Thursday, 20 November 2014

Immerse yourself in Grimm

So THIS is happening in London until February next year...

Grimm tales (not the usual culprits either) in the form of immersive theatre at The Bargehouse. Exciting stuff!


Philip Wilson (Director & Adapter):
"I love the fact that, in German, these are known as 'wonder tales' rather than the more twee term 'fairy tales': and so audiences coming to the Bargehouse will find themselves plunged into a parallel universe in which extraordinary adventures happen - and the darker side of these stories will come to light... "
Val Coward (Producer):
"We’re transplanting Pullman’s Grimm Tales into the raw, atmospheric rooms of the iconic Bargehouse. It’s a real flesh-and-blood rendering; you’re literally in the witch’s cottage with Hansel & Gretel and you can really sense the magic and delight in the players and audience as each story unfolds. We’re so excited to be bringing these tales to the South bank and everyone here will enjoy this, from kids and their grown-ups to the rest of us who enjoy a fantastic tale or two."

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Discovering British Folk Art

I'll start off with some honesty: although I do occasionally go out to look at art, I'm not much of a gallery person. That's not to say I don't value and appreciate art, but at best I find galleries too much to take in, and at worst a nesting ground for pretentious sorts who are somehow able to interpret an artist's socio-political viewpoint from a particular brushstroke (and will scowl down their noses at you if your view is 'I like the colours in this one').

So despite being excited about the British Folk Art exhibition I was slightly wary going in. But I needn't have worried - none of my fears were realised. A subject as vast and varied as 'folk art' could have filled endless rooms and corridors, but Tate had about four rooms with themed selections that not only made it manageable, but interesting too. Of course there were some proper art buffs milling around, but their mutterings weren't audible over the hums of conversation between all the other diverse groups of people in there. What particularly stood out for me in this respect was seeing children genuinely engaged with the pieces. Your experiences may differ from mine, but for the most part when I've passed children in galleries or museums I've usually caught a 'this is so boring' or 'can we go home now?', not 'look, this is so cool!' which I heard a young boy say to his mum about the giant keys and boots used as shop signs.

Wall of trade signs (from The Guardian)
The exhibition was hailed as a celebration of objects made outside the British mainstream over the last few hundred years, and was the first of its kind. 'At its foundation in 1768-9, the Royal Academy declared that "no needlework, artificial flowers, cut paper, shell work, or any such baubles should be admitted" to its prestigious exhibitions...' and examples of all of these, and much more, were featured.

Like I said, I don't know much about art; this is merely a few paragraphs about the things I found most interesting or beautiful, and I hope that many more of you have the chance to see the exhibition as it leaves the Tate and travels onward.

Two variations of 'The Earthstopper' by George Smart
George Smart (c.1775 - 1846) was a tailor in Tunbridge Wells who made collages out of textile and paper scraps. Smart reproduced his pictures to sell, resulting in many variations of his work. The exhibition featured different versions of 'Goosewoman', 'Old Bright the Postman', and 'The Earthstopper'.

Two walls were dedicated to the sea, the sky and land - common themes in folk art. They featured lots of wool-on-canvas work such as embroidered maps of the country, counties and solar system - even the layouts of farms. There were also several ships and seascapes usually made by retired sailers and fishermen, like John Craske (1811-1943), 'a Norfolk fisherman who took up painting and embroidery when he was forced to retire due to ill health'. On display was his woolwork 'Rescue', an embroidered image of a boat being rescued off the coast. The Royal Academy's rejection of 'feminine arts' included needlework, so it hadn't even crossed my mind that there would be male artists working with silks. And I wonder how many do now.

Within this area, one piece in particular stood out for me: the 1811 wool and silk solar system, created by a girl as part of her education. It included a quote from Milton's 'Paradise Lost' at the top, and depicted the orbit of a comet and the known planets of the solar system, including their distance from the Sun. At the time, Uranus was called 'Georgium Sidus' after the King. I wonder if I would have enjoyed certain subjects more when I was at school if I'd had the opportunity to learn them creatively - felted trigonometry, perhaps?

