Do you remember those days when you were in class and your history teacher overwhelmed you with more than a dozen crucial events and important dates? I guess everybody experienced that feeling of boredom at least once in their lifetime, along with the natural question: “Is history all that plain and difficult to like?”
The answer is “no”, because history – as well as any other school subject – has its dirty secrets and gruesome facts, which, unfortunately, are not taught because of their inappropriateness or doubtful existence. However, you can find a pleasant alternative to the multitude of documentaries and various articles you might find on the Internet; that alternative is British writer’s Terry Deary series of books Horrible Histories, a more terrible, measly, slimy, vile and funny approach to history, seasoned with jokes, irony and British humour.
The collection is made out of small books – almost 150 pages each – which usually give extraordinary and peculiar information about famous English monarchs and common people who lived in a certain time and space. Besides the history of England, which begins with Cut-Throat Celts and ends with The 20th Century, the author also published Savage Stone Age, Rotten Romans, Groovy Greeks, Awful Egyptians, Incredible Incas, Angry Aztecs, Horrible Histories Special: France, Horrible Histories Special: USA, Pirates and so on.
Two or three years ago I accidentally discovered on Youtube the BBC adaptation of Terry Deary’s books entitled also Horrible Histories, but only last year it occurred to me that I should read one of his books. At first I didn’t know what to expect, but after reading three of his books, I must confess that he became one of my favourite writers. Why? Because of the things mentioned above and many more.
The first book I’m going to talk about is Savage Stone Age and is actually the third one I’ve read, but its special subject forces me to put it in the top of the list. Throughout this book you will read about the timeline of human evolution and the three prehistoric periods of mankind (in a brief introductory chapter), how Stone Agers lived, the animals they hunted till becoming extinct. We will also learn more about the food they ate, how they cooked it, about their weird beliefs and gruesome burials, about brainy archaeologists, treasure hunters, accidental discoveries, stone circles legends and mysteries (including many fascinating facts about Stonehenge) and many other curious facts which won’t let you put the book or reading device down.
I don’t want to spoil your read, in case you plan to go through this book, but I will give you a tiny hint. For example, in the chapter Rotten Rituals, among many bizarre and pretty horrible funeral rituals, you will find out that there are many stone circles spread across Britain and their presence brings luck and good energies. Unfortunately, nobody knows exactly what they were made for. Tradition says that if a girl wanted to know who will be her future husband, she had to travel to Arthur’s Stone (at Gower near Swansea, Wales), wait until midnight when the moon was full and put cakes, milk and honey on the ancient stone. Crawl around the stone on your hands and knees and if the vision of your lover appears, then you will marry him. If not, then he’s probably too busy watching telly. (Loc. 969-970)
There are also some little tests, through which Terry Deary challenges you to remember what you have learnt about the Stone Age Period. But don’t worry if you get the answers wrong, because you are doing it just for fun. For instance, there’s a test where the author asks you a few questions about the way Stone Agers lived and you have to choose the correct answer. If you get all the answers right, then you are a modern human being. If you get less answers right, depending on the number of wrong answers, you are a Neanderthal, chimpanzee or less than that.
Before ending this review, I must tell you that, although Savage Stone Age is a book for children, it helped me understand better my anthropology class and those history lessons from my childhood. Through the jokes and anecdotes inserted between the lines, the author reminds us that history can be child’s play and its main role is to captivate the audience, because history also means story.
Here is the audio version of the book, read by Terry Deary himself. There are some slight differences between the book and the audiobook, but overall the content is the same.
by Alina Andreea Cătărău