Where Were You When…? – Remembering 1066

Nearly 1,000 years have passed ….

In October 2016 I began a series of posts in memory of 1066, arguably the most important year in the history of England. Interestingly enough, while I enjoyed history, this era was not always my favored, as it once seemed so complicated and intimidating; my memories of studying it in school were filled with details I didn’t really understand, or there were so many layered on top of each other they seemed to crush me.

Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf persuaded me out of my comfort zone, the Wars of the Roses period, and when I began to see the era as populated by people rather than a series of dates (as I was able for the fifteenth century), plus the greater significance of exactly what had happened–what I only partially appreciated during my school years–I was hooked.

A couple of years after, I read Annie Whitehead’s To Be A Queen, which was poetry in prose and simply unforgettable. Whitehead’s examination of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, indeed the Lady herself, impressed upon me our great heritage of language, literature, spirituality and yearning for freedom–plus the willingness to fight for it. While I certainly admire other historical figures and groups, the Anglo-Saxons have to greater effect shown me the importance of remembering, thus this series for them and the freedom they fought to keep for us. Unfortunately, they did lose the most important battle and the end of their era arrived, but their legacy lives on.

*********

Today, five years since this series, we once again mark another anniversary of Hastings, so soon after Stamford and the great hope that Harold Godwinson would drive the invading Normans from English shores. Alas, it was not to be, and the years that followed birthed more stories and writings than most modern people have ever heard of, though it’s always a good time to look into our past: where we came from, who influenced us and, indeed, the invaders. Below are just a few pieces/works for or about this dramatic period that changed the course of history, and you can also find articles about Harold Godwinson and other 1066-related topics at Murray and Blue.

hastings
By image on web site of Ulrich Harsh via Wikimedia Commons (Click image)

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: Sons of the Wolf (Updated) (October 14, 2016)  Marks the Battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: 1066: What Fates Impose (October 14, 2016) Marks the Battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: 1066: What Fates Impose (October 25, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: Sons of the Wolf (November 5, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Blog: “Senlac Ridge” (Ian David Churchward) (November 12, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: The Wolf Banner (November 20, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Blog: “One Crown, Four Claimants” (G.K. Holloway) (November 25, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Poet Post: “Prayer to Woden” (Rob Bayliss) (November 26, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: The Wolf Banner (December 11, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: Marching Toward 1066 (Annie Whitehead) (December 19, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Excerpt: 1066: What Fates Impose (December 25, 2016)

950 Intermission: Recording History in Film (December 31, 2016)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: The Bastard of Normandy v. the Golden Warrior (Paula Lofting) (January 16, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Book Review: Alvar the Kingmaker (January 23, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: Between Two Worlds (Annie Whitehead) (January 28, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: A Dynasty Denied (Rob Bayliss) (February 9, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Interview: Paula Lofting (B.R.A.G. Medallion Winner) (April 1, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: The Price of Love and Loyalty (Annie Whitehead) (May 13, 2017)

950: 1066 Remembered, Interview (Glynn Holloway) (September 25, 2017) Anniversary of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, September 25, 1066

950: 1066 Remembered, Secrets Through a Tapestry of Time (October 14, 2017) Final installment, marking the Battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066

#iHeartAngloSaxons

Another series that may be of interest,

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen

Image of the Week: Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians (Blog that led to the series) (July 22, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Book Review: To Be A Queen (September 13, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Interview with Author Annie Whitehead and Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians (September 20, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Guest Post: Invitation to the Past (September 27, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Excerpt: To Be A Queen (October 4, 2016)

The Age of Æthelflæd: Anglo-Saxon Warrior Queen, Cover Crush: To Be A Queen (October 11, 2016)

#iHeartAngloSaxons

September 11: Don’t Look Away

Years ago, I read a book called A Noble Treason, which laid out the story of the White Rose, a group of German university students who wrote and illegally distributed anti-Hitler resistance leaflets around Munich. At its nucleus were Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell, later joined by Scholl’s younger sister, Sophie, and a number of others. Amongst others, the three were tried and executed for their activities, but the ripple effects of their efforts were felt both in and outside of Germany. Their story of working to protect the right to live the ordinary moved me so deeply I vowed to read the book, or something about this group, every year. I believed it was important to make this effort on a continual basis, to remember what they sacrificed for the benefit of those who were to come after, because remembering meant we could never let it happen again.

The World Trade Center in March 2001. The Twin Towers were the most famous portion of the complex, with 1WTC (North Tower), above, to the left of 2WTC (South Tower). Image courtesy Wikipedia.

In contrast, I almost never talk about September 11, and in twenty years have watched just one documentary—at the ten year mark. I have told my son (now eighteen) about that day, and there are such mixed feelings within me regarding his own absorption of it all: it is painful to see him struggle to understand our grief, to not be able to fathom the gravity of it all. At the same time, I envy him not realizing these feelings. No one wants their own child to know such pure, unadulterated heartbreak.

There is another reason why I didn’t tell my own 9/11 story, and that is because I felt as if I didn’t really have one. Who was I? I was not near any of the attacks when they happened, nor did I—as far as I am aware—personally know anyone who perished. And I certainly didn’t do anything of any great note. So when I heard people tell their stories, I held back because I feared anything I might say would intrude on the sacred space of their memories, and such trespass frightened me a great deal. To be honest, it still does. I don’t really know how much to say, and I am a little terrified of me coming out of all this, when none of this is about me. The only thing is knew for sure is how it felt, and so I suppose I did what most people do with pain: they bury it.

Tomorrow* will mark the twentieth anniversary of September 11, and as I have wondered in recent years about my role, small as it may be, in helping to keep my country free, so too did I begin to think about how useless my method of suppression might be. Was it doing anything for all the souls lost that day? Did my silence honor them, or threaten to erase them? Of course, other people know those I remember, even those whose names I never knew. I could let them talk; they probably know more than I do and people probably listen to them in a way they aren’t likely to my small voice. Right?

Well, that probably is true—and partly I am all right with this. I don’t mind it that the world doesn’t hear my voice all the time. But I did begin to feel a bit like a coward, an individual who relies on someone else to do something important, even if that one thing is but a link in a chain of events required for something crucial to happen. The crucial thing here is that I don’t ever, ever, ever, ever want anyone to forget what we lost that day—and how it happened. I want survivors and loved ones to know that strangers cared about them, shed tears for their lost people, and to this day bear scars in their souls that they pray somehow took away a little of the physical pain and mortal fear from those who faced down evil in 2001.

Collapse of the Towers as seen from the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

I also recently read an article about Florence Jones, one of the last people to make it out of the south tower, from the 77th floor, and who, until the tenth anniversary, never went to Ground Zero. In the piece, she recounts the excruciating experience of seeing men and women leaping out of the tower windows, as we now know, to escape the inferno that would otherwise consume them. “Florence has always said she didn’t look away out of sheer dignity for those who had no choice. She believed someone needed to bear witness to their suffering.” Though I admit that at the time I likely would have looked away, partly to avoid the sense of voyeurism and also because it is too terrible to see, I immediately felt a bond with her sentiment. I knew this understanding all those years ago when I swore I would not lose the memory of the Scholls, Alexander Schmorell and all those who put absolutely everything on the line for the sake of others. I want to do this for my own people now. I want to, I need to, bear witness to their suffering. I want to tell about what I saw in the hopes that at least a few people will see what I write here and tell some others, and in this way perhaps someone will always remember these people.


“In Russia,” a friend once told me after a friend of eleven years passed away, “people say that no one ever really dies as long as someone remembers them.”


