Katherine Rundell, between climate change and the Middle Ages

Katherine Rundell, between climate change and the Middle Ages
Katherine Rundell, between climate change and the Middle Ages

In a captivating interview with Katherine Rundell we explore the magical world of her latest book, Impossible Creatures. It is not just another title in her oeuvre, but also a journey through a bestiary full of creatures that reflect the rich human imagination throughout history. Inspired by ancient medieval bestiaries and classical encyclopedias, it invites us into a universe where fantasy and reality coexist, and where each creature has a story to tell and an emotion to evoke. Through this conversation, we discover the author’s passion for mythology, her concern for climate change, and her vision of the transformative power of fantasy literature. This work is a call to imagination and action, and challenges its readers to look beyond the ordinary and rediscover magic.

In your book there is a bestiary with animals, what does it represent?

It’s made up of a bunch of real creatures, which have been invented by humans over the years, not by me, and I chose them because they gave me the opportunity to represent emotions like desire, evil, joy, beauty, comedy…

Did you draw on any medieval bestiary to create it?

Yes, I spent a lot of time looking for these references, I consulted some medieval encyclopedias and tried to create a bestiary that was as faithful as possible to those of the Middle Ages. That’s why I spent hours and hours reading the writings in Latin and Greek, looking at those annotations and drawings in the margins, to represent the creatures.

Which you like best?

Jack, the little dragon, the javelin, because I first discovered this mythical creature while reading Pliny’s work for pleasure and leisure. I was very impressed because in Pliny’s work they live in the treetops and they can spit fire like a javelin. So I took the image of that creature, and what I did with Jack was to give him the voice of an angry and drunk professor.

“Fantasy is a form of philosophy”

There are two worlds in your book. Why do you think the fantasy world is the most appealing?

We all love the idea that there is a wonderful one hidden away. Children’s imaginations are so great that they can encompass both the world of what exists and what could exist.

The real one is not as satisfying as the fantasy one?

One of the most interesting things about the fantasy world is that it reflects our desires, but turned into reality. The example is a unicorn, a reflection of children’s desires, since on the one hand we have a horse, but on the other hand all that aspect that makes the horse more magnificent.

Does that ability to create fantastic worlds end at some point?

Yes. Children’s fiction is wonderful for adults because it forces them to return to that space where imagination is at its most splendid and helps them remember that the world of creativity is not an add-on that we can do without, but an absolute necessity for existence.

What influences does this story have on today’s world?

The most influential element has been the climate crisis, because we are at a point where creatures that are real are minutes away from becoming almost mythical. I like activism. I was arrested when I was 19 because I was part of a protest. So one of my goals was to capture this feeling and convey that it is worth the effort to give a voice to the most vulnerable.

Is literature a way to reflect on what good and evil are?

Fantasy is one of the best ways to think about evil, power or corruption, but it also gives us the possibility to reflect on courage, resistance, generosity. Fantasy is a form of philosophy. Let’s say that philosophy is the more beautifully dressed sister of fantasy.

What is the best way to reach the youngest?

We need to give them stories that are powerful enough for them to relate to. We need to educate them through non-fiction works so that they understand exactly how our world is made up, and give them a space to empower them and show them that we know exactly what they are capable of.

What worries you about the world?

How much time do you have? The most urgent moral issue is the climate, and how we have used the resources that the planet offers us. That is why I wanted to make a story that allows us to face this reality, but also understand that it is not too late to act.

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