Saturday, September 15, 2007
Years ago John Gray recommended The Peregrine by J.A.Baker, 'probably the only example,' he said, 'of shamanism in English literature.' Finally, I am reading it. It is astounding. There is only one human character - Baker -and he spends the entire book following a pair of peregrines across a vast area of Essex farmland and coastline. This gives you the gist. What becomes clear is that Baker despises humans and loves these birds. Indeed, he wants to become a peregrine to the point where he sees himself and the birds as 'we' and humans as 'they' - 'We shun men. We hate their suddenly uplifted arms, the insanity of their flailing gestures, their erratic scissoring gait, their aimless stumbling ways, the tombstone whiteness of their faces.' Humans, he thinks, are too comfortable - 'Man might be more tolerable, less fractious and smug, if he had more to fear.' Baker was born in 1926, The Peregrine came out in 1968 and The Hill of Summer the following year. He is thought to have been a librarian, but the date of his death is unknown. This is said to be a mystery, but now I know it isn't. One night he became a tiercel peregrine and simply flew away.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:24 am