[A stunning new nature documentary by world famous publisher, naturalist and national treasure Sir Timothy Cattenborough]
Our beautiful planet Earth. From up here on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro we can see the vast vistas of nature’s own miracles and what greater miracle can there be than the majestic novel — one of the natural world’s most miraculous miracles.
Here I am in the forests of Borneo gazing in wonder at the spectacular site of thousands of novels making their nests among the natural shelving of the great pine trees of northern Scandinavia. Whether it is these great majestic creatures of the plains of Patagonia or the more common domesticated novel of these rolling hills of Southern England, the novel is a familiar sight to us all.
But very few people have ever managed to see the hidden lifecycle of a novel. How are they born? How do they grow? And how, via the miracle of evolution do they reproduce? Today, via special cameras disguised as robots disguised as librarians we have, over a gruelling five minute project, at last gained unique footage of the novel’s lifecycle.
Here we are in the tar pits of Southern California. Here scatter brained authors drunk on fumes wander into the sticky petroleum products and become caught. This process, known as pitching a novel, provides the perfect breeding ground for more books. Young virile novels land on the decomposing bodies of the authors and there they mate and leave their eggs, flying off to grow even further.
Using our special macro lenses we can see here those novel eggs hatching into their first semi-aquatic form. These tiny monster-like creatures are known, here among the fenlands of Northern Europe, as short stories. They may look tiny but many are infamous for having vicious stings in their tails.
Tiny and vulnerable, these larval novels often huddle together in “magazines” for warmth and protection, as we can see here among the frozen wastes of Greenland. There they feed on tiny protozoic food sources such as ‘subscriptions’ and ‘reviews’. The lucky ones continue to grow while others become consumed by their siblings.
The larger short stories fight for attention and sustenance. Soon the few that have survived the brutal competition for resources have grown into the next stage of the lifecycle: the novelette. Still far from fully formed, the beginnings of novel-like structures have begun to appear. Some novelettes may have begun to grow chapters or even cover-art (the strange colourful crests that might evolve into mating displays).
Birds, small tigers and meerkats all seek out novelettes as tasty treats, thus winnowing the herds of novelettes that appear just before midwinter in anticipation of award season. Hungry squirrels burrow away collections of novelettes and often leave them forgotten in desk drawers or amid poorly named folders on their laptops. Very few of these noble creatures will make it through to the next stage in their growth.
Those that do survive, continue to grow into armoured novellas. Now equipped with their own external exoskeletons, their ‘covers’ may still be soft and their binding may only be rudimentary. Many will still seek to stay in the colonies known as ‘anthologies’ due to their resemblance to ant nests. There, amid the company of both novelettes and short stories they continue to take on adult form.
The passing seasons brings those novellas into full novel form. Some may be not quite full length or be in a ‘young adult’ form. Others will have grown tough outer carapaces known as ‘hardbacks’. These new novels are often garishly coloured. Scientists are divided as to whether the coloured patterns and striking colours are to attract mates or, alternatively, a form of disruptive camouflage to confuse voracious carnivores such as lions, pythons and book hoarders. Some novels form symbiotic relationships with other creatures – in particular librarians – and form large colonies in urban centres.
Later adulthood leads to further growth. Some novels find rich sources of nutrients and grow into mighty doorstop-sized novels. Other bifurcate into bizarre multi-novel book series and spread root-like tendrils known as spin-offs.
But death and rebirth are the only two constants of nature and even giant hardback multi-novel series with embossed leather covers must eventually pass beyond. Yet, by the miracle of nature, nothing is wasted and from the decaying remains of one novel come a myriad of derivative short stories. Thus the circle of life is complete.