Everything else

The Jinny series by Patricia Leitch

I’ve been rereading this series recently (I review the opener here); partially as a refresher for a paper I’m delivering in the next few months, but also, you know, because they are good. I’ve been reading the originals and the reprints and I really love what Catnip hae done with them.

And if I am honest, I have simply ached to write about these books really though I have not known where to begin.

So, perhaps, I begin with this.

This is a story about a horse; a story about loving a horse, so much, that it becomes almost a daemon of yourself. From Pantalaimon to Kes, animals are our heart. The thing we do not deserve and yet we are given. Jinny is given Shantih. Quite often she does not deserve her, does not deserve this horse of flame and fire and magic, and she knows this. She knows the great humility of loving a horse. The horse. The entirety that is caught up in that.

I have been writing about landscape in children’s literature; about the way the natural world reflects those explicit and implicit ideologies in narrative, the way that The Secret Garden both gives the natural world to Mary and Colin and Dickon and yet cages them within that natural existence, the way the city and the country coexist so uneasily, so emphatically, within Goodnight Mr Tom, and I have been writing about the Jinny books and the madly evocative landscape of Finmory and of Loch Varich and of ospreys and sturdy Highland ponies.

So, perhaps, I give you these photographs of Talisker Bay, the inspiration for Finmory Bay, in lieu of words. Both a taster of the paper I’m going to give but also, perhaps, a way to talk about books that leave you wordless and unmade.

cc Jixer / Flickr
cc chrismartinuk / Flickr
Everything else

On library ladders and curlicues

Last night I watched a repeat of a programme, nestled away on the depths of BBC4, about life at Windsor Castle and it featured a scene in the Royal Library. Reader, I almost wept at how lovely it was. There is something quite ferociously glorious for me in an everyday basis in a library, but sometimes, sometimes, there are libraries that take my breath away. The symbolism of these libraries. The importance of them. The richness of them. Oh, and the library ladders on wheels. These are important too.

(Library ladders on wheels are my emotional kryptonite; I long for one)

Here are three of my current favourite libraries. I’ve visited one, long to visit the other two, and there are other libraries that I can’t bear to share but they are there, silently, quietly, the curve of their leather seats and their rows of neat spines nestle alongside these choices.

The Library from Beauty and The Beast

There’s something very private, sometimes, about sharing ones passions with somebody else. These passions are instinctive things; they define us and shape us, even at our lowest points, even when we’re wordless and lost in the night, there are the things that we love and it is those that provide the light. Gaming. Food. Films. Books. This scene isn’t just about he curve of those staircases and the delicious symmetry they provide, it’s about the shy nerves of the Beast and his realisation that Belle loves the space as much as he does. It’s about realising that there’s a space in the world for him once more.

But oh, oh, those shelves. The roaring heights of them, and those staircases, and the great space of this library, oh.

The Library at Windsor Castle

This video links to the documentary about Windsor Castle and in a way, I’d encourage you to watch the whole thing if you can. There’s something so fascinatingly glorious and outlandish about it all; the way the maids unpack the luggage through to the stick they use to measure that the chairs are the right distance away from the table.

The library itself appears fairly early on and intermittently throughout the episode. What makes my heart sing about this library is the nature of its holdings; this library contains history (which, I appreciate, a lot of them do) but when combined with this location and the finery and the dancing routines that surround it, there’s something quite potent about these finely bound volumes on the shelf. Knowledge is power. Always. But knowledge is also something else, and that is something to be treasured. Never be afraid of learning and never be afraid of what a book holds. That’s the message of this library for me; the way it holds such intensely worldly things on a shelf. Just. On. A. Shelf. Oh the discussions these books must have when the light’s off and the door’s locked…

Duke Humfrey’s Library


Recognise this one yet? I appreciate the tiny Daniel Radcliffe (so young!) may give it away, but it’s the library as featured in Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. The delicious thing is that you can visit this library as it’s part of Oxford University and occasionally allows in tours (check for times and dates, etc, etc). I was lucky enough to get on one of thse tours and oh, it’s such a vivid experience. You climb up the stairs from the quadrangle, passing the narrow and ornate windows as you go, and emerge into the library itself; chained books on the shelves, the dark wood, and the sunlight cutting in through the leaded glass windows. Go (and also, whilst you’re in Oxford, take in a children’s literature tour – there are quite a few locations and things of interest there…)



Everything else

“Second to the left, and straight on ’til morning” : children’s literature and literary travels

Alongside this blog, I have another devoted specifically to my PhD research. What I want to do with this post here, is give you a little bit of a taster of that research as part of my contribution to #NNFN. NNFN is National Non-Fiction November and it’s a month spearheaded by the FCBG to explore the great world of non-fiction. If this is the first time you’ve heard of either, I’d urge you to explore those links in some depth – there’s some immense resources available on both.

My PhD centres on literary tourism and children’s literature. Sometimes I explain it, very glibly, as looking at sites connected to children’s books in real life: Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station for example, or Beatrix Potter’s books and the lake district. This description only really covers one part of my research as I’m also interested in the great systems of children’s literature and literary tourism; the way one text set in London calls and talks to another text in Bognor Regis which in its turn both calls back to that London set text, and on to another text set in Edinburgh. A Twilight Barking of books if you will.

Everything else

From Black Beauty to the Amber Spyglass

(It’s time for a little taster of some of my PhD research ….)

