It’s 24 hours of all things chelonian on May 23rd and, being a giant land tortoise, I am uber excited. So excited in fact, that I talked Helen into letting me run a competition to give away not only a signed copy of her book, Thirty Seconds Before Midnight which features me, Herbert, but also a $50 Amazon gift card. How gigantic is that? She did ask that I ask you to help support her favourite charity too – the Galapagos Conservation Trust. Here it is: a Rafflecopter giveaway
1. I wonder how many tortoises over the course of time have been called Timothy? It’s probably up there with Speedy for unoriginal names. Thank goodness for Stella who gave me the much more original name of Herbert. Anyway, this particular Timothy was the companion of the pioneering English naturalist Gilbert White (inherited from his aunt) and was mentioned frequently in the letters Gilbert wrote and later published as the History of Selborne. Verlyn Klinkenborg later rewrote the story of Timothy from his point of view in Notes from an Abject Reptile, a book I probably should have mentioned when I wrote this blog about books with animal narrators. I wouldn’t want readers to think that tortoises are mainly abject; I consider myself to be rather joyous, despite it all.
2. It was a sad day back in June when Lonesome George toppled off his mortal coil. Over a hundred years old, he was the last known individual of his Galapagos-island subspecies, despite the search for a mate for him – a $10,000 reward was even offered to anyone who could procure a suitable partner. I will admit to shedding a tear. He will be embalmed though so future generations can see him. He is a potent and important symbol of conservation. His species’ downfall was the result of the introduction of ravenous goats to Pinta Island where he and his family had evolved and lived. And it wasn’t the goats who were to blame.
3. We don’t know this tortoise’s name, but Oscar Wilde was a fan of a chap called JK Huysmans, a novelist and aestheticist – that is, mainly concerned with beauty. Wilde loved his novel À Rebours (Against the Grain) featuring a chap called Montesquiou who some speculate was inspiration for Dorian Gray. Montesquiou waged a crusade on behalf of beauty yet was known for personal acts of extraordinary viciousness. He had an emerald-encrusted tortoise, which in À Rebours dies as a result of its heavy burden of brilliant baubles. No tortoises have been harmed in the writing of this post.
4. Back to the Galapagos for the moment, the location where the pieces of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution fell into place and where he met Harriet. Darwin took Harriet home to England on the Beagle and then later she went to Australia where she died at the grand old age of 175. Sounds impressive? Adwaita, a Seychellois tortoise was estimated to live for 255 years! I remember when Stella told me about Tu’i Malila, a Malagasy radiated tortoise gifted to the Tongans by Captain Cook and I thought that sounded like an awfully long time.
5. This is Bowser. He’s a cartoon villain from Nintendo’s Mario video games franchise. He’s Mario’s archenemy and wants to marry Princess Peach and rule the Mushroom Kingdom. This all sounds eminently reasonable to me. His original inspiration was an ox, but he came out looking more like a tortoise. He lives in a castle and this is the kind of thing people say about him:
He’s focused, he’s dedicated, and worst of all, he’s patient.
I’d like to be a celebrity tortoise. I came close once when I was on the stage at Brixton Academy. I have had a book written about me. Well, it’s sort of about me. I tell the story anyway. Really it’s about Ollie and Stella. You can read it now – it’s available from Amazon just here.
1) Bird Brain by Guy Kennaway
I found this book immensely funny. Banger is almost as daft as my dear Digby and whilst poacher turned gamekeeper might be one of the oldest plots in fiction, Kennaway gives it a good dust down in this modern yarn that’s also a murder mystery with a vast cast of hilarious animal characters. One of my top reads of 2012.
2) Flush by Virginia Woolf
Woolfy I always have thought took herself far too seriously and apparently was embarrassed by the immense popularity of this, her biography of Elizabeth Barratt Browning’s eponymous spaniel. Some say it’s a criticism of the unnaturalness of city life, but I wouldn’t know about that being a country boy, but anyway, it’s a book about a dog.
3) Timbuktu by Paul Auster
Ahh, Mr Auster, one of the Great American Writers, white, middle-class, middle-aged (well, getting on a bit now), this is definitely not one of his ardent fans’ favorites though it should be noted they are particularly susceptible to literary snobbery. I rather enjoyed this witty, sad saga from Mr Bones.
4) The Last Family in England by Matt Haig
“This country’s going to the dogs!” – sounds like Bob after one too ales many down The Ship of an evening but this was another dark and quirky tale of family life from Haig. Although I have to disagree with Prince’s pact: “Remain Loyal to Your Human Masters, Serve and Protect Your Family at Any Cost”. Every tortoise for himself I say.
5) Felidae by Akif Pirrinci
And just before you think it’s all about the canine, here’s a feline! Another anthromorphological murder mystery, this remarkable literary thriller from a German (Turkish born) writer was a best-seller back in its day – and so it should have been with Francis’ unquenchable thirst for knowledge and refusal to accept the banality of death. A cat after my reptilian heart.
6) Firmin by Sam Savage
Where there’s cats there’ll be rats! In this metropolitan adventure of a low-life our hungry protagonist is forced to eat books to survive (I’d go for a nice clump of grass any day) and discovers along with the paltry nourishment he has gained knowledge! Thank goodness for my encyclopaedic shell is all I can say.
7) White Fang by Jack London
This 1906 classic is free on kindle! (Click the cover to the left). This novel set in Canada’s about a wolf that becomes a dog – domesticated fool. It’s a companion novel and a thematic mirror (whatever that means) to London’s best known novel ‘The Call of the Wild’. Some good commentary on the violence of humans though; I liked it for that.
8) The London Pigeon Wars by Patrick Neate
Another funny murder story! We are most amusing us animals, you know. Set in London not by London this one features performance poetry, Trafalgar Square’s only fried-chicken induced battle, hat selling, bank robbery for the middle classes, love (and other social ailments); as well as pigeons – lots of crazed, angry thinking pigeons.
9) The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa
Set in contemporary Angola (I haven’t been there, but I’d like to) the charming, witty narrator is a reptile – just like me! Living in his house is a chap called Felix who sells pasts because, as I have often noted, not many humans like theirs and are wishing they could change them. Like the mentalist Dave Palmer who took over Bestwood and tried to dry himself out and exorcise all his demons. Hah! Fat chance of that.
10) Thirty Seconds Before Midnight by Helen J Beal
Which brings me nicely onto my personal favorite also featuring a charming and witty reptile narrator – ME! My name is Herbert and I am a giant land tortoise with a heritage in the Ecuadorian Galapagos archipelago. I tell you mine and Stella’s story in this book, which I was surprised to find myself, bears a great deal of resemblance to the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice. Thirty Seconds Before Midnight was published on December 1st 2012.