Billy stumbles across a 200-year-old giant talking tortoise named Charles Darwin, named by the man himself. Charles D, the tortoise, knows every artefact, and he’s keen to set Billy on the path to adventure. In The Rage of the Sea Witch, we follow Billy’s adventure to the shrieking chaos of an Arctic blizzard after an Inuit ivory necklace brought him back in time to meet its rightful owner, a girl called Ahnah, her shape-shifting grandmother and the mysterious explorer Pytheas.
This guest post is written by Roland Chambers, author of The Adventures of Billy Shaman: The Rage of the Sea Witch.
Everybody is interested in how the world we all live in was discovered. Who the great explorers were. What adventures they had at sea or under it, leading expeditions through jungles or across the ice and snow or up in the air or into space. It’s perhaps the most exciting story of them all — who discovered what, when and how? — but it’s hard to say who should tell it, because everybody wants to tell it differently.
My version is told by a giant tortoise called Charles Darwin who was captured on the Galapagos islands by the real Charles Darwin over a hundred and fifty years ago. Charles Darwin the tortoise has lived in Darwin’s vegetable garden ever since. He knew the great scientist and explorer personally and became his close friend. He understands all Darwin’s theories and the collections in the house, which has now become a museum, so when Billy shows up he can tell him all about them.
Is there a talking giant tortoise living in Charles Darwin’s cabbage patch? Not as far as I know. But Darwin really did bring back tortoises from the Galapagos and they really did outlive him by many, many years. The oldest of them, Harriet, died in Australia in 2006, aged 175.
Billy Shaman is the hero of my story — shaman by name and also by nature. You won’t read about him in the history books. Not yet. His parents have abandoned him in Charles Darwin’s house, now a museum, for the summer holidays, and on the first night he is kept awake by an invisible giant snoring in his bedroom. In the morning, he meets Charles the tortoise, but Charles cannot explain about the giant or why the specimens in Charles Darwin’s spirit collection keep coming to life.
Billy is at the beginning of a journey that will turn not only Darwin’s theories, but the history of the discovery of the world inside out. Along the way he will discover what a shaman can do and that the past is not just a set of facts but a mysterious force that is constantly changing the way we think and feel.
Charles Darwin the giant tortoise comes from a species named after Darwin the man: Cheolonoidis Darwini. Explorers and scientists are always naming things as if they didn’t have names already, or didn’t exist before they were ‘discovered’.
In The Rage of the Sea Witch, Billy meets the Greek explorer, Pytheas, who sailed into the Arctic Circle and named the land he discovered Thule, which means ‘the utter north.’ Pytheas is a real, historical figure. He was the first European to describe how in the extreme north, at the summer solstice, the sun shines at midnight, and accurately described the way sea ice forms. But Pytheas did not discover Thule. There were people living inside the Arctic Circle already, just as there were people in America before the arrival of Columbus.
There is an important debate going on at the moment about whether or not museums really own some (or most) of their exhibits. Should the Elgin Marbles go back to Greece? What about a fossil? Does it belong to the government that owns the ground it was found in, or to the person that found it? What about a meteorite that lands in my back garden from outer space?
What does a ‘people’ mean? The colour of our skin? Our customs? Where we live? What about ‘home?’ Is it an address or a feeling? How do we draw a line around it?
Charles Darwin’s house and garden are full of stolen things, including the tortoise who is telling Billy’s story. It is Billy’s job to return the exhibits that do not feel at home to the places where they do. He can do this because he is a shaman, a person who can see spirits and talk to animals, who can speak with the dead and travel in time.
Along the way, he will meet people from different cultures and visit some of the key moments in the history of the discovery of the world, along with the explorers who claim these discoveries. He will heal some of the damage caused as things are torn up and ripped apart, but the problem of home doesn’t go away easily or there would be no story at all.
Billy’s next adventure
In Billy’s first adventure, The Rage of the Sea Witch, he returns an ivory necklace hung with magical animals to its rightful owner, Ahnah. He meets Ahnah’s grandmother, Sedna, the sea-witch of Inuit legend, and learns why she is so angry. Sedna gives Billy his quest and some hints about how to go about it. She also tells him what it means to be a shaman.
In Billy’s second adventure, The War of the Heavenly Horses, he meets Han, son of one of China’s greatest explorers, Zhang Qian. Billy and Han are caught in the middle of a battle between the Emperor Wudi and the Horse King, owner of the fastest, strongest, most beautiful horses in the word. Han rides the best of these, but is about to lose his head.
Billy is summoned to Han’s side by the hollowed out hoof of a horse that died over two thousand years ago. But who does the hoof belong to? Wudi? The Horse King? Han? Charles Darwin, who used it as an ink well? Or the horse himself, Oxhead, named after the horse of Alexander the Great, whose quest for new lands to conquer took him to a valley just north of India — a meeting point between East and West along a highway we now call The Silk Road.