Monday, November 04, 2013

To Protect and Defend: Castle: Revised and in Full Color by David Macaulay

Whatever magical or superhuman notions these buildings may stir, castles and cathedrals are tangible reminders of human potential. Understanding how they came to be is just the first step in recognizing that potential in each of us.

Both castle and town were intended as tools of conquest, but each had its own distinct function. The castle and wall surrounding the town were primarily defensive. Whatever offensive use these fortifications had stemmed from their placement along important supply and communication routes and to some extent from their intimidating appearance.

And intimidating these castles were, constructed at the command of King Edward I of England, who was determined to conquer the maverick Welsh people. Beginning in 1277 Edward's invasive armies were supplemented by a string of castles and walled towns, paid for whenever the king could persuade them, by local lords of his own appointment.

Macaulay's original edition of his 1977 Castle, executed in meticulous black-and-white ink drawings in incredible detail, is a classic among the many books about architecture and engineering by the master, David Macaulay. But when offered the chance to update and revise his perennial best-seller, Macaulay chose not to take the easy way out, merely adding a gentle wash of watercolor to his strong black-line illustrations.  Instead, he chose to completely redo the story of the fictitious Lord Kevin Le Strange and his purpose-built castle and town of Aberwyvern on the Welsh coast, incorporating the considerable body of scholarly discovery since 1977 and sporting completely re-drawn, full-color paintings.

Macaulay retained but reworked many of the qualities of his original--including cutaway drawings of the interior structures (even a garderobe--privy--in use and its attendant cesspit) and charming scenes of village life outside and castle life inside the inner and outer curtains (walls) of Lord Kevin's domain. His palette is a medieval one, dominated by the browns of timbers, the gray of stone, and the faded greens, blues, and reds of clothing of the workers and residents.  Some scenes--the installation of stained glass into the under-construction chapel--are lovely, and some--the cooks and servers hard at work in the castle kitchen--are cozy and warm.  The detailed bird's-eye layouts of the town and castle and its harbor are fascinating, and the illustration of the finished structure, with its alabaster coat of gleaming lime plaster, is quite imposing.

Generations of middle readers have been enchanted by the marvels of human engineering in this volume and Macaulay's many others such as Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction, City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction Pyramid, and his magnum opus, The New Way Things Work, have inspired engineering ambitions in many a youngster, and with this splendid updated edition, Castle: Revised and in Full Color (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), future generations of architects and historians will happily wear this edition out as well.

Kirkus Reviews hails its "all new, often breathtaking images" and has awarded it a rare starred review well ahead of publication.  This update should sit side by side with the original edition in school and public libraries, and home libraries as well,  because, although each edition is unique, they reinforce and inform each other in a special way.  This new edition is a gift to young readers whose interest may begin with those cool siege machines and warfare and move on to an abiding appreciation or interest in history and architectural engineering.

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