Thursday, June 26, 2008

Nicholas Christopher's Bestiary

Following up on Justin's post yesterday, Nicholas Christopher wrote an amazing novel about one man's search for an ancient bestiary. Here's a bit from my review last year of The Bestiary:

There is a lot more in store for Lena and Xeno as they travel in and out of each other’s lives, but before that relationship can unfold Xeno has to discover the Caravan Bestiary and begin his long personal journey to recovering it. He is introduced to the book while at school, at the age of 15. His history teacher tells him about it after Xeno professes an interest in imaginary animals (this follows the interest generated by stories he was told by his grandmother). He learns that bestiaries are a category of books devoted to imaginary animals. In printed form, the subject dates back to the Middle Ages, and Christopher draws strongly from the known facts about such books, including real titles and histories, when detailing Xeno’s growing interest in the subject. The Caravan Bestiary is fiction, however. As his teacher explains it was, “an incendiary work, at one time known only to the powerful -- princes and churchmen -- who believed in its latent power, and to scholars who secretly passed it among themselves.” Its contents were, “the animals lost in the Great Flood.”

In other words, as Xeno exclaims, “The ones that didn’t make it onto Noah’s ark.”

According to an interview on his site, Christopher based the Caravan on existing bestiaries such as the one found at the Abbey of Revesby in Lincolnshire, which was compiled by 13th century monks. He also used the lives of true researchers over the centuries who have hunted bestiaries to imbue Xeno’s own hunt with an air of authenticity. This attention to detail, and the namedropping of recognizable historic figures like Lord Byron, add another layer to Xeno’s story, and make it far more believable than other literary mysteries.

Nicholas Christopher is one of my favorite writers; if you have an interest in bestiaries, then you should certainly check out Xeno's adventures.

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