Influences & Early Years 2#


When I was about ten I read Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and was completely taken up by the ideas in it. For someone of that age it was a difficult read, and still is, but I was gripped by the world being described. Perhaps more astonishingly was the effect the early chapters had on me, where Professor Otto Lidenbrock finds and decrypts the runic fragment he discovers inside an old book he has bought. The sight of the actual runes themselves had a magical effect on me and as I followed the deductive path that led to their translation I became obsessed. I had no access to any other form of runic alphabet; there was no internet and my only access to a library was the travelling van which parked behind the local shops every Wednesday for a couple of hours. So I pored over the runes on the pages and tried to work out the full alphabet from what was available.

Later in the story when the adventurers are faced with a choice of three subterranean tunnels to follow they are helped by an engraving by the entrance to one which proved to be the runic letters for Arne Saknussemm’s initials. That moment was a thunderbolt for me. ‘A. S.’ were my own initials. I was gripped by the excitement of somehow sharing the adventure intimately and personally in a way I find difficult to describe but which is still with me to this day. For years after that I scratched the runes for A and S on my school books, on my school satchel, underneath my desk, anywhere where I wanted to leave my mark. I did manage to find out more about runes from a set of encyclopaedias at school and kept a copy of the full alphabet with me always.


Another thrill of equal impact was reading the illustrated version of King Solomon’s Mines on the back of the Topper comic, my weekly escape into an exotic world of adventure and heroic action in the grand old style. This magnificent rendering of the Rider H Haggard tale was illustrated by the non pareil artist Dudley D Watkins. There is a moment when Alan Quartermain and his companions find a desiccated body in a cave. The gaunt corpse proves to be that of José da Silvestra, the man who, with his own blood, drew the very map which had brought them vast distances to this wild place on the African plains. I’m unsure quite why this was such a staggering revelation to me at the time but it was and it has haunted my imagination ever since as one of those powerful and formative moments of great story telling. Everyone’s life should be filled with such moments.