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Volunteers Week: Unexpected Journeys

From 31th May, the Information Store is celebrating Volunteer Week. There are tons of opportunities for volunteers in Norfolk- you could learn a new skill to add to your CV, or put your existing skills to work in your community. Volunteering can also be a great way to see the world- check out our display for some ideas and travel tips. We’ve compiled a list of books about life-changing journeys below. You might not encounter sirens, orcs or cyclops’ on your travels, but all these authors agree- it’s not the destination, but the journey that counts!

The Odyssey (NORFOLK HOUSE 883.01 HOM) has been told for nearly 3,000 years, and the word ‘odyssey’ has been used to describe a long or troublesome journey since the 1800s. You will probably recognise characters like the Cyclops, a giant with a single eye, and names like Laertes (from Shakespeare’s Hamlet), Nausicca (Studio Ghibli) and Circe (Game of Thrones). Odysseus is ready to return to his wife Penelope after ten years fighting in the Trojan wars, and while his actions on the battlefield have won him the favour of several Gods, others are determined to watch him die at sea. Washed up and desperate to catch a ride home, Odysseus tells his story to a bard, conveniently blaming his dead crew-mates for most of his disasters and namechecking all the Goddesses who fell for his Grecian charms! The Odyssey is an excellent example of a story with an unreliable narrator, and Margaret Atwood continues this theme in The Penelopiad (BOOK ZONE 823.91 ATW), retelling the events of The Odyssey from Penelope’s viewpoint. With Odysseus at sea, Penelope must raise their infant son in the shadow of his godly grandmother; she regularly clashes with Helen of Troy, who loves to badmouth Penelope’s hometown of Sparta. By using her maids as honeytraps, she deflects the suitors who see her as the means to her husband’s kingdom. But when Odysseus returns, he orders his son to punish the maids, wrongly believing that they will turn against him. Penelope does nothing to prevent their execution- while she derides her husband’s tales of bravery, the ghostly maids describe Penelope as grasping, haughty and shallow. Atwood aims to prove that there are many more than two sides to every story, and questions why we would trust a Queen more than a serving girl.  Other books in the Canongate Myths series include Weight by Jeanette Winterson (BOOK ZONE 823.91 WIN), in which Atlas tries to trick the demi-god Heracles, and Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith (BOOK ZONE 823.92), which follows Irish god Aengus on his search for the woman he saw in a dream.

the odyssey

The Odyssey: famous since 750 BC

The Hobbit (BOOK ZONE 823.91 TOL) is a classic story of an ordinary character thrust into an extraordinary situation! The hobbit in question, Bilbo Baggins, is a simple chap who longs for nothing more than a good meal. The powerful wizard Gandalf introduces Bilbo to thirteen homeless dwarves, and convinces him to join their quest for the Arkenstone, just one of the treasures hoarded by the dragon Smaug. As well as trolls, wargs, goblins, eagles and men, Bilbo encounters a strange, shrivelled creature named Gollum, who closely guards a certain ‘precious’ ring… Sixty years later, when Bilbo turns “eleventy-one”, he entrusts the ring to his nephew Frodo. It sits untouched on Frodo’s mantelpiece until the Dark Lord Sauron sends his Ringwraiths to claim it back… Frodo’s friends Merry and Pippin and his faithful gardener Sam join forces with Legolas the elf, Gimli the dwarf, and human soldiers Aragorn and Boromir to protect Frodo on his journey to Mount Doom, the only place the ring can be destroyed.

Some scenes in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (BOOK ZONE 823.91 TOL) are said to be based on Tolkien’s terrible experiences in the trenches of the First World War, but the love story of Beren and Luthien, which was published in The Silmarillion (BOOK ZONE 823.91 TOL) four years after Tolkien’s death, was conceived while Tokien was on leave and briefly reunited with his wife.

“No sun pierced the clouded sky…a shadowy silent world…an endless network of pools, and soft mires, and winding half-strangled water-courses…Cold clammy winter still held sway in this forsaken country. The only green was the scum of livid weed on the dark greasy surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long-forgotten summers”

The names Beren and Luthien appear on Tolkien and Edith’s tombstones.

“Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that came down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures. And of these histories most fair still in the ears of the Elves is the tale of Beren and Lúthien” 

the hobbit

In The Hobbit, the dwarves of the Misty Mountains are displaced by the greedy dragon Smaug

If you prefer fast cars, jazz, drugs and poetry to orcs, elves, hobbits and dwarves (we don’t judge!), you may have already heard of On the Road (BOOK ZONE 823.91 KER), the defining novel of the Beat Generation. Written in just three weeks, On the Road is a thinly-veiled account of the author’s trip through America and into Mexico. Kerouac (renamed Sal Paradise) is accompanied by one of literature’s best ‘frenemies’ Dean Moriarty, a barely-fictionalised version of Neal Cassady. Cassady didn’t publish anything during his lifetime, but has cameos across the Beat canon, appearing in six other Kerouac novels as ‘Cody Pomeray’. He is “the secret hero” in Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl  (BOOK ZONE 821.91 GIN), inspired Randall McMurphy in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (BOOK ZONE 823.91 KES) and drove the Forward bus in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Moriarty inspires Sal, just as Cassady inspired Kerouac, but he is far from a traditional role model- he is racist and homophobic and repeatedly abandons his pregnant girlfriends. It takes a life-threatening bout of dysentery to convince Sal that Dean is not the man he thought he was- his genius mind and their shared love of jazz does not excuse Dean’s behaviour. But On the Road is not a morality tale. Sal enjoys his hedonistic adventures just as much as Dean, and when the two are apart, he feels listless and without purpose. Neither man has truly found “it” by the novel’s end, but they’ve seen a hell of a lot along the way. Kill Your Darlings (DVD LOBBY 791.43) is another Beat-era story of intense friendship, this time between Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan, The Amazing Spider-Man) and Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter). Almost all the action takes place at Columbia University, where Ginsberg and Kerouac first met. Kerouac, played by Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston, is recently expelled and trying to adapt to life as a merchant marine. On the Road was filmed in 2012 and directed by Walter Salles, who had previously worked on Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries. Kerouac had previously tried to adapt his book himself, writing to Marlon Brando to try and persuade him to play Moriarty. The role of Dean’s wife Marylou was expanded, in part because actress Kristen Stewart had recently found fame in the Twilight movies, and explicit scenes that Kerouac removed from the manuscript in the 1950s found their way back into the script. Critics still thought the film was “too respectful” of the novel, to the point of being unfaithful to Kerouac’s vision- Dean’s poor background and criminal record were glossed over and the actors playing the two men were both too attractive!

on the road

Kerouac’s legacy is preserved on this street in San Francisco 

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (BOOK ZONE 823.91 SAF) is a similarly fictionalised account of real events. Author Jonathan travels to his grandfather’s native Ukraine in search of a woman named Augustine, who saved his grandfather’s life in the Second World War. He hires a guide named Alex, who is obsessed with American things like “rapid cars” and “discotheques”- his pop culture references are a little out of date! Alex’s grandfather claims to know the whereabouts of Augustine, but does little to conceal his hatred of Jews and takes Alex and his new friend “Jon-fen” on something of a wild goose chase. He claims to be blind in order to receive benefits, and his “deranged seeing-eye bitch” Sammy Davis Junior Junior regularly bites Jonathan in the backseat of Alex’s Soviet car. The revelations about Augustine and Alex’s grandfather are shocking and tear-jerking, and the book struck a chord with many Americans who would never have been born if their ancestors had not escaped the Nazis. Actor Live Schreiber (The 5th Wave) was trying to write a novel about his Ukrainian grandfather when he came across Foer’s book- he immediately abandoned his project to write and direct a film adaptation, released in 2005. The film stars Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings, Sin City) as Jonathan; Alex is played to great comic effect by Eugene Hutz, the Ukrainian frontman of punk band Gogol Bordello. Find it in the BOOK ZONE 823.91.

everything is illuminated

The author, played by Elijah Wood, takes a nap on his road trip through the Ukraine

Are you planning to volunteer overseas during your summer vacation? Do you have a volunteer placement in Norfolk? Been on any magical journeys lately? Connect with us over on Facebook or Twitter.



North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, Newspaper advertisement for Coca-Cola, 1951 accessed at on 27/04/2016

Ignote Smaug accessed at on 27/04/2016

Beckett, C Jack Kerouac Alley, Columbus Avenue, San Francisco accessed at on 27/04/2016

Mackey, R Everything is illuminated accessed at on 27/04/2016


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