Friday 23 December 2016

Review: Desire Paths - ​Real Walks to Nonreal Places

Going for walks and exploring the folklore and history of the places I visit is one of my passions. But, more than that, I enjoy coming up with stories about those places too. I love imagining the ghosts that might haunt derelict buildings, the monsters that could lurk in city alleyways or the myths and legends that could lie beneath the hills, fields and forests of the countryside. They don't have to be real stories, they just have to be tales worth telling.

The act of doing that kind of walk into the imagination is sometimes called psychogeography and, more recently, given the name mythogeography. Mythogeography was the title of a book by Phil Smith, who is also the author of On Walking and The Footbook of Zombie Walking.

Phil recently emailed me to let me know about a new book called Desire Paths by Roy Bayfield. He said: "I think it is something special; perhaps the most in-depth seizing on and exploring of the possibilities of mythogeography so far."

Obviously, I had to read it and I was not disappointed. It resonated with me on two levels. First, I loved it because several of Roy's walks are in Sussex, an area I have spent much time exploring myself. Also, many of Roy's descriptions of his past got me saying: "Me too!" For a start, favourite fantasy books he mentioned reading as a teenager, specifically Illuminatus! and The Texts of Festival, were also favourites of mine.

Second, and probably most importantly, I liked that Desire Paths is a down-to-earth book about mythogeography and psychogeography - which is good, because quite a few of the early books of the genre were a tad overly pretentious and hard to follow (Iain Sinclair's otherwise brilliant Lud Heat, for a start). Desire paths is easy to read, and easy to take inspiration from. You can follow the walks he makes. He begins each one with a pertinent quote from Mythogeography and he gives clear notes about landscape feature that corresponds to his created legend. He also gives suggestions for further actual walks readers can make inspired by the theme.

The subtitle of Desire Paths is ​Real Walks to Nonreal Places. At the end of the book Roy explains this and offers a deconstruction of mythogeography, pointing out that the walks are both real and a totally made-up fantasy. We physically put one foot in front of the other, often for long distances, but the stories the walks inspire are unreal. Does this make mythogeography invalid then? No, as Roy says: "Actively participating in DIY myth-making develops insights that help unmake all myths: a form of liberation."

Desire Paths: ​Real Walks to Nonreal Places  is published by Triarchy Press and can be ordered via Amazon.

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