Telling a story when words don’t get through

I believe in words. I believe in the importance of words. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I believe in the primacy of words. But words can never be exclusive media of truth, understanding and communication. Please note: they are the primary (i.e. supreme) means, not the only means. I’ve touched on this issue before. Words are still essential.

As I mentioned then, the great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov attacked the myth of the image by saying:

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15 questions to ask of popular history

Having come up with a couple of other similar lists for Lars Dahle’s online culture project (20 Questions for Novels & 12 Questions for Albums), here is the latest, on one of my personal passions: history writing. Popular history books are big business. Which means that lots of people must be reading them… Which means they are definitely worth approaching with considerably more care and attention than many give them…

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How churches argued when “men were men” & other mediaeval nuggets


Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England is a lot of a fun. It’s a very refreshing take the social history of a time and place, offered in the guise of a Michelin guide to the 14th Century. This is not to say that it is tr

ivialising or populist in the worst sense. Much though I and the children enjoy the zaniness of Horrible Histories, they are necessarily slight and far too oversimplified.

This book is, thankfully, by no means a horrible history – although it is clear that the history of the period could certainly be horrible. It is a scholarly but wittily written book that opens eyes and even stimulates all the senses to evoke what life was really like in an unimaginable age. As befits any time-traveller’s guide, it is all written in the present tense, and thus full of possibility (like any good DK or Lonely Planet guide). It is an irresistible invitation for readers to be fully immersed in an alien culture.

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In the service of his king:What Baldwin hadto do for King John

My parents have been doing what we in our family call ‘rootling’ – searching through family roots, trees and provenance. They’ve been doing some digging on their area in Norfolk and suddenly came across this utterly bizarre little mediaeval detail.

It is a scan from Blomefield’s Topographical History of Norfolk published c1739 – and I can only imagine what must of gone through the learned Mr Blomefield’s mind as he recorded the annual (Christmas, no less!!) duty of Baldwin le Pettour of Hemmingston. I just love the fact that he takes the trouble to include a quote from a contemporary Latin chronicle, just in case we doubted his word: per saltum, sufflatum, et pettum).

The mind boggles about what Baldwin must have initially done to deserve such an honour; or, for that matter, what particularly provoked King John (right) to demand such a duty. (more…)

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