For centuries, the Tower of London has been home to a group of famous avian residents: the ravens. Each year they are seen by millions of visitors, and they have become as integral a part of the Tower as its ancient stones. But their role is even more important than that—legend has it that if the ravens should ever leave, the Tower will crumble into dust and great harm will befall the kingdom.
The responsibility for ensuring that such a disaster never comes to pass falls to one man: the Ravenmaster. The current holder of the position is Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife, and in this fascinating, entertaining and touching book he memorably describes the ravens’ formidable intelligence, their idiosyncrasies and their occasionally wicked sense of humour. The Ravenmaster is a compelling, inspiring and irreverent story that will delight and surprise anyone with an interest in British history or animal behaviour.
Christopher Skaife is Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) and Ravenmaster at the Tower of London. He has served in the British Army for twenty-four years, during which time he became a machine-gun specialist as well as an expert in survival and interrogation resistance. He has been featured on the History Channel, PBS, the BBC, Buzzfeed, Slate, and more. He lives at the Tower with his wife and, of course, the ravens.
"Two ravens can kill and strip down a pigeon in a matter of minutes. Not long ago I was taking a tour around when I heard a lot of screaming and crying from people in the queues by the Jewel House. I rushed over and saw Erin and Rocky devouring a bird: they were actually eating the pigeon from the inside out while it was still alive. An incredible sight, though maybe not for everyone."
The author has a rather dry sense of humour! The book was not quite what the title implies. It was 50% ravens and 50% the author's life in the army since he was 16 up until he became a Yeoman of the Guard at the Tower of London. It is mostly a litany of all he achieved and how great he was and how great army life was and how he couldn't have achieved all that in any other way but the army. Yay for blowing up people and carrying 100lb (or whatever) backpacks and mucking in with the lads in a cold, muddy forest.
I enjoyed the sense of humour. The author would be a great companion over lunch or with a group of people who have never got anything to say, he'd keep the party going as it were. The raven stuff was interesting but not very. He wrote about their personalities but he had so little interaction with them personally - deliberately, he wanted them to be as wild as they can be under the circumstances - apart from putting them to bed at night (or into their enclosure to be accurate) that the anecdotes aren't very revealing of them, more of him. The history of them is mostly fake, as he reveals which was also a revelation to me.
I didn't not enjoy the book, the writing was chatty and friendly, but there seemed to be a lot of filler, possibly because without it the book would have been too short. But not for me. I had wanted a relaxing book after the heavy stuff I like to read, and this was certainly that but if I hadn't of skimmed the last chapters I would certainly have fallen asleep.
A 3.5 star book, rounded down as it isn't even close to a 4 star. __________
Reading notes And now for something completely different - enough legal, medical, science, activist or other 'heavy' books i have to concentrate on. Time for something a little relaxing...
Months ago, I read a blurb about The Ravenmaster in The Week magazine and I had been trying to get to it since then. Admittedly, it took a while. Totally worth the wait.
This book amused & delighted me as I read it, and again whenever parts popped into my head. Mr. Skaife seems to be a natural story-teller. I know I hung on to every word, but by the end…I still had not gotten my fill of the seven ravens that call The Tower of London home.
You can easily imagine my enthusiasm when I realized they have their own Instagram!! Turns out: my procrastination was a perk. In the essay collection, Mr. Skaife shares hopes for the future of the ravens at The Tower. I recently saw on the social media site that one of his goal has been met. So cool!
I have a new go-to-gift and it is uniquely excellent in that it is universally appealing. I cannot wait to share it with “my” students and to hand it out to my friends. No need to be into ravens, or even birds at all; the history of The Tower and the evolution of the post that is now The Ravenmaster is incredibly interesting. The bits about Mr. Skaife as a mischievous boy and later, as an eager sponge in the military are equally entertaining.
I vividly remember the day of Brexit. Nobody knew what the hell was going on and the pound fell off a cliff and we saw the leading Brexiteers looking nauseous and terrified as they realised their actions had catastrophic consequences, and the Prime Minister's resignation only made it to #3 on the news agenda. It was chaotic and terrifying in the days when that wasn't standard practice. I was on Twitter of course, and there I saw a tweet from the Ravenmaster with a picture of the Tower ravens that read, simply, "We are still here."
