If you are lucky enough to be taking a break in a lighthouse and are wondering about to take as holiday reading - or how to keep the kids entertained on a rainy day- you might want to consider some lighthouse literature. The following highlights some works for adults and children that feature or tell something of the story of lighthouses.
Dark, heavy and lighter
A number of modern thrillers have been set in lighthouses and the subtitle of Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller’s The Lighthouse - a Novel of Terror sets the scene for a couple who get embroiled in a murder case after heading for Cape Despair Lighthouse on the Oregon coast. A body is discovered in a lighthouse in the PD James novel simply called The Lighthouse. With all these goings on it is worth checking you are fully covered by your travel and hotel insurance!
Your dramatic coastal trip may be the perfect setting to read or return to Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, published in 1927 and probably the best-known work associated with lighthouses. As a child, Woolf spent many summer holidays near a lighthouse on the Cornish coast in England and much of her memories are recast in the novel. A discussion about a visit to the lighthouse opens the book and introduces us to the tension between Mr and Mrs Ramsay. As you look down onto the waves crashing around cliffs on your trip, you can read about Woolf’s characters and their minds as they deal with each other and their vocations, and how in much-changed circumstances there is eventually a trip to the lighthouse.
A little too heavy for your suitcase? Something at the other side of the spectrum also inspired by lighthouses is The Last Lighthouse Keeper by Alan Titchmarsh. This novel, which he calls a "romantic adventure," was inspired by his sailing trips along the lighthouse-dotted southern coast of England. Since most are no longer manned, he chose to write the book as the last lighthouse keeper of Trinity House retired, taking him as his hero and making him a loner who decides to spend his redundancy payout on sailing around the coast of Britain. Also a keen diarist, he finds that his writings bring him troubles as he seeks to fulfill his dream.
The tale of the keeper is also told in Stargazing: Memoirs of a Lighthouse Keeper, by Tim Hill, who sets down how he came to man a number of lighthouses along the Scottish coast in the early seventies.
For the kids
The beam of a lighthouse into her bedroom lit Ronda Armitage’s early life. Many years later her son spotted a wire near the coast and asked his parents what it was. His father told a fib, saying it was for the lighthouse-keeper’s lunch. Inspired, by her husband’s white lie, Ronda’s first book was first published in 1977. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch tells of a seagull with designs!
The keeper, Mr Grinling, lives in a cottage with his wife perched on a cliff, but rows out every day to polish the light to ensure it beams brightly at night. Since the first book, Grinling has had a further eight adventures based around his cat, other mealtimes, a rescue and a ‘catastrophe’. The series is illustrated by Ronda’s husband and aimed at the younger reader.
Some sixty years ago, Hildegard H Swift and Lynd Ward wrote The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. It tells of the construction of the George Washington Bridge across New York’s Hudson River, as seen through the eyes of the "round, fat, jolly" and very proud little red lighthouse, officially known as Jeffrey’s Hook Light. The lighthouse soon comes to fear it has been usurped by the bridge, until an incident proves otherwise.
For the braver, older reader, there is Scottish R. M. Ballantyne’s The Lighthouse. Written back in the nineteenth century for wee boys, the background to the book is Bell Rock, a lighthouse whose beam first shone in 1811. It was a feat of construction and killed five workers along the way. Ballantyne writes that “the rock on which the lighthouse was to be erected was a sunken reef, visible only at low tide during two or three hours and quite inaccessible in bad weather.” A dramatic setting indeed for a story that follows the scrapes of a Victorian lad and Captain Ogilvy.