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This week’s review:
The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London | Christopher Skaife | 2018, 241 pages | Nonfiction
Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London then the tower “will crumble into dust and great harm will befall the kingdom.” But Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife is there to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Skaife has been the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London since 2011. He tells us about his daily life with the ravens, how they keep the ravens healthy and safe, what they eat, and how they encourage the ravens not to leave the tower. Not an easy thing to do with a creature that can fly away from you! They are huge birds with 2-foot wingspans. The ravens love games and mischief and definitely have minds of their own. They are very smart. They have very large brains for their size and so clever that author Nathan J. Emery calls them “feathered apes.” Skaife knows each raven and can tell you their names, when they came to the tower, their likes and dislikes and which other ravens they get along with. He has a list of rules about the ravens: DO NOT hurry the ravens; DO NOT attempt to change the pecking order; DO NOT try to cut corners; DO remain calm at all times; DO allow the ravens to follow the same routine every day.” The final rule is “DO prepare for chaos if you break any of the above rules.”
Ravenmaster Skaife has studied the ravens extensively. He remembers ravens that used to be in his care, and once climbed up the outside of the White Tower to try to reach a raven that has decided not to come home that night, a very dangerous thing to do.
Skaife was in the Army for 24 years before applying for the job. He did it because he liked history. And he wanted to try something new. He and the other wardens give tours every day at the tower and they have about 3 million visitors to the tower a year.
Skaife has funny stories and sad stories about his life with the ravens. He says, “I have what is often described as the oddest job in Britain. Odd? Maybe. The best? Definitely.” Throughout the book you can tell how much he loves his job and cares for the ravens at the tower.