Lonely Planet Kids is putting out some gorgeous illustrated books about the world, and Myths and Legends of the World is another beautiful example.
Julia Iredale’s sumptuously coloured artwork is a marvellous match for Alli Brydon’s smart retelling of this collection of world mythologies, using a nicely judged balanced of traditional storytelling rhythms with some fresh, modern turns of phrase that invite young readers to connect with the folklore of different parts of the world.
The creators and editor, Rhoda Belleza, have done an excellent job of curating a representative sample of global myths. Some are more familiar – the African trickster Anansi, Scottish Selkies, the origin of the elephant-headed Ganesh and Maui are all among the better known deities, demi-gods and supernatural beings.
The Anangu People’s tale of how Uluru was formed offers insight into why it is a place of spiritual significance – a lovely inclusion in this book, particularly in light of the recent ban on climbing the rock.
Myths and Legends of the World is for readers aged 9 to 12, but it isn’t just for kids – it’d be a beautiful coffee table book to dip into. It’s also available as an ebook if you want to take the pretty with you!
This guide to all the lonely planets in our solar system, as well as our sun and further flung celestial bodies, is a treat. Written in conjuction with NASA, it’s full of up-to-date information (at least, up-to-2018, which is when the info was compiled before the 2019 release).
While confident the science is all correct, I’m also delighted that the book is easy to read, the language accessible to those of us without PhDs in astrophysics. The combination of co-authors includes travel writers, space enthusiasts and Dr Mark A. Garlick (the one with said astronomy-related PhD experience). Several NASA scientists are also thanked, including its chief scientist, Dr James Green.
One of the fun things about this book is the humour. I get a little frisson of delight whenever I see the usual LP sidebar headings of ‘Getting There and Away’, ‘Top Tips’, ‘Five Facts’ and the Highlights, even for places like Neptune and Mars.
In keeping with current scientific thought, poor old Pluto isn’t a planet but still gets a write-up as Dwarf Planet.
Bill Nye’s lively introduction, which touches on global warming and the Earth’s (so far) unique role as the only planet supporting life is followed by other essays introducing the reader to current scientific thinking about our solar system and the universe at large, including naming conventions, some tips on how best to use the book, and the history of manned spaceflight.
This guide is ambitious beyond the solar system, mind you. The Sun and all its planets only take up the first 300 or so pages of the 608 in this book. It goes on to explore other non-planetary objects in the solar system, asteroids and the Kuiper belt, dwarf planets, comets, the Oort cloud, exoplanets, other stellar objects, and galaxies, including colliding galaxies and galaxy clusters.
Yes folks, this book has the universe as we thus far know it at your fingertips. And it’s all presented in easy to understand bites, with highlights, pull-out boxes, gorgeous images and clear explanations for the lay person, along with all the stats a numbers person could wish for.
The writers haven’t neglected pop culture either, with references to Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov, HG Wells, Star Wars, Jules Verne and even Jupiter Ascending. Even Freddy Mercury scores a mention!
If anyone in your life is fascinated by our world and the stars beyond it, you can do worse than give them The Universe! Hell, give yourself the far heavens as well. Dip in and out of the book for the armchair travel among the stars, and be reminded that our planet is small and special in the vast universe and needs better care than we have given it, if we’re all to survive.
I am once more on the road, spending 11 days in New Zealand with my travel-writing husband, Tim Richards. Starting in Auckland, we’re taking trains (and a ferry) in stages southward and will end up in Christchurch.
Our first day in Auckland was spent initially with Dane of the Home Fires of Tamaki, learning about Maori history through arrival, colonisation, contemporary issues and the future – a superb, engaging and dynamic experience, and Dane’s an excellent and passionate storyteller. That afternoon was a wine tour on Waiheke Island which Tim’s written about.
The next day, however, we zipped down to Hamilton on the train and met Amber, who drove us to Hobbiton!