Ever fancy driving from Black Beauty to the Amber Spyglass?

Black Beauty to the Amber Spyglass
How about a trip from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone through to Malory Towers?

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to Malory Towers

Or maybe you’d like to journey from The Whitby Witches to Swallows and Amazons?

The Whitby Witches to Swallows and Amazons

(Research is FUN!)

Everything else

Mapping Room 13 by Robert Swindells

I’m looking at Room 13 by Robert Swindells at the moment as part of my PhD. It’s one of the books I hope to reference and work with in some depth as I look at literary tourism in the United Kingdom. Room 13 is one of those greatly plotted and written books that it’s a pleasure to work with so I thought I’d share the first stage of this research.

What is below is a map of Room 13. There are several different layers which detail the various events and journies of the book; the key events are higlighted in green stars, the location (approximate) of the Crow’s Nest is picked out and the locations of other key events are also detailed on the map.

So what does this show? Well, it’s early days, but what it does tell us is that if you wanted to go on holiday to Whitby and relive the journey of Fliss and her friends, you could do so quite easily. (Though I’d recommend doing it without the whole scary ‘sorting out Room 13’ bit, right?). But what it also is starting to show me is something about the linearity of the plot, the tightly controlled narrative and the subtle interweaving of the Important plot elements along with the Everyday plot. It’s a piece of plot mastery, really, this slim immense book and what it creates is, very much, this unsettling air of the everyday. The world of Room 13 is unnerving precisely because so much of it occurs in the ‘normal’ everyday space of Whitby.

As I said, it’s early days, but one of the key aims I want (and have always wanted to do) is share some of this research with you when and where I can. Hence map. Enjoy 🙂

Book Reviews Theory

A Children’s Literature Tour of Great Britain : Mark West

A Children's Literature Tour of Great BritainA Children’s Literature Tour of Great Britain by Mark I. West

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

West’s tour of Great Britain from a children’s literature perspective both satisfies and frustrates in fairly equal measure.

What interests me about this book is the palpable tension between the nature of such a guide and the literature it concerns. The blurb on the back cover comments that: “Many of the sites on West’s Tour are geared toward children, while some are clearly intended for adults. All will add depth and delight to your next excursion into the fantastic (and fascinating) world of British children’s literature.”

There’s a lot to unpick there, so let’s begin. The initial sticking point for me is this distinguishing between sites for adults and sites for children. This is a tension which surfaces quite often critical work around literary tourism as a whole. Fairly early on in The Literary Tourist: Readers and Places in Romantic and Victorian Britain, Watson comments that: “[visiting] places with literary associations is essentially an adult vice” (2). Other theorists suggest how literary tourism allows us to regain our childhood (therefore suggesting that the ‘regainee’ is old enough to have had a childhood) or stating that literary tourism is an attempt to memorialise (or to commercialise?) creativity (therefore suggesting that the memorialisee (sp!) is able to validate and register the value of creative cultural capital).

I grant that many of the points in the previous paragraph are cherry picked, but I hope to share with you my rationale and that is this: all of these schools of thoughts presuppose an adult tourist.

Whilst juvenile tourists most certainly do exist, they exist within certain parameters and these are mostly adult defined. However these defining parameters do not define the experience of the juvenile tourist. They also do not obliterate the experience of the juvenile tourist and it is vital to remember that, when discussing literary tourism and children’s literature, that these tourists exist and that, whilst we may not understand their interpretive strategies or their communication strategies, we need to understand that they exist.

So, now that that is said, West’s book is problematic due to this nature of partial audience erasure but also, I think, because of his selection of authors / topics to feature: King Arthur, The Rev W. Awrdy & Christopher Awdry / JM Barrie / Michael Bond / Frances Hodgson Burnett / Lewis Carroll / John Cunliffe / Roald Dahl / Ian Fleming / Kenneth Grahame and Thomas Hughes.

The gender split of these chapter headings is obvious, as is the temporal split. I was surprised to read the publication date for this book being 2003 as, from the selections of authors chosen, I had read a much earlier date for the research. Whilst the entries for each author / topic are interesting, they are brief. Each chapter picks out a relevant attraction for tourists to attend and sometimes the rationales for selection are somewhat oblique. In addition to this, the practicalities of West’s book have suffered due to time as books of this nature often do. Several of the attractions he references are now closed. Certain other details, such as the prices, have also inevitably been affected.

I do laud West’s commitment to his subject throughout this book. Children’s literature and literary tourism is a rich, rich topic and work that focuses on it is welcome and overdue. However, I think if I were to be asked to reccomend a specific guide to Britain for children’s literary purposes, I would put West’s tome aside and head over for the infuriating and yet wildly magical How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children’s Books (a book I originally reviewed here), primarily because of Bodger’s itchingly vivid stylistics when compared to West’s more practically inclined tome. And yet, I wonder why I make that decision, why I ache for that wilderness of text that sings of its subject and I wonder if that is to do with my hope, my love, my fervent belief in the space of children’s literature, and of allowing the reader, of whatever age that reader may be, that space to breathe in and to bring their own story towards.

I wonder, perhaps, if that is at the heart of this issue of children’s literature and literary tourism. I wonder if that distinctly un-academic edge is necessary.

I wonder, perhaps, if I need to stand outside a house in London and clap my hands and believe in fairies.

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