Friday 24 February 2023

Review: Wanderland: Search for Magic in the Landscape

The book I've just finished reading is Wanderland - A Search for Magic in the Landscape. I loved it. It's a tale of one woman's quest to find places in England that seem, well, magical is the best term. It's a quest I've embarked on myself and many of the sites she visits are ones I also love including Cornwall, Sussex and Glastonbury. But, like me, author Jini Reddy lives in London. 

The city is the start and end point of her journeys as well as being a place full of woods, parks and an underground labyrinth that inspires her first pilgrimage. That London labyrinth is at Warren Street and is in a series of artworks by Mark Wallinger in tube stations. The name for the entire series is Labyrinth. I've seen examples myself, which have also filled me with a longing to explore others on foot. While I was led to Julian's Bower, Jini travels to one by the edge of the sea near Looe in Cornwall. I looked it up, and now want to go there too.

However, there's a difference between us. Jini was born in London to Indian parents from South Africa, grew up in Quebec, and has travelled the world. I'm a middle-aged white woman who was born in London and have lived here most of my life. I grew up learning the myths and legends of England. Jini was raised in a home where statues of Hindu deities were on display. When I travel to sites of spiritual tourism in England, I'm pretty much invisible among all the other middle-aged white women and familiar with the cultural references used there. Jini has to brace herself to face racist glances and the awkwardness of needing to ask questions, such as: what actually is the nave of a church? (It's the central bit, by the way.)

That cultural difference means Jini doesn't identify her quest as a search for the mythic landscape - the mythological tales of Arthur, Brigid, or the Green Man don't resonate with her. It's the landscape itself that calls. She writes that the word "magical" is more inclusive than the word "mythic". I can absolutely see that, and probably feel the same way. When I'm in a place that seems numinous - which can be sites in London as well as in the country - it resonates as a personal feeling inside me more than as a connection with ancient gods or figures from legend. I love the old stories these places have inspired, but I'm probably more happy to make my own stories inspired by my experiences there - a psychogeography of landscape more than devotion to the religions of my ancestors.

Reading Wanderland has inspired me to go on more of my own quests to find magic in the landscape. Although I've visited several of the places mentioned, the book taught me about some I'd never heard of before - including a secret spring near Hastings. And there are chapters on places I've always wanted to see, such as Lindisfarne. I really ought to get out my diary and set some dates for my own pilgrimages. I'll take my copy of Wanderland with me, and reread the pertinent chapters when I'm there.

You can view Wanderland - A Search for Magic in the Landscape  on Amazon . It is published by Bloomsbury. It came out in 2020. (Note: I earn commission from advertisers for some links. This helps support my blog at no extra cost to those who read my posts.)

Pictures: Book cover; Chalice Well in Glastonbury

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