November 15, 2004

Tower of London safe even if ravens leave

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1351360,00.html

Apparently, even if the ravens leave the Tower of London, the kingdom won't fall. Now, whilst that may be somewhat disappointing for we republicans (and that's 'republican' with a small 'r' rather than a large one), as it seems to mean we're stuck with the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha for the forseeable future, it does raise an interesting point about folklore. According to the article linked above, there have only been ravens at the Tower since the 19th century, and the myth that they are somehow bound up with the fate of the kingdom also dates from that time. I'm actually quite surprised that the fact that what we all thought was some sort of ancient tradition is actually some sort of Victorian romance has come as a shock to so many people – are there really any such 'traditions' which aren't Victorian inventions? Given that reality seldom owes very much to the romantic notions of many people today, why should History be any different? Events which were actually documented were too unglamourous, so the Victorians embroidered them with romance. Why does this surprise people? One must only look at the literature of the early 19th century (and into the middle in the case of poetry) and the architecture to detect a culture obsessed with the neat, the linear, and the romantic – is it any wonder that the view we have inherited from them is neat, linear, and romantic? I'm more surprised by the fact that such a quaint little bit of hokum as the raven myth was taken seriously for so long than that it turns out to be the romantic fantasy of some 19th-century antiquarian.

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