Friday, 26 December 2014

Mythical Books Guest Post - The British Museum

GUEST POST

British Museum and Fantasy

As the heroine of my novel, Sage Woods observes, history is often more fantastical than fiction – or fantasy for that matter. Perhaps it’s because history feeds our curiosity and wonder – that we can discover much about the human condition whereby, to know ourselves, we need to understand our past, and at the end of our journey, we learn that all human stories are about love and mortality. Perhaps this is why so many Hollywood movies are based on the mystery and mysticism of ancient artefacts and talismans, such as the popular series of Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, The Mummy, the Night at the Museum (a new film instalment has just been released) and, of course, The Lord of the Rings (based on the bestselling novels). Some of these films have even featured landmark museums or archaeologists and historians adventuring all over the globe – which is probably why I love them so much (plus the fact that they often have mythical creatures such as dragons and elves).

My own novel begins with Sage at the British Museum as she discovers her extraordinary link to an ancient artefact that leads to the only undiscovered Wonder of the Ancient World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and to the origins of humankind. And whilst this particular artefact is based purely on fantasy, much of the novel shows the strong link between our mythology and history. So let me take you on a journey of the British Museum that will spark your imagination…


Filled with ancient artefacts, relics and mummies, the British Museum is a popular tourist destination, but it is here that Sage experiences her first paranormal incident. It’s no wonder too … the museum is a mysterious, spooky place where history, myth and legend reside within its walls. The lives of others make for interesting stories and, if you’re interested in history like I am, you can travel through time as you gaze upon the Rosetta Stone and statues of the Pharaohs, the Elgin Marbles taken from the Parthenon, and the Viking ship found buried at the Sutton Hoo…

But if you follow Sage’s journey in the novel, the exhibits described in the museum can actually be viewed, such as the ‘cosmic map’ from ancient Mesopotamia.


This ‘cosmic map’ explains the Babylonian view of the mythological world and is part of the mystery that surrounds Sage’s quest. In fact, this tablet isn’t much to look at – you might miss it if you’re in a rush as it is not much more than ten centimetres tall. But it does contain an interesting cuneiform inscription and a unique map of the Mesopotamian world and the places shown on the map are in approximately the correct positions. Despite giving relatively accurate positioning, it isn’t meant to be geographically accurate, merely a representation of cosmic geography, a representation of a mythical world.

So what key does it hold to Sage’s future? If you’re interested in horoscopes, the Zodiac and astronomy, take a look at some of the exhibits at the British Museum, especially in the areas featuring artefacts from ancient Mesopotamia…

It is here that Sage first meets the young, enigmatic and alluring archaeologist (move over Indiana Jones), St. John Rivers. It is a meeting that will have surprising ramifications for Sage and, in turn, for humankind…

“It was because I was so transfixed with my find that I initially failed to notice that I was being scrutinized from across the room. The first I became aware of it was a prickling sensation down my back, the hairs on my neck and arms raised giving me goose bumps. I turned my head round nervously, looking back over my shoulder … He stood at a distance, a young man in his mid-twenties perhaps, taller than average. No mere accident of lighting, his slightly curly locks, the colour of polished brass, formed a halo around a face that was much too beautiful to be called handsome. The only way to describe him was golden.”

But that’s not all that’s featured at the British Museum.


Sage’s twin sister, Saffron is obsessed with the legend of Tutankhamen’s Curse, the curse of the pharaohs. Of course, no such curse exists, right? But, here’s an interesting fact – in 2004, the British Museum undertook a unique project to unlock the secrets of a 3,000 year old mummy, a priest called Nesperennub, by performing a “virtual unwrapping” using cutting edge CT scanning technology and computer visualisation techniques. So was this part of the legend that spawned The Mummy and its High Priest Imhotep? Fact or fantasy?

Or perhaps if you journey through Rooms 40 and 41, which houses the artefacts from Anglo-Saxon England and one of my favourite exhibits, the Sutton Hoo ship burial, it may remind you of the legends of King Arthur and Merlin, and feel like you wandered onto the set of Game of Thrones.

And what of the fantastical artefact of celestial beings? Yes, angels. Bet you didn’t know that the Mesopotamian Shedu or Lamassu are in fact representations of Cherubim. Compare the biblical description against Saffron’s first experience of these monumental sculptures:

Ezekiel. Verse 10. “I looked at the dome over the heads of the living creatures and above them was something that seemed to be a throne of sapphire. God said to the man wearing linen clothes, ‘Go between the wheels under the creatures and fill your hands with burning coals. Then scatter the coals over the city.’ I watched him go. The creatures were standing to the south of the Temple when he went in, and a cloud filled the inner courtyard. The dazzling light of the Lord’s presence rose up from the creatures and moved to the entrance of the Temple. Then the cloud filled the Temple and the courtyard was blazing with the light. The noise made by the creatures’ wings was heard even in the outer courtyard. It sounded like the voice of God … I saw that each creature had what looked like a human hand under each of its wings.”
And…
“My lips parted in surprise as, immediately forgetting my embarrassment, I looked up at the monumental sculptures towering above me.

The human-headed winged bulls, more than four metres high and equally wide, were carved from a single stone block. The head of the sculpture, the only human element that I could see, had a man’s bearded face with very precisely modelled features. The wide, slightly slanted eyes were quite expressive, framed by thick eyebrows meeting above a prominent nose. The mouth, surmounted by a thin moustache, was curved upward in a kindly smile. Even its carved stone body – depicting that of a bull with the wings of a bird of prey – had been precisely rendered by the sculptor.

The Shedu wore a starred tiara which was flanked by horns and topped by feathers. It was a mystical beast, having not four but five legs – so that it looked as if standing still when seen from the front, and as if walking when seen from the side. It was an awesome sight to behold, these two stone sculptures dwarfing me with their imposing proportions.”

So next time you venture into the British Museum, you may want to look a little closer … a little deeper…

Who knows? You too may meet an angel or magician or vampire on a night at the museum with its curious blend of ancient and modern…


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