There were squeals of delight from my sister, Bláthnaid as I came in from school today. “We are Lost Word protectors and we didn’t even know it!” Nature is such a huge and important part of our lives that sometimes we forget that we live in a comfy bubble of knowledge, curiosity and the gifts given to us by our parents. We are not special, rich or entitled – we are lucky. My parents, from working class backgrounds were the first generation of knowledge seekers, thrown forward by an intense love of words, nature and conscience. Therefore, I have been blessed by luck and a mum who is addicted to books. They are only rated below food in terms of consumables…because, well, it’s just as necessary nourishment.
Today, on our table lay a book that I already felt I knew. In conversation with both Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris on Twitter, this has been a much anticipated tome in our house and hearts. A book for children and adults. A work to reconnect with wild words and heal the hurts of the past. ‘The Lost Words’, in all its wonder, had finally arrived! I curled up on the sofa and after a heart stopping moment when reading the introduction (think massive lump in throat), I got lost in the woods, in the river, up trees, over rocks…on telephone wires. My imagination and inner wanderings were almost exhausted. I think in hindsight it is a book to be read deeply, with time.
‘The Lost Words’, is an acrostic love potion spellbook. The incantations, coupled with Morris’ immersive watercolours are wondrous. MacFarlane deftly and delicately punches a powerful invocation, a conjuring, a remembering (but not yet an epitaph) of words lost from the mouths of children and more so, adults to children. It is a bitter pill to swallow, to realise that there is this degradation of a wild lexicon. Conker, dandelion, starling, fern…almost a cloud of spoken spores, smoke and feathers.
The first spell is an ode to an acorn. The word is missing from my dictionary but impossible to forget, for my name means oak – and every time I see an acorn; I feel it as one might a beating heart. If anything represents my wild heart, it is that. If any acorn spell beguiled me before, it has since been overshadowed.
I was greatly touched and hypnotised by this wonderful and powerful grimoire (thank you mum), it is an expertly led wild walk of the imagination; with all things mentioned ready and waiting for you in the real world (well, be prepared for Otter disappointment). I have never actually liked acrostic poems, they always seemed to stunt creativity for me, but Robert is a wizard and Jackie is a sorceress; her illustrations joyfully deepen the feeling of the words and make it so much more ‘child’ friendly. My sister has cried, my brother has been awed (rare) and my mum, well, I won’t embarrass her.
It’s a breathtaking work of revolution. The reclamation of all things wordly wild is beckoning and I hope to be part of the chorus too.
Please buy the book from your local bookshop, ask your library to stock it, make teachers aware. Read it aloud, speak the spells, make potions with your children, let them speak wild words to you. Be part of the story – the ending of which will be wild words tripping off tongues like laughter and joy. Please also seek out the work of Action For Conservation, an organisation which will benefit from a proportion of the royalties from The Lost Words. This brilliant charity works with disadvantaged and excluded children, giving them access to the natural world, ideas and enriching experiences.
I know I’ve been a little obtuse about what the book actually ‘is’, but that was on purpose ????
The Lost Words is published by Hamish and Hamilton an imprint of Penguin Books.
(Conkers by Bláthnaid)
Thanks for reading