A new library has opened in Barnsley in the UK and features something surprising in the light-filled entrance lobby, something that links this often wet and cold northern town with the hot deserts and settlements of the Arab World. Gazing at everyone entering and leaving the library is a bronze statue of a young boy with a kestrel on his outstretched arm. Aside from his western clothing, he could so easily be a young Arab saqqar or falconer.
Why is this statue in this particular library? The answer is fascinating. Back in the 1960s a young writer from Barnsley called Barry Hines wrote a novel called A Kestrel for a Knave about a shy, troubled lad called Billy Casper who comes from a difficult home and finds hope and meaning in his life when he adopts a kestrel. He trains the bird, spends his every waking moment with the bird, feels love for the bird just as saqqar do today. He takes it on the moors, lets its soar and then holds out food and cries ‘Kes! Kes!’ and it swoops down to his gloved hand.
The novel – now a Penguin Modern Classic – was published in 1968 and made into a famous film simply called Kes by British director Ken Loach the following year. For many years the novel was studied by British school children.
What makes the statue doubly interesting is that it is of a fictional character. How many other statues of fictional characters are there? Barnsley Library’s statue of Casper joins a select number of depictions of fictional characters in the UK. The best-known is the figure of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, erected in secret overnight on 30 April 1912 so that early May morning strollers would think that ‘the boy who never grew up’ had arrived by magic. A tall Sherlock Holmes, pipe in hand, thills tourists outside Baker Street Underground Station. At Paddington station, Michael Bond’s beloved Paddington Bear sits on his suitcase, as he has done since 2000. London Zoo’s Pooh bear is a hybrid, being a statue of a real bear who later became a fictional one. A statue of Harry Potter will doubtless come at King’s Cross, but does not exist at the moment.
If one widens the search out globally, we find Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Central Park, PL Travers’ Mary Poppins in Maryborough, Australia and Cervantes’ Don Quixote in Washington DC. Perhaps there are some in the Arab World, or in China or the Far East. Statues of cartoon characters do not count. The question remains: how many statues of human, fictional characters are there anywhere in the world?
Barnsley Council is to be congratulated for giving physical immortality to a much-loved fictional character and it is lovely that Casper should have his falcon ‘Kes’ on his outstretched arm, the pair of them reunited forever. One can imagine a young British Arab visitor coming to the library with his grandfather, the old man’s eyes filling with tears as he sees himself with his falcon all those years ago back in the old country.