What I did on my holidays by Leslie Albiston
Featured image : Exmoor from Dunkery Beacon
Have you ever read “Lorna Doone”? No I didn’t think you had, which is probably why I asked the question. I have of course read “Lorna Doone” and I’m feeling pretty smug about it. It’s one of those books that are often referred to as “a classic” or “a good read.” We all know that this is the kiss of death. It translates as boring, impenetrable and long. When I was a child one of the few books we had in the house was “Lorna Doone.” It stood on a shelf as a kind of constant challenge and reproach. I’m not sure I actually ever opened it or even touched it. But its spine with that faded embossed gold writing, spoke to me. It said, “You will never be clever enough, posh enough, dull or sad enough to read me, so leave me in peace to gather dust on my shelf and get on with your little life.” Which is just what I did. Until last year. Last year I decided that as I was going on holiday to Exmoor for the first time in my life, I’d read some fiction from the area. I came to realize that literature from Exmoor equates to “Lorna Doone, an Exmoor Romance” to give it its full title, so I didn’t have much choice but to man up, buy a copy and get down to some serious reading. The other thing I’ve noticed about this book when you introduce it into conversation is that everyone claims to know the story- “Oh yes that’s the one about that person called Lorna Doone isn’t it!” or “Oh yes that one set in Exmoor with that person called Lorna Doone, yes I know it.” Oh no they don’t, because as I discovered when I did actually plough my way through all five hundred pages of it last year, once you’ve read it you will never forget it.
Me, in front of the RD Blackmore monument in Doone Valley
I am perfectly happy to state that “Lorna Doone” is a work of such barmy brilliance that its author Richard Doddridge Blackmore is the genius history overlooked. First published in 1869, the story is actually set in the period of the Monmouth rebellion of 1685 and Blackmore borrowed what he assumed were the speech rhythms of the late seventeenth as part of his narrative strategy. So a very long Victorian novel written in language from the seventeenth century involving a long-forgotten historical event set in an obscure part of the world. Sounds promising doesn’t it? But bear with me. Its narrator and (modest) hero, John Ridd is the most engaging character I’ve ever come across in a work of fiction (sorry Hamlet) the love of his life, Lorna Doone the most exquisite creature, and his adventures, involving highwaymen, duels, battles, ghosts, kidnappings, shipwrecking storms, feats of endurance, gargantuan meals, broken hearts, mended hearts- and that’s just chapter one- the most brilliant confection of fantasy parading as fact ever put into print. What I can’t understand is why no TV/film director has taken it on. There are so many sub-plots and cliffhangers it makes “Game of Thrones” look like “Waiting for Godot.” Compared to the Doone clan the Daleks are pussycats and John Ridd is Rochester, Heathcliff and Ross Poldark rolled into one- but so nice with it. I also think it would make a fabulous inter-active video-game. Something like Lornaquest or Doone Devils or Target Exmoor would sell, and there’d be endless possibilities for merchandise spin-offs- ” Luxuriate in Lorna Lace Lingerie- go on spoil yourself, you deserve it.” “Carver Doone Curry – it’s wicked.” ” John Ridd Cider- for men with a proper thirst.” Believe me this will happen- and when it does just remember you read it here first.
RD Blackmore monument in Oare Church