“Expect nothing and fear nothing, here or anywhere. There’s your first lesson.”
According to the internet, which as we know can always be relied upon for truth and accuracy, in Iceland people look forward to the Yule Book Flood just as much as the coming of Father Christmas.
Jólabókaflóð has been a tradition there since the Second World War. Family and friends exchange books at Christmas, which must be opened and read straight away. This seems a far better way of spending Christmas than bickering over who gets to be in charge of the remote control, or sitting in separate rooms bingeing on box sets.
I can’t remember a time when I hadn’t read it. I re-read it in 2016 when I was reading books where the plot is inseperable from the location, for a feature I was writing. The novel is set rather firmly in 1970s Buckinghamshire, at a time when villages still have post offices and London still has docks.
Both of my copies are currently in storage in Scotland. So now I have a lovely new edition, and am slightly disturbed to find that it is now a Vintage Classic.
There are no rules to the read-along – just to enjoy the book, and share thoughts. I’m reading it in real time, to match the action to the days between the Winter Solstice and Twelfth Night, so we’re currently in the pause between Christmas and New Year. The snow is falling, and the Stantons are cooped up in their rambling rural home.
It’s a story about lots of things, which I won’t go into in detail because you might want to read it for yourself – and you should.
When I read it as a child it was about British folklore, Herne the Hunter and the king who sleeps under the hill. I grew up near Alderley Edge and we don’t doubt that he is there, ready to ride out when Britain faces its greatest peril. And it was about being the youngest in a family and how that makes you separate from the rest of them.
This year I’m reading it and it’s a story about the power of the landscape, the old roads and those who travel them. John Smith says to Will Stanton:
“They can do me no harm. I come of the wrong breed for that. And in this time I belong to the road, as my craft belongs to all who use the road.”
Which means, of course, that it’s really a story about bikers. Those of us who like to trundle around the byways of Britain, at least. And the rector’s motorcycle plays a small but important role on Christmas Day.
From Susan Cooper the road winds through Alan Garner, Joan Aiken, T H White, Robin of Sherwood and J R R Tolkein to Terry Pratchett. Next Christmas I might start at the beginning of the Discworld and come back to reality some time in mid-January.