Within the pages of this book there is a story told
Of love, adventures, fortunes lost, and a jewel of solid gold…
So begins Kit Williams’ really rather remarkable book Masquerade which, for those either too young to remember or too distant from British shores to have taken an interest, was a story book, art gallery and treasure hunt all in one. Published in 1979 the book was a literary sensation in Britain, and remains a cultural reference point fondly remembered by a entire generation, me included.
Today’s Times and Guardian both carried articles reporting on the anniversary of its publication, and the recent reuniting of the author with the book’s buried treasure: a gem-encrusted gold amulet in the shape of a hare that Kit himself originally crafted. I still have the well-loved copy of the book my family bought in 1979 and vividly recall both the phenomenal amount of excitement its publication generated, and the tantalising words of encouragement printed on the back cover:
The treasure is as likely to be found by a bright child of ten with an understanding of language, simple mathematics and astronomy as it is to be found by an Oxford don.
I was eight in 1979, and by the time the amulet was eventually unearthed some 2½ years later was indeed that ‘bright child of ten’ of which the book spoke. Not that I, or anyone in my family, got close to solving any part of the book’s multi-layered mystery, although the pages of delightfully detailed, devilish and sometimes dark paintings were extremely well-thumbed.
If you have never heard of Masquerade, nor of the scandal that followed, then Wikipedia does a good job of explaining some of the finer points. The story of the book is, after all, just as fascinating as the book’s story, if you get my meaning.
Kit was unprepared for the book’s notoriety; and perhaps even wished he had never had his — quite literally! — harebrained idea. But the world would be a poorer place without such endeavours, and the fact that the Guardian chose to feature the article on their front page is a testament to the remarkable and lasting impact of the author’s vision. In the autumn the BBC is to screen a new documentary on the book and its legacy; catch it if you can!
My undimmed nostalgia for the book may be gilt-edged by idyllic memories of my own bucolic childhood, but it warms my heart to see the book remembered, and to read how Kit Williams was finally reunited, and perhaps reconciled, with the golden hare he buried 30 years ago.
The best of men is only a man at best,
And a hare, as everyone knows, is only a hare.