I welled up. It meant a lot.
This is a marvellous book about a bizarre job. Mr Skaife is a Yeoman Warder and in charge of the Tower ravens because if they ever leave the Tower, the country will fall. He actually shows that to be a relatively recent myth, but that doesn't make it any less true IMO: it's deeply embedded in the national consciousness and every story has to start somewhere.
This is very much a book of stories, one of those reads that feels like you're in the pub with a really interesting bloke. Chatty, discursive, a lot about the life that brought him to this point, and loads about the ravens he adores. You learn about raven flight feathers and bird distribution globally and raven myths and Army drumming and what it was like to be on Army duty in South Armagh or Belize and how the Warders cope with the visiting public (taking the mickey, basically), and it's all just a really interesting slice of human life. I'm now desperate to go to the Tower again, tourist trap that it is, just to check out the birds. A lovely book.
I was completely charmed by this book. Coming off of two decades of military service, Skaife applies and eventually gets a position as a Yeomen Warder at the historical Tower of London. He now has the additional title of Ravenmaster as he is responsible for the six ravens that reside at the Tower. It's a job that was voted strangest in England, but the way Skaife describes it shows it to be a strictly regimented yet hands-off position that allows the birds to be as wild as possible. But his careful husbandry keeps the birds safe from urban foxes, from the massive crowds of tourists who visit the tower each year, and also from each other.
Skaife is a lover of stories and history which is what attracted him to his position in the first place. He not only cares for the ravens but gives tours to the public, detailing the long and often grizzly history of the Tower. In this book you get a front row seat to this history as well as Skaife's own background. Then, of course, there are the birds: fiercely intelligent creatures called by one scientist, "apes with wings" because of their huge brains. The author may not be an ornithologist, but he's well-read on the subject while having more one-on-one experience with the birds than any of us would have at our day jobs. His love for the birds and his job rings (or should I say squawks and clicks?) through this book. Let this storyteller talk to you about his birds for 250 pages. You certainly won't regret it.
I found every aspect of this book incredibly well done. From the personal tone it is written in, to all the interesting information it imparts. We get to know the Ravenmaster, his time in the military, and what it takes to get this position in the tower. We learn about the Ravens, not only the stories that surround their being at the tower, but an up close look at their habitats, and even their personalities. One of their favorite snacks are dog bones soaked in blood. Well, they are carnivores, after all.
All the superstitions associated with Ravens, from the heralders of death, to one of my favorite parts, the connection between the esteemed Charles Dickens and his use of Ravens in his novels. The most famous being the Raven Grip in Barnsby Rudge. As the author notes, "I may have a rather partial view, but to my mind Dickens counts as a genius not because of his prolific output, nor because of his famous public performances and his great public works, but because he gets every single detail about Ravens right!"
Of course the famous inhabitants of the Tower, and stories associated with them and the tower itself are included. In fact, for a book without a large number of pages, there is much information s d entertainment to be found. I enjoyed every moment of my reading experience, but then again this is the season for the macabre.
I've been a fan of ravens for a long time and always detested their bad reputation thanks to silly old superstitions that seem to mostly derive from their physical appearance and the fact that they are omnivores. Especially the latter seems only yet another sign of their extreme intelligence because all of us who've paid attention in biology know that highly specialized (picky) animals are much more likely to die out (yes, I'm also talking about you, sabre-toothed tigers).
It all began with Sir David Attenborough, as is often the case. Yes, I adore the man and always will. He is the prime example of a human not caring about looks but ability and he was the one telling me (through one of his BBC programmes) about the intelligence tests (Kerplunk games) for ravens that most of them seem to ace every time.
Then, some time ago, I somehow heard about the Ravenmaster on Twitter. I didn't know anything about the man or his job but the tweet had the picture of a gorgeous raven so I clicked and scrolled - and became addicted to the man's updates. Through his photographs and little videos I got to share his enthusiasm and see some of the quirky birds almost every day.
