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In Search of England: Journeys into the English Past
by Michael Wood

In Search of England Book Cover This is a thought provoking book, which presents a puzzle to be solved as Michael Wood examines what it means to be English.

Like a detective he searches for clues. The book is divided into three parts.
The first of these, Myth and History, examines how a country's myths become entwined with its national identity and heritage. The Norman Yoke, The Arthurian legend and Glastonbury, The Grail and the Isle of Avalon and Robin Hood are the myths designated for scrutiny.

How they are woven into the fabric of Englishness is discussed. The author explains through examples that the myth of the Norman yoke is an underlying theme in English literature and how its pervasive influence has contributed to the growth of "Englishness". Myths are communal memories that continue their threads through generations and centuries of a people. The interpretation of history is often influenced by the myths that surround it. Such myths become the very fabric that can weave diverse peoples together and begin the building of a national identity. Michael Wood states that it is the interaction of Celtic and English culture that has helped England to be what it is today.

In Part II, Manuscripts and Mysteries, the author examines England's heritage of books and explains how they tell so much more than their contents as he examines them for clues to a way of life and thought. By example, he uses a psalter from the British Library. The detailed examination of ancient texts unravels clues that are put together as to the source of, not just myths and unsolved puzzles of history, but to the building of a nation. The author examines the story of Alfred the Great, who set up the kingdom of England, which was finally solidified by Athelstan. The author believes it is the foundation of the English state as such and that ancient manuscripts provide the "core curriculum" by which the nation builds its identity.

In Part III, Landscapes and People, Michael Wood looks in hidden corners of England and ferrets out interesting tales of the continuity of the land and people. He discovers a bowl turner whose family, customs and home have survived through the centuries.

Tinsley Wood, an Anglo-Saxon forest provides an example of how the survival of ancient customs can still be, with a bit of sleuthing, determined today. A Devon farmhouse traces its past back 1000 years, a part of the English landscape and the ordinary English people. Michael Wood uses it as an example of . . ."that profound sense of obligation and cooperation between neighbours and parishes out of which all our institutions have grown."

It is the community and its equality before the law that have helped to establish the political beliefs that continue today. The English concept of a free society and the acceptance of the authority of the state is detailed in the story of Peatling Magna in August 1265. Michael Wood is struck by the combination of respect for individual free and respect for the law found in England.

Michael Wood concludes that it is a shared sense of history through the centuries and a feeling of belonging that makes the English what they are. Acceptance of a common language and authority and a common way of doing things are, to the author, at the root of the emergence of England as a state. The author states, " . . . . these tales do not just concern the transmission of information. . . . . . we learn not only about the past, but about ourselves."

The journey is a fascinating one as detail builds upon detail to present a final and fascinating portrait of a country's heritage and what makes it England. It's all about roots, and the English vision of history. It's a complex and fascinating tale. In Search of England is filled with pieces to answer the puzzle.

Publisher: University of California Press

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