle's gift for caricature and expression.
The stories themselves are wonderful, full of heroes and heroines, bravery, beauty, wits and trickery. Although there are allusions to mystic and Christian themes, and to folklore and fables, most of the stories will be unfamiliar and fresh to modern readers. The langauge is rich with metaphor, droll imagery, and dialogue that is made to be read aloud. As with Aesop's fables, the stories are meant to instruct, but the morals take a back seat to the storytelling, at least until the conclusion of each tale, and a great deal is left up to the reader to interpret.
This was my favorite book as a child, and I still turn to it on sleepless nights. But our beloved family heirloom is growing very delicate, so I am very glad that the book is still in print. I hope to share it with my own children someday.