This Sweetheart Pincushion, made in 1896, would have been sent home by a soldier/sailer to a loved one, probably during the Crimean War. If you'd told me before that a pin cushion would blow my mind I would have laughed at you. But, wow, pins are fascinating! Back then pins were handmade and very expensive; so expensive in fact that they were only sold two days a year, as people would need the rest of the year to save up to buy them! And the folklore of pins was spectacular too: sticking a pin into a textile was said to bring luck to the person it was for; on ships, sailers associated pins with witches and called them 'little witches in disguise', yet they would still bring them on board as good luck charms to neutralise a witch.

The Harvest Jug, made in 1838 in North Devon from Red Earthenware with a yellow slip, has 'sgraffito' (scratched) decorations referring back to earlier traditions (and I'm pretty sure that's where we get the word 'graffiti' from). It depicts the Sun, a cockerel, flowers and leaves, and the text on the side is a poem exalting harvest labourers. The jug was made for harvest celebrations, and would have been a treasured possession within the family. I can't say exactly why I was so drawn to this. Perhaps it was the colours, maybe the mishmash of text and art, or just the fact that it is beautiful and practical - art with a function within the family.

One particularly mysterious piece was the God-in-a-bottle or 'whimsy', 'patience' or 'puzzle' bottle. From the late nineteenth century, they were associated with the Roman Catholic diaspora, especially labourers in northern England. Their purpose remains a complete mystery.

Gods in bottles (from New Statesman)
The oldest object on display was a wooden nutcracker c.1595-1605. It was carved like a person, and the nut would have been cracked in his mouth. On the theme of food, there was also a wooden gingerbread mould in the form of an alphabet square c.1600-1750.

There was a room full of carved figures for ships or trade signs. They were great...but I wouldn't have liked to have been alone in there. There was something creepy about them, especially the more garish ones. For me they fall into the same creepy category as clowns and china dolls, you know? Anyway, the garish ones had been more recently restored, and I discovered that a feature of much folk art is the repainting or remaking by many hands over time (does this count with folklore as well, and the way we rewrite and rework traditional stories?)

Mary Linwood's 'needlepainted' self portrait after John Russell (from The Foundery)
Mary Linwood (1755-1845) created an amazing needlework self portrait based on a pastel portrait done of her as a young woman. Linwood's art is called 'needlepainting' because it is so intricate, and her fame is based on embroidered copies of Old Masters such as Rembrandt. She was excluded from the Royal Academy as they would not accept needlework or other 'feminine arts', but as well as that, 'she remains largely unclassifiable, lacking the originality demanded of the fine artist, and the 'authenticity' required of the folk artist, yet also disconnected from domestic craft traditions.'

All these questions surrounding classification, intention and authenticity must have made it a real headache trying to put this exhibition together!

The final picture I took was of the felted wool Crimean Quilt (c.1853-6), which was '...created by soldiers injured in the Crimean War. It comprises over 10,000 separate pieces; the creation of such labour-intensive textiles was promoted among serviceman as a form of therapy.' Creating something like this would have helped to keep servicemen away from drink, gambling and women, and would have been a great help dealing with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It includes parts of soldier's uniforms; there is one myth that says it contains the uniforms of lost comrades as a memorial to them.

The final room examined folk art as an expression of community and collective identity, and the idea of the folk artist as a 'wholly idiosyncratic maker' e.g. Jack Punter and 'The House that Jack Built'. We were reminded that folk art and folk traditions are not part of some long-forgotten past, but are still alive today in the form of pearly kings and queens, mummers, master thatchers and straw effigies, well dressings and so on...