I knew of Hobbiton of course. I remember that in the early days, just after Lord of the Rings, people had started to seek out the New Zealand farm that had been transformed into the hobbit village in the Shire where Bilbo Baggins, Frodo, Samwise, Merry and Pippin all lived.
The place had been meticulously built with lots of detail, but after the filming was over most of it was taken away again. People came to see it anyway. Then The Hobbit (expanded into a trilogy) was made, so Hobbiton was recreated all over again, only this time the Armstrong family (owners of the sheep and cattle farm on which the village was built) managed to negotiate to keep everything in situ.
Now, hundreds of thousands of people visit a year, and you can’t go through it without a guide (possibly to make sure LOTR fans don’t go breaking off bits of hobbit houses to take home, or keen gardeners don’t denude the gardens and landscapes of cuttings).
I thought I might find the hobbit village cute and fun to visit because of its Tolkein connections: I didn’t realise just how delightful the whole thing would be! Because it’s not just a leftover set from a set of two trilogies.
Hobbiton in fact works on several levels: one of which is that it’s a living landscape, with glorious flowerbeds and lush vegetable patches; it has apple trees and herbs like mint and rosemary growing tall; as you walk around the village and up the hill to Bag End, a dell full of bluebells is below one track. A fat, loud, frankly enormous bumblebee (of the size I’ve seen in the UK but never in Australia) looms around bright red flowers.
The scent of all this nature combines with the fragrant smoke of four or five chimney stacks, which are stoked up with manuka woodchip to add the final touch to a delicious aroma that infuses Hobbiton.
On another level, Hobbiton is like a sculpture garden, with its curated plant life dotted all round with an art installation: “The Homes of Hobbits and How They Live”.
At the same time as you’re enjoying the charming garden, and marvelling at the artistry of the hobbit houses and all the fine detail that is put into making the village feel occupied and as though the hobbits are all just at a party at another village, you have the nostalgia of remembering the films, and then the insider-delight of seeing under the skin of the movie magic.
For lovers of the Tolkein books and films, there’s the delight of seeing the Party Tree under which Bilbo holds his eleventy-first birthday party. That’s a real tree, unlike the oak which stands atop Bag End, which is entirely artificial and has 200,000 leaves wired onto it.
After cooing over Hobbiton – our guide, River, even has a Middle Earthish name – we walk down the path to the Green Dragon Inn, where a hungry hobbit or human can fill up on a well made lunch or try out the ale, stout, cider or ginger beer (all brewed locally by Hamilton brewer Good George). The first three are brewed exclusively for the Inn, and I discovered for the first time that stout is… chocolatey! The ginger beer is still my favourite though.
If you’re wondering if it’s worth a trip to Hobbiton, is absolutely is. Even if you’re not a fan of the Peter Jackson films or even Tolkein at all.
In case you didn’t know, I’m something of a Ricardian as a result of always having been intrigued by Shakespeare’s play, which is brilliant but hardly believable as documentary evidence of anything except Tudor revisionism. My further reading led me to the conclusion that history’s Richard was hard done by.
Whatever his real faults and crimes, I joyfully took up the unequivocal pro-Richard cause as a balance to all the Tricky Dicky hate that’s out there.
I’ve written a couple of pro-Richard stories, which were published in Grant Me the Carving of My Name and have low key aims to write an alternative history one day. I have no particular plot yet, but I’ve been doing general reading and research to deepen my knowledge of complexities surrounding the War of the Roses and Richard’s short reign.
While in London recently, I did my favourite London activity, which is to read old books at the British Library.
Horace Walpole and I ♥ Richard
The first I looked at was a 1770 edition of Horace Walpole’s Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, where he explores all the charges levelled against Richard Plantagenet by Shakespeare, Sir Thomas More and a host of other Tudor historians. He uses contemporary accounts and good old courtroom logic to unpack what appears to be a heap of fabrications, misreadings, malign interpretations and Tudor self-interest.