I stopped in London, Ontario that night, even though I was not so far from the American border. I’d been driving for days and it was a good time to stop—early enough that I could enjoy a little time here, but  late enough that it wasn’t wasting time. I tooled around the city for a bit and then back to the hotel for the night. When I woke in the morning, it was to the sound of the TV—something I always did in hotel rooms to avoid the dead silence in the morning. I recognized the voice of Peter Jennings and it registered immediately that something large was occurring. For some reason, in my blurry, newly-awake moments, I thought they were discussing some military exercises, though I wasn’t quite focused enough to be able to think what they might entail.

Once I put my glasses on, my brain fog seemed to recede: Jennings usually had a serious look on his face, but today…something was wrong, really wrong. He was skilled at providing ongoing details while also filling in those just joining, and so I came to understand pretty quickly that one of the Trade Center Towers had been hit by a large aircraft. However, I don’t recall even contemplating the possibility of it not being an accident, though nothing could really swirl around in my mind for long because almost immediately I heard the horrified reactions of people witnessing what I came to learn was a second plane, hitting the other tower. Though I have not been able to find any video, in my memory Jennings declares that this certainly must be a terrorist attack, that there was no doubt about it anymore. He is talking on the phone with someone on the ground in Lower Manhattan, someone who goes into one of the Towers—perhaps the second one hit—to report on the situation, perhaps to help get people out?

Lower Manhattan seen from space on September 11, 2001. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

I don’t recall this entry or the journalist’s demeanor being anything like some of the embedded reporters later, people who catapult themselves up onto a platform from which they observe us, sometimes with disdain. This reporter, he gives me the impression now of a reporter on the beat, one who knows the grime of the city and works for his story. I am sad to say I don’t remember his name, though I will never forget him, because he is supposed to be calling Jennings back to report on interior conditions at the Tower, but before we get this call, the building collapses with the reporter inside it, and this is when I come fully awake and burst into tears. I am in shock and wave my hands in the air, trying to wrap my mind around the reality that someone whose voice I heard just moments ago has now been crushed beneath the rubble of a building more than 100 floors high.

I neither liked nor disliked Jennings, though today I would say his humanity was always evident, even though he always remained professional. For this I probably leaned more toward liking him, and then it did not escape me that the country I now found myself locked in—for I was locked out of my own—was the one he originally came from. I was to gain a great fondness for Canadians because no one had to tell them what they needed to do. They seemed to mobilize without instruction and sheltered perhaps thousands of stranded Americans. Even the hotel staff tried to do anything they could—I remember accidentally breaking the hair dryer as I rushed to leave, feeling an urgency that had no destination, and the housekeeper consoling me.

That was Tuesday and when I reached New York on Friday, I marveled at the absolutely gorgeous weather of the day. It didn’t mix with what had happened; how could something like this happen on such an amazingly beautiful day? Even more out of place were the trucks that rumbled through the streets, vehicles that reminded me of those where I came from, hauling snow to storage areas when it piled too high on the streets. But this was September and, of course, this was not snow they were transporting. It was debris and, had it not been for the smell, I could perhaps be persuaded it was only debris in the backs of those trucks.

The streets were lined with missing posters. It wasn’t just the families who were desperate; strangers lined up on sidewalks to look at the posters, as if memorizing the faces in case they saw any of the missing. Perhaps they were also looking at the faces, holding their breaths and hoping they didn’t see anyone they knew, because beneath everything, we all knew these people were dead. Worse, so many of them would never be found because their bodies, broken into millions of tiny pieces, perhaps some of those pieces ground into ash, rumbled past us in trucks. I remember making myself think it, articulate it in my brain, as if the shock of such a terrible set of thoughts would snap me out of something I thought I might be stuck in. But I functioned in numbness as I wandered around New York City, for what purpose I really don’t know.

The people were friendly. I’d been to New York before and had joked about how if you stopped anyone to ask directions, the person they were with would invariably interrupt to criticize the complicated or incorrect instructions. They might argue with each other and say something like, “What, I’m supposed to get someone lost? They go back to their home and tell everyone what jerks we are?” I loved how they asked questions: “You want I’ll get you a cab?” They weren’t quite so animated now, though they didn’t cry openly. In fact they were quite dignified and their pathways were orderly as they walked the streets, many, I suppose, continuing to meet work obligations. Some, you could tell, were watching crowds, looking for people. One hope was that someone had received a head injury and perhaps suffered from amnesia. They lived in hope because how else could you? How does one function, how does one move forward and what does one do when a loved one is gone, quite literally? They are late and they are gone, as if they just disappeared. Which, admittedly, is precisely what had happened. You could see the grief on the faces of people as they walked past, and that was a difficulty I hadn’t been prepared for.

“We will rebuild!” was a common refrain that I heard in 2001 – and they did. I visited One World Trade Center in 2018, a moving experience. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

And there were so many.

As the days went on, I continued to wander and eventually spoke with a few people, though the conversations were not defined by loss. Most of them, in fact, covered ordinary topics and questions about why I had come to New York City. Some urged me to take their mayor, Rudy Guiliani, up on his challenge to buy in New York, which would help bolster the economy. Others wanted to know my impressions and what I liked best. What struck me the most, however, was that they all maintained a demeanor of some sort, if this is what it could be called, that we had already been acquainted at some level, like people who knew each other, or of one another, but didn’t cross paths all that often. I could have been their kid cousin who didn’t know her way around.

It was a strange combination in those days, the ordinary and the terrible extraordinary that threw lots of strangers together to sort through a variety of different types of grief and searches. The strength of spirit was fairly amazing, and I’ll never forget that about New Yorkers. I don’t know if I’ve done them justice with my contemplation here, though I hope so. Twenty years on, some of the people I met may have passed, and I feel like I want to say, of them and their lost loved ones: “Know that they were. Don’t look away. See their ordinary and their remarkable and rejoice in it, for it is all remarkable.”


*Today, by this point in writing.

Top Ten Secrets of One World Trade Center

Winter is Coming: Cleaning and Contemplating

Musings on winter prep, memories from smell

and Cecily Neville on a trip into the mountains

Though we’ve had a spot of termination dust recently, winter otherwise isn’t really making itself known to us yet, at least not in a big way. At the same time, it’s pretty safe to say summer is a thing of the past, and to that end I’ve been engaging in a few activities to psych myself up for the long months ahead.

CLEANING IS NOT REALLY ANYONE’S FAVORITE, but for me it does have a bit of a soothing calm, if I do it methodically and without rush. I always do this first because even a small corner of chores from this angle sort of revs me up for more, and I get into the groove of moving outward from there, making sure the pieces fit together nicely. Once I start baking and cooking for the freezer, for example, I want to be adding my prepped goods to a space clean and ready to receive it. The same goes for the rest of the kitchen and, indeed, my home, which I will aim to shed of clutter and excess. Sometimes it can be tricky to decide what is stuff as opposed to valued pieces –and by valued I mean that they “bring me joy,” as Marie Kondo might say. Not too long ago I whisked everything off the tops of furniture in my living room (bookshelves, armoire, son’s desk hutch), power dusted and replaced only some of it. I should add that I wipe with a wet cloth, then dry. A duster, in my opinion, just moves dust around, and we have a lot of it here.

With the exception of books and perhaps some records, not a lot to be added to the living room – instead I did some removal and switching around. To this area I moved two of the six lamps Turtle gifted to me last Christmas, where previously they had all been bunched together in one corner, hung at varying heights. Below, the stripping of library markings from my book sale acquisitions continues. You can see my growing collection of Karen Maitland, Michael Jecks and Alys Clare works. I love beautifully colored and shaped jars, and the card, from Hastings, still brings me joy.

