The nights are drawing in in London. When I moved here in September, the days were still summer-like, sunny and lingering. But now it is dark when I get up to commute into town and it is dark when I come home. It is blustery, the leaves are dropping off the trees and London’s historic nature seems to tint the banality of the rat race with a hue of mystery. This is the season The Ravenmaster was written for. It is the perfect book to come home to. Shake off your brolly, put on a warm knit, make a brew, light a candle and let Skaife’s storytelling envelop you into the world of the Tower of London.
The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife offers a window into the inner workings of one of England’s best loved historic attractions, the Tower of London. He tells us about the high standards, the routine, the diligence and care that goes into ensuring every guest has a magical experience.
But most of all, Christopher Skaife tells us about the ravens…
Out of all the birds, the raven that has captured our imagination like no other. They are present in our myths and legends and in some of our scariest stories. Intelligent. Regal. Fickle. Beautiful. More than a little deadly. Christopher Skaife, current Ravenmaster at the Tower of London, introduces us to the Tower’s ravens, past and present. Make no mistake, they are BIG personalities. As you read about each raven and their idiosyncrasies, prepare yourself for the inevitable desire to want to meet the ravens, to be accepted by them, to form a bond with them…Whilst also recognising why that A) Is highly unlikely and B) might be the worst idea you have ever had. Just because you may love a raven, doesn’t mean that raven may take kindly to you. (Well, that’s unfair, they may take a fancy to one of your fingers.) This book will make you simultaneously crave raven companionship and recognise that they are beautifully dangerous birds that defy ownership, even by the Tower!
As much as I loved reading about the Ravens, I would argue that the real star of the book (although I doubt he would see himself as such!) is Skaife himself. My favourite thing about this book is that Skaife isn’t just a great storyteller and an interesting character in his own right, but he also seems like a down-to-earth, stand up guy. His personality emanates through his narrative and his own life story is fascinating. I think he should be considered a national treasure. His love for the birds shines throughout The Ravenmaster. His tenderness for them is something truly special. He loves them even when they are being mischievous little buggers. In fact, I think he finds their sandwich stealing habit just a tad bit amusing. I use this term inaccurately and romantically, but Skaife is their sentinel; watching out for them, risking life and limb for them, passionately advocating for their welfare and mourning their passing like they are family. Skaife’s storytelling is wonderful too. He is hilarious but also modest. He asserts multiple times that he is ‘no expert’ but he weaves in bird facts and literary references in his narrative with skill. One of his most impressive feats is his ability to describe the science of ravens without detracting from their folkloric and mysterious appeal. In Skaife’s writing, the two inform each other.
Why you should read this book…
When I am squished on the Tube, tired and a bit fed up of modern London’s industrial and faceless grind, I think about the Tower, about the Ravenmaster and the ravens. It brings a smile to my face to think that amongst the corporate sprawl there is still a vestige of myth and magic. The Ravenmaster is an antidote to the weariness of modern life.