Wild: Tales from Early Medieval Britain
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In Wild, Amy Jeffs journeys – on foot and through medieval texts – from landscapes of desolation to hope, offering the reader an insight into a world at once distant and profoundly close to home. The seven chapters, entitled Earth, Fen, Forest, Beast, Ocean, Catastrophe, Paradise, open with fiction and close with reflection. They blend reflections of travels through fen, forest and cave, with retelling of medieval texts that offer rich depictions of the natural world, from the Old English elegies, the Welsh Englynion, the Norse poetic Edda – stories that largely represent figures whose voices are not generally heard in the corpus of medieval literature: women, outcasts, animals.
Amy Jeffs’ book, Storyland, has captivated the hearts of readers across the nation. Steeped in magic and mystery and grounded in meticulous research in manuscripts and our ancient landscape, Amy’s mythical world is movingly articulated.
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I think when we forget the histories we once believed, we can’t appreciate the motivations that led to events and decisions that had a real material impact on the future. Just because we no longer believe in giants doesn’t mean we should dismiss them as whimsy.” With her musical creations as equally enchanting as her other work, there is no doubt that Amy is a multi-talented artist and author with plenty more to come. Ultimately, Amy’s retellings open up a remarkable world brimming with wonderous tales of giants, legends and magical myths; one that is hard to put down and ever-enthralling to explore. The seven chapters of the book each focus upon a theme: Earth, Ocean, Forest, Beast, Fen, Catastrophe, and Paradise. The chapters open with a reimagining of a poem or riddle from the Exeter Book, and end with the author’s reflections upon what was just written. While the writings are beautiful, they also add enough to the writing itself that I was tempted to reread and capture what I had missed the first time around.
Read on the train ride home. Wonderful introduction to the subject though inflected quite heavily with the authors voice- which at times I found misplaced. Must return to it in the future and listen to the songs in the audiobook. Whale things. Murmurations. A life-long lover of music, Amy turned to the medium in an attempt to help her complete the final stages of illustrating the book. Through song-writing, she hoped to find the emotion in each story so that her illustrations would become a motif, comprehensively depicting the overall plot line in one piece. “Coming to the end of illustrating Storyland I was feeling myself getting complacent in producing the images. When I started off, there was this adrenaline to it and it was fading as I got 45 illustrations in and having to do a lot of other things at the same time. And then one day I sat down at the piano and I thought, ‘well maybe I could think through some of the emotions in the scene that I’ve got to illustrate by coming up with songs about them’, so I wrote several songs – five of which we have put as an EP on Spotify – they’re called Songs for Albion.” Most interestingly to us in Bath, Amy retells the ancient story of Bladud of Bath – a legendary king of the Britons. Supposedly, he ruled for 20 years several hundred centuries BC, and is credited as the architect of Bath, channelling the hot springs by the use of magic and building temples dedicated to the goddess Minerva. Practising necromancy and communicating with the dead, he was a genius, a magician and respected by all
A desire to share the stories and get people excited about them was the beginning of it all. I was fascinated by how the illustrations in the Brut legend followed the narrative action but they were very concise illustrations and communicated so many elements of an episode so efficiently. I really enjoyed that challenge of persuading people through pictures that these were stories to pay attention to and to enjoy.” A linocut illustration by Amy Jeffs depicting the ancient story that saw Merlin, the wizard of Arthurian legend, create Stonehenge. From the chapter titled Stonehenge Jeffs’ writing shows the reader that the abstract notion of the Wild, ever present to the medieval mind, is still accessible in the modern day. While people may no longer view the ocean as the “restlessness” that the early medieval folk thought of it as, the wandering seafarer remains a familiar figure throughout literature to this day. Similarly, the contemporary climate crisis echoes the experience of Lindisfarne before the Vikings invaded. Most now see us as living on the precipice of Doomsday. Jeffs ventures to show the reader a way to live upon that cliff’s edge with grace and perhaps even joy, through the celebration of unity that the monks used to create some of the most beautiful art of all ages. Immersive . . . Her stories are arranged across seven chapters - Earth, Ocean, Forest, Beast, Fen, Catastrophe and Paradise. Jeffs, a medieval scholar with her own wild streak, introduces each in confident, forceful tones. She also sings six of her songs, accompanied by early musical instruments. Lucy Paterson, who has one of those warm, low,
It was as I was studying Britain’s medieval origin myth, the Brut, and completing my thesis for my phD that I came across so many things that made my heart leap,” Amy tells me. “They weren’t necessarily of deep academic interest but I felt that not enough people appreciated the hilarity and drama and beauty of these origin myths of Britain.”My only real disappointment is that there weren’t more tales to read, another beautifully researched and produced book.