Book review: The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris
In 2007 the publication of a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary brought with it an associated culling of words, which by its own definition meant a purge of those not the “current frequency of words in daily language of children”. The reality of this meant the removal of some thirty words of important British plant and animal species including acorn, otter, magpie, adder, heron, dandelion, buttercup and kingfisher.
This action was testament to the increasing realisation of the profound disconnection between children and the natural world. The decline of this relationship is of critical concern because there is a growing body of evidence that is indicative of the importance of the experience of nature to the development of a child’s wellbeing. A groundswell of opinion gathered apace and in 2015 an open letter to Oxford University Press was composed with the support of a number of high profile artists and authors who decreed a reconsideration for the reinstatement of these words.
Amongst their number was the artist and illustrator Jackie Morris and writer Robert Macfarlane, and it’s through this meeting of minds that a collaboration was born which eventually saw its realisation with the publication of the wonderful and inspiring The Lost Words. It represents such a timely reminder of the profound need to acknowledge the importance of nature and wildlife for the development of children and their understanding of the importance of conserving and protecting it for future generations. Indeed it is this thinking which led NWT Vice President John Snape and his family to establish our Children And Nature fund, to help children and young people enjoy and value the nature that surrounds them in Norfolk.
For many MacFarlane’s literary canon as the consummate wordsmith and lover of language will be very familiar through his books Wildplaces and Landscapes, and it is this passion for nature and words that really informs his latest book. Landscapes in particular is a glorious glossary and homage to the rich cultural diversity of our language and its ability to give depth, meaning and understanding to the world around us. Others have been so equally moved by its vision and ambitions that they heavily campaigned to ensure copies are placed in primary schools throughout the United Kingdom: a crowd funding campaign was established by Jane Beaton who managed to raise an astonishing £25,000 to ensure a copy of the book was given to every primary, secondary and special school in the whole of Scotland. It quickly established a blueprint for further campaigning by various counties through the British Isles.
The Lost Words is a charming spell book, full of wonderful words which when spoken aloud will conjure themselves into existence again. This sense of magic and wonderment is also beautifully captured in the sumptuous illustrations of Jackie Morris whose work sings from the pages. The Lost Words is a large, resplendent, truly beautiful and important gem of a book that should be treasured by young and old alike for many years to come.
The Lost Words is available to buy in the Visitor Centres at NWT Cley Marshes, NWT Holme Dunes, NWT Hickling Broad and NWT Ranworth Broad.
Nick Morritt is NWT's Visitor Services and Sales Manager.