I won’t really be adding things to the rest of the house the way I do the kitchen, but some items are sure to come in. Books, for example, are a given, perhaps also a few new records. I have my eyes on a pine cone project I might do, and new sheets and towels are likely this winter, perhaps even a new comforter. (This last one I keep trying to justify.) The storage area in my laundry room, though I dislike cleaning it out, at least does surprise me most of the time, in that even when I don’t get rid of much, when I put it all back, looks better than it did before. It’s not unknown for me to go in there a few times in the days after just to look at it.

I WON’T START COOKING AND FREEZING lots of food just yet, especially if I’m trying to use up what remains. Still, the fall is a wonderful time to re-visit some of the medieval recipes I’ve played with in the past, such as a Medieval Sallat. Our “monsoon” season is now upon us and I love the sensation of working the salad in the kitchen with the door or window open to hear the pitter patter of rain against the roof. I enjoy the little bit of chill, a nice contrast to the Lumbard mustard I prepare. My son loves my pumpkin bread, so I’ll make a few loaves of these as well, and the smell is simply heavenly. I’ve always heard smell is the sense most associated with memory, and indeed the wafting pumpkin sensation always brings me back to the day when he, just a tiny guy of nearly three, was nowhere to be found one Saturday morning when we’d first moved into our house. I could still smell the spices in the air from the previous night’s baking, which he’d helped me with, himself wrapping the loaves in foil and leaving them on the counter to cool off.


Turnips, quartered | Parsnips, sliced | Beets, quartered

St. John’s bread (carob) | Almonds | Filberts

Cabbage, shredded | Large prunes | Figs

Dates | Golden raisins | Dried apple rounds

Dried, honeyed pineapple, cut in small wedges

Lumbard or sharp mustard | Brown sugar

Ingredients for Medieval Salad, with simple instructions on p. 185 of

Fabulous Feasts by Madeleine Pelner Cosman


I didn’t get the panicky feel people talk about when discussing missing children; perhaps I could sense his presence, but just couldn’t place it. I looked in every single room of the house, but only came upon him when I started looking into crannies, so to speak. Eventually I located him beneath our large kitchen table, loaf of bread in hand and ripping off chunks of it to stuff into his little mouth. His tiny face turned up to me and I laughed at the scene, crying out, “Oh honey, I’m sorry, you must  be so hungry!” It was instinctive but it also served to show him he wasn’t in trouble. He crawled out and up into my lap, curled into me as I sat at the table, and continued to eat some more of his “breakfast.” We sat there a good long while after he finished, cuddled up and quietly enjoying each other’s company on that November morning.

WHEN MY HOME IS ORGANIZED AND ORDERLY, my stress level is reduced and, indeed, I can even concentrate more effectively. One result is that when I leave and come back, I can more fully enjoy the tail end of whatever activity I’ve just returned from, which to me signals the real closing portion of it, as opposed to just leaving the place I’d been to. In the case of a recent jaunt, this will actually carry on into another endeavor at home—not, strictly speaking, a winter preparation or chore, and in fact a new pursuit, the seeds of which began with repeated mention of Annie Garthwaite’s debut novel, Cecily. Still, is bears the marks of one, given the prep and indoor nature of the rest of it.

So what is it? Well, after having seen all these mentions of Garthwaite’s novel, and it being about the mother of Richard III, I simply had to look into it and ended up ordering the work for my own Richard collection. I loved the vibrant colors of the cover and began to watch my mail notifications with a bit more enthusiasm. It was perfect timing to learn more about Cecily Neville, a strong, capable woman, the mother of kings who navigated them and herself through years of war and peace, both of which required action plans in the fifteenth century. With winter coming on and more reading time ahead, I gave a peek at the author’s website, which included the recipe for a “classic cocktail that celebrates Cecily’s complexity and strength of character.” It was perhaps the color that drew me in most—the color! So vibrant, like the volume’s own cover and, indeed, Cecily’s character. Of course, a bit of vibrancy in winter is a great little tool to have in one’s arsenal, non?

SO I DECIDED TO DO IT, though the hibiscus the Negroni recipe mentions wasn’t available here, and a friend and I decided to substitute fireweed petals—a nice little Alaskan twist (and seen above, sprinkled across the table). Personally, I think Cecily would enthusiastically approve of making something your own, even toss a Good on you! at the notion of embracing one’s own environment and acknowledging its part in what makes you, you. As it happened, the plans my friend and I made seemed constantly thwarted, re-scheduling becoming an annoyingly constant recourse. Then, a Wednesday arrived in which we were finally able to go up in elevation (the fireweed was rather picked out down in the city and surrounding area), and we did. When I met up with her, I also had great news: my copy of Cecily had arrived that very day! Serendipitous, she called it.

More serendipity occurred: On our way, we missed the exit we needed off the highway, so we simply took the next one, near to which is a back road that links the two. Slow is required, not only as it is a smaller road, but also since troops frequently use it. We didn’t run into the Army that day, but were happily surprised to come upon a black bear crossing the road. We both grabbed our phones, but somehow it just didn’t work. As for me, I was a bit excited and flustered, so the presence of mind to zoom in wasn’t there, and we had to carry on. “Perhaps we’ll see him on our way out,” Vita remarked. Mmmmm. Perhaps, I remember thinking, though I doubt it.

As it happened, we did! I couldn’t believe our luck when, as we ambled past the last of the greenery marking the road toward and away from the mountain, I spotted he who by that time I had named Randy. He had a small brown marking on his snout and he just struck me as…Randy. Even Randall if one was to be on formal acquaintance. This time we were prepared and managed to get lots of video. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to edit it—it’s a bit long—but I do have a still from it and will add the actual video once I have it all prepped. I love how the still came out—Randy looks sort of like a model, posed in transition with his foot dangling gracefully as he peers back at us, sitting not far away. Eventually he came closer, and I was surprised at how much noise he made walking through the grass. Vita aimed both phones, something I learned a few minutes later was actually rather difficult to do, while I had my finger at the ready, prepared to close the window if Randy got too close. But all was peaceful and eventually Randy himself ambled across the road and into the forest on the other side.

What would Cecily make of this? Since time travel is almost always on my mind, I contemplate what it might be like to have hosted her on our little jaunt, show her a little piece of our homeland. By Cecily’s time, bears were extinct on the British Isles, but I like to think she would not cower at the unknown quantity. I think she would be curious and enthralled. Perhaps she would even take the view, as we often do, that if we respect their boundaries and take care around them, they are not really the ones to fear. The army she would encounter on these roads would be what we call friendly, though her own experiences with armies might give her pause. Still, I feel she wouldn’t back down from the opportunity we set out for that day, and would have been an enthusiastic participant, especially once she learned about our plans and winter prep. I don’t yet know much about Cecily, but one trait I have always believed she possessed is curiosity.  

A marvelous attribute, curious is a delightful manner in which to approach life, perhaps especially winter, really with so many things to discover, even if much of it comes by way of performing the ordinary tasks of the season that, to many, can often be written off as sheer drudgery or tedious in character. Though I typically enjoy winter, it can be this way for me too at times. I hope to make this year different by more often finding the Cecily in me—not because I will be doing anything of great consequence to or for the world, but perhaps at least for mine. Finding things meaningful to life is one manner in which to build up ways to make a difference to others. The pieces fit together nicely, you might say.

And so in this manner I make my way toward winter, cleaning and contemplating, peering backward and looking to the future. It’s a little surreal to be fussing over ordinary tasks while the world seems to be turning upside down, and perhaps Cecily would be able to relate to this as well. But time marches on, and winter is coming. Summer is a thing of the past and the time to adapt is at hand.