Exhibition room (from June Sees. Check out their review and more pics here)
If you can catch the exhibition at its next stop, please do! And here is a review from The Guardian.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Healing our Imagination

I read Patrick Jasper Lee's observation that, as humans, we are comprised of both the factual and the imaginative, in June shortly after the episode with Richard Dawkins; so even though Lee is discussing this issue broadly with his narrow focus on shamanic journeying and the 'truth' of the experiences, I couldn't help but think about his words in relation to fairy tales and the truths we find within them...

"As already mentioned, before the dawning of the scientific age, in the last few centuries, and when it was not so important to think quite so geographically, the imagination was not considered to be such a confusing issue, but it has now been suppressed for so very long, we have completely forgotten its capabilities; our relationship with our imagination has changed because our relationship with ourselves has changed. We really have no option but to study the imagination - with a view to understanding the Otherworld - with our present understanding of science. And the Romani shamanic way can provide us with a few clever guidelines for tackling this seemingly strange idea."

"We are all affected by the creative imagination, no matter how logical we might consider ourselves to be, no matter how imaginative we might consider ourselves to be. The imagination exists, just as a fact exists. We use it unconsciously throughout much of the day. The only difference between fact and the imagination is that we do not need to prove that the imagination exists. It is actually something we can't prove and yet we can all agree that we can all choose to use it, for good or ill."

"We need now to be thinking of the health of our imagination. It is such a strong part of us that where it lies dormant we are in danger of losing much of our self-confidence and our self-belief. And that is most uncomfortable to live with."

"Generally, we need to begin questioning ourselves rather more frankly where the imagination is concerned and we certainly need to start opening our minds to the possibility of seeing the imagination as a field in its own right, worthy of considerable exploration. The imagination must no longer be thought of as ineffectual, artificial or unreal. All of the greatest scientific inventions we have in our world today began with the imagination, as did all the greatest works of art and everything we use. Even the chair you are sitting in began in someone's mind before it was brought to the drawing board!"

"We need radical changes for any revolution to take place and for some there is no doubt that the imagination will prove to be a very scary, unpredictable world at first. But we must always that it hasn't been used properly for such an extraordinarily long time that it will have to be oiled again, its creative process trusted and its existence seen as something sacred, rather than something that is just a nuisance. Without doubt, consideration of the imagination as a healing tool must feature somehow on the next rung of the ladder of human development."

Patrick Jasper Lee, We Borrow the Earth: An Intimate Portrait of the Gypsy Shamanic Tradition and Culture (London: Thorsons, 2000), 302-305.
Images from ArtMagick. Hover over images for title, artist and date.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A Gypsy shaman's interpretation of Sleeping Beauty

We Borrow the Earth fell off a shelf in a charity shop as I reached up to replace a book next to it. The title was captivating - so I decided the book had chosen me. I knew to ignore what I'd previously heard about Gypsy culture and tradition - the stories were likely overly romanticised and mysticised accounts - and aimed to read without preconceptions as far as possible. Patrick Jasper Lee's personal experiences and thoughts about his culture and history were fascinating and written in a very engaging manner. As a practising Gypsy shaman he has a deep relationship with the Earth, and a lot of his thoughts about our ruptured relationship with our natural world resonated with me.

But I was truly delighted to find he had expressed opinions on fairy tales and their importance in our (imaginative) lives - I'm not sure how often I've read interpretations that haven't been from a Western academic perspective. Below, I've shared Lee's thoughts on Sleeping Beauty.

'La belle au bois dormant' by manu4-20-5 @ dA
"It saddens me to think just how much we have pushed the fairy-tale world underground, this beautiful magical world which once fashioned everyday life and the initiations of our deeper past in Europe. But a student of mine once said to me, 'These Romani teachings of yours reawaken the Sleeping Beauty within me.' This comment could simply sound like romantic fantasy, but it touches the very heart of the Romani shamanic journey. The lady who spoke these words was French, but this phrase also says a good deal about the spirit of the imagination which once thrived in western Europe and which is now very much like a great and beautiful princess, sleeping within us, and also beneath us within the Earth."

