Nothing against baby Jesus—I’m a major fan, actually, of the not-necessarily divine version—but, look, sit me down on Christmas Eve with my daughter in my lap, hold out the Gospel of Luke in one hand, Adalbert Stifter’s Rock Crystal (NYRB Classics, 2008) in the other, tell me to choose, and I will likely go with Rock Crystal. Okay, for the sake of time, energy, restlessness, sleepiness, etc., I might need to spend some time crafting an abridged version for that particular occasion, and I might throw in a little Luke at some point (baby v. literal interpretation bathwater, etc.) but the fact remains: Stifter’s simply plotted novella (Austrian brother and sister get lost in snowstorm while walking home from grandparents’ house on Christmas eve) is (forgive me, Father; redeem me, Son; do your thing, Spirit, as long as it does not involve impregnating anyone) no less miraculous than the Virgin Birth and all to come throughout the thirty-three years following. The forest, the mountains, the snow and, most importantly, the ice—the beautiful, terrible, infinite ice!—inspire in sibling and reader alike a breathless, speechless wonder that, as the snow and fog thicken and the day turns to night and the shape of the terrain mercilessly and unceasingly morphs and deceives, is transformed—not by calm or play or rollicking fun, but, paradoxically, by fear, desperation, disorientation, and outright lostness—into a quiet transcendence, a joy that will forever haunt them—and (myriad praises to Adalbert Stifter, who brutally and at least in some ways Christlike did shed his own blood some years later) us.
Adalbert Stifter, Rock Crystal. Published by NYRB Classics (2008). 96 pages.