Slideshow images: Cecily, fireweed petals and Negroni ingredients; Anchorage in the distance; Randy peering at us during a break from bulking up; fireweed petals soaking in boiling water; a sprig of mint leaf for good measure, just because it made a nice image; roughly half the bottle of gin poured into a glass jar with boiled fireweed petals added. They now will infuse for a few days.

Above: Portion of the Chugach Range.

All images courtesy Lisl Madeleine. Permission required to reproduce; while permission typically will be given, it must be acquired in writing. See Book Review Policies for email address.

Browsing Books: Searching for Merlin Edition

Day’s book has also been released under the title The Quest for King Arthur

My mother used to say that the passions we most care about come to us by accident. That certainly was true of my affection for Merlin, smaller stories of whom intrigued me through childhood as I learned of Arthur, as well as when a set of books my mother purchased—and I initially ignored—mystically beckoned, revealing to me not more of Arthur, but rather the wizard I really wanted to know. I’d never experienced anything like him—whether within words, my own imagination, or memories of a past so distant their familiarity still remained somewhat vague, though shimmering.

Not unlike that day all those years ago, something summoned me recently. I reached into our armoire and pulled out the box set of a television series, The Adventures of Merlin, my son and I had “discovered” about eight years ago. I’d had no intention of re-visiting the show, yet into the Xbox the disk went and drawn I was back into the saga of someone I was first entranced by as a small child. Catching me unaware, Merlin once more drew me close, reminding me of his presence, and perhaps that I hadn’t been paying quite enough attention. He had never been demanding before; perhaps it was my own guilt I felt. Whatever the case, I made plans to seek out more to either revitalize my awareness or add to it. I immediately broke out my unfinished copy of Nikolai Tolstoy’s The Quest for Merlin and made a weekend date with the library.

As it turns out, perhaps the best items are at other branches, though that remains to be seen; I’ve requested a few items and will assess them when they arrive. What I did obtain, though not exactly what I’d been hoping for, will at least get me started as I commence my next journey with Myrddin Emrys, whose misted path I hope might become clear and brightly colored.

The Search for King Arthur (David Day) – I’d actually borrowed this book before, and it is one of several from today focused on the king, but the only one in which Merlin has his own chapter. Of course, all the major characters receive one but, not having found precisely what I’d been seeking, this will perhaps best move me forward. Few volumes focus entirely and exclusively on Merlin, for he and the others are woven together in a complex of symbolism and extended metaphor, but it is certainly possible to pick through the threads and re-discover much of what has retreated to the backs of our minds.

Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth (Joseph Campbell) – Compiled from lectures Campbell presented over the course of his lifelong journey studying mythology and “the larger patterns and meanings revealed in these myths.” Containing metaphors for the human stages of growth, Campbell believed they exemplified the development of humanity and discusses reflections, from all over the world, on the stories.

In the Land of Giants: A Journey Through the Dark Ages (Max Adams) – Seemingly linked in theory to Campbell’s ideas, Adams’s volume is “[a] cultural exploration of the Dark Age landscapes of Britain that poses a significant question: Is the modern world simply the realization of our ancient past?” While it does not appear to speak at all of Merlin et al., except possibly in passing, I was attracted to the travel angle and the author’s focus within the locales of their ancient past. “Part travelogue, part expert reconstruction, In the Land of Giants offers a beautifully written insight into the lives of peasants, drengs, ceorls, thanes, monks, knights, and kings during an enigmatic but richly exciting period of Britain’s history.” For me, much of this excitement stems from the possibilities of understanding regarding these more ordinary people within the times we still speak of today.

Finding Arthur: The True Origins of the Once and Future King (Adam Ardrey) – Arthur is really from Scotland, Adams posits (a claim he also makes for Merlin); the victors wrote the story and that’s why Scottish Arthur has been erased and recast as an English Christian king. I’m pretty sure I have borrowed this book before but never got a chance to read it; today I picked it up because I’m certainly open to reading what’s behind his assertions, and I probably should. It is true, after all, that the victors write the history. I confess to having heard of this theory before but not really giving it much airtime. It sounds a bit fantastic and, truth be told, I’m a little concerned it will come off as conspiracy theory-type reading. At the same time, truth is stranger than fiction, so who knows? I probably shouldn’t worry about whether I end up agreeing or not, liking  it or not. It’s a dive into history, which is always fascinating. However, I may switch over to the Merlin volume instead, given my limited reading time and how I’m currently needing to divvy it up by topic.

Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages (Guy Halsall) – My dilemma related to the previous book entry, and indeed the book itself, can safely be ignored, according to this author. He doesn’t call Ardrey’s book out by name, at least not in the blurb, but does discount works that claim to reveal “the truth” behind the “historical” Arthur, who is largely a figment of the imagination anyway. I am a little intrigued at what might be the truth that is much more fascinating, as per jacket description, though flipping through the book brought me to one page with the following sentence: “Unless some important new written sources are discovered, which is unlikely, the construction of a detailed narrative political historical account is quite out of the question and always will be.” This seems rather restrictive to me, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about history is that it often surprises us (perhaps because we fail to heed its warnings). It also reminds me a bit too much to Allison Weir’s assertion, in the opening pages of The Princes in the Tower, that we are unlikely to ever gain better evidence than what we already have regarding Richard III’s involvement (her “evidence” being laughably suspect, but that’s another story), and gives me a bit of an allergic reaction. Still, we’ll approach with caution and see where it takes us.

Mythical Monday: The Bewildering Basilisk

The Basilisk and the Weasel, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder. The cockatrice (pictured) became seen as synonymous with the basilisk when the “basiliscus” in Bartholomeus Anglicus’s De proprietatibus rerum (c. 1260) was translated by John Trevisa as “cockatrice” (1397). Image courtesy Wikimedia.

Pliny the Elder wrote about them. They were “little kings” to the Greeks and other reptiles avoided their fiery, deadly breath. The Roman poet Lucan described the particularly horrible venom of the creature, so fearsome it could travel like sound through the predatory weapon of a man and reverse the aim, killing not only the man, but also his horse. Seemingly straight from the pages of Sir John de Mandeville, the petrifying monster that could kill with a glance was said to be born of a rooster and incubated by a toad, and even today its terrifying, deadly gaze remains extant in our collective consciousness, in deeper layers though it may reside.

Despite its origins and early appearance, nowadays we perceive it most often as a snakelike beast that “does not impel his body, like other serpents, like a multiplied flexion, but advances loftily and upright,” just as the senior Roman naturalist wrote. From the illustration of a medieval bestiary, we are given a glimpse of what people in the past observed.

It looks almost ridiculous in its anger, especially with the tiny weasel chomping away at its breast. But our fear of snakes remains real, even if the basilisk confounds us with its reputation. Lacking the fantastic properties of dinosaurs, it also never became regarded, though, as a maladapted failure and, despite its fall into obscurity with the rise of science, the Harry Potter series’ resurrection of the beast hardly had to break a sweat to evoke familiarity. It is as if it lurked in the shadowy halls of our imaginations, our awareness both proving its mettle while also keeping it at bay. Pull the curtain aside and you wouldn’t see a tinkering imposter; it’s just that for centuries we preferred to treat our ancestors like children and dismiss their terrors. When the basilisk roared back into our world, we weren’t frightened yet we knew they were to be feared.

2014 cover image of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, courtesy Wikimedia.

Perhaps it is our historical and modern associations that keeps the loitering basilisk apparent to us despite its current relatively rare use in explicit form. From Christian tradition we see a basilisk being slain by a knight, or Michael, though more often demons are represented by snakes. Within medieval stories of alchemy links were to be found between wealth and basilisks, the ashes of which could transform silver into gold, emphasizing the connection between fiery evil and the sin of greed. Poets mention them, Dracula’s gaze engendered a similar fear, and a courageous mongoose in an Indian garden calls back the monster’s only natural predator, the weasel. But the mixture of their strange and unnatural appearance, symbolic of unholy alliance, remains in the shadows, perhaps more respectfully feared for what we do not see.


