The Girl with Glass Feet – Beasts of St Hauda’s Land

AliBestiaries, The Girl with Glass Feet

St Hauda’s Land is home to many beasts and birds, as well as to rare creatures found nowhere else in the world.  This little bestiary considers what some of them mean to the novel. Narwhals In the water huge, elegant bodies moved. A narwhal pod. Funny, she thought, how invisible such huge creatures could make themselves under only a little water. She remembered she had dived once between a mother humpback and her calf. In cyan equatorial oceans. – from The Girl with Glass Feet As any Inuit can tell you, the narwhal was once a wicked mother who hated her son because he was blind.  She drowned when her family were out hunting whales, and in the instant of her drowning was transformed forever into a narwhal. When I knew that St Hauda’s Land was most likely somewhere in the Arctic, I knew there would be narwhals swimming in the seas around it.  I drew them in the oceans of the maps I sketched, in the manner of sea monsters on medieval charts.  In the novel, Midas’ friend Denver draws pictures of narwhals swimming with the ghost of her mother, as if narwhals are a kind of angel keeping her company.  Their Inuit name, Qilalugaq Qernartaq, means The One Who Points To The Sky. Moth-Winged Cattle A herd of moth-winged cattle on the ground could stand still for hours with all the docility of common cattle in a field, but in the air they delighted in the power of flight, and there was something kaleidoscopic about their movement. You started to see patterns, and before long you’d be hypnotised, your thoughts fluttering in the air around you. You thought how you’d been sitting like this admiring the cattle since you were young (perhaps you had been doing it for too long now). – from The Girl with Glass Feet When I was eighteen I used to cycle through the countryside to get to my girlfriend’s house.  At the halfway point of the journey was a hamlet where a goliath of a bull presided over his paddock.  I used to stop and talk to him, expecting him at any moment to join in the conversation.  He was very stoic and very sedentary, old and red-eyed with lopsided horns crossing in front of his eyes.  I think he had been used for calving and so had escaped the slaughterhouse.  His stately nature and philosophical masticating made him my hero.  Then one day he was gone.  I like to think he had some kind of epiphany and barged out of his paddock to escape down the country lane.  Or perhaps he just ascended to heaven one drizzly Dorset morning.  I can’t bear to imagine him being slopped apart for glue with a bullet between his eyes, so instead I picture the swathes of his descendents, grown titanic and thoughtful in their own country fields. Before I started writing The Girl with Glass Feet, the cattle obsession that my bull friend had taught … Read More

AliThe Girl with Glass Feet – Beasts of St Hauda’s Land

Flying Foxes

AliBestiaries, Mr. Fox

Bad news today for the large flying fox, which has just been given an extinction warning.  Apparently it could be flapping its way to the land of Dodos and Tasmanian Wolves in as little as six years.  I think it’s easy for people in places like the UK to overlook the human and economic factors involved in the hunting of such animals, but it’s always depressing to think the world might be parting ways with a species as dramatic as this. The heads of these things look more like those of wolves or bears than the bats we get in this part of the world.  The (quite incredible) ARKive website has some pictures here, and although there are no videos of this species, it’s worth exploring their footage of similar flying foxes, such as this Black flying fox in flightABC Natural History Unit, Australia I’m a big fan of medieval bestiaries.  In future posts I’m hoping to link to a few (there are some incredible digitised manuscripts available to read online), and pick out some of the things medieval scholars penned about animals both real and fictional.  Also, Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings, which is something I love flicking through.  But these are digressions – for now here’s The Aberdeen Bestiary’s beautiful thoughts on the bat (from the birds section of the manuscript, naturally)… “The bat, a lowly animal, gets its name from vesper, the evening, when it emerges. It is a winged creature but also a four-footed one, and it has teeth, which you would not usually find in birds. It gives birth like a quadruped, not to eggs but to live young. It flies, but not on wings; it supports itself by making a rowing motion with its skin, and, suspended just as on wings, it darts around. There is one thing which these mean creatures do, however: they cling to each other and hang together from one place looking like a cluster of grapes, and if the last lets go, the whole group disintegrate; it is a kind of act of love, of a sort which is difficult to find among men.”

AliFlying Foxes