This essay, consisting of fairly random musings about owls and inspired by his recent purchase of a book about the creatures, is a departure from Dalrymple’s usual oeuvre. Part 2 will apparently be about Richard III, the subject of the other book he purchased on the same visit to a charity shop.
For me, Dalrymple is no less exciting when he writes about the seemingly mundane than when he takes on the weightiest matters. The insights are just as interesting and profound, and the writing is, if anything, even more beautiful. As he says in this piece, he is interested in everything, and it seems to me that those who are the most interested are typically the most interesting.
Owls, I confess, play a only very small part in my life. In the little town in which I live when I am in England there is a woman who is always accompanied on her shopping expeditions by a pet owl. No one finds this astonishing or, if they do, lets their astonishment be known; this is either from a laudable desire not to intrude upon the owner or not to gratify her desire for notice. And in France a pair of tawny owls to-whit to-whoo every summer night in a tree a hundred yards or so (to judge by the sound of it) from the house. I never tire of listening them; I also never see them, and so their lives are a closed book to me. They therefore reassure me that there is mystery still in the world; for a world without mystery, in which everything were revealed and known, would be a terrible place. Knowledge is wonderful, the more of it the better, but omniscience would be a nightmare.