Sources
The Medieval Bestiary
Symbol Sage

 

Book Review: Fortune Like the Moon by Alys Clare

Fortune Like the Moon:

Hawkenlye Mystery Series Book 1

by Alys Clare

I really admire detectives, and of course I love the Middle Ages, so when I asked around about medieval mysteries, I was thrilled when my contacts really came through. Amongst many other recommendations, author Joanne Larner suggested Fortune Like the Moon, and I am so glad she did. I’ve been in a reading slump lately, thanks in large part to too much research intake without a break, and Alys Clare’s novel set in twelfth-century England went a long way toward pulling me out.

This is in contrast to another book I recently read and didn’t dislike, even am interested in pursuing the next installment, but felt dragged a bit and perhaps didn’t need to be up in the 400-page count that it was. I feared a little this dragging sensation with Fortune Like the Moon, aware it could be an unjustified association, but something about the book made me dive right in. It may have been the cover artwork that captured and kept my attention, or perhaps the epigraph, the words of which seemed to signal a faster-moving story and more rapidly-changing details to keep up with:

Oh Fortune!

Like the moon, changing,

Forever waxing and waning . . .

Indeed, it takes no time at all to get to the mystery to be solved: the first word in the book is “dead.” The opening sentence gives a visual and tells the who, what, when and where, setting us up immediately to seek the obvious remaining W—and does it with economy. As the story progresses, we learn more of its setting and circumstance. King Richard Plantagenet has just ascended to the throne of England, a country he knows virtually nothing about and whose language he barely speaks. Clare deftly provides brief background to the Lionheart’s family circumstances, including his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, a formidable woman determined to educate the English about their new king, who was to be perceived as humane and just, filled with wisdom and Christian forgiveness. To that end, she declares, in Richard’s name, an amnesty that frees all prisoners in English jails who had been awaiting trial or sentencing, though she is fully aware this could backfire, and badly. The aforementioned death, laid out in the novel’s prelude, leads to the predictable criticism of arrogant naïveté and the need for Richard to button this up quickly. Enter Sir Josse d’Acquin, an Anglo-Norman acquainted with this strange land (via his East Sussex mother) tasked with solving the mystery and, hopefully, setting English minds at ease about their new monarch.

Clare’s style is attractive and pleasing not just for her ability to economize, but also because it is so relatable, even in situations most of us would never find ourselves in. For example, when describing the murdered nun’s remains: “So much blood.” In the hands of another author, such a phrase might come off as sophomoric, but here it works, even when the perspective shifts from omniscient narrator to Josse, who frequently talks to himself, and then to the Abbess Helewise, whose wisdom is revealed in her awareness of false modesty’s trap as well as her willingness to recognize intelligence equal to or greater than her own. She and Josse get on so well, in fact, that I found the lack of conflict a bit disconcerting, though not entirely out of place. When would the king’s appointed investigator have to do “battle” with evil forces, and would those include Helewise? There is no doubt she is brilliant, but would the Abbess’s co-operation later be revealed as disguise of her true motive(s)?

A silver denier of Richard, struck in his capacity as Count of Poitiers. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. More on the Lionheart here.

Looking back at Chapter One, we see Clare’s use of circumstance to skillfully shape her characters. Richard, in a fit of temper, stubs his toe on a stone floor slab. Trying to massage the toe is ineffectual, since he is wearing his boots. His anger results in him lashing out, whereby the bishop he had been addressing steps back in haste, following which Richard gains control of his rage and carries on. Though it seems a curious event at first blush, it is not long after that we are able to use it as an opportunity to further assess the king’s character by way of a sort of compare/contrast when he first meets with d’Acquin. Josse, seemingly nervous, kneels in mud and sits in a puddle, the second of which the king initially remains silent about, likely to avoid acknowledging that Josse stands taller than himself. Having given the mercenary the once-over and determined him to have made an attempt at a smartness in appearance he does not naturally possess, he eventually alerts the man to the water soaking the hem of his tunic, though impatiently, whereas Josse’s awkward responses had been marked with respect.

In both instances we see Richard certainly behaving according to his station, but we also feel the hint of manipulation he employs, suppressing it only because he needs something, and frustrated at the requirement. Appearing separate from one another and with other scenes in between, the continuity of this illustration is smooth and well laid out. The only angle I question is of Richard stubbing his toe: if the boot is too thick to massage the toe, how could he have stubbed it? My own ignorance of footwear available at the time—I know very little of this Angevin era—may play into this, but even if it’s a legitimate doubt, it really doesn’t mar the attempt to provide Richard more rounding, and the dialogue is superb.

It also helps that the author includes a drawing of Hawkenlye Abbey, its various areas labeled for easy reference. It is what I refer to as “simple, not simplistic,” and laid out in such a manner that one could easily envision characters moving within the grounds. We get to know them in their daily routines and directed tasks, and Clare gives a real sense of her world as well as that which existed in the historical period. And, as earlier stated, she is able to tell a developed story without running it into excessive length.

Though the book is labelled on online sites as part of a trilogy, I am quite pleased to report it seems to have been successful enough to keep going, and now stands as a seventeen-book series. Given my pleasure at the genre, characters, story, dialogue, introduction to the historical period, continuity and, in this particular installment, setup of Josse and how he comes to be where he is—at beginning as well as end—that is a grand thing and I will definitely be reading more.

Book Review: Boldly into the Darkness

Boldly into the Darkness: Living with Loss,

Growing with Grief & Holding On to Happiness

by Autumn Toelle-Jackson

Life for Autumn Toelle-Jackson started out happy, almost like a dream. When she entered her thirties, however, tragedy made up for lost time. Over the span of a few short years, she endured several miscarriages and the loss of her husband, a dear cousin, and child.

But one small cross-section of a life doesn’t do justice to the amount of love, resilience, growth and blessings a person experiences after such titanic losses. With each new harbinger of grief, Toelle-Jackson was forced to discover another way to survive the pain. In Boldly into the Darkness, she examines all the lessons and outcomes of her life story with aching intimacy and insight. The result is a portrait of healing so complete, it transcends the traditional survivor narrative and enters new territory, a bold light shining where before was only darkness.

*********

It has been quite a while since I’ve read a memoir, so I was pleased to be presented with Autumn Toelle-Jackson’s Boldly into the Darkness: Living with Loss, Growing with Grief & Holding On to Happiness for review. Hers is a story including successive losses, within a short period, of people very close to her: her husband, cousin, then her daughter – and these were following more than one miscarriage. How in the world does one deal with such devastation? How does one overcome the painful fear of vulnerability by allowing the world into their private life?

One reason I found for the ability to realize these and other achievements came rather quickly. At the start of Toelle-Jackson’s narrative, she states, “ [D]espite traumatic events, it’s not a traumatic story. Instead, it’s a story overflowing with love and marked with loss.” When I read these words I felt a bit (selfishly, I admit) relieved, because I had begun to fear the darkness I felt sure was certain to be between the covers of this volume. Death and the destruction of humans, even strangers, is awful for most, and it is such a profound horror I think our brains are wired to not truly be able to grasp it in its huge, stark reality. However, I have also long said that witnessing the profound grief of those left behind makes me question which is more devastating to observe.