My plan had been to see London eventually, the plans having been thwarted by a lack of money for a long time, and those plans only got invigorated by the prospect of meeting these special corvids personally when visiting the historic site! And this year my dream finally came true. I had the money and didn't care that I'd had to go on vacation on my own, I could do this! Thus, I booked tickets and made plans and got really excited.
Imagine my delight, therefore, when I heard that the man was going to publish a book about his life at the Tower and the ravens there! So when I was in London this past week, I had to get a copy before making my way to the Tower and I did. It wasn't the edition I had originally wanted but I didn't care (unusual for me). Packed and ready to go, I got there early and went on one of the apparently famous Yeoman Warder tours (like an idiot I hadn't known much about the Tower in advance except for some juicy historical bits).
Following the sarcastic "elderly and rude" (his words) Yeoman Warder and listening to his take on the history of the fortress was delightful. Afterwards, I met a raven posing for tourists when exiting the exhibition of the crown jewels. I took some pictures, moved on. After walking through yet another exhibition (the Fusiliers Museum), I made my way to the raven enclose, heart set on meeting the Ravenmaster and getting my book signed. And he was there! I only noticed by a complete coincidence despite his uniform. I chatted him up and ...
However, like a complete idiot, despite him being so nice and friendly and us chatting for a few solid minutes about everything from the ravens themselves to our shared admiration for Sir David Attenborough, I forgot to ask for a feather - because it is mentioned in the book that the Ravenmaster sometimes has some that he hands out. *doh*
He had to leave, however, because despite it being his day off, he had to watch some students who were researching and filming the ravens' behavioral patterns and talking to some journalists (I was lucky he was there at all)!
Thus, I made my way to yet more interesting sights around the Tower (there is no shortage of those), tried kicking myself for not having remembered to ask about the feather, kept watching the birds and even entered the gift shop where I got a cute raven pin and pencil with a raven on top. I was contemplating my chances of finding him again when I noticed him while walking the battlements and made a split-second decision to stalk the poor man. So I descended the stairs, keeping an eye on the Ravenmaster and the reporters filming him, waited in front of the enclosure where Poppy (youngest member of the raven staff) promptly entertained me when a student entered her enclosure and tried to take one of her toys away (yes, pure Schadenfreude, but the woman deserved it - she wanted to take a toy away!), which prompted the cheeky bird to show her who the boss was and chasing her out. Yes, I chuckled, I may have even laughed loudly (no, I'm not sorry) because even the bird looked at me. BWAHAHAHAHAHA! The Ravenmaster then walked down and out of the enclosure with the journalists, I followed (yes, I know, but I wanted a feather!), waited until the journalists had said goodbye for what must have been the fourth time - and then I made my move! If you ever read this, Ravenmaster, I really am sorry. *lol* Anyway, I found the courage to chat him up again, inquired about the feather an lo and behold, I didn't get one but TWO!!!
But that isn't the end of this glorious tale, nope. I was so incredibly happy after leaving the food preparation rooms where he kept dead chicks and the afore-mentioned feathers that I had to sit down. I opted for one of the benches around White Tower, hoping for a good shot of one of the ravens. And suddenly there was Poppy! She was walking from left to right and left again behind my bench, probably trying to scare me so I'd drop some food. Alas, I had deliberately nothing on me. Instead, I turned around, facing her and started talking to her. Yes, I talk to animals, I don't care what you think about that. But here is the amazing thing: she cocked her head, hopped onto the litter bin and from there onto my bench next to me AND STARTING CHATTING BACK (no idea what else to call it)!!! She came so close, I could have easily stroked her feathers but of course I didn't. I wasn't scared or anything, I just figured she wouldn't like that (imagine if even only a quarter of all tourists tried that, how annoyed she would have to be). So I sat there, eyeing her, talking, listening to her sounds. Then I took the picture below (yes, she was definitely posing when she wasn't cleaning her beak) and then she took off.
Nothing - and I mean NOTHING - could compare to that during my vacation. I wasn't walking, I was floating for the rest of the day.