'The Sleeping Beauty' by KmyeChan @ dA
"Long ago, Sleeping Beauty, a spirit recognisable to all of us who have European roots, came under the spell of a wickedly clever fairy, whose spirit worked through many gullible sorcerers. These sorcerers threatened to kill the beautiful princess - or to take the beauty of the imagination away. The princess would prick her finger when she was 18 - civilised life would be a test for this natural spirit, nine being a crucial number for testing the soul of a great princess - and she and all her people would fall into a deep sleep in which they would know nothing of their older life, until a handsome prince found his way to the castle, kissed the princess and woke her. Then they would all live happily ever after - or reunite with their imaginative lives again. I believe we are still in that deep hypnotic slumber in our physical world, together with the beautiful Earth spirit, or princess of our land, and I believe that this seemingly eternal sleep affects us when we journey."

'Wild Nocturne' by lauraborealisis @ dA
"The Sleeping Beauty was thus a sad tale expressing the story of the Bari Weshen Dai, 'the Great Forest Mother', who was a beautiful feminine spirit residing in the forests of Europe. Her fate was sealed when the spell was cast. And she still now sleeps, entombed beneath the Earth, and also within us. Interestingly, in the French language The Sleeping Beauty is called La belle au bois dormant, 'The Beauty of the Sleeping Wood'!"

'Forest Thinking' by jslattum @ dA
"I often tell students who come to learn the craft of Romani journeying how we can take on the role of the handsome prince who kisses this beautiful lady. For a greater part of us is sleeping along with her, as we are all entranced by the spell. But when she wakes, in the future, we will wake too, and she will wake, because that is her fate also. No bad spell can last forever. The 'good' image must inevitably follow the 'bad' one! And we will eventually outwit the one who created this powerful soul-numbing slumber. Who knows what will happen when the Sleeping Beauty finally wakes!"

'Spiritual Journey' by Tamura @ dA
"The journey I conduct with students around the theme of waking the Sleeping Beauty is always one of the most important journeys, for it serves to rekindle the student's relationship with Puv, the Earth Spirit, via the Bari Washen Dai. It can help to develop essential assertiveness and also direction."

Patrick Jasper Lee, We Borrow the Earth: An Intimate Portrait of the Gypsy Shamanic Tradition and Culture (London: Thorsons, 2000), 222-224.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Richard Dawkins Book of Children's Stories

Private Eye - that brilliant, satirical magazine of current affairs - published a short piece on the Richard Dawkins fairytale story (Issue 1368, 13th - 26th June 2014). Here it is:

Exclusive serialisation of the book no one wants read to them 
The Princess & the Frog 
Once upon a time, a beautiful Princess, who was looking for a Prince to marry, kissed a frog. Nothing happened - the statistical likelihood of morphogenesis is infinitesimally small. The members of the two different species, amphibian and mammalian, didn't actually live happily ever after because they're a figment of someone's imagination. The end. 
Jack & the Beanstalk 
Once upon a time, there was a boy called Jack who exchanged his family cow for a handful of "magic beans". His mother was very cross since there is no such thing as "magic", and she threw the beans out of the window. The next morning Jack awoke to find the beans hadn't even germinated yet. The end. 
Once upon a time, there was a girl who was forced to work in the kitchens while her Ugly Sisters went to the ball. She was not visited by a Fairy Godmother since there are no such things as fairies and certainly no such thing as God. The pumpkin did not turn into a carriage because matter transmutation is not a scientifically viable concept. It was turned into a pie. The end. 
The Grouch who stole Christmas 
Once upon there was an evil Professor who had the magic power to suck the joy out of childhood by telling children there's no such thing as (I don't want to hear this, Ed.)

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Farewells and Returns

When one chapter ends, another one begins. So it is in books, and so it is in life.

