Anyone who has visited the Tower of London and been subject to the Tower spiel knows about the ravens and the prophesy.
OK, say you weren’t listening to the spiel so…there are a bunch of ravens which stroll over the Tower’s lawn. (Yes, there is a lawn, called the Green. For some reason.) And ravens are very big black birds. Surprisingly big. Sort of scarily big.
Well, those ravens stick around on the Tower Green because they can’t really fly off it. Some of their wing feathers are subject to barbering. Seems that when you clip a bird’s wing feathers, they can’t achieve soaring lift-off.
The reason the ravens have clipped wings…well, it isn’t reason at all. It’s the opposite of reason. It is a dusty 400-year-old superstition: if the ravens leave the Tower Green, the monarchy (and the Tower) will fall. Thus, some bright 17th century light figured, “Hey, if I keep them from flying away, we’ll be hunky-dory.” Or whatever the 17th century equivalent of “hunky-dory” was.
However, the Queen of the Ravens, by name Merlina, has somehow managed to depart the premises. (This may be one of those irritating hindsight warnings but maybe you don’t want to call your Raven Queen “Merlina.” It is suggestive.)
The Times’s Alan Cowell takes precisely the right tone about this monumental piece of news:
LONDON — They flap and lollop and squawk and scavenge. They hold the future of the realm, some say, in their fearsome beaks. And now one of them — their queen, Merlina — has been reclassified to M.I.A. from AWOL, heralding the feared redemption of a purported prophecy dating from the time of King Charles II in the 17th century: When the ravens leave the Tower of London, the building will crumble and the kingdom with it.
That at least is the story so far, a blend of myth, invention and hard-billed commercialism that has elevated the resident colony of ravens at London’s famed prison and palace on the north bank of the River Thames to a rare status: clipped-wing guardians of the national destiny, tourist-dollar magnets.
The ravens have a wrangler, a/k/a ravenmaster. He called Merlina “free-spirited.”
“But I’m her buddy, and so she normally comes back to us, but this time she didn’t, so I do fear that she is not with us anymore,” he told the BBC.
Look, I don’t want to sound nit-picky, but if Merlina is not there, she is definitely “not with us anymore.” (Oh, I know; he means Merlina may have gone off to die.)
But you can always depend upon me for a rosy thought. What if Merlina has done a Joe? That is, managed to make her way to Melbourne, so she can link up with Joe, the racing pigeon? If Joe can solo from Oregon to Australia, I’m sure Merlina can get there from London. After all, she’ll be staying within the Commonwealth.
Thing is, will Australia plan to kill her? Kill the raven who guarantees their monarchy’s eternality? I don’t think so. And if Merlina is indeed hanging out in the backyard of Kevin Celli-Bird, I bet she’ll spread her (unclipped) wings over Joe and give him protection.