by Adalbert Stifter, introduction by W.H. Auden, translated from the German by Elizabeth Mayer and Marianne Moore
Seemingly the simplest of stories—a passing anecdote of village life—Rock Crystal opens up into a tale of almost unendurable suspense. This jewel-like novella by the writer that Thomas Mann praised as “one of the most extraordinary, the most enigmatic, the most secretly daring and the most strangely gripping narrators in world literature” is among the most unusual, moving, and memorable of Christmas stories.
Two children—Conrad and his little sister, Sanna—set out from their village high up in the Alps to visit their grandparents in the neighboring valley. It is the day before Christmas but the weather is mild, though of course night falls early in December and the children are warned not to linger. The grandparents welcome the children with presents and pack them off with kisses. Then snow begins to fall, ever more thickly and steadily. Undaunted, the children press on, only to take a wrong turn. The snow rises higher and higher, time passes: it is deep night when the sky clears and Conrad and Sanna discover themselves out on a glacier, terrifying and beautiful, the heart of the void.
Adalbert Stifter’s rapt and enigmatic tale, beautifully translated by Elizabeth Mayer and Marianne Moore, explores what can be found between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—or on any night of the year.
"...[A] quiet and beautiful parable about the relation of people to places, of man to nature"...Beyond its leisurely beginning lies a painstakingly polished and fashioned gem, an ageless, mystical folktale whose return deserves a 12 month celebration.
— The New York Times
The work of Adalbert Stifter, who was one of the very few great novelists in German literature, can be compared to no other writer of the nineteenth century in pure happiness, wisdom, and beauty...Stifter became the greatest landscape-painter in literature...someone who possesses the magic wand to transform all visible things into words and all visible movements—into sentences.
— Hannah Arendt
Whereas romances are rarely fearsome, even when teeming with dragons, tales quite often are. The fear that must underlie even our most cordial relation with the elements has an established place in them. I think of Rock Crystal...it tells of two children, brother and sister, lost in a mountain snowstorm at Christmas-time while returning from a custom-honored three-hour walk to their grandmother's house down the valley. The quite ordinary and familiar two-horned alp traversed by the shoemaker's children is a mountain more magic than any of Thomas Mann's imagining.
— Mary McCarthy, The New York Review of Books
Two children, Conrad and Sanna, walk from their village in the Alps to visit their grandparents the day before Christmas. On their journey home, they take a wrong turn and are feared lost in a snowstorm. Lyrical and descriptive, this brief tale by Austrian writer, poet, and painter Stifter...will do well where literary fiction is appreciated.
— Library Journal