Tonight, I finally finished this compelling, funny and insightful book that gave me historical information as much as some great insight into the Ravenmaster's military career and the mischief of these extraordinary birds. I am no longer surprised that they actually are working the crowds (two of them did after my encounter with Poppy, first performing for one side, then turning around and doing the routine on the other, it was glorious to watch).
From the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU, Ravenmaster, for a book that isn't only entertaining (though it definitely is) but also moving and THANK YOU for spending some of your precious (free) time with this fan and being so generous to her. And THANK YOU, Poppy, for not doing to me what you did to that female student (she totally deserved it). ;)
P.S.: This hardcover edition has nearly 300 pages, by the way, not only 208 as Goodreads claims.
Some might have already seen my review for this book. As mentioned before, this edition here is actually the one I wanted because the cover is much more beautiful, showing raven Merlina as well as the Ravenmaster and the Tower, hinting at the history theme that also permeates this great story along with the anecdotes about Christopher Skaife's life and his many adventures with the ravens.
Thus, although I already have the red UK edition, I had to have this one as well. When it finally arrived today, I discovered that the cover wasn't the only thing different about this! The US/CA version also features colour photographs unlike the UK's b/w ones and there are more photographs overall. Oh, and there's a historical map of the Tower in the front and back (you know you can always get me with maps).
(Yes, this is a group photo with Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.)
(The bottom one is quite important for three reasons. )
So while I love my red edition because I bought it in London and the author signed it (for the full adventure, read my original review linked to above), this one is a little bit special in its own way and I'd actually encourage readers to get this one for the extra images.
For anyone interested: there is not just a visual difference between the two Yeoman Warder uniforms. Christopher Skaife did explain it, making him wearing "the other one" in the picture shown above as well as on the cover even more hilarious. *lol*["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>
Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife This is an audible book I requested and the review is voluntary. This is one of the best non-fiction books I have read this year. I enjoyed everything about this book! The book is laid out wonderfully simple and efficiently. This is a book about taking care of the 6-7 ravens at the tower of London! The author is the Ravenmaster. It is his job to keep the ravens safe and healthy and at the tower. This sounds simple but as he tells it, there is a lot to this job and it is also fascinating! I would love to be an assistant! He tells the history of the tower, of the job, we meet each raven and their personalities, odd things the ravens have done, odd things people have done (including the assists and Ravenmaster), ghosts, life in the tower, and so much more! Each chapter is truly amazing! I was spellbound! I really think he has an awesome job because I love ravens! He also discusses famous visitors, death of some ravens, what they do then, and more. I imagine the physical book might have pictures but I googled it. The author's love for these birds, his job, his humor, intelligence, and pride in his country really shines through! I giggled a lot while listening to this! He also narrated the book which was wonderful to hear it from the Ravenmaster himself! I recommend this book to everyone!!!
Delightfully entertaining! I loved listening to Christopher Skaife narrate his own story with an enthusiasm and wit that kept me engaged and wanting more. Skaife writes lovingly about the ravens he tends at the Tower of London and also about other famous ravens. For instance, did you know that the author Charles Dickens stuffed his pet raven after its demise and this same raven can be seen at the Free Library in Philadelphia? No, neither did I!
Sage advice from Skaife as he has learned from dealing with the feisty Merlina: "Don't think for one minute you're just going to be able to walk up to your raven and sweep her off her talons by looking lovingly into her dark-brown beady eyes and gather her up in your big strong arms and take back home. This is not how raven rescue works. You need to be cunning. You need to be stealthy. You need to be quick. You need to pretend you're not interested, that you just happened to be in the vicinity and then, with the speed of a cobra, you need to grab her when she least expects it. And that is how to catch a miscreant raven, ladies and gentlemen!"
Grab yourself a cuppa, perhaps a couple of chocolate biscuits, and relax into the company of The Ravenmaster, Mr Christopher Skaife. I absolutely loved the conversational feel of this fascinating and very enjoyable biography of Skaife's careers past and present, and the genuine passion and enthusiasm he has for the headstrong, noble and beautiful ravens in his care.