My time in Brighton has come to a close after four years. I regret that while I was there I didn't allow myself to feel that it truly was my home - having itchy feet stopped me from wanting to feel like I was putting down roots. What I have come to see in retrospect is that I did put down roots, and these roots provided me with the nourishment I needed from the people and places around me. The wonderful friends, the vibrant city, the almighty sea, the blustery Downs and the embracing forests.

But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, but can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty in it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties.
From 'The Wind in the Willows' by Kenneth Grahame

This change has reminded me of the need to live more mindfully, alive in the present moment and respecting and enjoying what is around me, rather than spending all my time imagining or fretting about the future. 

I have now returned to London, a world away from the life I have been living and a past life I left behind purposely and eagerly. But I am here once again. And I must accept and make the most of my time here, in case I miss the roots growing, however temporary they may be...

There is always joy and wonder to be found, whether we're by sea and sand, amidst cars and crowds or alone on windswept moors.

And certainly with Luna, hiking the Downs...

And that is how I want to live my life: with joy and wonder.

And O most constant, yet most fickle Place,
Thou hast thy wayward moods, as thou dost show
To them who look not daily on thy face;
Who, being loved, in love no bounds dost know,
And say'st, when we forsake thee, 'Let them go!'
Thou easy-hearted Thing, with thy wild race
Of weeds and flowers, till we return be slow,
And travel with the year at a soft pace.
From 'Farewell' by William Wordsworth

Let's see how this chapter begins...

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Dawkins vs. Fairy Tales

Once again Richard Dawkins is causing controversy, this time on the subject of fairy tales. He recently called them 'pernicious' and speculated at the damage they cause to children's minds. After the (completely unsurprising) backlash, he retracted his statement and instead said that on balance they were probably OK because they could help with critical thinking skills. There's an article in The Telegraph about it here.

Critical thinking, and then some. At the heart of it, both science and fairy tales can help us to find answers about ourselves, in their own way. Both have the ability to fill us with a sense of wonder and awe. If a scientist had never been able to exercise her creativity and imagination, would she still be curious about the mysteries of the universe, and want to find answers?

If we had never imagined, wondered, been struck dumb by awe - if we had never dreamed and dared to ask why and how, there is no way we would have evolved to this point, to know so much. If we lived a life of facts and nothing else, how would we know to look beyond them?

The Mermaid, Howard Pyle, 1910. From ArtMagick.

Monday, 26 May 2014

British Folk Art exhibition @ Tate Britain

British Folk Art, 10 June - 31 August (Link)

A wonderful new exhibition is starting soon at Tate Britain in London - I can't wait! Alongside the exhibition there is also a whole host of courses, workshops and talks on folk art throughout June and July, which include collage, embroidery and knife-carving.

Goose Woman by George Smart c1840

From The Tate website:
Steeped in tradition and often created by self-taught artists and artisans, the often humble but always remarkable objects in this exhibition include everything from ships’ figureheads to quirky shop signs, Toby jugs to elaborately crafted quilts.
You will find an intricate sculpture of a cockerel, made out of mutton bones by French POWs during the Napoleonic wars. There is a larger-than-life-size figure of King Alfred made out of thatch. There are examples of the mysterious ‘god in a bottle’ – votive offerings suspended in bottles of clear liquid – as well as na├»ve paintings, tin trays covered with ornate fragments of crockery and much more besides. The show exemplifies the energy, variety and idiosyncracy of British Folk Art.
Folk art has often been neglected in the story of British art: by uncovering this treasure trove of folk art objects, this exhibition asks why.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Fairy Tales @ Brighton Fringe and Brighton Festival

It's that time of year again, folks. Where has the time gone? Next week is the start of Brighton Festival and Brighton Fringe, and the city will be filled with all manner of artistic, theatrical, musical and other events for a month.

Brighton Fringe is the largest arts festival in England and one of the largest fringe festivals in the world. Brighton Festival is the more 'grown up' celebration of all the same things as the fringe: music, theatre, dance, circus, art, film, literature and debate. The Festival's guest director this year is choreographer Hofesh Shechter, who follows in the footsteps of Michael Rosen, Vanessa Redgrave, Aung San Suu Kyi, Brian Eno and Anish Kapoor.