I don’t think the author necessarily sets out to comfort readers, and that’s all right – it’s not her job to do that. Moreover, the jolt of events are part of the reading experience and it’s up to us to digest what she offers responsibly, thoughtfully. Still, she does offer us something:

Over time, I learned that, with each new grief, I’d shatter and then find a way to survive, whether I wanted to or not. I  learned that I had choices, and I’ve chosen to do more than live. I learned that while the darkness brought sobs of anguish and never-ending tears, it also held healing and rebirth. I learned to live with my losses. I found ways to grow from the grief I carry. More importantly, I learned to grab hope wherever I could find it and hold on tight, because sometimes the hope that things will get better was all I had.

This passage immediately struck me with the understanding that Toelle-Jackson was presenting her audience with a requirement of sorts: reading her story passively and feeling sorry for her isn’t a viable option. There is more to life than suffering, and crafting its sum—and any reading about it—as a mere grievance narrative, is counterproductive and not akin to what we are made to do, be and achieve. She continues: “Those we lose are more than the loss. They are love, laughter, and happiness. That should be their legacy. Their death shouldn’t define them. Our loved ones are more than that one point in time.”

With this, Toelle-Jackson claims her life and those of her loved ones for something and somewhere brighter and higher—the trick is getting to that spot. As the author moves forward with her story, beginning almost immediately with her husband Joe’s untimely death, she opens the door to the dark part of her life and allows us to gaze within. It is a complex area, organized in segments that play tricks on observer and participant alike, its sting delivered according to role as well as experience and understanding. One passage I appreciated most was that which drew on her relatability to natural forces, occurring during retreat to a small, Pacific-coast town in February. Here were gardens, parks, a beachfront, and as she makes her way through these and other spaces she recognizes actualities that comfort even as they present truth in their sometimes harsh reality. For example, a Japanese-styled garden whose calming area was suggestive of a poem, even within its sometimes wild spots, “a place where suffering was OK because it was part of existence. It was a place where brokenness mixed with peace and beauty because in nature it all goes hand in hand.”

Feeling the sun on her back perhaps enabled Toelle-Jackson to connect her thoughts to what she observed, as she “saw firsthand how life was sprouting out of the darkness of winter and growing from the small seeds of last year’s plants.” This is, of course, the cycle of death and re-birth we all recognize, and a theme Toelle-Jackson expands upon as she screams into the ocean and “the waves below me take their fury out on the rocks.”

I felt the turmoil in my soul. And like the waves releasing their power, I started to let go of my anger…I stood there and screamed, and the roar of the ocean drowned out the noise I made. With each shattering wave, I let go of some of my anger. Not all of it and not for forever, but it was a start. I knew I was angry and had been keeping the emotion to myself. But there on the cliffs, I gave it free rein to erupt from me like the water below.

But she also beckons us through entries to other portions of her past: growing up with a large family, including her beloved cousin Brittany; family trips; horse competitions; working toward future goals; attending college; and maintaining a long-distance relationship. We learn of the drudgery involved in the everyday (e.g. eight-hour drives) as well as the immensely joyful and satisfying: long conversations with Brittany or the college experience in which Toelle-Jackson took part in, that rite of passage involving making one’s own choices and learning how things work, what today we often call “adulting.”

A beautiful family.

These are presented because, as the author stresses, love without loss is not real, and has a talent for showing us this even within portions of life that often seem inconsequential, or at least not glaring examples of an ideal so profound. Her college days, she writes, were “pretty boring”; on weekends she preferred to drive home to compete with her horse, Norman, or stay in with a good book instead of attend parties. Certainly, it might be labeled as on a smaller scale of the love-loss match, but it illustrates the requirement that each one be paired with the other.

It is perhaps this understanding that enables Toelle-Jackson to direct her journey in a more productive fashion, and she does, guiding us as she moves through the lessons she must learn, drawing on the love and support of others as well as what lives within herself. She allows herself to grieve, is painfully honest in her self-assessments and observes, in search of meaning or some sort of recognition. Some of what she speaks of are “easily” recognizable truths, though there isn’t a formula to utilize and grieving is different for everyone. But one thing the author stresses through Boldly into the Darkness is the concept of understanding that we all have choices. She may have been thrust into the darkness, she tells us, but that doesn’t mean she can be forced to stay there, and she doesn’t. Finding her way out and learning to live with its remnants is her story, and she tells it powerfully, truthfully, with compassion for those who experienced it with her.

I don’t know if I could say which of those three is the most crucial “ingredient”; perhaps none are more vital than any other. The power socks it to us, providing the details of events that create scars in the soul. As her new world, a world now without her loving and much-loved husband, carries on, the author relates how she felt, what she needed, what she didn’t know she needed and how she came to learn. These are not always pretty truths, but Toelle-Jackson’s sincerity produces invaluable awareness for all of us, some of which could also be applied to ordinary relationships of all kinds—those with or without tragedy as partner, and those involving love, friendship or even just colleagues or neighbors—in which constructive honesty creates authentic bonding, the benefits of which are too numerous to list here. In turn, such authenticity reveals a care for others within a cyclical nature that turns back and shows people truths about themselves that they choose to follow up on or not. That Toelle-Jackson chose to wasn’t in itself a magic bullet: the journey had to be undertaken. Here she presents the peaks and valleys of that expedition, speaking truths without judgement in a manner many others could find solace in. Her writing is gracious and smooth, even when the emotions are raw and jagged, and I can’t help but consider what a thoughtful writer Toelle-Jackson is.

Boldly into the Darkness is a bit of a tour through that frightening space, as its author mines the deeper parts of her soul and the human psyche, determined to find the light that must exist alongside. She reminds us that though there is no love without loss, the dark cannot exist without light, and tells her story as one way to help others find something to grab on to that they too might pull themselves up and recognize that we are designed to survive. Individual losses present unique journeys, and various pathways she traversed might not work for some others. But the strength and hope Toelle-Jackson presents is a ray of brightness that may benefit all of us, in the best and worst of times.

About the Author

Autumn Toelle-Jackson has lived a life of love and loss, filled with happiness and marked by tragedy. Labels are too simple, but they do have meaning and they do tell part of her story: wife, widow, mother, survivor. The loss of a husband, a beloved cousin and mentor, her daughter, and miscarriages have left scars on her soul and memorial tattoos on her body, but Autumn learned to grow through it all. She found love and reasons to get up each day until those days strung into weeks, then months, then years. Autumn and her family created GrowingwithGrief to provide those who are grieving with a place to find community, resources, and help.

Autumn Toelle-Jackson’s website may be accessed here, and you can purchase Boldly into the Darkness at this page. This wonderful memoir may also be found at Amazon, Amazon UK and Books2Read, a page with links to major online vendors for the ebook and audio book.

Images courtesy Autumn Toelle-Jackson.

A copy of Boldly into the Darkness was provided by the author in order to facilitate an honest review.

Accidental Duplicate Giveaway: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates

(See below the blurb for my own commentary and contest info)

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates:

The Forgotten War that Changed American History

by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

This is the little-known story of how a newly indepen­dent nation was challenged by four Muslim powers and what happened when America’s third president decided to stand up to intimidation.

When Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, America faced a crisis. The new nation was deeply in debt and needed its economy to grow quickly, but its merchant ships were under attack. Pirates from North Africa’s Barbary coast routinely captured American sailors and held them as slaves, demanding ransom and tribute payments far beyond what the new coun­try could afford.
 
Over the previous fifteen years, as a diplomat and then as secretary of state, Jefferson had tried to work with the Barbary states (Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, and Morocco). Unfortunately, he found it impossible to negotiate with people who believed their religion jus­tified the plunder and enslavement of non-Muslims. These rogue states would show no mercy—at least not while easy money could be made by extorting the Western powers. So President Jefferson decided to move beyond diplomacy. He sent the U.S. Navy’s new warships and a detachment of Marines to blockade Tripoli—launching the Barbary Wars and beginning America’s journey toward future superpower status.
 