Skaife's storytelling, both serious and humorous is filled with information, anecdotes and moments of hilarity, all with the easy charm that I suspect that The Ravenmaster employs in his daily life with the, at times, testing general public. With a real sense of wonder and fascination for the raven, and references to the most interesting works about them, the evolution of his employment, and his unique workplace, this is a highly enjoyable and entertaining read. Recommended.
What a wonderful book! I have no problem giving this one *****! And a big reason is that the story is told in such an entertaining manner by Christopher Skaife, the keeper of the ravens at the Tower of London. I feel that I am sitting there in a pub listening to the man telling us his story. I imagine he makes an excellent guide at the Tower! He has the unique job of taking care of the ravens at the Tower. He tries to allow them to have as free and wild a life as possible while making sure they reside at the Tower. You know the legend--if the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom falls! Of course, the story is mainly about the ravens, intelligent birds and each one an individual, even gifted with a sense of humor. If you like stories about animals, especially birds, this is one not to be missed. If you just like a good story well-told that touches on history and legends, you should enjoy this one as well.
A newspaper/magazine feature I enjoy is when a journalist interviews someone with a really random job – you know, like a cat food taste tester or the guy who cleans the Tube tunnels in London or empties the loos after Glastonbury Festival. This memoir was moderately interesting in the same sort of way.
How does one get to be raven keeper at the Tower of London? In Skaife’s case, via the military. He was an indifferent student so joined the Army young and served for 24 years, including as a Drum Major and in Northern Ireland, before becoming a Yeoman Warder. He’s the sixth Ravenmaster (a new title after 1946), in post since 2011. He was always interested in history and as a mature student took a degree in archaeology, so he’s well suited to introducing the Tower to visitors. I appreciated his description of the challenge of making the experience fresh each time even though for him it’s become daily drudgery: “Doing a really great tour is like being a jazz musician: a moment’s improvisation based on a lifetime’s experience.”
Seeing to seven resident ravens’ needs is also repetitive and has to be done in the same way, on time, every day if he doesn’t want revolt – when he once tried to put them to bed in their cages in a different order, Merlina (who also plays dead and engages in hide-and-seek) led him a merry dance and he ended up falling into the moat. He’s sometimes learned the hard way, as when a raven died when it hid in scaffolding and then plunged to the ground – he realized he’d clipped its wings too severely. Other birds have been lost to foxes, so he’s gotten in the habit of feeding foxes in one spot so they’ll stay away from the raven enclosure.
It’s a good-natured, anecdotal book, but didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know about ravens from various other books; it reports pretty entry-level information on bird intelligence, communication, and representations in popular culture. I most liked hearing about the ravens’ individual personalities and the little mishaps and surprises he’s experienced in dealing with them. But many chapters feel thrown together in an arbitrary order, and Skaife’s writing about his life before the Tower doesn’t add anything. So while I envy him living in such a history-saturated place and would probably like to tour the Tower one day, the book wasn’t the intriguing insider’s account I was looking for. A ghostwriter or extra helping editorial hand wouldn’t have gone amiss, honestly.
I am known for my obsession with England and English history. The obsession that comes into a close second place: birds. Both subjects own a huge real estate in my heart and together, they result in my fascination with the ravens living at the Tower of London. Christopher Skaife is a name that has been on my radar, as he holds the title of Ravenmaster (and I am quite jealous of his job). Skaife highlights his role as the Ravenmaster and a Yeomen Warder in, “The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London”.
“The Ravenmaster” is in not claiming to be an animal behavioral study – Skaife is not a scientist- and is instead a light-weight portrait/memoir look at Skaife’s occupation as the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London. Skaife infuses the pages with a breakdown of the history of the position, the Tower ravens, and juicy tidbits concerning his daily life. This is also plumped with specific stories of his interactions with the ravens.
Skaife’s approach is accessible and easy-to-read offering an enjoyable text for a wide, general audience. The language has a comedic streak but also maintains a professional tone. The issue arises with organization and presentation which take on a clunky descriptor. Skaife has the habit of running off on tangents and not completing thoughts or subjects thoroughly. Plus, Skaife’s recollection of his life stories and background don’t make sense with his life at the Tower (he strains to connect them) and are a stark contrast.
