Tag Archives: Anthony Nanson

Words of Re-enchantment

Anthony Nanson’s ‘Words of re-enchantment’ is a collection of essays which its subtitle labels as storytelling, myth and ecological desire. I’d go a lot further than this, because it’s a relevant book for anyone wanting to live in creative and sustainable ways. And really, that should be all of us.

Anthony is himself a writer of short stories, a story teller, and he has a novel to his name (Deep Time, which I reviewed here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/deep-time-and-the-wilderness/) It makes sense then that his focus is the written and spoken word, and the power of these things to affect real change.

This is a deeply philosophical book, asking what it means to be human, to be alive in this time and place, what it means to face up to the challenges and responsibilities of our moment in history. Given the subject matter, it’s a surprisingly upbeat and encouraging book. What I especially like about it, is that it offers meaningful ways forward to anyone who reads it.

You don’t have to stand up in front of an audience to be a storyteller. You don’t have to write novels. Most of us, in our every day speech and social media interactions, are in the business of telling each other stories. We tell stories about how life is, and what’s possible, what’s good and what isn’t. We all have the power to be more conscious story tellers in this context, telling our way towards better ways of living and being.

If you are on the bard path, I heartily recommend picking up a copy, this is essential reading that will inspire you and help you find purpose and direction. It’s also a finely written piece, worth reading in its own right, not just as an opportunity for personal development. And if you think you can’t make a difference, read this book.

More about Words of Re-enchantment here – http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/words_of_re-enchantment.html

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Mountains, music and myths

Both of the books I’m reviewing this week I bought because they have relevance for my Pagan Pilgrimage project. I’m in an ongoing process of studying writing about landscape and the many different forms that takes. The CD in the set has turned out to be an excellent soundtrack for colouring Camelot

Gloucestershire Folk Tales – Anthony Nanson.

Many of the stories in this book are connected with landscapes I know intimately. Some of the tales were familiar, others not, including one about a hill that has left me with a significant mystery to ponder. For me, what made the book so valuable was the intertwining of known history, physical place, and story. At times there are reasons to think that the stories have grown out of those other features, perhaps to explain something. I particularly liked the way in which the Devil stories for the county were woven into one tale. I hadn’t realised just how much of the landscape was of the Devil’s making! Parallels with tales from elsewhere were also fascinating. It’s a lively read, and a must if you’re in the county.

You can buy direct from the publisher – thehistorypress.co.uk or find it anywhere you’d normally buy books.

Dirty Toes – Mad Magdalene

Both the band and the album names are reference to Tom O’ Bedlam, which is a favourite song of mine. This album is an exuberant mix of folk and Pagan music, and very danceable to. It sounds like live performance – there’s something raw and immediate about the production, which I prefer anyway. I’ve seen Mad Magdalene perform live a couple of times, and this is very much their gigging sound. The arrangements are innovative and freshen up some classic folk songs. You can always hear the words. The final track is a version of Lord Randall, unlike any other I’ve heard – (plot spoilers!) the replacing of a sweetheart with a stepmother suggests a far more complicated and unpleasant sort of back story. You can listen to them on bandcamp – https://madmagdalen.bandcamp.com/album/dirty-toes if you like them, do consider supporting them by buying a copy.

 

Mountains of the Mind, Robert Macfarlane,

This book explores the differences between mountains as people imagine them, and mountains as they turn out to be when you’re on one. It’s a difference that has a habit of killing people. Through talking about historic understandings of mountains, Macfarlane is able to open up the broader territory of landscape writing, ideas of masculinity, adventure and conquest. It’s a beautiful, fascinating read, weaving history with personal experience. You don’t have to be obsessed with mountains to enjoy it, either. Being the sort of person who likes to admire them from afar, reading about other people’s deaths, accidents and near-deaths on slippery, near-vertical surfaces has confirmed me in my prejudices! Easily sourced from all places that sell books.


Deep Time and the wilderness

Most of the wilderness fiction I’ve read is historical. Last of the Mohicans, Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe, assorted American transcendentalists, – books whose authors who had the advantage of writing about places and environments that were largely unknown, unpredictable and clearly dangerous. While people still go off on adventures, exploring less known places, mobile phones and GPS make that a very different game. The places untouched by humans are far scarcer than they were two hundred years ago. And yet we have this collective attraction to the unknown, the untouched. For the greater part, fiction has replaced the wilderness with fantasy worlds, and the science fiction bid to seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly split infinitives where no one has split them before.