As they did in their previous bestseller, George Washington’s Secret Six, Kilmeade and Yaeger have transformed a nearly forgotten slice of history into a dramatic story that will keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next. Among the many sus­penseful episodes: 
 
·Lieutenant Andrew Sterett’s ferocious cannon battle on the high seas against the treacherous pirate ship Tripoli.
 
·Lieutenant Stephen Decatur’s daring night raid of an enemy harbor, with the aim of destroying an American ship that had fallen into the pirates’ hands.

·General William Eaton’s unprecedented five-hundred-mile land march from Egypt to the port of Derne, where the Marines launched a surprise attack and an American flag was raised in victory on foreign soil for the first time.
 
Few today remember these men and other heroes who inspired the Marine Corps hymn: “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land and sea.” 
Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates recaptures this forgot­ten war that changed American history with a real-life drama of intrigue, bravery, and battle on the high seas.

*********

A few years back, I’d read another book by these authors: George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, and was quite smitten with it, not least because spy had been my very first ambition in life at age six (that and writing poetry). I also had a historian father who frequently told me tales of the American Revolution, and enjoyment of these legends has never left me. I later came to know of Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates and have been wanting to read it for a long while. So when I was shopping last Friday—experiencing one of those shopping moods in which you are determined to buy something, and in this case I was hungry for books—I came across and decided to buy it. I vaguely wondered when I’d have time to read it, given my stack of books and research obligations. Well, no worries, I reasoned, it’ll happen. Of course it will, my sarcastic inner self replied. Along with the other two high seas and Barbary Wars books shelved not far from your night table.

OK! OK! But I’m still getting it, I hissed to myself.

Not long after I returned home and was engaged in lovingly looking over my purchases (the true end of the shopping expedition, as opposed to simply getting in your car and going home) when a sudden stab in my awareness gave me pause to look at my American history shelf and…there it was. Propped proudly next to a George Washington biography stood my already-copy of, you guessed it, Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates. With the wonderful facsimile of Nathaniel Currier’s Tripolitan War, 1804 on the cover; cast of characters on opening pages; broad map of the then United States and Western Europe and North Africa with sailing corridors in between; periodic map sketches throughout (I love maps; they truly help appreciate the stories better); and an eight-page insert of color and black-and-white images, the book is equipped to tell a marvelous history.

Since I now had an extra copy, I decided to do a giveaway and, wonderful people, here we are. Unfortunately, sending books overseas is no longer the economical wonder it once was, and the costs are now prohibitive if one is manually sending off a physical book. Therefore, I have no choice in this instance but to limit winners to the United States. Never fear, though, I’m developing ideas for other giveaways, so stay tuned for more fun opportunities—wherever in the world you are. And, hey, feel free to comment here or any blogs at BtSS.

To get in on the contest, which will be a drawing, please comment below and you are automatically entered. Say hello, mention or talk about your favorite American history story, recommend a book—anything appropriate is welcome. (You may also comment at this Twitter link – FB link to follow) On Saturday, July 24, we will do a drawing and announce the winner. Please be sure to provide an email address in your comment (this is not visible to the public; please do not put your email address in the body of your comment) so I can notify you if you are the winner. At that time I’ll ask for your address to send the paperback via U.S. Mail.

Thanks for playing, peeps, and see you soon!

~Lisl~

An artist’s depiction of the Philadelphia aground off Tripoli, in October 1803. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Anne Bradstreet: The First American Poet

THE TENTH MUSE Lately sprung up in AMERICA. OR Severall Poems, compiled with great variety of VVit and Learning, full of delight. Wherein especially is contained a com∣pleat discourse and description ofThe Four Elements,

The Four Constitutions,

The Four Ages of Man,

The Four Seasons of the Year.

Together with an Exact Epitomie of the Four Monarchies, viz.The Assyrian,

The Persian,

The Grecian,

The Roman.

Also a Dialogue between Old England and New, concerning the late troubles. With divers other pleasant and serious Poems.

By a Gentlewoman in those parts.

Printed at London for Stephen Bowtell at the signe of the Bible in Popes Head-Alley. 1650.

The full title of Anne Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung up in America, as it appeared on its title page


In the runup to the Fourth of July, fellow writers from the Historical Writers Forum are posting this week about various events in American history. Thus far we have read on some of the more famous moments or those closely related, such as Dr. Joseph Warren’s 1775 Boston Massacre Oration, as well as lesser-known topics, including taxes and people’s attitudes toward them in 1862 America. These glimpses back on our history run the timeline continuum from America in the making to its status as a fully established nation. Today our Blog Hop looks back a bit further, this time to an America in her embryonic stage, when very little really was secure at all, including whether some even wanted to step upon what author Charlotte Gordon refers to as “this hulking continent” (5).

Nineteenth-century depiction of Anne Bradstreet by Edmund H. Garrett. No portrait made during her lifetime exists. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

Such was the perspective of eighteen-year-old Anne Dudley Bradstreet on the morning of June 12, 1630, when the Arbella steered into Salem Harbor after seventy-seven days at sea. Expecting soon to see the lively outpost they were on their way to join, Bradstreet and her fellow colonists’ hopes were dashed when they saw for themselves the results of the advance party’s efforts. Only a small amount of acreage had been cleared, and the settlers who greeted the new arrivals turned out to be survivors of a brutal winter of starvation and related illness. Their skin was paper thin and many were invalids, so disoriented and lethargic that they had taken to leaving their own waste behind their crudely constructed homesteads, covering the filth with dirt that failed to disguise the stench (Gordon, 8-9).

The new arrivals did not stay long in what they deemed to be a wasteland, and Bradstreet and her husband, with an ever-growing family, moved a number of instances in subsequent years. Over time she raised eight children, which in itself entailed enormous responsibility, particularly in an era before our own so-called “timesaving devices,” but also when nearly everything they knew to exist in a modern society had to be constructed from scratch. Deprivation was the rule and before the year was out, over two hundred immigrants died and a further two hundred fled back to England. Gordon reports that one colonist, Edward Johnson, testified that in nearly every family “lamentation, mourning, and woe was heard” (13).

Physical hardships, naturally, were not the only drawbacks, and attitudes toward women at the time offered little to encourage intellectual contribution. Moreover, women were raised to be obedient, and Bradstreet was no exception. She had loathed the idea of leaving England in the first place, but followed along. On her father’s orders, she was part of the exploratory group from Arbella, whose plowing ahead into the small skiff bouncing on the waves perhaps provided some reassurance to those who watched them row away, knowing intuitively that some newcomers surely drowned in that short distance to land. Her fear subdued enough to carry on, though through her life she experienced feelings of loneliness, isolation, uncertainty in her relationship with God, and frustration at the societal wall placed before her, despite having been extremely well educated in England.

So it was that in such circumstances Anne Bradstreet carried on with her duties as she also began to write poetry expressing not only her disillusionment or doubts but also, for example, about her love for her husband or admiration for Queen Elizabeth, whose leadership abilities she references in questioning the common view that women were inferior creatures. She wrote about politics, theology, history and, important to the development of her verse, topics related to what is was like to experience life as an American. She was said to have had a collection of books that numbered over eight hundred, though many of these were lost when her home burned down, an event she memorialized in a poem that also reflects her struggle between love for God and her attempts to overcome the pain she feels at the loss.

I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To strengthen me in my distress,
And not to leave me succorless.
Then coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust;
Yea, so it was, and so ’twas just.
It was His own; it was not mine.
Far be it that I should repine.