Elaborating on this, the occasional animal biology/raven discussions aren’t in-line with Skaife’s writing style and suggests the possibility of a ghost writer penning these sections. Bluntly, “The Ravenmaster” is enjoyable, certainly, but it is slightly elementary level and lacking a cohesive thread.
Despite the weakness, “The Ravenmaster” is appealing with its unique subject matter and encourages page-turning. Skaife excels at personalizing a high-profile position and allowing readers to share a first-hand experience into this one-of-a-kind job.
With the progression of “The Ravenmaster” comes a smoother storytelling from Skaife, as he finds his ‘groove’. The content is more logical and focused on the ravens, adding clarity to the pages, At this point, the missing element is the absence of emotional connection as Skaife simply recalls or recounts stories but doesn’t truly express his feelings or thoughts regarding the incidents.
The final chapters of “The Ravenmaster” entertain with personal stories and some historical references to the Tower.This leads to a conclusion the summarizes Skaife’s feelings on the ravens and the future of the birds. However, Skaife sort of drags out the finality with three short chapters when it could have been combined into one.
Skaife supplements “The Ravenmaster” with a section of photo color plates, a list of the warders having held the Ravenmaster title, and a bibliography of sources available on both ravens and the history of the Tower.
“The Ravenmaster” is a ‘cute’ memoir on an individualistic topic. Sadly, the execution is flawed, the text is absent of emotional storytelling and the pace lacks consistency. The best term used to describe “The Ravenmaster” is: thin. Despite these negative traits, “The Ravenmaster” is suggested as a quick read for those interested in ravens, the Tower of London, and/or unique jobs.
Christopher Skaife's memoir was just what I needed to read at this time. It's charming, informative and humourous, and full of kindness for the wonderful ravens who live at the Tower of London. I learned a lot from Skaife, a natural storyteller, and I was saddened and amused as I read. And this BBC article from January 2021, Tower of London's 'queen' raven Merlina missing, feels even more tragic, especially after I learned about her and her relationship with the personable Ravenmaster in this wonderful book.
This will be a very brief review, not for lack of interest in the book, but rather because it was relatively short itself.
Skaife is a delightful storyteller, and this memoir weaves the perfect mixture of facts about caring for the ravens at the Tower, personal history, and Tower factoids. I never felt like the raven-memoir aspect of it was ever sacrificed for the personal history aspect. Skaife frames the book around his daily routine with the birds, with chapters veering off to talk about the history of the ravens, their species as a whole, a variety of reminisces about his personal history and how he got to work at the Tower, and, of course, the routine itself of caring for the ravens. All around it was both informative and amusing read. I had wished it was a bit longer, or more substantial in some some aspects, but it also worked perfect as a short book due to the wide variety of topics covered.
Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the Tower of London or ravens!
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy to review!
I visited the Tower of London in 2018 and was able to see the Ravens first hand. They are gorgeous birds and the Wardens are so lively and helpful and interesting. I really enjoyed reading about the Ravens and the way things work at the Tower. Highly recommend this to anyone who loves to read about the lucky people who get to keep this historical site running and the Ravens who keep it standing.
March 2018 we went to London and of course visited Tower. In it we saw some beautiful raven with pink ribbon on it's leg. Thanks to the book I know now it was one of the oldest and smartest raven in the Tower - Merlina. Likes this book a lot, quite interesting read.
A wonderful story narrated by the author. Skaife convinces readers that ravens are indeed fascinating. Like the best of books that are memoirs centered on people and animals, the readers will come to respect and even love these creatures. Skaife is no nonsense, down-to-earth, but authoritative. Before his job at the Tower of London, he was in the British Army and credits that experience with developing his love of routine, order, and not least of all, love of his country. He served in Northern Ireland and provides a brief view of what the very young often teenaged soldiers felt and experienced in that environment. I visited the Tower in 1993 in early morning, the best time to avoid the overwhelming crowds, and the ravens were the highlight (not the Crown Jewels). Even if you haven't been there, read this book!