Here are the more magical and mystical offerings this year:

Monday, 17 March 2014

How Red Runs

I am somewhat late in sharing my most recent publication news: How Red Runs in Enchanted Conversation. I really am terrible at self-promotion! Thank you Kate for publishing it, and to the readers for the lovely comments; it's not often I get to see what people think of my work, it's exciting and also quite scary knowing I can find out what people think about my stories!

I remember incredibly clearly how How Red Runs came to be: I was on a much needed long walk through the woods with a great friend of mine and her beautiful labrador, Luna. Our walks there are like soul-therapy for me. I feel healed when I'm surrounded by nature.

I love watching Luna charging through the trees, like a pro slalom athlete, never missing a beat. It's something I'd love to be able to do, but I don't think human agility is really up to it at the speeds she travels! Being short sighted, I think I would be at an added disadvantage. The conversations my friend and I have on walks can take us anywhere, and today, before we parted ways, the conversation somehow turned to the subject of feral children.

I came home and tried to imagine myself back in the woods, this time not as an adult on a rejuvenating walk, but as a child: lost, alone, and looking for family. I imagined Luna running with her perfect dog-agility, and imagined trying to follow, unable to keep pace, stumbling, hurting...
'Romulus and Remus' by NauticalNymph on dA
In my writing, I tend to draw inspiration from fairy tales rather than re-work the stories themselves, but I have enjoyed this, and think it is something I will do more of~

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

I'm an EC winner~

This warms my heart on such a cold, wet and windy day by the sea:

Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine: January 2014 Winners Announced: The winners are: Jennifer A. McGowen and A.L. Loveday. Congratulations to them both...

Many thanks for selecting my story Kate, it feels wonderful to be included in the ranks of enchanted writers and readers~

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Le Cirque des Reves

The Night Circus
Erin Morgenstern

by viveie @ dA
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.
--- Oscar Wide, 1888 (7)

'The circus arrives without warning...' It is a surprise in every way imaginable. Le Cirque des Reves is everything we ever wanted a circus to be...perhaps it is how we saw the circus as a child. Watching the same shows is markedly different as an adult; the veil has been lifted from our eyes, the glamour has worn off. Unless, of course, we are following the swirling black and white paths of this particular circus, losing ourselves in the pathways and tents...

by beyondimpression @ dA
There is so much that glows in the circus, from flames to lanterns to stars. I have heard the expression "trick of the light" applied to sights within Le Cirque des Reves so frequently that I sometimes suspect the entirety of the circus is itself a complex illusion of illumination.
--- Friedrick Thiessen, 1894 (115)

by La-Chapeliere-Folle @ dA

There are tents containing such variety of curios and wonders that no one will be able to resist the temptation of pulling back a curtain and stepping inside. Perhaps it will be the ice garden, or maybe the mist-filled tent containing live paper animals. Will it be the cloud maze, or a tent of jars and bottles containing the scents of your fondest memories? You might visit the acrobats, the illusionist, or the fortune teller, and in between you might stand in the central courtyard and watch the cauldron of twisted wrought iron burn with a bright white flame. Don't forget to light a candle and hang it on the wishing tree. Your wish might just come true (if it hasn't already).

by Laizeck @ dA
I find I think of myself not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to reach the circus. To visit the circus again, if only in their minds, when they are unable to attend it physically. I relay it through printed words on crumpled newsprint, words that they can read again and again, returning to the circus whenever they wish, regardless of time of day or physical location. Transporting them at will.When put that way, it sounds rather like magic, doesn't it?
--- Friedrick Thiessen, 1898 (467)
by LexiARRIVING @ dA