—from “Verses Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10, 1666”

Though Bradstreet’s early education was heavily influenced by male authors and was naturally quite English in outlook, she was also inspired by Du Bartas, a French poet whose great, unfinished poem about Creation was beloved by the Puritans. Her love of poetry and skill in assessing it did not at first seem to convince her that she might one day achieve a similar goal;  writing of any kind, let alone what was seen as the exalted art of poetry, was beyond the ability of women. Perhaps her later successes in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, beginning with that first, tenuous step into the skiff, served to re-inform her judgement of herself; paired with her suspicions regarding perceptions of women’s intellect and, not unlike girls in later repressive societies who realize their potential after witnessing the foolishness of brothers who are supposedly superior to them, she may have struck out, if only to show herself her own capabilities.

In 1650, The Tenth Muse Lately Come to America was published, ostensibly without her knowledge, to great fanfare and making Bradstreet the first poet, male or female, to publish from the New World. It was widely read in both England and the colonies, and showed up in a number of distinguished libraries. Though taken aback and perhaps embarrassed by the mistakes across the pages of the volume’s first printing (whether hers or the publisher’s), the publication’s success instilled more confidence in the poet moving forward.

Most of what she chose to write about is very personal and important to the development of later American literature, which sought to distinguish itself from its British and European counterparts. A literature that chose to be more than merely the extension of an existing body, works after the Revolution pursued a distinctly American flavor not derivative of its heritage, rather portraying its own society and landscape, on its own terms, depicting such values and themes as rugged individualism, self-reliance and sense of place, resulting from awareness and knowledge of untouched wilderness—political and spiritual in addition to physical—that Old World works did not.

Second (posthumous) edition title page of Bradstreet’s poems. Note her change in title from Tenth Muse to Several Poems. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

Later in life, Bradstreet distanced herself from the idea of being a muse, an identity provided with her first publication, as it was a “safer” identity than one such as Anne Hutchinson bore, and paid the price. Instead, Bradstreet preferred to be a woman who wrote poetry. It had been necessary, at first, for “reassurances” to be provided her readers, that she did not neglect her familial and societal duties in order to write poetry. Now she sheds this cloak and goes forth into the world, rejecting, as does her narrator in “The Prologue,” years earlier ~

    I am obnoxious to each carping tongue

    Who says my hand a needle better fits.

    A Poet’s Pen all scorn I should thus wrong,

    For such despite they cast on female wits.

    If what I do prove well, it won’t advance,

    They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance.

With her success, Bradstreet had proven wrong those who believed it was all a fluke, or that she could not advance. As with her poetry, this sentiment is linked to that of America itself, and here too Bradstreet played a significant role in proving not only the American spirit but also speaking and writing about it. This understanding changed the course of American literature, an experiment like the nation, that struck out on its own, matured in its own role and provided a say in the world about its own identity and the unique culture it came to represent.

Source

Gordon, Charlotte. Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America’s First Poet. Little Brown, 2005.


Thank you for joining us in our July 4 entry in the American History Blog Hop by Historical Writers Forum

Please check out our many other great posts!

Here presented an introduction to Anne Bradstreet and what she means to American history.

Please stay tuned for more posts with greater exploration of her poetry itself.

Happy Fourth of July!!

Book Release Update: Our Anthology Has Been Released!

The Road Not Travelled: Alternative Tales of the Wars of the Roses

for Richard Tearle

Silver groat of King Richard III (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Back in April, I dropped an update about an anthology I had written a short story for and preparing for a July release. There was a lot of back and forth re: corrections and I too received some returns from our editor, Joanne Larner, whose attention to detail truly saved me from making some very silly mistakes.

At the time I also didn’t know who would be writing our foreword. While this may be “old news” for some now, as my update comes a bit late, I’m still pleased as punched to report that we have had an early release with a foreword by Matthew Lewis, Chairman of the Richard III Society. He penned a really fantabulous bit, including some background for those unfamiliar with the whole Wars of the Roses shebang.

And now guess what!? I can’t believe I was able to contain it for this long, but a few days ago I received my box of author copies! The box was super heavy, though I didn’t notice it until I tried to shift it up the stairs. “How in the world did you carry this thing?” I queried my son, who just shrugged. Ah well, boys, you know, it’s just a box to them! He rolled his eyes when he looked into the box, supremely uninterested in the Wars of the Roses as he is. My eyebrow went up just a tad, though, because for someone who says he doesn’t really care all that much, he sure does know a lot about Richard III! And I still have a wonderful little drawing of Richard he made when he was younger.

So, I haven’t finished reading the entire book yet – it’s a little over 350 pages! Not just some flash-in-the-pan, thin volume you read in one day and forget about by the next. It’s got some heft to it, and that’s not only attributable to its physical weight. What I have read so far is very thoughtful and considered, and this just renews what I’d already felt about being in the company of this group of authors: extremely privileged and humbled. What great company to be in – thankfully they would have me! And that would include the late Richard Tearle, to whom the volume is dedicated. I did not know Richard very well myself, only becoming acquainted with him a few years back when he very kindly gave me permission to use some of his photos here at the blog. He was always very friendly with me and made transfer of info and photos back and forth practically effortless. Sadly, Richard was no longer with us to see publication, but I have hope that he can see us from his place now, as pleased as we are. I believe he can hear me when I say, “Well done, Richard! Your story shines.”

My own yarn, “Episodes in the Life of King Richard III,” is the penultimate tale, the final one being a wrap-up of a three-part story that serves as a foundation to the book. I think I may just skip mine when I get to it – I’m a little scared to look at it! That final one, though, I’ve ready it about thirty times already, and I adore it. This is really very thrilling and I hope you all will have a look at our volume, which I also am happy to add again benefits the Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK). King Richard himself, noted even by his enemies to be a skilled and courageous warrior, suffered from scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine that can reduce lung function owing to the extra space the curve takes up in the chest. According to the Mayo Clinic, while some cases of scoliosis might be caused by cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, the cause of most cases is unknown.

The Road Not Travelled: Alternative Tales of the Wars of the Roses is available in Kindle and paperback, at Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon Australia and Amazon India. (There may be others I am unaware of.) Please consider leaving a review, which are akin to gold for indie authors! It need not be long, fancy, intellectual, academic or any of those other things lots of people think book reviews must be. It can be if you like, but really even just a few words saying what you liked about the book, what might make it better, etc. Even something as short as “It’s a fabulous book!” works! My fellow authors and I will be most grateful.

Speaking of authors, here is a list of those whose stories appear in The Road Not Travelled*, in chronological order of story:

Maria Grazia Leotta

Jennifer Bradley

Alex Marchant

C.J. Lock

Toni Mount

Brian Wainwright

J.P. Reedman

Roslyn Ramona Brown

Joanne R. Larner

Sandra Heath Wilson

Bernadette Lyons

Susan Lamb

Terri Beckett

Kit Mareska

Kathy Kingsbury

Joanna Kingswood Iddison

Michéle Schindler

Clare Anderson

Richard Tearle

Jennifer C. Wilson

Lisl Madeleine

*several authors have contributed more than one story

…with amazing cover art by the talented Riika Nikko

About the Blogger

Lisl Madeleine’s first career goal in life (at age six) was to become a spy. She fell in love with Merlin, however, and espionage took a back seat. For better or worse, she is intrigued by ghosts and loves rain. She is currently at work on an expanded version of her short story, “Episodes in the Life of King Richard III,” as well as historical fiction set in the final months of King Harold II’s reign and another a couple of generations following Hastings. She writes poetry and enjoys reading Rumi, Keats, Tagore and Rosetti, amongst others, and insists that poetry is meant to be read aloud.

Added Note: This post has been updated to include an

escapee paragraph with links and note about reviews. Thank you!