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New Medieval Books: The Deorhord

#New Medieval Books: The Deorhord

The Deorhord: An Old English Bestiary

By Hana Videen

Princeton University Press
ISBN: 978-0-691-26000-6

This book reveals what Old English sources had to say about animals, both real and imaginary. If there was a bestiary written in early medieval England it would look something like this.


Because bestiaries derive from a shared tradition, they all tend to follow the same ordering of creatures, beginning with land animals and continuing with birds, snakes and water-dwellers. The Deorhord isn’t a traditional bestiary – it’s a hord of dēor – and so I’ve gone with a different kind of order, collecting creatures into the ordinary and the extraordinary, the good, the bad and the baffling. When humans attempt to generalise and categorise a thing, it quickly becomes clear that that thing is far too complex, and my categories of Old English animals are no different. Something as seemingly ordinary as an ant is in fact extraordinary, and the much-maligned serpent may in fact be ‘good’ (at least in some ways). Some creatures are baffling due to their limited descriptions, while others are described in great detail – but with utterly bizarre characteristics. Perhaps a dēor that baffles modern scholars would have been familiar and easily recognisable in the early medieval period; we’ll never know, and must continue to rack our brains. I hope you’ll join me in the puzzle.

Who is this book for?

This is a very unique and creative book that should find a large audience among both medievalists and people who like to read history. Those who research Old English or animals in the Middle Ages will find this to be a useful additon to their collection.

The author

The Deorhord: An Old English Bestiary is a Toronto-based writer, blogger and scholar with a PhD in English from King’s College London. She is well know from her website and social media, including X/Twitter and Instagram.

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