There was a lot more Ravenmaster than raven in this book and although a disappointment, the book never claims to be anything other than that. I was somewhat lost with the references to the city of London and the set-up and history of the Tower of London and some additional visuals would have been appreciated. My book club agreed that what saved the book was the relentless cheerfulness and enthusiasm of the Ravenmaster and author. His love of the birds and his job is readily apparent. I would love to take a tour of the tower with him!
Gdy kruki opuszczą Tower, upadnie królestwo - kto interesuje się historią Londynu, ten zna legendę o krukach w twierdzy nad Tamizą. To tam, w czarno-czerwonych strojach, oprowadzają grupy turystów i opiekują się krukami ich strażnicy. Znają wiele legend, a jeszcze więcej ukrytej w nich prawdy. Jeden z nich zdecydował się podzielić sekretami tego miejsca i spisał je w formie książki.
W oryginale "The Ravenmaster" (dosłownie Mistrz Kruków, w polskim przekładzie jako "Strażnik kruków") to historia o krukach z Tower, przeplatana wątkami biograficznymi z życia ich strażnika. Christopher Skaife opowie o tym, jak było kiedyś, jak jest teraz i jak chciałby aby wyglądała przyszłość. W swojej pracy nie nie ustrzegł się błędów i szczerze o nich mówi. Wyłania się z tego opowieść o przyjaźni człowieka i kruka, która pozwala poznać wiele fascynujących szczegółów na temat tych niesamowicie inteligentnych i empatycznych zwierząt.
Kruki oraz inne ptaki z rodziny krukowatych to moi ulubieńcy od wczesnych lat dzieciństwa. Kocham baśnie, legendy, książki i filmy z ich udziałem. Gdy dowiedziałam się, że "Strażnik kruków" ukazał się także w polskim przekładzie, tak szybko chciałam go przeczytać, że zdecydowałam się na e-book. Tego samego dnia mogłam już cieszyć się z lektury. Bo choć byłam kiedyś w Londynie, to muzeum w Tower tego dnia było akurat zamknięte. Ta książka odpowiedziała na wiele moich pytań: - wyjaśniła prawdziwe początki legendy o krukach, - tłumaczy dlaczego kruki nie odlatują z twierdzy (tylko tam zostają), - jakie są obowiązki strażników i kto może nimi zostać, - skąd pozyskiwane są kruki do Tower oraz jakie są ich osobowości.
Może się wydawać, że pozycja strażnika kruków jest jak każda inna praca przewodnika turystycznego, ale to tylko pozory. By móc choć ubiegać się o takie stanowisko, trzeba mieć za sobą 22 lat służy i zdobyć wymagany stopień wojskowy. To zaszczytna funkcja, o czym świadczy choćby dedykacja do książki - jest dla samej królowej.
Na kruki spoglądano często jak na symbol nadchodzącego nieszczęścia. Przez swoją wszystkożerną dietę kojarzone były ze zwierzętami wyjątkowo okrutnymi i bezwzględnymi. Tymczasem ich poziom inteligencji porównywalny jest do delfinów czy szympansów. Krukowate rozwojowo przypominają nawet siedmioletnie dziecko. Same kruki potrafią rozwiązywać problemy, zapamiętują twarze ludzi oraz to jak ich potraktowali, planują swoje działania na przyszłość, a nawet przeżywają żałobę. Co jest dla nich szczególnie bolesne, bo ptaki te łączą się w pary na całe życie i tak jak ludzie przeżywają depresję.
Christopher Skaife opowiada nam nie tylko o historii kruków z Tower, ale także o legendach tego mrocznego miejsca, w tym o spotkaniach z duchami. A coś o tym wie, gdyż pracownicy jak i ich rodziny mieszkają na stałe w murach Tower, które kiedyś było więzieniem, miejscem tortur i straceń.
"Strażnik kruków. Moje życie wśród kruków w Tower" to obowiązkowy tytuł dla miłośników kruków. Odnajdą się w nim także fani powieści biograficznych, reportaży czy pasjonaci losów Wielkiej Brytanii. Bogata bibliografia umożliwia dalsze zgłębianie tematu. Przeczytałam w jeden dzień i była to wspaniała lektura. Cieszę się, że powstała taka książka.
