The Glass Minstrel – Hayden Thorne (Bristlecone Pine Press)

Buy it now at our store – The Glass Minstrel

Jim: …What kind of glass is it?

Laura: Little articles of it, they’re ornaments mostly!…the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie! Oh, be careful—if you breathe, it breaks!

Jim: I’d better not take it. I’m pretty clumsy with things.

Laura: Go on, I trust you with him! …Hold him over the light, he loves the light! You see how the light shines through him?

Tennessee Williams, “The Glass Menagerie”

Thorne gently spins this tale amidst the backdrop of a small village nestled in the Bavarian Alps during a time when much of Europe is embroiled in an uprising of the masses against the age-old tyranny of monarchs.The backdrop—circa 1850—is significant: Thorne provides another, quietly intimate uprising against a wholly different form of tyranny.

Each chapter of this 197 page precious read begins with a journal entry from Heinrich, a young man sent off to school, who shares his life and gives his love to another boy, another student, Stefan, from the same village. The journal, however, serves to remind Heinrich’s aristocratic  father, that his son and Stefan—through an unnatural relationship described in the journal—have brought some little shame to the family name, and certainly also to Stefan’s father, a craftsman, who owns a shop where he makes toys and glass figurines. The journal also serves as a reminder that these two boys have suffered horrible, untimely deaths. The fates of the boys—both prior to their deaths,and after—are irreconcilable tragedies, both publicly and personally, for the still grieving fathers.

Herr Bauer, Stefan’s father, copes with the loss of his son by fashioning a glass figurine, a minstrel that is starkly reminiscent of his son’s visage and, indeed, reflective of his son’s musical talent. He also creates a shepherd and a prince; two additional glass representations of boys that find their way to those who see in the exquisitely crafted figures much more than a shepherd and a prince.

As this is Christmastime, Bauer’s creations are prized by the villagers, whether wealthy or poor, aristocratic or common. And it is inthe fascination, the deeper meaning some see in the glass statuettes of boys,that tie characters together in a kind of desperate yearn for what could have been; for what has been lost; for what may yet be possible within aggrieved families, within the tightly knit village where not many secrets survive untold. 

Jakob Diederich, a fifteen-year-old commoner, captures the essence of this storytelling: fragile, charming, hopeful—oh, ever hopeful.Jakob knows the shame engendered by the hushed histories of Stefan and Heinrich. Jakob suffers the knowledge that he will be seen in the same disgraceful light as Stefan and Heinrich once his nature is known. But he persists in savoring the dreams,the longings of a young boy’s imagination wrapped in the promise of a future where his nature is not a hindrance, but the fulfillment of…life, simply life, lived gently, lovingly.

Thorne weaves this entrancing story through trails of despair, hope, unfulfilling meanderings of the flesh, the pain of loss, the grasp for soulful reconciliations; all within 197 pages; all within the quite believable environment of a 19th century Alpine village where Christmastime is joyful in its simplicity; a time and place where it is not so difficult to see, to eventually really…see how the light shines through…when hearts and minds find their better angels.         

Reviewed by George Seaton

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