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Picturing a World

Medieval mice take the castle!

The solid black silhouette startled me first when I saw a stick figure in a 14th C bas-de-page illustration. I can't remember ever seeing anything like it in a medieval manuscript. Then I realized it was a mouse. A mouse with a catapult! A mouse attacking a castle! A castle held by a cat? Turn the page and there's more. It's really like a cartoon strip running along the bottom of eight pages of this 14th Book of Hours. The sense of humor is recognizable from the period; so is a narrative sequence in these decorations. But those black mice! Something for fantasy or historical fiction, for doggerel verse or a children's book (provided, I suppose, that you brought the cat back to life), or, for that matter, a little serious historical research.
 

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Queen Elizabeth I and a book

Blog post alert: Isn't this a great portrait of the princess who would become Queen Elizabeth? I love the jewelry, the damask, the gold braid, her natural coloring (no white lead paint!), and especially her holding her place in a book with a finger. Of course, it's posed; but in a story, that last touch could be such a good hint in characterizing a particular kind of person when she is interrupted. The image comes from a British Library post, Portraits of Elizabeth I, about a current exhibition.

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Sleeping with a dog

My husband drew my attention to an article, How our ancestors used to sleep, which included an image of this window. I already knew that people went to bed at sundown and generally slept in two nightly stages (I've come across the phrases "first sleep" and "second sleep" as early as Chaucer and as late as Emily Brontë). What interested me here were a dog sleeping on the beds with its people and stained glass.

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Wildness and wonder

Michael Garrick's photograph of exuberant, overflowing, flowering, abundant life taking over an abandoned greenhouse (used here under a Creative Commons License) was just the tonic I needed on a very cold morning in New England . Sure, there's the pandemic, worrying political news, and the terrifying prospect of all that climate change will bring. And still, wildness breaks through our structures, constrictions, and failures to bring subversive glee and wonder.

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Margaret Rope's stained glass

Blog post alert: Margaret Rope's East End Saints at Spitalfield's Life calls attention to the work of stained-glass artist Margaret Rope, especially a series of windows she made for St. Augustine's Church off the Hackney Road in London in the 1930's. They depict miracles within settings of everyday life in the parish. Doesn't the world of stained-glass artistry beckon as a topic of exploration—and the possible setting for, what, a series of historical mystery stories?

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Olana in the Snow

Although I live only an hour or so away from Frederic Edwin Church's home and studio, Olana, on the Hudson River, I've never visited it in winter. View from Olana in the Snow suggests that I should! The grounds are open in winter—and the painting invites a cross-country glide down the slopes at least in imagination, doesn't it?

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Mole Family's Christmas

Russell Hoban is one of my favorite authors, with his offbeat imagination and mastery of style. He's best known for the dazzling, post-apocalyptic Riddley Walker. (My favorite may be the quieter Turtle Diary.) Anyway, sometime this year, I bought a used copy of The Mole Family's Christmas, put it aside unread, and forgot about it—then, luckily, found it again in time to read it last night as a Christmas Eve bedtime story.

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Santa’s reindeer

Blog post alerts: I first read about this picture of Santa Claus and one reindeer in a 2020 Past Is Present story, How Stephen Salisbury Rescued Christmas. It popped up again this month in a History Today post, How Father Christmas Found his Reindeer, which traces the story of Saint Nicholas. The mystery is why the illustrator supplied a reindeer to pull the rooftop sleigh. Seems an opportunity to make up a story to go with it! Or a story about a child in 1821 who reads The Children's Friend: A New Year's Present to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve. In whatever form you imagine him, may he visit you tonight. Merry Christmas!

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Winter solstice: Holocene myth

This topiary llama has always made me smile, but, whoa! The antlers transform it into something spookily magic, especially when the winter sun is caught in a circle of their prongs and tree branches. I had to stop the car and take an amateur photograph. Such poignance here in the Anthropocene to be carried into the deep resonances of myth from an earlier age!

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Winter Solstice: the novel

Andrew Carnegie's Skibo in Sutherland, Scotland, is the estate on which Rosamunde Pilcher based her fictional Corrydale in Winter Solstice. As we approach the meteorological solstice, I'm rereading the novel and was delighted to find this wintry picture and another photo showing the castle in its wider setting. They let me visualize Corrydale better when the characters Carrie and Sam go out there.

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