Anthony Nanson’s “Deep Time” is a real stand out as a piece of modern wilderness writing. It is a speculative novel, but at the same time so rooted in observation and detail, that it is able to create a sense of adventure and mystery right on the edge of human experience. Where fantasy and science fiction can tend towards the escapist, Deep Time brings us back to ourselves, to the land, to the idea of wilderness as something precious that we ought to preserve. It also, by cunning means, encourages us to look at our own time and place with fresh eyes, seeing connections and possibilities we might otherwise have missed. It delivers all of this, and more, in a fast placed action adventure plot that does not let up for some 700 pages.

I’ve head genre fiction defined as ‘everything happens and no one thinks about it’ versus literature as ‘very little happens and everyone thinks about it a great deal.’ It frequently bothers me that modern publishing often defines ‘literary’ as something dull, worthy, tediously real and lacking in pace. Very little happens. Everyone thinks about it a lot. At the same time, more creative plots and unreal settings fall into the low brow pop culture bracket, and are not to be taken seriously. Shakespeare could write about faeries, Dickens could write about ghosts and be taken seriously, but they probably wouldn’t get away with it these days.

I know that it is possible to have books with pace, action, adventure and speculative elements that are also powerful literary pieces. The quality of writing, the kind of depth that can be woven into a plot, the way in which speculation can reflect the world back more meaningfully than representation can. The unfamiliar requires us to think, to test assumptions and the boundaries of our own reality, and you just can’t achieve that by giving people the wholly familiar. Anthony Nanson has entirely proved my point, creating an entirely modern novel, with great literary depth and the kind of narrative that would readily adapt into a summer blockbuster movie. We can have books that are exciting and profound. We can have meaning and enjoyment on the same pages. We can still have wilderness, it hasn’t all gone, and we can protect what remains and recognise what we’ve got.

Deep Time is not suitable for younger readers (I’d suggest 14 and up) and I heartily recommend it as a fantastic read.

More about Anthony here – http://www.anthonynanson.co.uk/

More about Deep Time here – http://www.anthonynanson.co.uk/Deep_Time.html


Druidry and Deep Time

9781907359590-Perfect.inddBy Anthony Nanson

When Nimue invited me to guest-blog on Druid Life about my novel Deep Time, I got cogitating about the points of connection between Druidry and this work of prehistoric fantasy – and also about the influence of my encounters with Druidry upon my values and imagination. The first point of connection that comes to mind is the core theme in Deep Time of the quest for connectedness between human beings and the rest of nature. This is the journey of transformation that my protagonist has to undergo.

The modern Druidic movement in Britain has taken inspiration from traditional cultures in other parts of the world which intimately engage with the life of plants and animals and the framework of seasons and natural elements. A complementary source of inspiration comes from trying to imagine the kind of life experienced in the British Isles in the days when the ancient Druids flourished and in the yet more remote periods preceding them. The further back in prehistory you look, the more intensely did human beings live in awareness of their interconnectedness with the ecology they belonged to. There are positive and negative angles to our imagining of human life in a primeval setting. On the one hand, there’s the delight of sensual immersion in nature, of the constant engagement of body and mind with the living world around one; the vision of earthly paradise or the noble savage. On the other hand, there is hardship, fear, pain, dirt, and an inescapable awareness of the precariousness of life and death.

In Deep Time I’ve played with this tension by presenting my prehistoric lost world as sometimes a terrifying test of survival and other times a fabulous ecotopia all but untouched by human intervention. My protagonist, a zoologist, at first relates to nature and its denizens as objects to be studied and understood. Only through the mediation of the woman with whom he travels does he learn to connect, body and soul, with what’s around him in a spirit of respectful mutual attention. His intimate journey of connection with this woman is one and the same as his journey of connection with the world.

Hand in glove with this theme comes a second, more subtle theme, that will again be familiar to Druids, concerning the limitations of scientific understanding: that our connection with nature is not merely ecological but also spiritual, that nature is sacred and all the toil of conservation and green politics will come to nothing without recognition of this. This theme opens up a metaphysical territory of how to square Darwin’s insights about the process of biological evolution with a sense of sacredness and spirit and the necessity of hope – a set of questions that Deep Time provocatively raises and which I continue to grapple with in the new project I’m working on.

Find out more about the book here.