Let’s put aside the thrill of reading a book published 285 years after Richard’s death, and 195 years before my birth and marvel at Walpole noting that the only “deformity” of Richard’s noted in his lifetime was his uneven shoulders – no sign of the limp, hunch, withered arm etc attributed to him by later historians. Richard’s scoliosis was only discovered/confirmed when they found his body in 2012.
Thank you, Mr Walpole, for researching so many primary documents so that, when i finally get to writing whatever I write, I won’t have to.
Real Person Hatefic
On the opposite side to me and Walpole, though, I found the most appalling/hilarious 18th century Richard III Real Person Fanfic by an anonymous author.
Called A Dialogue Between King Richard III and his Adopted Son and published in Dublin in 1753 (good lord, I handled a 266 year old book!), it’s set in Hell, where the spirit of King Richard III greets a recent arrival, dubbed Richard IV, who tells of his journey to the underworld.
Richard IV: I fell in much love with a great sum of money that was possess’d by a young Lady, whom I heartily despised, but as one could not be had without the other, and money was very necessary to me, I condescended to marry her.
King Richard: But cou’dn’t you get the money without committing Matrimony?
Richard IV: You may swear I cou’dn’t. I tryed indeed, but the squeamish Bitch would do nothing but in a lawful way, as she call’d it.
King Richard: Then I pardon you.
Richard IV: Yes, and I hope you will do the same for two or three more Marriages.
King Richard: With all my heart, but proceed.
Young Richard IV proceeds all right, demonstrating that he’s a wastrel, bigamist, cheat, highwayman, debaucher and general nasty piece of work, to the general applause of the dead King. Well, except for when Richard Jr plotted the death of his nephew:
Richard IV: I was long in debate with myself as whether I should murder him myself or get him murdered.
King Richard: This is the only weak part of your History hitherto. How can you say you had my Character always in view? I am almost asham’d of you, you were foolishly faint-hearted.
Of course, the knave only exiled the nephew, which act of ‘faint-hearted foolishness’ comes back to bite him on the bum when the nephew returns to England.
Richard IV: It was then I cursed myself a thousand times every Hour for being so foolishly tender as not to have dispatched him at once, for Dead Men Tell No tales.
At this point in his narrative, he claims he’ll give it all up, beg for mercy and live like a gentleman. King Richard III is not amused, saying:
King Richard: I in the like case chose to die bravely in Bosworth field, sword in hand rather than quit the least of my usurpations. I fear you were a coward.
Richard IV: I own sir I had always a great tenderness for my own person and had rather at any time have taken twenty kicks on the A___ or Twicks by the Nose than run the Risk of one Poke thro’ the Guts.’
The whole thing is blackly funny where it isn’t predictably banal, and ends with King Richard adopting this arsehole as a son before they both wind up wailing piteously with their guilt over how they treated their nephews.
Even if you think Richard did half the evil things he’s accused of (and Horace Walpole and I definitely don’t) it’s a hell of a comedown for such a grand villain to be cheering on a common thief and swindler. Even Shakespeare’s Richard has more pride.
FutureLearning Medieval England
While I was in the UK a friend put me onto Future Learn, which offers some of its courses for free.
I’ve been studying England in the Time of King Richard III and learning all sorts of things about the key players in the Wars of the Roses, layers of society, the impact of the Black Death, the development of writing, and Richard’s library.
Paying my respects to Dickon
Whatever the Tudors made of the man, Richard was popular up North with his people, and since his body was discovered and he was reinterred in Leicester Cathedral in 2015. His reinterment coincided with an unexpected victory for the Leicester City football club, so the locals have become Ricardians too.
The Leicester Museum is currently showing a royal portrait of Richard, adding another Ricardian tourism spot in addition to the Richard III Centre, the Leicester Cathedral opposite where he’s now buried, and the Bosworth Battlefield just out of town.
I like to pop by one or more of those places when I’m in town, just to say hi to the only royal I give the slightest damn about.
Who knows where all this reading will one day lead – right now my aim is to fill my brain with relevant material and let it all ferment away.