The book of 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up has pictures. Some of them are illustrations from the picture books it praises in the first 100 pages, some of them are of the books that have been translated from French or German or Dutch and so on into English in their original language and illustrations, and some of them are the original covers of books, or an early edition. Some of these covers span a whole page. Grimpow, by Rafael Abalos, is one such book. You know how when you are flipping through a book you somehow seem to keep flipping to the same page? The page with the picture of Grimpow’s cover was one such page. I was intrigued by it – the cover was quite striking, but didn’t really tell me much about what was inside the book. I have tried not to read the blurbs supplied by 1001 Children’s Books, as they can contain important plot points that ruin the stories’ most surprising moments, so I didn’t know anything about it when I picked it off the shelf at the library and decided to borrow it, other than the cover was intriguing. I did, however, assume it was a fantasy. It looked like a fantasy.
When I started reading it, I was surprised to realise that it was, in fact, a historical fiction. Set in 1313 in the mountainous France, it has a sort foreword explain the historical period its characters’ live in. It was obvious when I started reading the book that history is very important to the author – the pages are littered with facts and tidbits about life at that time (in a good way, not in a lecturing way. I really like author’s style. A lecturer once told me that when one writes, or films, something historical, one can fall into the trap of making everything very dirty – people seem to think that dirtiness was a way to portray historical realness. She used the Kiera Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice as an example. Or you can make everything too proper and formal – like your characters are living in a museum Grimpow has just the perfect level of dirt and formality – like a dusty museum).
I was right after all, I realised, after I read a few chapters – this book was a fantasy. It contained magic. But the right sort of magic for 1313. This was no sword and socery medieval fantasy – Rafael Abalos takes the myths and mystery surrounding the Knights Templar and uses them to dot his story with magic.
There are certain periods of history that seem to take on magical properties in books more than others. King Arthur’s Britain seems to be one of them. Dickensian London seems to be another. The industrial revolution has inspired a whole sub-genre of fantasy, steampunk. The Knights Templar, as well, seems to magically inspire authors as well. Why is it that some periods of history are more magic than others? What is it about King Arthur, or the Knights Templar, that ask for authors to sweep a brush of magic through their stories? The legend of Robin Hood doesn’t seem to inspire authors to transform Sherwood Forest into an enchanted wood. Some stories, I suppose, are so fantastical already, that it is easy to slip in a dash of magic. They are practically magic already.
I’m only about half way through Grimpow, but am really enjoying the subtlety of its magic. It is a quiet sort of magic, one that makes you wonder if it really happened. Rather like magic in real life. You can never quite know whether magic is around you or not.