I am an avid reader of novels; not so much works of non-fiction. But that is not to say that I don’t enjoy learning about the world around me. I simply like to get my nuggets of factual information from fictional sources.
The problem is that I am a dilettante. I flit between subjects that interest me like dancers in a Rimsky-Korsakov ballet. I don’t have the single-focus mind of the modern academic. I find the world too interesting to limit my researches to an ever narrowing cul-de-sac. That is why I like discovering non-fiction in fiction. The information tends to come in bite-size chunks, which are better suited to my limited attention span.
A case in point: heraldry.
I am quite interested in heraldry, but not so much so that I would ever read an entire factual book about the subject. However, help is at hand, and from a perhaps surprising source: James Bond.
In chapter 6 ‘Bond of Bond Street’ and chapter 7 ‘The Hairy Heel of Achilles’ of Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, James Bond, 007, visits The College of Arms in Queen Victoria Street to establish a cover for himself in order to infiltrate Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s alpine retreat.
Whilst at The College of Arms, Bond meets Griffon Or Pursuivant and Sable Basilisk, where he is given a lesson in heraldry:
“Argent four fusils in fesse gules.”
Bond’s encounter with the two heraldry experts provides a memorable and light-hearted episode in the novel and, also, a perfectly adequate introduction to the topic for me. The drawing of a coat of arms forms the subject of the Richard Chopping designed dustwrapper of the first edition of OHMSS.
I now know that argent is silver or white; fusils are long, thin lozenges; a fesse or fess is a horizontal band on a coat of arms; and gules is red.
No further information is required.
© Fergus Longfellow
Fergus Longfellow is perfectly satisfied with a little knowledge.