‘The Land of Story-Books’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a six stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, or quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of aabb ccdd eeff… and so on, throughout the entirety of the poem. The basic rhyming pattern fits in well with the subject matter, and intended audience of the poem. It was written as a child’s narrative and the bouncing rhythm would have been attractive to a younger audience.
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Summary of The Land of Story-Books
The poem begins with the speaker describing how in the evening when his parents are doing nothing but sitting around and talking, he escapes behind the sofa. From his place of concealment, he delves into the “land of story-books.” He explores the stories that he has read before, and enters into new ones. From his hiding place, the boy can see and experience the entire world.
This time of exploration thrills him as he is able to see lions, and prowl around the fire lit camps. The evening eventually comes to an end and his “nurse” tells him it’s time for bed. He longs to remain in his “camp” of books, but ventures on to the bed. He will return the next day.
Analysis of The Land of Story-Books
At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.
The speaker of ‘The Land of Story-Books’, a young child, begins by describing his evening ritual. This speaker has a very well developed imagination into which he dives after the day is over and his parents are sitting “Around the fire,” talking. It is dark outside when the narrator begins his games and the lamp is the only source of light. This creates an interesting and perhaps magical environment for the young boy to explore.
In the second half of the first stanza, he describes what it is his parents do, or more precisely, what they don’t do. They are severely uninteresting to the child who is still full of energy. All his parents do is “sit at home and talk and sing.” They do not, much to his chagrin, “play at anything.”
Now, with my little gun, I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back.
The child continues on, describing his own evening activities. In contrast to what his family does, he spends his time roaming his house with his “little gun.” He totes around this toy as he “crawl[s]” throughout the house, “along the wall.”
The child is able, through his actions, to imagine himself somewhere else. Somewhere more interesting and stimulating to his imagination. He trails his way through the house as if he is following a path through the forest. Behind the back of the sofa, he has constructed a “camp.” It is there that he spends his evenings. The boy has made a safe space in which he can create his own worlds far more attractive than that of his parent’s.
There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter’s camp I lie,
And play at books that I have read
Till it is time to go to bed.
In the third stanza of ‘The Land of Story-Books’, the reader discovers that the imagination of the child is being stimulated by “books that [he has] read.” The speaker truly appreciates the adventures that one might engage in within the pages of a book, and in his “hunter’s camp” behind the sofa, he reads. Every evening is spent this way until, unfortunately, it is “time to go to bed.”
The speaker describes himself as “play[ing]” with books that he has read. He re-reads passages and perhaps acts out the most exciting scenes. The places that he visits within the pages of his books are described in the next stanza.
These are the hills, these are the woods,
These are my starry solitudes;
And there the river by whose brink
The roaring lions come to drink.
Behind the sofa, crouching, away from his family, the boy explores “hills” and “woods.” These places are his alone and provide him with “starry solitude.” No one else, either in the house or in the rest of the world, can lay claim to the lands he explores.
It is in these places that he is the happiest. He can see a “river” from which “lions come to drink.” The boy is able to observe dangerous far away places, without leaving his “camp.”
I see the others far away
As if in firelit camp they lay,
And I, like to an Indian scout,
Around their party prowled about.
The speaker continues on to describe another place he can visit. Hidden away in the outskirts of the scene, he is able to observe a “firelit camp” and other explorers out, perhaps, on the Western plains. He is like an “Indian scout,” unseen and unheard. He observes, and that is all.
His imaginary position gives him a power in his life he does not otherwise have. He is capable of seeing the world, and “prowling about” in it, without anyone knowing. The explorations do eventually have to come to an end though, as they do in the final stanza.
So, when my nurse comes in for me,
Home I return across the sea,
And go to bed with backward looks
At my dear land of Story-books.
In this last stanza of ‘The Land of Story-Books’, the evening is ending. His “nurse,” or nanny, comes to fetch him from his “camp,” a sign that it is time to “return across the sea” to the real world.
He does as he is bid, but not without remorse. As he is led to his room he looks back at his place behind the sofa with longing. But he will return again the next day.
About Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in November of 1850 and was sickly from birth. His mother passed onto him her weak lungs and he had a live-in nurse as a child. He started attending school at seven and when he eventually attended college his performance was poor. He was hoping to become a lighthouse engineer like his father, but did not apply himself to his studies. He was known for his lavish dress and visiting brothels. Stevenson eventually changed his ambitions and decided to become a lawyer in the hope of appeasing his father, but he never practiced. While studying law, Stevenson also taught himself how to write and his work was published in a number of periodicals.
Stevenson’s first two published books were based on his extensive travels. He was frequently ill and his wife Fanny, who had left his first husband for Stevenson, was often responsible for his care. Treasure Island, his first successful novel was published in 1884, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde followed in 1886. Stevenson was an intensely popular writer and was admired by many including Vladimir Nabokov and Ernest Hemingway. Stevenson and his family moved to the Samoan islands in 1890 and by 1894 he had become increasingly depressed and died from a cerebral hemorrhage.