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British Children Have More Fun
by Georges T. Dodds

With the critical acclaim for Susanna Clarke's tale of 19th century magicians in London (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel), the popularity of Worst Witch, a TV series set in a British private girl's school for witches, and the Harry Potter series, it is clear that British wizards and magicians are seeing a wave of popularity not experienced since the days of John Dee, and that this magic is particularly popular when placed in the hands of pre-teen wielders. However, it is a different sort of magic -- that of the outdoors, of Nature, of imagination, of play and of learning and social dynamics it brings to children -- that interests Georges.

[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other British Children Have More Fun columns.

The Corfu Trilogy
Gerald Durrell
(London, 1956, 1969, 1978)

My Family and Other Animals Birds, Beasts and Relatives The Garden of the Gods

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Gerald Durrell
(7/1/1925-30/1/1995)

Gerald Durrell Gerald Durrell (brother of author Lawrence Durrell) was born in Jamshedpur, India in 1925. His first intelligible word is reported to have been 'zoo.' After the death of his father in 1928, the family moved to England and then settled on the Greek island of Corfu. His time on Corfu is recalled in his novel My Family and Other Animals (1956). During his youth, Gerry collected everything from minnows to wood lice, eagle owls to scorpions. In 1945, he became a student keeper at the Zoological Society of London's Whipsnade Park. At 21, he inherited 3,000 and he financed, organised and led the first of several animal collecting expeditions.

In 1959, Durrell opened his own Zoo in Jersey dedicating it to saving endangered animal species by breeding them in captivity, and where he and his team pioneered inter-zoo exchanges of animals and scientific information. Durrell met his wife-to-be, Lee, on a speaking tour to Duke University in 1977, together they continued the work Gerald had begun. As well as writing books, the Durrells also presented several television series, including Ark on the Move, The Amateur Naturalist, Durrell in Russia and Ourselves and Other Animals.

In 1990, Gerald and Lee led a four-month expedition to Madagascar to collect several endangered animal species for captive breeding programmes at the Jersey Zoo. Gerald Durrell's health deteriorated after the trip and he died, aged 70, on January 30, 1995.

Gerald Durrell Tribute page
Durrell links site
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
Pictures of Corfu and G. Durrell
More on Durrell's Corfu
My Family and Other Relatives TV series
BOOK REVIEW: My Family and Other Relatives :1, 2, 3
Biography: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Bibliography: 1

When I was roughly 15 years old, I serendipitously discovered Gerald Durrell's autobiographical novel My Family and Other Animals (1956), and went on to read most all of his other novels and accounts of collecting and protecting animals all over the world (sort of the original Steve Irwin). My Family and Other Animals tells of the five years the Durrell family spent on the Greek island of Corfu after the death of the father. While it does delve to some extent into the interpersonal relationships of family members, and some of the more colourful local folk, it is mainly a chronicle of the development of a budding zoologist. Who else but a young zoologist-at-heart would find interest in spiders which alter their colour to hide in different coloured roses, earwig nests and all sorts of lizards, toads and other creatures? His discoveries wandering among the olive groves, meeting local farmers and shepherds who show him or supply him with strange animals or direct him to their more obscure haunts are fascinating. The menagerie he develops does not, of course, always coincide with the interests or house-guest preferences of his family, but make for a very humorous and light-hearted story. His experiences in Corfu clearly molded the important conservationist he would become. There also exists an excellent TV series based on the book. What My Family and Other Animals may differ in, compared to the fictional children discussed before, is that the young Durrell is not so much driven by imagination, though he does have a healthy dose of that, but more so by a strong curiosity towards living things. Durrell's adventures on Corfu are continued in Birds, Beasts and Relatives (1969) and The Garden of the Gods (1978)

Copyright © 2005 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.


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