Since the Lost Words’ publication in October 2017, this book has had a transformative effect on all who have come in contact with it. Described as a ‘cultural phenomenon’ in the Guardian, it has become a huge bestseller, has taken root in thousands of schools across Britain, been widely acclaimed as an instant classic, won numerous prizes, and inspired many creative thinkers, young and old. It was shortlisted in 2017 as one of Britain’s favourite books of all time on the natural world (alongside titles including Tarka the Otter and Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne).
The Lost Words is a ‘book of spells’ that seeks to conjure back the near-lost magic and strangeness of the nature that surrounds us. It transcends age barriers inspiring children and moving adults with its wide appeal. It is a large hardback book – over A4 in size, and the gold lettering and eye catching ’charm’ of Goldfinches on the front cover give a hint of the treasures that lie within. Each lost word is conjured back to importance through Robert’s powerful spells. They are called ‘spells’ rather than poems as they are designed to be spoken (or sung!) out loud in order to summon back these words and creatures into our hearts. Robert explains: “We’ve got more than 50% of species in decline. And names, good names, well used can help us see and they help us care. We find it hard to love what we cannot give a name to. And what we do not love we will not save.”
The book began as a response to the removal of everyday nature words – among them “acorn”, “bluebell”, “kingfisher” and “wren” – from a widely used children’s dictionary, because those words were not being used enough by children to merit inclusion. But The Lost Words then grew to become a much broader protest at the loss of the natural world around us, as well as a celebration of the creatures and plants with which we share our lives, in all their wonderful, characterful glory.”
Each acrostic spell has 3 accompanying artworks by Jackie Morris– a glorious triptych of watercolour painting – firstly a clever but solemn display of the creature or plant’s absence from our world, then the spell itself accompanied by an ‘icon-esque’ self portrait of the central character surrounded with sumptuous gold leaf, and finally the creature or plant is depicted embedded in its natural habitat.
The book’s beauty of both image and word is partly what has won it hundreds of thousands of admirers in a matter of months. But it is also the bearer of a powerful message about the need to close the gap between childhood and the natural world. This combination of beauty and urgency – enchantment and activism – is at the heart of the success of The Lost Words.