Museums in Books: Kraken

It’s time for another thrilling installment of Museums in Books! This time, I’m not exploring museums from children’s books, no, we’ve graduated to looking at a  book for grown-ups. The book in question: China Miéville’s Kraken.

China Mieville Kraken
China Mieville Kraken

The focus of this book is the Naural History Museum’s giant squid , which you can see on the museum’s free Spirit Tours, which are less about ghosts and more about dead things.

Dead things in jars.

Who doesn’t love stuff in jars? China really captures what it’s like to go on one of these tours and his account brought back memories of the time I went on one.  It reads like we even had the same guide around the stores…

The Natural History Museum is often described as a cathedral of science. Just one look at the building is enough to invite this comparison, but it’s an idea that Miéville really plays with: the specimens being as objects of worship as well as study. The thoughtful, contemplative nature of the curator/conservator is not entirely unlike the adoration of a worshipper in front of a relic.

From my travels and experiences with museums it’s clear that they all have very different personalities. Even museums that deal with the same subjects can very greatly in how they approach things. For example, just compare and contrast the Natural History Museum with, say, the Grant Museum where you find such wonders as this. Miéville manages to capture this difference through personifying his museums through their guardian ‘Angels of Memory’. Trust me, it works a lot more effectively than it sounds…

My one quibble, the NHM is protected by a jar-like creature. I know it makes sense given the context of the story, but to me – and I’m guessing many of you guys out there- this particular museum will always, always be about dinosaurs before anything else.

By the way, if you like hi-jink in natural history museums, have you seen One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing?


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