My latest reading from the books I gave myself at Christmas is the new YA fantasy, Tyger by S. F. Said. It is set at Midwinter in the harsh London of an alternative universe, where Muslims must live in a Ghetto and aristocrats own slaves. It is anti-colonial, for sure, and demonstrates the harm done by in prejudice and injustice. Yet unlike R. F. Kuang's Babel (see previous post), it is full of love, courage, and loyalty.
Picturing a World
Blog post alert: For those of you who follow a traditional calendar, this is the ninth day of Christmas. You'll be pleased by a few last glimpses of a delicious interior from Amy Merrick at Dennis Severs' House. And for those of you who think about writing historical fiction, Lucinda Douglas Menzies' photographs of the house are lovely help to visualizing the chiaroscuro of a pre-20th C winter. No wonder ghost stories are a part of the season!
Yesterday, I listened to the beautiful Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College. The order of service included a deeply moving sonnet, Refugee by Malcolm Guite. To be truly meaningful, the Christmas season must acknowledge the dark as well as the light. In this year when Putin's war is an extension of the slaughter of the innocents and immigrants are freezing on our borders, let us be reminded by images of the Holy Family on the road that we are one family and need to look after each other. After reading about immigrants being taken in by Detroit shelters for this year's Christmas storm, I have made a special gift to Forgotten Harvest. Even a kindly smile can be like a candle lit in the dark. Have a joyous and loving Christmas.
Image via National Gallery of Ireland
I came across Around the Christmas Tree when it turned up as a jigsaw puzzle among the activities in Jacquie Lawson's deliciously sentimental Advent Calendar. It's from the French fashion magazine, Art, Goût, Beauté, which was published in Paris from 1920 to 1933. In handsome, hand-colored, stencil images, the magazine illustrated designs by such couturiers as Jean Patou and Paul Poiret. I couldn't find the 1923 issue on line, but you can see the December 1922 issue in full here.
I came across Polly Redford's Christmas Bower last year in The Illustrated Dust Jacket. The Gorey jacket illustration alone would make it a treasure. In addition, three other reasons made it seem written just for me: My father worked for Rich's department store in Atlanta, where Christmas was a big deal. My brother is an avid birder. And, of course, I'm a fan of children's literature.
Our library system had a copy. I read it. I wanted it. I located a copy of my own to buy. Now I'll kick off December by rereading it. Recommendation: see if you can find a copy!
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.
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!
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!
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.
Blog post alert: One of my heirloom treasures is a wooden Runkel Bros. Sweet Vienna Chocolate box from my great-grandmother's kitchen. I have used it as an ornament in my own kitchen, as a computer stand, and as—oh, I don't know—a talisman of some sort. Looking at it in this season when chocolate becomes important sent me off on an internet search. It landed me on A Golden Age: Chocolate in New York, 1850-1900, which has a section on the Runkel brothers and lots more. Enjoy!