The best books about the magic of castles

Maggie Freeman Author Of Castles
By Maggie Freeman

Who am I?

I’m a writer of historical novels and primary literacy books, and a poet. I was born in Trinidad and live in London. So why am I writing about the magic of castles? I’ve loved visiting them since I was a child, when I’d run round them and imagine what had happened there. Back home, I’d immerse myself in reading legends and fairy stories—at bedtime, lying in my top bunk, I'd make up stories to entertain my sister in her bottom bunk. So it was natural to move on to writing fictionthe novel I’ve just completed is about King Canute. I’ve written primary literacy books for Collins, Oxford, and Ransom.


I wrote...

Castles

By Maggie Freeman, Pat Murray, Mike Phillips

Book cover of Castles

What is my book about?

I’ve always loved castles. So when I was asked to write this primary literacy book about them I put in it the things that I enjoyed as a childclimbing spiral stairs, being up on the battlements or down in the dungeon, for example. I feel strongly that children need to enjoy books if they are going to want to read them.

The books I picked & why

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Life in a Medieval Castle

By Joseph Gies, Frances Gies,

Book cover of Life in a Medieval Castle

Why this book?

This is an amazingly comprehensive and lively guide to life in a medieval castle, useful for me because I write historical novels for adults, and I like to get my background facts right. It’s packed with information about subjects as various as the herbs strewn among the rushes in the castle hall, the timing of everyday dinner (between 10 am and noon), and how a count might take off his shirt in the evening to have his back scratched… It tells how the castle remained ‘the basic center of power throughout the Middle Ages’ both in peace and war.


Strongholds of the Picts: The Fortifications of Dark Age Scotland

By Angus Konstam, Peter Dennis (illustrator),

Book cover of Strongholds of the Picts: The Fortifications of Dark Age Scotland

Why this book?

I’ve spent some time in the north of Scotland and became intrigued by the remains of Pictish forts on hilltops and by the sea. This book doesn’t provide many answerswritten records before 900 AD are few and the archaeology is confusedKonstam’s conclusion is "the main benefit of any visit to one of these sites is to be able to stand on the same hilltop or promontory, and to imagine what it might have looked like in the days of the Picts." Which explains why legends and stories have grown up about castlesimagining has been key to making sense of such imposing features in the landscape, when often their real history has been forgotten over time.

Konstam’s book is one of a series, and if your curiosity is about a different sort of castle it’s worth checking it out.


The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

By Rosemary Sutcliff,

Book cover of The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

Why this book?

This is a vivid, dramatic and well-paced version of the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It is set in a legendary time full of castles such as Tintagel, or as here: "Meanwhile Sir Lancelot had lain six days and six nights prisoned in the vault below Sir Meliagraunce’s castle, and every day there came a maiden who opened the trap and let food and drink down to him on the end of a silken cord. And every day she whispered to him, sweet and tempting…" I love the resonance of Sutcliff’s writing; rereading it just now, I couldn’t resist reading it out loud just for the beauty of the sound of the language—something I’m very conscious of because I write poetry.


I Capture the Castle

By Dodie Smith,

Book cover of I Capture the Castle

Why this book?

I’ve only recently given up dreaming of living in a castle (I’d actually rather live in a warm, efficient modern house now!) but when I was in my early teens, when I first read this, I’d have loved to live in the tatty semi-ruined castle that narrator Cassandra Mortmain and her penniless family rent. The novel was published in 1949 and it has the gentle rural and romantic feel that one can associate with that periodjust postwar, looking back to a more idyllic time, and yet realistic about relationships. There’s a languor about it, a savouring of each moment that we have largely lost today, and a love of the natural world: "I decided to think a little before I began writing, and lay back enjoying the heat of the sun and staring up at the great blue bowl of the sky. It was lovely feeling the warm earth under me and the springing grass against the palms of my hands."


The Raven Heir

By Stephanie Burgis,

Book cover of The Raven Heir

Why this book?

This is fantasy right up to date: for 8 to 12-year-olds, it was published in 2021. Its castle setting immediately defines it as fantasy: "Beyond the castle’s moat, the deep, dark forest was shot through with trails of sunlight, tracing golden paths of possibility…. The dark-haired girl… sat, bare feet dangling against stone, on the windowsill of her tower bedroom." It’s a vivid picture, instantly engaging us in a world where family is very important. The heroine, Cordelia, is one of three triplets. Their task is to use their magical powers to find and mend the Raven Crown so that the parched land beyond the forest can be healed of the fighting that rampages across it, and people and the natural world live in peacethemes I feel very much in sympathy with.


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