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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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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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Onset of winter

With snow on the ground out my window on this first Sunday in Advent and first day of Hanukkah, I'm ready to consider today the onset of winter—even if the Solstice is still more than three weeks away. Besides, it gives me a chance to celebrate the illustrations of Danielle Barlow. Let's be grateful for whatever sustains us in these troubled times!
Image via Myth and Moor

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Importance of dialogue

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow is full of interesting discoveries and arguments. One idea grabbed my attention. Neuroscience, they say, seems to show that self-aware thoughts on a problem generally last about seven seconds. "[T]he great exception to this is when we're talking to someone else. In conversation, we can hold thoughts and reflect on problems for hours on end" (p. 94). Graeber and Wengrow point out that many ancient philosophers framed their writings as dialogue. I would add, think how often writers have written as though there were a devil and an angel or two sides of personality arguing with each other when they want to depict a mental struggle. The device can seem contrived, but maybe it arises out of more than convention.

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Who's having fun?

In the satirical medieval chantefable, Aucassin et Nicolette, the hero famously says he'd rather to go to hell where the handsome clerics, brave warriors, and lovely ladies go, than to heaven with dreary, ill-dressed, and pious. To my eye, the angels who manage to stay in heaven here look anxious, while the fallen are having a blast. Was there a touch of Aucassin in the artist, or do time and cultural distance make it hard to read expressions right?

Via Manuscript Art

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Yarn Tarot by Grace Ponder

A while back, Jackie Morris's otters on luggage tags gave me an idea for a story about a group of women artists working in a small city after a second pandemic. A time-travel story knocked it aside. Now, here comes Grace Ponder's deck of Yarn Tarot for Crocheters, Knitters, Spinners, and Weavers with the just the clue to jumpstart the neglected luggage-tag story again.

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Wormell illustrations, Lyra's Oxford

I was so taken with Chris Wormell's illustrations for Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, that I pre-ordered their new collaboration on Lyra's Oxford even though I treasure a first edition of the 2003 book with John Lawrence's woodcuts. The new one will be out soon. You can get a taste of it at Take a Look at Lyra's Oxford. Incidentally, The Artworks website looks like a source of inspiration for story ideas or details. More soon.

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Klages’ Franny Travers

I'm having fun. One by one, at intervals to stretch it out, I'm reading stories in Jonathan Strahan's anthology, The Book of Dragons, illustrated by Rovina Cai. Recently, I read "Pox" by Ellen Klages, an author new to me. I loved it, and what a great pleasure to find that one of the delightful characters, Franny Travers, also appears in Klages' novella, Passing Strange.

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Hokusai’s drawings

Blog post alert: Japanese woodcuts had a great influence on artists in Paris in the last quarter of the 19th C; but they could never have seen the original drawings, which were destroyed by the Japanese woodcut process. You can. Read Hokusai's Original Drawings at GurneyJourney, and be sure to watch the embedded YouTube video introduction to the British Museum's new exhibition of 103 Unpublished Hokusai Drawings.

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