Tag Archives: mystery

THE VISITORS by Sally Beauman

Photo: Steve Evans

Photo: Steve Evans

The 70s were a long time ago, but reading The Visitors took me back to the time when Tutmania ruled. I remember seeing the exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Art along with record crowds. The golden mask of the king glittered looking new. So did the statuary, jewelry, and crisp decorative paintings. Ten years of careful excavation and restoration accomplished by Howard Carter and his team ensured the 1923 find would be preserved.

Visitors

Sally Beauman takes us back to that time with the story of a young British heiress named Lucy. After suffering the loss of her mother and recovering from an illness, Lucy travels to Egypt where she befriends the daughter of an Egyptologist. This allows her access to the exciting world of excavation in the Valley of the Kings just prior to the discovery of Tut’s tomb. Lucy meets Howard Carter, Lord Carnarvon, and many of the other players in the upcoming historical find. We glimpse aristocratic society in the colonial period, the politics of the fight for Egyptian independence, the conflict over ownership of artifacts, and the obsession of the two men who desperately wanted to make names for themselves. Throw in the fictional murder of a free-spirited heiress and Beauman’s book is a thrilling read. Unfortunately, this is a book where the author lost control of the story. For some reason, she felt compelled to keep writing allowing Lucy to grow up, marry, divorce, and live a mostly tragic existence. Read the book for the first 300 pages and skip the more than 200 pages that follow.

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ENTER TO WIN A FREE COPY OF MY BOOK

snow scene

TreeHouse Arts is running a contest through July 10th (Th.). Enter with a poem about snow. Winner’s poem will be published on their site. Good luck!

http://treehousearts.me/2014/07/05/part-iii-summer-reading-giveaway-and-haiku-contest/

Into the Land of Snows

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THE MYSTERY OF THE THIRD STEP

Mt. Everest, 1924

George Mallory

George Mallory

At age 37, George Mallory believed his third attempt to climb Everest would be his last. He joined the British 1924 Everest Expedition led by General Charles Bruce to finally accomplish his dream. Moving up the mountain in pairs, the team took on the quest without the aid of modern climbing gear or equipment. If you look at photos from the time period, it’s laughable to see how they are dressed. They look like English gentlemen out for a stroll on the moor. Maybe that’s one of the reasons so many modern climbers hold Mallory in such high esteem. They had so little, tried so hard, and just may have succeeded in realizing their dream. With high altitude climbing in its infancy, Mallory chose the 22 year old, Andrew Irvine to make the push for the summit owing to Irvine’s ability to keep the temperamental oxygen machines working.

Andrew Irvine

Andrew Irvine

From Advanced Base Camp (21,330 ft.), Mallory and Irvine set off on June 4, 1924. They made good time pushing up the mountain in good weather. On June 8th, they were spotted by Noel Odell at a location many believe to be the third step. A cloud moved in blocking any further view, and from that point on, Mallory and Irvine disappeared into history. They did not return to camp and were presumed dead after a time. Since then, there has been much speculation as to whether or not Mallory and Irvine summited Everest and beat out Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzin Norgay by several decades.

Mount Everest, north side Photo & graphics by Luca Galuzzi

Mount Everest, north side
Photo & graphics by Luca Galuzzi

Green line: Mallory’s 1924 route
3rd- is Third Step
t1- location of Mallory’s body, discovered 1999.

And they very well may have. Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999 by a team looking to solve this mystery. The location of the body, far below the steps, indicates to some that Mallory had to be descending after summiting when he took a fatal fall. With his sun goggles tucked into a pocket, it is likely that the fall happened at night and not during the afternoon when Odell last saw them. In addition, Mallory was known to have carried a photo of his wife in his wallet with plans to leave it at the top of Everest when he summited. Although the wallet was found, the photo was not, leading many to believe he and Irvine reached the top and most likely fell on the way down. Irvine’s body has not been located but may hold some of the most fascinating of physical evidence. Andrew Irvine borrowed a camera with the intention of taking photos on the summit. Should his body rest with the camera intact, Kodak officials have said that the film is likely to be recoverable. And so mountain climbing’s most enduring mystery may someday be solved.

This mystery was so fascinating; I used it as a basis for the adventure I wrote about in INTO THE LAND OF SNOWS. What happens if the camera just surfaces one day? What would your average American teen do if he suddenly held the solution to this mystery? What would you do?

 

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THE LINE BETWEEN FACT & FICTION

tantra

Since the release of INTO THE LAND OF SNOWS, there have been some questions concerning what’s real and not real in the book. From the perspective of this being a book whose main theme concerns defining that very line, it’s a somewhat amusing question. I concern myself with it because I’ve heard some people dismiss the book as fantasy. But that’s not the whole story.

