Review: In the Land of Giants

One recent evening when the commotion at home grew overwhelming, I escaped for an hour to the Medford Public Library. It’s a modest collection, but on a rainy weeknight the place was well populated — there was a t-shirt upcycling activity going on in the young adult section, and I had to hunt around to find an unoccupied table quiet enough to work at. I was ostensibly there to figure out what I was going to do with the fairy book revision, and I jotted down a few thoughts. I also wandered through the stacks, remembering other libraries I have known.

In my aimless travels through the British history shelves, I happened across Max Adams’ In the Land of Giants: A Journey Through the Dark Ages. The subject dovetailed too neatly with the recent Arthurian research for me to overlook this bit of serendipity, and even though my “to read” pile is more fond aspiration than achievement these days, I optimistically checked it out.

I’m not done with yet, admitted, but I am greatly enjoying the read. It’s a quirky book, part history, mostly travelogue, and potentially very dangerous to the pocketbook, because if you don’t immediately want to book a plane and go hiking through the quiet back country of the islands, I consider your humanity suspect. Given that I am already prone to looking at hills and lakes and wondering what the people who lived here a thousand years ago thought about them, I am entranced by the prospect of having so many clear physical markers of ancient human presence dotting the landscape.

The only real negative is that my knowledge of early British history is spotty, and my grasp of the landscape on the kind of intimate scale showcased here is nonexistent; it’s easy to get a bit lost in the names. Expert readers will not suffer from that problem. Even then, however, there is an abundance of physical detail to immerse oneself in, to bring one’s mind to focus on the simple, immemorial experience of walking long distances. It can be difficult sometimes to connect with the minds of those who lived so long ago, but by literally putting himself in their footsteps, Adams gives our imaginations a map.

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