Monday, 9 February 2015

Literary Field Trip - Top 10 places to visit as a book lover, Part 1.

Literary Field Trip to anywhere

I got the inspiration for this blog post/obvious definitive genius list of stuff, when I recalled a visit to Llandudno, in North Wales, a few years ago. We wandered from our hotel by the sea up to the Orme for an explore, and at first glance everything appeared normal - oldy worldy lampposts and benches, ice cream sellers, pretty miniature gardens, pristine sea view - all great. And then....why is there a, slightly too small, wooden table and chairs with immovable teapots on it in a wooded clearing? Why is is not marked or signposted? We walk on, but then....thrones, why are there two thrones (see picture) and a weather beaten Cheshire Cat? The Alice and Wonderland reference was obvious immediately, even if I had not read the book (I obviously had), we all suck up these cultural references somehow without even realising it. Genuinely there was no information written anywhere to explain the presence of these things, and all of them were placed oddly far apart in different clearings, and all drab and decrepit from the sea air. It was extremely weird, and we passed no other people as we walked.

Alice in Wonderland thrones - Llandudno

Apparently this crazy shit is actually not crazy (by our British seaside standards), and Alice Liddell actually holidayed in Llandudno as a girl so, that explains that then *cough cough*. I am also led to believe that there is now a real 'Alice' trail through the area, and new character sculptures throughout the town, which actually disappoints me - the oddness and surprise was nice, I felt special, like I had found a secret garden. I have included the newer sculpture of Alice (below) that the council saw fit to add to the landscape - imagine finding that by itself in a woodland!

Shit scary Alice in Wonderland sculpture

Anyway, my lovely story aside, I decided to make an awesome list of literary field trip destinations I would like to take. In the end it was impossible to choose between real life destinations and amazing magical worlds I wish I could see, so they are all smooshed together - as they should be.

1. Ankh -Morpork -
The madness of Ank-Morpork

The city in which the majority of the action takes place in all of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. Despite the place being a veritable cesspool of human filth, the place has heart. Maybe you wouldn't 'enjoy' the visit per se, but meeting some of these characters would be worth the risk. And anywhere looked after by The City Watch has my vote. Commander Sir Samuel Vimes is one of my favourite characters of all time.

2. Middle Earth -
Middle Earth map
New Zealand is beautiful, and no doubt has fantastic tours of The Lord of the Rings landscapes and the set of Hobbiton, however, Middle Earth it is not. Whilst the ideal field trip in this instance would be to see the real Mirkwood, drink in the real Prancing Pony, and finally get to see Tom Bombadil, it is the landscape of the West Midlands of England that would be the real snapshot. Although Tolkien wrote The Hobbit at Oxford University, he is a West Midlands boy through and through, and his hatred for the industrialisation of the countryside in the region, following World War Two, is a major theme of the books.

3. London -


 I am not a Londoner, so my view on the many, many books set in London may be a little less emotionally interesting than it could be. When I think of literary London I first think of Neverwhere  by Neil Gaiman. Yes, there are more classic London-set stories, but very few as interesting! To visit the myriad versions of London in your mind, read;

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding
Moll Flanders by Daniel Deronda
About a Boy/High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch
Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling

4. Peak District/Lake District -

Chatsworth Estaste - Derbyshire
The Peak District and the Lake District are in fact different places, but they look bloody similar when you are in them, and a quick drive through from Derbyshire, up through Bakewell, into Sheffield and beyond, is easy enough - ROAD TRIP!

Chatsworth Estate is a good place to start. Deborah Mitford (one of the notorious Mitford girls) was the lady of the House until her death recently, and the House was not only mentioned in the book Pride and Prejudice, but also stands in as Pemberley in the film remake. Indeed, the tour that Elizabeth Bennett takes of Derbyshire, with the Gardeners, is all worth a visit, if only for glorious posterity. Jane Eyre is also set in Hathersage nearby to complete the affair.

On my way up to the Lake District my priority would be Beatrix Potter and the world of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny - Hilltop was her home so I would start there. There is also Haworth in Yorkshire for the railway station and house from The Railway Children - 'Daddy, My Daddy' in the film is as good as any line in the book could be imagined. Jenny Agutter should keep her top on in films more often. And while we are in Yorkshire, visit Barnsley. Like the West Midlands, it not exactly the cherry on Britain's cake, but it doesn't get much better than Kes/A Kestrel for a Knave.

5. American Midwest - 

American Midwest - Always the bridesmaids
I am from the north of England in real life, and I see the American Midwest in rather a similar way as I see my own bit of the world. Like our 'Up North', the Midwest is the part of America that no-one, nationally or internationally, wants to visit (I mean look at that map - it aint the showy states) but with that comes something better. With the hardships of life, like we see in these, often harsh and empty, working class places, is character - real character and real stories, that I think you don't get anywhere else. They say its grim up north, and it is, but we wouldn't want to be from anywhere else, and it breeds heart and soul. There is a reason we (Stoke, Blackpool, Wigan etc.) took the leftover soul and funk from Detroit and Chicago and made it our own - we need it the most. There is nothing like a bit of real Northern Soul!

I digress! Some of the best book is the world are from the Midwest, and they have that specific grim/harsh/gorgeous/honest feel to them - read them:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Middlesex/Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum
St Agnes' Stand by Thomas Eidson
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison

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