Janet Hoult: Dragons – Their History and Symbolism

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Dragons are as alive and well as they used to be a thousand years ago. Popular culture is steaming with dragons in books, movies and games. There are terrifying dragons as well as kind dragons. Even dragons hiding themselves in human form.

Dragon

What is it that makes this legendary creature so intriguing to us? Janet Hoult’s small book on the history and symbolism of dragons is filled with examples on the ways dragons have been a part of the folklore and history of mankind since the earliest of times.

Author: Janet Hoult
Publisher: Gothic Image Publications 1987
Category: Non-fiction
Original language: English
Rating: 4/5

Dragons are known everywhere, but there are certain areas more prone to this imagery than others. In Europe the British Isles seem to be the main stronghold of the dragon-lore. There are numerous places, whose names reflect their history of dragon legends – either with the word dragon or worm included in the name. Most often this seems to come in the form of a “Worm Hill” in the place where a dragon was supposed to have been killed by a local hero, usually sometime in the Middle Ages or before.

I wonder if the word worm has come to signify dragon for the same reason as in Finland there are numerous nick-names for a bear – it was believed that saying aloud the word bear would bring the feared beast to the speaker, thus it was better to use some kind of euphemism.

Janet Hoult presents in her book the history and ceremonies related to dragons, their different shapes and types around the world, British dragon legends, which are plentiful, especially the ones related to St. George and St. Michael, the ones connected to King Arthur and the use of dragon symbol in alchemy and so on.

Hoult’s book contains several drawings of ancient art works depicting dragons. These are wonderful, but some of them even more intriguing than others. One of the pictures illustrates South-American elephant-headed rain god and a dragon. A South-American elephant? This had to be checked, and it turns out there has indeed been elephants in South-America.

However, the conservative science places them in much earlier times that obviously was true, based on the art works created by South-Americans. A bit more cross-boundary science would be beneficial for all, one might think. Art historians specialized in South-America could tell the paleontologists right away that their assumptions can’t be true.

Susan

Dragons: Their History and Symbolism:

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Stefan Casta & Emma Tinnert: Butterfly Book

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Butterflies. There’s something otherworldly in them. They’re beautiful and scary at the same time. Butterflies seem as light as the wind, which blows them around. But if you look them close up, they’re hairy little creatures with long legs, long feelers and absolutely huge eyes. Compared to its body, butterfly’s wings are XXL size.

Butterfly Book

Author: Stefan Casta & Emma Tinnert
Publisher: Mäkelä 2014, Finland (the Finnish edition)
Category: Non-fiction
Original language: Swedish
Rating: 5/5

Despite these thoughts, I find butterflies fascinating and amazingly beautiful. They have body colours that are hard to find in any other creature on earth. What’s more, their life cycle would be science fiction if it wasn’t real world: from eggs to caterpillars, to chrysalis, to an adult butterfly.

Stefan Casta & Emma Tinnert have created a book that presents the most interesting Scandinavian butterfly species. It also tells the basics of the butterfly physiology. Did you know that butterflies hear with their hairs and smell with their feelers? Their large wings are like solar panels. Before a butterfly can fly, it has to warm up. In sun butterfly’s body temperature can be even 15 degrees higher than the air temperature. This makes it easy for its flying muscles in the centre of the body to speed up to flight.

This summer my attention is drawn to one particular butterfly species: Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus). It was voted as the national butterfly of Finland earlier this year. There are three different subspecies of the Common Blue. Most of them are of a beautiful blue shade, but some individuals are brown. I’ve yet to see this butterfly in the nature. It is a somewhat small butterfly – wing span of 21-33 mm, so it takes a sharp eye to spot it in the meadows where it lives.

Susan

No butterflies? Grow them on your backyard!

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Christine Hatt: Clothes of the Medieval World

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Medieval times are often considered the dark ages of the western world. However, the people of that period were not as different from us as we’d often liked to think.

Clothes of the Medieval World

Author: Christine Hatt, illustrated by Danuta Mayer
Publisher: Belitha Press Limited 2001, UK
Category: Non-fiction
Original language: English
Rating: 4/5

It was the era when increasing trade, travel and new inventions made possible to have personal possessions in a way that had not been available to most people before. Clothes and accessories became a way to show status and differentiate between classes. Danuta Mayer has made excellent illustrations for Christine Hatt’s book in a true medieval style.

