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The BOOK that inspired me to study!

I’ve always loved books. Just ask my daughter: she’s always commenting on the towering stacks of old paperbacks or stuffed shelves on every wall of the house. Or my son, groaning when I pick up yet another curious-looking novel that’s been left for free on someone’s wall. (That’s a fantastic Brighton tradition, by the way: got something you don’t need anymore but someone else might want? Leave it outside your house in case a passerby would like it! Look out for it once you get here.) But among all the amazing books that have shaped my thoughts or directed my choices, there is one that I can quite honestly say, hand on heart, changed my life. 

School books that inspire university study

THE book that inspired Jon to study

I remember being in my school library in Year 7, probably looking for fantasy novels, and spotting a richly-illustrated picture book with (to me) an odd word in the title: Tales from the Mabinogion by Gwyn Thomas and Kevin Crossley-Holland. I had no idea what that might mean, but the cover looked fascinating, so I picked it up, and found a whole new world of interest opening up before me. 

The Mabinogion is a collection magical stories written down in medieval Wales, drawing on myths and legends that go back to prehistoric times. They tell of princes, queens, magicians, war, love, loss and heartbreak – and offer endless insights into the human condition. But what really got me about this book, when I found it on that day, was that these were old myths from Britain – in fact (because I have family in North Wales), from places I knew. Without wanting to get at all blood-and-soil about it, this was a revelation to me: I’d always loved myths and legends, Greek and Norse stuff mainly (who hasn’t at least heard of the Minotaur and Thor?), but I had no idea, had never heard, never even considered that there was a comparable body of mythology from WHERE I COME FROM. Why had nobody ever told me this before?! How come people don’t know about this?! Instantly, I was hooked. 

Study something that you are passionate about!

So, I spent my teenage years reading as much as I could about these stories, who told them, what they meant, how those people lived. Pretty soon I didn’t just want to study History, I was into Archaeology – in which I took my first degree. And alongside this, I was drawing more and more connections between myths of different cultures – and, eventually, I became a professional storyteller. And I found that my fascination with the connection between stories, history and place never left me – drawing me back, in all my work, offering questions to answer. And so, now, I am combining all these interests and studying a PhD at the University of Brighton on how we relate to place through folklore and imagination. And this path, that has defined and shaped my adult life, started on that day when I found that book in the library in Year 7.  

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Jon Mason • 10th September 2021

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