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Consider the Pangolin

Katherine Rundell, 22 February 2018

... To reach​ the pangolin is difficult, which feels only reasonable; something so remarkable shouldn’t be gained with ease. She lives in a wildlife conservation project outside Harare, near the airport. The roads in Harare have been deteriorating for years; gaps are patched with house bricks, and during the rains it would be possible to bathe a Great Dane in the potholes ...

Consider the Lemur

Katherine Rundell, 5 July 2018

... It is​ probably best not to take advice direct and unfiltered from the animal kingdom – but lemurs are, I think, an exception. They live in matriarchal troops, with an alpha female at their head. When ring-tailed lemurs are cold or frightened, or when they want to bond, they group together in a furry mass known as a lemur ball, forming a black and white sphere that ranges in size from a football to a bicycle wheel ...

Consider the Wombat

Katherine Rundell, 11 October 2018

... The Wombat​ ,’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote in 1869, ‘is a Joy, a Triumph, a Delight, a Madness!’ Rossetti’s house at 16 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea had a large garden, which, shortly after he was widowed, he began to stock with wild animals. He acquired, among other beasts, wallabies, kangaroos, a raccoon and a zebu. He looked into the possibility of keeping an African elephant but concluded that at £400 it was unreasonably priced ...

Consider the Golden Mole

Katherine Rundell, 18 April 2019

... The word​  iridescent comes from the Greek for ‘rainbow’, iris, and the Latin suffix, escent, ‘having a tendency towards’. Iridescence turns up in many insects, some birds, the odd squid: but in only one mammal, the golden mole. Some species are black, some metallic silver or tawny yellow, but under different lights and from different angles, their fur shifts through turquoise, navy, purple, gold ...

Consider the Greenland Shark

Katherine Rundell, 7 May 2020

... In​ 1606 a devastating pestilence swept through London; the dying were boarded up in their homes with their families, and a decree went out that the theatres, the bear-baiting yards and the brothels be closed. It was then that Shakespeare wrote one of his very few references to the plague, catching at our precarity: ‘The dead man’s knell/Is there scarce asked for who, and good men’s lives/Expire before the flowers in their caps/Dying or ere they sicken ...

Consider the Swift

Katherine Rundell, 15 August 2019

... A common swift​ , in its lifetime, flies about two million kilometres; enough to fly to the moon and back twice over, and then once more to the moon. Weighing less than a hen’s egg, with wings like a scythe and a tail like a fork, they eat and sleep on the wing. They gather nesting material only from what’s in the air, which means that there have been accounts of still-flapping butterflies wedged in among the leaves and twigs ...

Consider the Narwhal

Katherine Rundell, 3 January 2019

... In 1584​ , as Ivan the Terrible lay dying, he called from his bed for his unicorn horn, a royal staff ‘garnished with verie fare diamondes, rubies, saphiers, emeralls’. Unicorn horns were believed throughout Europe to have magical curative properties; as late as 1789, a unicorn drinking horn was used to protect the French court, where it was said to sweat and change colour in the presence of poison ...

Consider the Hedgehog

Katherine Rundell, 24 October 2019

... Pliny the Elder​ was not an easy man. He reprimanded his nephew, Pliny the Younger, for walking instead of letting himself be carried, thereby wasting hours when he could have been reading. But in 77 ce Pliny made the hedgehog the focus of his attention, and produced one of the loveliest myths in natural history. ‘Hedgehogs,’ he wrote in his Historia Naturalis, ‘prepare food for the winter ...

Consider the Hermit Crab

Katherine Rundell, 6 February 2020

... It​ was, perhaps, a hermit crab that ate Amelia Earhart. For five nights after Earhart disappeared from the sky in 1937, the US navy picked up distress signals from Nikumaroro, an uninhabited island in the Western Pacific. When a rescue team reached the island a week later – it took time, since planes had to be loaded onto battleships – it was deserted ...

Consider the Stork

Katherine Rundell, 1 April 2021

... It was wartime​ , and propaganda fell from the sky like dishonest rain. Nazi planes dropped leaflets over British lines in Europe telling them that their wives were in bed with American soldiers, complete with drawings of said wives undressed. The Allied forces flew hydrogen balloons over Axis troops to scatter images of fields lined with German graves ...

Consider the Hare

Katherine Rundell, 2 July 2020

... Hares​ have always been thought magical. In their long-limbed quivering beauty, they were believed to be walking, breathing love potions. Philostratus warned his third-century readers that there were unscrupulous men out there who had found in the hare ‘a certain power to produce love and try to secure the objects of their affection by the compulsion of magic art ...

Consider the Giraffe

Katherine Rundell, 19 November 2020

... Horace​ was stridently anti-giraffe. The animal was, he believed, conceptually untidy: ‘If a painter had chosen to set a human head on a horse’s neck [or] if a lovely woman ended repulsively in the tail of a black fish, could you stifle laughter, friends?’ His account of the giraffe in Ars Poetica (c.8 bc) ends on a plea: ‘Let the work be what you like, but let it be one, single thing ...


Katherine Rundell: Night Climbing, 23 April 2015

... In the last few years​ , I have fallen in love with brick. I carry in my head a taxonomy of drainpipes and cement and scaffolding; I’ve become, in the last decade, a night climber. A while ago I climbed up the side of Battersea Power Station, up the great smoke stacks, to look at the world as it lay below. It’s the largest brick building in Europe, and I wanted to see it before it disappeared ...

At the British Library

Katherine Rundell: Harry Potter, 14 December 2017

... It seems eccentric​ to say it of a person richer than the queen, but J.K. Rowling is, I think, undervalued. Or rather, she gets credit for the less important things, for being a marketing phenomenon whose books have sold more than 400 million copies, and not for the painstaking intricacy of the texts themselves. In the nine years that I’ve been writing children’s fiction, one of the questions I’ve been most often asked is ‘Are they any good, the Potter books?’ – a question which, like the Latin prefix num, anticipates the answer ‘no ...

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