18 September 2023

Review: The Book of the Raven by Caroline Roberts and Angus Hyland

The Book of the Raven by Caroline Roberts and Angus Hyland book cover

The Book of the Raven - Corvids in Art & Legend
by Caroline Roberts and Angus Hyland is a beautiful collection of artwork, poetry and short chapters about corvids and ravens in art and legend.

Beginning with an introduction and first chapter written by Chris Skaife, Ravenmaster, HM Tower of London was a master stroke. You might remember I thoroughly enjoyed his memoir The Ravenmaster - My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London.

If you're not terribly knowledgeable about birds, corvids include crows, ravens, rooks and magpies; although technically not Australian magpies, due to a lack of nasal bristles.
"When ravens get together it's an unkindness, but get a bunch of crows together and it's murder..." Page 109
I enjoyed learning more about corvids and their appearance in art and literature across time, with some memorable mentions including: Charles Dickens and his beloved raven Grip; The Lord of the Rings; Edgar Allan Poe and his famous poem The Raven; Alfred Hitchcock; the curse of The Crow movie; of course the Brothers Grimm; and A Game of Thrones.
"It may come as a surprise, especially given the often fairly dark myths that surround them, that ravens are very playful creatures, having fun with their fellow birds or sometimes just amusing themselves." Page 79
I mean, who hasn't seen the footage of a raven sliding down a rooftop on a piece of plastic over and over?

While enjoying the gothic graphics and moody artworks included, I was frustrated many times trying to locate the applicable captions, concluding that many of the pages lack adequate credits. This is a real shame for those artists lucky enough to have their artworks included in this collection.
"Ravens have a long association with both war and death - they are carrion birds, often picking over the remains after battles had taken place. The Vikings considered a croaking raven outside a house to be a warning of the imminent death of its occupant." Page 98
The author goes on to explain that Viking raiders used ravens to help find land, inspiring the raven banner flown by Viking warlords. These banners remained in use long after the Vikings had departed and can be seen in two panels of the Bayeux Tapestry. Fascinating!

My reading highlight enjoying The Book of the Raven was without a doubt reading The Raven poem by Edgar Allan Poe aloud at home for my husband. Having only read it to myself in the past, I have renewed respect and appreciation for the rhythm of the language and complexity of the lines, in the same way I enjoy the lyrics of The Phantom of the Opera.

Presented in an A5 sized softcover, I dearly wish Caroline Roberts and Angus Hyland were given more scope to expand this collection and delve deeper into the historical significance in the way author Michel Pastoureau was able to in Black - The History of a Color.

Conceived and designed by Angus Hyland and written by Caroline Roberts, The Book of the Raven - Corvids in Art & Legend was an enjoyable read and also the first book I've read from my 8 Books on my TBR with Birds on the Cover post, earlier this year.

If you'd like a sneak peak at the artwork inside, you can do so via the author's design studio website Pentagram. Enjoy!

My Rating:

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