I have begun school visits and giving presentations at bookshops. I enjoy meeting readers and hearing their views. I am sometimes surprised by what attracts the attention of young people. In The Gutter Bookshop, Dublin, my audience were completely fascinated by the jobs I’d done in fish factories when I was a teenager. One girl wanted to know how much I was paid for writing a book. When her friends made it clear they thought that was an impolite question she became indignant. ‘I just want to make sure the man’s making a living,’ she said.
In the Gutter Bookshop, Dublin.
A Bestiary. c. 1255 - 1265. Harley MS 3244, f.39v.
During my presentation I talk about the history of monsters. I often show the young people this image. It is from a 13th century English manuscript called a Bestiary. It shows a dragon threatening an elephant. It is an interesting image because the person who drew it would never have seen either creature. It is hard to know which of the two beasts would have seemed more freakish.
Bestiary’s were a popular in those times. They were a kind of dictionary of nature. The fantastical monsters seemed more credible by being placed along side commonplace creatures, sheep for example. According to the book Monsters & Grotesques in Medieval Manuscripts, by Alixe Bovey, Bestiaries can be seen as a foretaste of what grew, over creatures, into natural history. However Bestiaries seek moral drama in the creatures of the world and even an insight into the mind of God. In the story illustrated by the above image the elephant represents good and the dragon represents evil.
But is it a dragon? During my presentations several young people have told me that the creature is in fact a wyvern. ‘You can tell because it’s got two legs,’ I was assuredly told. The students of Wesley College were especially expert. It seemed the whole crowd, and there were over an hundred and fifty present, knew what a wyvern was and how to distinguish it from a dragon. It turns out that the Wesley has a wyvern of its own. It is on the school crest.
A section of the Wesley College crest. The wyvern's legs are to the front but the creature uses its tail to support its hindquarters.
In Wesley, I stuck this photo together from three different images.
Thank you to everyone who came along and made my shows possible. I hope you enjoyed the monsters.