Checking Out: Smoke Hole: Looking to the Wild in the Time of the Spyglass

We  are living in continuously interesting times. Martin Shaw’s book, “Smoke Hole: Looking to the Wild in the Time of the Spyglass” (Chelsea Green, 2021), summarizes it well: “it’s a time of great paradox: we want to live forever but seem intent on executing the earth. We are technicians of unimaginable advances but are growingly less literate to interpret a way the earth always spoke to us: through myth.” While the wheels seem to be spinning increasingly out of control, Shaw suggests that we find our grounding not by continuing to seek beyond where we are, but instead by exploring stories of the past and the universal wisdom they have to offer.

“Smoke Hole” is a small book that explores three myths: The Handless Maiden, The Bewitched Princess, and The Spyglass. Shaw walks us through each myth as a contemplative, personable, and relatable guide – these seemingly simple stories contain much depth. Shaw explains, “everyone who reads a story like this experiences it a different way. For some it’s intensely personal; for others, a symbolic field played out on the vastest governmental level possible. Try and track where you go with it.”

While all three stories offer extremely timely, as well as forever enduring, themes and lessons to reflect on, it is the story of the spyglass that Shaw really seems to draw parallels through to today. The story features a princess with a spyglass who can see everything around her, and a hunter who is tasked with hiding from her gaze. With the help of a fox, he discovers the only spot she is unable to see – the one right beneath her feet. Shaw compares the spyglass to the far-reaching gaze of the internet, reflecting on the need to be seen and the ability to see everything at the tips of our fingers. Yet we are called to remember the space beneath our feet – the grounded truth of who we really are is the one thing that cannot be revealed.

As a storyteller, author, and teacher of myth, Shaw shares insights on each story from the grandest themes to the slightest details, inviting us to consider his insights while also exploring where our own interpretations and thoughts take us. The myth’s powers lie in both their universality as well as their ability to speak on such a personal level to our own experiences.

Check out “Smoke Hole: Looking to the Wild in the Time of the Spyglass” at your closest Denver Public Library location.

Winter of Reading is back for 2022! Denver Public Library’s adult reading program, Winter of Reading, is back! Participants over 17 years old can complete five or more reading-related activities to earn a mug or a tote bag. Visit or your favorite library location for more information, book recommendations, and fun programs through February 28th.

Hannah Evans is the senior librarian at the Smiley Branch of the Denver Public Library.


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