Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Christmas reads

If anyone's looking for a late present for someone who loves beautiful books, I can thoroughly recommend The Sleeper and the Spindle, written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell, and published by Bloomsbury. It's a re-imagining of The Sleeping Beauty, though bits of other fairy tales creep in as well - but as you might expect with Neil Gaiman, there are more twists and turns than you'll find in the intertwining stems of a climbing rose.

The story, which of course I'm not going to tell you, is mesmeric and beautifully told. But as well as this, the book is a very gorgeous object. Through the translucent cover, decorated with gold and black roses, you glimpse a sleeping girl, drawn onto the hardback itself. The illustrations, black and white with touches of gold, are absolutely luscious: detailed, dramatic and stylish. Even the page numbers are decorated with tiny drawings.

It's an absolute treat.

This is a newly published book. But my favourite Christmas read first appeared in 1973. The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper, is the second book of a sequence of five: this is also the name of the sequence as a whole. The first one, Over Sea, Under Stone, was written as a standalone in 1965. It does not have the same power as the subsequent books, but without it, they would not have been written - which would have been dreadful! They all draw on Susan Cooper's deep attachment to certain parts of the Britain she had known before moving to America: Cornwall, the Chilterns, Windsor, Wales. She invests these places with mythic significance, and the children who are her heroes move between the landscape of legend and that of everyday life, fighting the forces of the Dark. The Dark Is Rising takes place at Christmas time; there are unforgettable scenes of high tension - one where an unnaturally heavy snowfall is the first backdrop for an attack from the Dark, heralded by swooping rooks, another where carol singers provide the accompaniment for a heart-wrenching betrayal. I probably re-read the sequence every other Christmas - and there aren't many books I re-read at all. If you haven't read it, and you're prepared to accept that children's books are not just for children, you have a treat in store; or you could buy it for a child of your acquaintance. (And then borrow it!)

I probably won't post now till after the Christmas jollities. So I'll leave you with some pictures from the hill - no snow, no frost, but a very beautiful winter afternoon light.

Thank you for visiting, and have a very lovely Christmas!

That's Cheddar Gorge in the distance.


  1. The Neil Gaiman's on the list! And are those views from your house??? What a beautiful place to live!

  2. The top one and the bottom one were taken in the garden, and the middle one was from the lane that goes past the house. You're right - it is a a lovely place to live!

  3. I love Neil Gaiman! Thanks for the recommendations.