What do you mean, 'what is the book about?'? Why does it matter? There is no good reason for me to relay the reasons this is a Romeo and Juliet story, or mention anticlimaxes or rapidly changing points of view. I am not helping if I talk in depth about the characters, the Victoriana, the magic and casual allusions to fairy tales. It is all, in the end, irrelevant. The book is not the point: it is all about the circus.

by BloodType0 @ dA

You have a particular book, I imagine; one where you like to escape to when you close your eyes after a tiring day, after it's all become too much. A world enclosed in pages that envelops you in a papery embrace and comforts you that there is still wonder in the world, beyond bills and bosses and screaming children. This is not one of those books. The Night Circus does one better. Le Cirque des Reves provides us with snippets of fantastical, mythological, magical worlds without rules and without reason (which our adult minds do so like to cling on to), tented worlds of ice, of memories, of fountains and stars and wishes. Little bubbles of wonder that allow our minds to see the circus like children again. It is what we need.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

--- Prospero, The Tempest, Act IV, Scene I (467)

*Numbers in brackets refer to page numbers in the Vintage 2012 edition of the book.

Monday, 13 January 2014

The Natural History of Unicorns

This year I have begun by ending, by finishing books I have been reading on and off over the last year. 4/5, just one more to complete! My most recent conquest definitely deserves a mention here: The Natural History of Unicorns, by Chris Lavers.

Any of you with a mythological bent will probably have seen this book pop up on your radar, and if you haven't yet checked it out I urge you to do so. Lavers takes you on a fascinating journey through thousands of years of history, mythology, misrepresentations and poor translations to demonstrate how the unicorn does and does not exist. 

He is objective with the information and at times writes with the flare of a novelist, by drawing the reader in with detailed accounts of expeditions or by adding twists and turns and bursts of new information that change the perspective of the last ten pages. As a reader this can at times make it tiring to read; the sudden changes of pace and density of information require a fair amount of effort to keep up with, and although this is the main reason it has taken me so long to finish the book, I promise you it is worth the effort. 

Lavers concludes the book by stating that it is unlikely we will ever find the original source of the unicorn myth, and I think that if we're searching for a written text, then he's probably right. He's already shown that the unicorn can end up in the Bible because translators didn't recognise a word, but made the logical assumption that a unicorn was meant based on the stories they had heard - this, to me, is a clear demonstration of the power of oral traditions and the lasting affect they can have on history, whether we're discussing the Bible or fairy stories. 

(And, on the subject of fairy tales, Lavers introduces some incredible sources of fairy tales and folklore form ancient civilisations that I personally cannot wait to look into further!)

I think the unicorn is the perfect subject for a story that begins with the age old and beloved phrase: Once there was and there was not...

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Art of Reading

How quickly time passes and seasons change. Yule, Christmas and New Year have flown by and I've let them pass without note. I apologise - I've never let that happen before. I've been in an introverted phase recently, feeling more comfortable in the acts of absorbing and accumulating rather than trying to express myself or attempting to create. This means I have been reading more than I allow myself to normally, which in turn makes me feel like I am coming home to myself, doing something familiar, safe, indulging and escapist.

Curious as to how others expressed the emotions and comforts of reading I had a look around deviantART, and came across this beautiful painting that I just couldn't take my eyes off:

 (click on the link above and view the enlarged version, you won't regret it!)

There is a feeling about this piece that I want to label 'eternity'. The reader doesn't seem old or young: she's as ageless as a story. The book has her full attention, and looks like it has been thumbed through many times as the pages aren't holding crisply together. She is a warm, colourful subject, and although there is light coming in from the left, there is a glow, an aura around her head like a halo as if something else is shining on her. Is it the book causing the light? Perhaps the act of reading is generating a physical force in the world...Looking at this painting is looking at an everlasting act, one that is timeless. Eternal.

I know I'm waxing lyrical and I know it's nonsense. I don't claim to know the first thing about art, but there's just something about this that makes me want to share it with you all~

I wish you all a peaceful, beautiful and blessed 2014 x