‘Keturah and Lord Death’ and Rhubarb Meringue Pie
A fairy tale happened to me – I was the told instead of the teller.
I didn’t use to like lemon-flavored desserts. Lemon bars, lemon cookies, lemon meringue pie…not my thing.
Until I read Keturah and Lord Death.
“Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself,” says Donald Miller. I know he’s right. I watched “My Fair Lady” and thought the ending was depressing until my grandma told me it was her favorite movie. “I just love how Eliza comes back to Henry,” she told me, a twinge of nostalgia in her voice. So I watched it again with her eyes – and it started a transformation — not only my opinion of the movie but the way I see story endings in general.
Keturah transformed my view of lemons. And meringue, for that matter. (My view of pie is still that it is the most amazing dessert ever invented.)
Keturah, who lived in a medieval village around the time of the Plague, was only good at two things: Making pies and telling stories.
I’m pretty sure we’d get along well together.
One day, she wandered too far into the forest and met Lord Death himself. To save her life, she tells him a desperate story…a love story. Her story. He releases her on the condition that she return again the next evening to finish the story. And then – he falls in love with her.
Okay okay, I can’t give away too much. Through a strange but logical sequence of events, it comes down to this: to save herself from the clutches of Lord Death, Keturah must find her true love by winning the town cooking contest and consequently a husband. (I know – not the most politically correct way to score a hubby.) Up against the best cook in the village, Keturah must resort to finding something totally unique – something her town has never seen or tasted before.
This is the passage that change my mind about them:
“I cooked and tasted and cooked more and tasted more, and at last I had a filling that was not too sweet and not too tart. That was for the sun. For the topping, I whipped egg whites and sugar until they fluffed like summer-day clouds, and then I baked. Finally I had a pie that I knew would make every man in the village fond of me.”
(My mouth is watering!)
Martine Leavitt started to write the story while studying for her MFA at Vermont College. She toyed with which way to end the story, and I have to say the first time I read it, I thought the one she chose was awful. (Hint: Keturah finds her true love, but it’s not anyone she expected!)
The second time around (several years later) I think I liked the ending much better. I’ve always been drawn to self-aware stories – meaning there is a keen awareness that the reader very likely loves stories, and the author/narrator draws upon that common love. These are often stories with poignant, delightful narrators, and with the idea of ‘story’ itself holding a sort of redemptive power. (The Tale of Despereaux and The Book Thief are a few other examples.) Keturah’s stories save her life, and she is awed to find herself living in a fairy tale too.
I think, second-round, that the story has strong and beautiful insights about death. (Ironically, so does The Tale of Despereaux, which plays death as a central theme, and The Book Thief, whose narrator is Death himself!). “Power” and “Beauty” might be strange words to attribute to such a scary inevitable force, but Leavitt casts vivid beams of light on the concept of death giving meaning and richness to our life.
Isn’t that what stories are? Juxtaposition between good and bad, right and wrong, life and death? Though it took Martine Leavitt and lemons to help me realize this, I know that we love stories because life is so fragile. And that makes it very, very precious.
Even though my tastes changed several years ago, I’d never actually made a meringue pie until very recently. My friend Emily (who bakes with me a lot) came over and we made something totally unique: a rhubarb meringue pie. You can some more pictures here and the recipe here).
PS I can think of a few other author who have a lot of amazingness to say about fairy tales and the life of mortals. (coughLewisTolkienChesterton)
What story have you read that helps you see your own life as something miraculous and beautiful?