Wednesday, 18 June 2008
Wild Animals I Have Known
Paid $15 for this two years ago, from a secondhand bookshop in Burlington Vermont. Have been dipping into it ever since, and finally got though it the other night. I've done no research on Ernest Seton Thompson, so all I know are his claims on the title page here -
Most of the stories are American, but I was surprised to find one account (of Wully the dog) is based near Bakewell in Monsaldale, and how he was a fantastic sheepdog, obedient and loyal, but would sneak out at night and eat as many as he could.
This book startled me with it's brave and elegant layout - blocks of text surrounded by these huge open margins on seemingly hand-torn pages. Apart from the fact that his illustrations are very fine and well drawn, I enjoyed how, like all good wildlife documentary, he combines the sweet with the cruel and horrific realities -
In his introduction, Thompson explains his approach to nature writing as treating the animals as individuals with their own particular characteristics, whether Lobo the Wolf or Silverspot the Crow. He goes into real detail in some cases, even attempting to transcribe squawks -
When I opened the book, my first impression was that someone had drawn their own sketches in the margin, straight into my copy. It's like Thompson has gone through the text and annotated it, just as you'll find notes in the margins of an old A-level Shakespeare book -
Thompson seemingly has this great insight into the lives of animals - or at least creates the impression he has. I was particularly taken by the way he describes Redruff the partridge's yearly cycle with these tiny little poetic diagrams - (click the image to enlarge - they are well small) -
Hey, American readers - is he a well-known writer over there?
I'll be looking out for his other stuff, if there is any, and highly recommend this book (if you can locate a copy) for kids and grown-ups.