Accounts of medieval windows generally focus on stained glass, and no wonder—they're very beautiful. But, of course, not all windows were tinted. Recently, I came across a complicated allegorical frontispiece on fol.1r of a French Mirror of History. Half the picture depicts a church being built with various kings, saints, and biblical figures as craftsmen—including these two monks. They grabbed my attention because I had never seen a depiction of glaziers installing windows.
Picturing a World
This month, my library book club is reading The Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. A few of its characters first appear in The Glass Hotel so I decided to read the two novels together. What fascinates me is that Mandel gives the Hotel characters somewhat altered lives in Tranquility—not out of carelessness, but because it fits! The Glass Hotel is very much about how a person's world is created by circumstance and psychology. It has no paranormal threads; but, with a large cast and interlocking plot lines, it offers many, many takes on perception, construction, hiding, disguising, remaking, maturing, drugs, etc. Tranquility, by contrast, is an outright time-travel, sci-fi novel and, as such, opens yet other ways of looking at the worlds, including speculation about the future, (something Mandel did brilliantly in her break-out novel, Station Eleven).
This detail from a bird's-eye map of Tudor London is taken from a blog post, In the Charnel House, about, what else? excavation of a 14th C charnel house. The post has lots of information about history, the stonework being uncovered, etc. What made me save the image, however, was its depiction of the cluster of buildings and gardens adjacent. It comes from the Agas map, for which there is a dedicated website. The site takes a bit of getting used to, but it's an invaluable resource.
Now look at this photograph of a bridge over a canal! Even when I don't want to describe something in detail in a story, I want to be able to visualize it for myself so that I know I'm not building an impossibility into the plot. The physical world, moreover, shapes our lives and should shape the lives of our characters. Okay, so I'm trying to imagine a bridge over a towpath in winter. Here I have the architectural solution for going from one bank to another. Curves and straight lines, bricks and stonework, messy dead grass and moss. I can see the muddy track as well as cobblestones, damp under the bridge, and a gate on the far side. Perfect for giving me assurance now, and you never know when some detail will suggest a future plot development.
Websites for auction houses can be great sources for images to help writers as well as art historians or would-be buyers. In my pursuit of aids to visualizing a river bank with a bridge, I came across this one at Bonham's by one of my favorite Scandinavian Impressionists, Frits Thaulow. At the Bonham's link, you can zoom in on details. What interested me most was the ramshackle staircase on the left and the grass-and-flower-covered bank opposite a brick retaining wall.
A story I'm working on is set in an imaginary world based loosely on Renaissance France and Tudor England. So why show you a drawing of Florence? Well, because my capital city has three bridges, one of which is built over with shops and houses. Images like this help me to visualize what my characters see, whether they illustrate exactly what I have in mind or not. In this case, I'm pleased by the representation both of buildings and a glimpse of the surrounding countryside. It helps me with scale as I send my characters up the river, over the bridge, and into neighborhoods on either side.
Image via MetMuseum
The Billingford Hutch is an oaken chest in the Parker Library at Corpus Christ College, Cambridge, which was used to store collateral for student loans in the 14th C. It has three locks, each decorated with a motif that was inexplicable to the curators until a chance visitor identified it as moonwort—an herb which according to folklore can unlock locks and unshoe horses and which also figures in alchemy. Isn't all of a rich potential for inspiring stories?
Post alert: The drought in England has revealed many features in the landscape, including the bones of a 1699 garden built for the 1st Duke of Devonshire. The BBC story, Chatsworth's hidden 17th Century garden revealed in drone footage shows intricacies that have become visible. Many people are attune to the layers of time in a landscape. How suggestive these haunting emergences may prove!
What a find! An early iron age concave clay stamp turned up recently during a highway excavation in Bavaria. It's just the right size for impressing a pattern on bread rolls. What I crave now is a dough stamp with a maze or a labyrinth. In fiction, it could be part of women's magic, or its discovery could figure into an archeological tale. This one was found with a mysterious clay figurine, which could offer further prompts for the story. Any ideas?
Via the History Blog.
I don't need to write a blog post about what fantasy I read as a child and how it affected me because Theodora Goss's post, Deep Magic, does it for us both. I discovered her work through a narrative poem, "The Dragons" in The Book of Dragons (2020), in which a lawyer is rescued from a life of tedium by a clutch of baby dragons left on her porch. Now I'm reading Goss's Snow White Learns Witchcraft, twists on traditional fairy tales (love the idea of the princess who herself turns into a frog when she kisses one). Coming next? The Collected Enchantments. My advice? Dive in anywhere.