The book is set in the magical Himalayas surrounded by a rich cultural tradition. In such a place, my job as author was relatively easy. I chose concepts and ideas already present there to create a story around an American teenager. I made up very little.

Now as to the facts.

1. Locations- The map at the beginning of the book accurately depicts the placement of real locations Blake would visit along his route, had Blake actually gone there. But the careful reader will notice that about half way through the book, Blake continues his journey, but the map stops. This is because Blake has left the material reality of our world. An alternate reality opens up for him to fully experience the magic and potential for enlightenment.

2. Mallory& Irvine- The story of these climbers disappearing into legend while on the Third Step is true. The camera Mallory carried that day is still missing. We don’t know (for sure) who summited Everest first, although Hillary is officially credited with it.

3. Yetis- These animals/beings remain a mystery. Sherpa culture recognizes different kinds of yetis. I took great liberty with the Tantric yidam concept.

4. Baian-Kara-Ula Mountains- There are legends of star people and an origination story. As late as the 1950s, stories of the Chinese gathering evidence in the region exist.

5. Chakra points- There are many different systems. Tibetans usually depict 5 while Indian schools generally have 7. Research by Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama revealed the heart chakra produced measurable physical light.

6. Singing Bowls- Are used for healing.

7. Lung-gom-pa/Tumo/Yidam- Are Tantric practices.

8. Birds- The sneaky placement of rare birds in the region was my invention and homage to HH. The 16th Karmapa, who loved birds.

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HAS (MS 408): THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT BEEN DECIPHERED?

This is an update to a blog I did in 2012 about the Voynich Manuscript. Recent work done by Dr. Stephen Bax (Professor of Applied Linguistics, University of Bedfordshire) has resulted in some startling findings.

voynich botanical

I love tales of missing manuscripts especially in fiction, but also in non-fiction. Last week, I finished The Swerve which featured the true story of the recovery of Lucretius’ poem, On the Nature of Things, and how it influenced our modern world. I liked the idea of a Renaissance book hunter slipping into monasteries looking for ancient wisdom. But I have a better story to share.

In 1912, Wilfrid Voynich recovered a mysterious manuscript that bears his name and resides in the Yale Library as Manuscript 408. The curious document has defied the patient and persistent attempts by all amateur and professional cryptographers to break it.

Its exact history is sketchy, but the document is alleged to have belonged to an Emperor, several practicing alchemists, and a religious order. Some have even proposed that Roger Bacon or John Dee authored the manuscript.

Consisting of 240 vellum pages with colored illustrations, the writing script is unknown and unreadable. Many of the illustrations resemble herbal texts of the 15th Century except that only a few of them can be identified. Aside from the herbal renderings, there are also illustrations covering topics on astronomy, biology, cosmology, medicines, and recipes. The drawings are fanciful, colorful, and complicated. Carbon-14 dating in 2009, dates the manuscript to between 1408 and 1438.

The text itself has puzzled for decades and even modern computer tools have proved ineffective. The writing itself seems to progress left to right with no punctuation. There are no obvious corrections, the document being very carefully executed. There are some 170,000 separate glyphs utilized throughout and many are used only once or twice. Statistical analysis of the work reveals that it resembles the flow of natural language. But what language? It seems to share some correspondences to English and Latin, but not entirely. The repetition of the glyphs is not a characteristic of European language.

Manuscript 408 remains the only undeciphered Renaissance manuscript and it continues to draw many into its mystery. Some think it’s an early herbal or medical text. Others see it as a work of alchemy (early chemistry) or hermeneutical teaching. Still others have declared it a hoax, but if it is a hoax of some kind, it goes beyond anything produced in the 15th Century. It goes beyond the codes and cyphers used then, and continues to evade codebreakers today. What is this curious work and who penned its bizarre contents?

For those intrigued enough to read further:

The Voynich Manuscript- Gerry Kennedy & Rob Churchill

The Friar & the Cypher- Lawrence Goldstone

Six Unsolved Ciphers- Richard Belfield

Drawing on work done to date, Dr. Bax undertook a detailed look at some of the plants and signs in the manuscript. He began with some of the speculations on plant names to decipher letters within the text. He believes he has deciphered ten words and fourteen signs to begin the process of identifying the language MS 408 was written in. Dr. Bax believes the manuscript is not a hoax, but rather a 15th Century book on nature written not in code but rather an unknown language. Now, the hard work begins to try to reveal more of the manuscript. It seems like this is an instance when having the right experts makes all the difference.  

 

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