Clothes of the Medieval World presents the fashions of the time around the world with a timeline running on top of the pages. It walks the reader through the Byzantine Empire, the Franks and Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings into the Europe in different centuries, the Knights and the Islamic World, China, Japan, Africa, Incas and Aztecs. In addition, the book introduces the reader to medieval materials and accessories.

Christine Hatt’s book is an excellent introduction to the clothes and fashions of the medieval period. It is bound to inspire further reading and probably also trying a hand at recreating some of the clothes or accessories, like Viking shoes or an Inca necklace.

Some of the wears would take a bit more imagination to recreate in modern times. The Aztec emperor’s headdress with quetzal’s tail feathers is exquisite, but challenging to recreate. And I would imagine my pet chinchillas wouldn’t like to be sheared to produce an Inca cloak.

Susan

Clothes of the Medieval World:

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Anna Magee: 10 Minute Yoga

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I’d like to practice yoga every day, but somehow life gets in the way most days. 10 Minute Yoga brings relief to this problem. Anna Magee’s clear and well-illustrated book has suggestions for short term yoga practice for every day that is still effective.

Anna Magee: 10 Minute Yoga

Author: Anna Magee
Publisher: Readme.fi 2015, Finland (the Finnish edition)
Category: Non-fiction
Original language: English
Rating: 4/5

Helmet Reading Challenge 2017, number 29: A book’s main character can do something you’d like to learn.

Anna Magee shows a warm up series and yoga exercises to tone up different parts of the body or to relax a stressed body and mind. All the exercises are clearly explained and illustrated with excellent photographs. Magee provides the reader with a 28-day exercise program to go through all parts of the body.

I loved the Yoga Girl’s book, which was a very different kind of yoga book from this one. It was a lifestyle book, as this one is clearly instructional book. Both have their virtues, but Anna Magee’s book is definitely something I will be using for my daily yoga exercises from now on.

Besides the exercises it has separate sections for essential equipment, like yoga mat, blocks and belt and dietary tips, plus a profound explanation on the benefits of yoga to your body.

Susan

10 Minute Yoga:

Yoga mat:

Yoga block:

Yoga belt:

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Han Kang: Vegetarian

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What is normal? What is mental illness? These are the questions that spring into mind while reading Han Kang’s Vegetarian. It is a nightmarish, yet beautiful novel. And it is very much Korean. I have a tendency to fall for Korean novels, there’s been several good ones in my reading list lately: The Girl with the Seven Names by Hyenseo Lee, Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang. Vegetarian takes the lead by far.

Han Kang: Vegetarian

Author: Han Kang
Publisher: Gummerus 2017, Finland (the Finnish edition)
Category: Fiction
Original language: Korean
Rating: 5/5

Helmet Reading Challenge 2017, number 49: A new book of 2017.

Yeong-hye is a modest and quiet woman, living in a very traditional Korean marriage, which presents itself to a western reader as a kind of house-keeping & sex arrangement. Her husband Cheong is the epitome of a self-centred, cold abuser, but Yeong-hye couldn’t possibly expect anything more, because she has been used to being abused already in her childhood home by a violent father. To the outside she appears to have adapted to her life, but maybe not entirely.

One morning her husband wakes up to a whole new wife. Yeong-hye has discarded all meat products, ceased to serve him and become almost entirely mute. Only thing Cheong can get out of her is, that she’d had a dream. Yeong-hye has become a militant vegetarian, who refuses all meat, and almost all food anyway. As her body withers away, her spirit seems to travel beyond the real world too.

Her family doesn’t take the decision well, in fact they try to force her back to the old ways. But Yeong-hye is beyond their reach. She doesn’t want to live a human life – her mind is set to transform into a tree. When she tries to take her own life, her husband leaves her and her brother-in-law finds an opportunity to act out his own twisted fantasies. In the end the older sister In-hye is the only one in Yeong-hye’s life besides the medical personnel in an asylum. She has her own issues to work through about their shared childhood and her own life choices.

Han Kang’s languages is poetic even when describing horror. She doesn’t categorize, or name the issues under the surface and actions of her characters. She just describes their life, immerses the reader in the actions and feelings. And while she shows us the evolving mental illness of her main character, she also shows us the inhumane, even sick acts that the so-called normal people resort to.

Susan

The Vegetarian:

The Girl with Seven Names:

Please Look After Mom:

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly:

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