This was a compelling memoir of Christopher Skaife, Ravenmaster at the Tower. I thoroughly enjoyedthe descriptions of the seven ravens that live in the Tower, and their daily life, but I found the stories of Skaife's life working with the ravens just as interesting. Skaife has a wonderful sense of humor, and what a great job he has.
The Tower of London ravens are many things – rare, fascinating, a tourist attraction, and historic symbols. But most important – they are keeping England from falling apart. Or so the legend goes.
Skaife’s easy-reading and interesting story, “told” in one day in the life of the ravens, covers almost every conceivable topic related to the Tower Ravens, ravens in general, and a few notes on all their corvid cousins. On the way he also tells his own story, as a rambunctious kid in Dover, Kent, to his life as a machine gunner and drummer in the British army to his unlikely hiring as a Tower yeoman warder (“Beefeater”) to Tower Ravenmaster. He melds the two stories together to show how his life and the lives of the ravens are now intertwined.
The book is not only a good guide for any foreigner who will be visiting London (you MUST visit the Tower), but also gives some perspective on English viewpoints for those of us who were not raised in that country. More important for everyone not familiar with animal behavior, it chronicles the importance of individuality of each animal, their personalities and intelligence, even their sense of humor; they are not just senseless objects to deal with as we please. It also chronicles the humour of the stolid yeoman warders as they answer questions from tourists:
Q: Where was Anne Boleyn executed? A: Somewhere in the neck region, I believe. (Or other sassy answers)
Well, perhaps a spot of gallows humour, but still charmingly cheeky.
The book is written at the young adult (maybe even pre-teen?) level of reading and comprehension, although it does include a mention or two of executions that will not sit well with all readers, including young ones. And it is a fast read, entirely suitable for travelling where interruptions occur at odd intervals. In the long run, you will undoubtedly like Skaife and his raven tales and come to respect the ravens themselves.
Before reading this book I had no idea there was such a job as Ravenmaster. I has been decades since I’ve been to the Tower of London and I have to admit that I didn’t notice the ravens when I was there. I was too busy being a small town boy down from Edinburgh where I was working on my doctorate, and seeing London really for the first time. I’m fascinated by ancient buildings and history, but, at the time, ravens were off my radar. Christopher Skaife, however, is a good story teller. With irony and wit he describes how he became Ravenmaster and the lives and minds of these complex birds.
Since my visit to the Tower I have grown increasingly interested in animal intelligence. Corvids—birds of the raven, crow, and magpie family—are incredibly smart birds. Their problem-solving ability goes to and beyond abstract thought. As you read Skaife describing the things they do in the Tower you’ll be compelled to agree. That’s part of the appeal of the book; here is a gruff, rough army man waxing sentimental about birds. Like most military men he waxes rhapsodic about his overly regulated days in the army, but then the ravens force him to rethink a lot of what human intelligence unthinkingly proclaims.
A quick read, this book isn’t all happy. Ravens die. People did cruel and nasty things to each other in the Tower of London. Armies exist to kill. Still, the ravens of history and literature strut through this book. They talk—or better, imitate human talk—and communicate. They can be cruel to each other and to their prey. We can’t help but be fascinated by them because they’re so much like us. An unexpected delight, this book has a lot to share. For me, as I mention on my blog (Sects and Violence in the Ancient World), it was a great way to start my 2019 reading.
Ahoy there mateys! I lived in the port of London for a bit and loved every moment of it. Of course one of the places we visited was the Tower of London. Which has ravens. As I hail from port of Baltimore, I have always been fond of ravens and Poe’s raven in particular. Plus there have been fascinating articles about ravens in the media. Me memories of the Tower that day are shoddy but when I saw this book about the history of the ravens at the Tower, I decided to give it a go. It never occurred to me that the staff lived at the Tower. The Ravenmaster, Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife, who wrote this book certainly is passionate about the subject. It was a quick and entertaining read. Ye get a little bit of history, ghost story, naturalist tale, and memoir. I very much enjoyed it. Thanks to ballyroanreads @ southdublinreads for the recommendation. Arrr!