Sheer cliffs, salt spray, explosive sea spume, thunderous clouds, icy waves, whales with mountains on their backs, sleet, bitter winds, bleak, impenetrable marshes, howling wolves, forests, the unceasing cries of birds and the death grip of subterranean vaults that have never seen the sun: these are wild landscapes of a world almost familiar.
In Wild, Amy Jeffs journeys – on foot and through medieval texts – from landscapes of desolation to hope, offering the reader an insight into a world at once distant and profoundly close to home. The seven chapters, entitled Earth, Ocean, Forest, Beast, Fen, Catastrophe, Paradise, open with fiction and close with reflection. They blend reflections of travels through fen, forest and cave, with retelling of medieval texts that offer rich depictions of the natural world. From the Old English elegies to the englynion and immrama of the Celtic world – stories that largely represent figures whose voices are not generally heard in the corpus of medieval literature: women, outcasts, animals.
Illustrated with original wood engravings, evoking an atmospheric world of whales, wolves, caves, cuckoos and reeds, Wild: Tales From Early Medieval Britain will leave readers feeling 'westendream': delight in the wilderness.
Amy Jeffs is a Somerset-based art historian and printmaker with expertise in medieval art and literature. In 2020, she gained a PhD in Art History from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, having worked at the British Library, and studied for earlier degrees at the Courtauld Institute of Art and Cambridge. Storyland is her first book.
"Marries words and images to create a special echo of this country's rich past."
– The Times
"Jeffs is the narrator, providing a reading that is suffused with portent and otherworldliness. Listeners gain a series of folk songs, written and performed by Jeffs, each of which adds a thrilling new dimension to these ancient fables."
– Guardian (Audiobook of the Week)
"Across seven themed chapters the Storyland author presents an inspiring excavation of the British countryside through diverse medieval texts."
– Waterstones (The Best History Books of 2022)
"Jeffs teases out nuance, divining moral and metaphorical meaning from each story, and questions ways that this living history of Britain impacts upon our present-day understanding of landscape. The writing throughout is celebratory and evocative."
– Art Quarterly
"Jeffs has a gift for breathing new life into ancient stories through her lyrical writing, deep research and evocative woodcuts. She connects our mythic history to the landscape with delicacy and humour. Reading Wild feels like being led by the hand through a gnarled, old growth forest, along empty shoreflats, and along the edge of windswept cliffs – and shown how to experience them through medieval eyes. It's a jewel of a book."
– Natalie Lawrence, co-author of Planta Sapiens: Unmasking Plant Intelligence
"An extraordinarily multidimensional work, moving seamlessly from creative retellings of the stories to explanations of the texts and where they came from, underpinned all the time by sound academic understanding. Those reading the print version can marvel at the extraordinary black-and-white wood cuttings that break up the chapters, while those enjoying the audiobook version can listen to music inspired by the same tales."
– Countryfile Magazine (Best nature and wildlife books for 2023)