The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) has been the object of curiosity and ridicule ever since its discovery in Mauritius by Europeans around the end of the 16th century. Regretfully, it was brought to extinction in the late 17th century by island settlers, but lived on through establishing its own particular mythical status.
It was during September 1865 that the first dodo fossilised bones were discovered in the Mare aux Songes marsh, Mauritius. Not only was this important to the advancement of Victorian natural history, but the discoverer realised it would also be equally important in advancing his finances. The abundance of bird skeletons found was downplayed as it would help keep the market price inflated when sold to collectors and museum collections.
The poor dodo not only became an emblem of the carelessness that leads to the extinction of a living species, but also a powerful symbol fuelling our collective imaginations ever since. Perhaps, the most celebrated dodo in fiction comes from the pages of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, which was wonderfully illustrated by John Tenniel.
The dodo continues to be drawn upon in literary works up to the present day. It is one of many rare and strange creatures encountered in Veronica Cossanteli’s delightful children’s novel, The Extincts (Extincts webpage at The Chicken House). I created a black and white dodo colouring sheet for Veronica a while ago, but couldn’t resist colouring it up myself (as seen above).
Recommended further reading on the controversy of the discovery of dodo fossils in the 19th century:
J.P. Hume, A.S. Cheke and A. McOran-Campbell 2009. How Owen ‘stole’ the Dodo: Academic rivalry and disputed rights to a newly-discovered subfossil deposit in nineteenth century Mauritius. Historical Biology, vol. 21, Nos. 1–2, pp. 33–49. Pdf version
When midsomer comes, with bavens and bromes
they do bonefires make,
and swiftly, then, the nimble young men
runne leapinge over the same.
The women and maydens together do couple their handes,
With bagpipes sounde, they daunce a rounde …
—— extract from ‘The Mery Life of the Countriman’ (c. 1585–1603)
My illustration is in part inspired by this quote taken from a Late Elizabethan ballad that refers to some of the folk rites carried out on Midsomer, Midsummer Eve. Celebrations have been historically documented in Britain since at least the 13th century and take place on the 23rd of June, St John’s Eve.
During this liminal time, individuals could receive potents and access powers of divination. If one sat in a church porch on Midsummer Eve, it is possible to have visions of those buried during the year. A maiden who picked St John’s wort on Midsummer Eve and found it still fresh in the morning would be wed soon. Meanwhile, an unmarried girl could also make a special cake on this day and behold a vision of her future husband.
Sources and recommended further readings:
Ronald Hutton 1987 The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain (Oxford University Press, Oxford)
Nick Groom 2013 The Seasons: A Celebration of the English Year (Atlantic Books, London)
This is my working illustration (right) which captures the essence of the Paper Galleon paper mâché sculpture created by Jessica Palmer (left). Along the bottom of the hull swims the figure of a mermaid. The sculpture was purchased by the Friends of Southamption’s Museums, Archives and Galleries (FoSMAG) for the Southampton City Council art collection. It now hangs in an upper storey window of Tudor House located in the heart of old Southampton (Hampshire, UK). The illustration was commissioned by the Friends to commemorate their 40th Anniversary this year. My working illustration featured above is the prototype painted in brown tones. The final is cast in shades of blue.
Сагаан hapaap! Сагаалганаар!
The New Year for the Buryats starts with Sagaalgan (the “White Month”) festival, which corresponds to the Mongolian Tsagaan Sar (“the White Moon”), and is celebrated one month after the first new moon following winter solstice.
The Buryats are Mongols who live in the south-central region of Siberia along the eastern shore of Lake Baikal known as Buryatia. In Buryatia bonfires, Buddhist prayers and visits to friends and family are the traditional ways of celebrating Sagaalgan. Buuza (big meat dumplings) and ‘white foods’ are consumed during this time which include cheese, curds, bread, dumplings and milk.
My illustration depicts a Buryat woman in traditional costume based on photos from the late 19th to early 20th century. She stands by a Buryat horse – a hardy equine breed which can endure the harshest of winter conditions.
To mark the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland last year (2015), I wrote a steampunk short-story entitled ‘With My Every Breath’ that was inspired by some of its celebrated characters.
My tale is in fact a gaslight fantasy that is set in the city of Torontopolis during neo-Victorian times. It follows the trials and tribulations of a 16 year old girl by the name of Alice, who had just been resurrected from the dead by her father to carry out sinister deeds at his bequest. Alice becomes drawn into a web of espionage and intrigue involving a mad hatter, a ninja assassin and the mysterious Red Queen. But in order to thwart the machinations of the Red Queen, Alice must confront the horrifying truth about who she really is …
My drawing for this blogpost illustrates a scene where Alice attempts to break into the upper storey of the hatter’s headquarters by flying with the assistance of mechanical wings fashioned from jabberwocky bones.
My ripping yarn ‘With My Every Breath‘ has just been published in a new sci-fi/fantasy/horror anthology entitled Beyond Realities 2015 and is available from the publisher, Luna Press of Edinburgh (follow the link below)
Happy Winter Solstice!
As the aurora borealis has been lighting up the skies here in the UK, it is wonderful to find out they are associated with the northern fox in Finland. The northern lights in Finland are called revontulet, ‘Fox Fire’. One Finnish tale tells us that they are the result of a fox up north running through the snow. As it dashes along the fox sweeps it’s tail over the snow which creates sparks that leap into the sky forming the aurora.
The arctic fox also takes on the role of fox wife among the Inuit peoples of Canada and Greenland. Follow this link to a traditional Inuit story about the perils of marrying a fox wife:
Today is Tsagaan Sar – the White Moon – is first day of the Mongolian New Year. 2015 is the Year of the Blue Sheep in the Mongol lunar calendar. Domesicated sheep for Mongolians are seen as symbols of fortune and peace during this time. Above is the prototype for my Blue Sheep greeting card.
Шинэ жилийн мэнд хүргэе!
(Have a Healthy New Moon!, Mongolian)