Redonda’s ‘kingdom’ amusingly chronicled
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IN Try Not to Be Strange: The Curious History of the Kingdom of Redonda, Michael Hingston traces the story of one of the strangest kingdoms in the world, one without subjects but only kings and other officials. It’s a fascinating account of the author’s investigation into a unique micro-nation.
Hingston’s latest examines what at first might appear to be an elaborate joke: a kingdom with no inhabitants except for goats, rats and birds; a monarchy where succession can be announced by mail; and a population composed entirely of writers and publishers. Some of the features he highlights are a national flag made of old pajamas and a peerage including the publisher Alfred A Knopf and authors Dorothy L. Sayers and Dylan Thomas.
Hingston is a journalist whose articles have appeared in National Geographic, the Washington Post and Wired. His books include Let’s Go Exploring and The Dilettantes. He currently lives in Edmonton.
Although Hingston gives extensive information about the kingdom and its monarchs, the book is more of a personal essay describing the author’s research than a history of the kingdom of Redonda. His investigation into Redonda began when he bought a book by Spanish novelist Javier Marías, which tells the story of John Gawsworth, one of the kings of the micro-kingdom.
This discovery prompted the author to embark on a quest to learn more about Redonda’s history, including kings, courtiers and others involved in perpetuating the story. The title of the book, coming from a piece of advice the first king received from his father in 1880, is perhaps a hint of what the conclusion will be.
Searching for and examining the documents related to Redonda gave Hingston a chance to build up a picture of the island, including the natural flora and fauna, as well as the decaying remnants of the Redonda Phosphate Company, which once operated there. His investigation also includes a discussion of the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde and the Decadence movement in literature and society that influenced writers of the era, including the kings and other officials in the Kingdom of Redonda.
Besides this literary background information, Hingston gives extensive accounts of the writings of some of the people involved in the kingdom. For example, a description of the works of M.P. Shiel, otherwise known as Felipe I of Redonda, form a significant section of the book.
Photographs of the people and places, along with pictures of official Redondan documents, help illustrate the story and give readers a sense of the range of people involved in the kingdom.
Hingston describes the Redondan monarchy as a joke comprised of lies, exaggerations and misdirection, the product of people whose careers are based on creating stories to entertain the public. Some of the photographs also help to illustrate the point, such as a picture of King Christopher holding a sceptre which doubles as a device for cleaning weeds and barnacles off the bottom of boats.
Humour, a conversational style and an obscure but interesting subject help to keep much of the book engaging, if somewhat strange. Although some sections of the book might tend to distract some readers from the main story, the book is an entertaining and informative volume that many people could enjoy.
Susan Huebert is a Winnipeg writer, editor, and pet sitter.