The predecessor to Helen Macdonalds H is for Hawk, T. H. Whites nature writing classic, The Goshawk, asks the age-old question: what is it that binds human beings to other animals? White, the author of The Once and Future King and Mistress Mashams Repose, was a young writer who found himself rifling through old handbooks of falconry. A particular sentencethe bird reverted to a feral stateseized his imagination, and, White later wrote, A longing came to my mind that I should be able to do this myself. The word feral has a kind of magical potency which allied itself to two other words, ferocious and free. Immediately, White wrote to Germany to acquire a young goshawk. Gos, as White named the bird, was ferocious and Gos was free, and White had no idea how to break him in beyond the ancient (and, though he did not know it, long superseded) practice of depriving him of sleep, which meant that he, White, also went without rest. Slowly man and bird entered a state of delirium and intoxication, of attraction and repulsion that looks very much like love.
White kept a daybook describing his volatile relationship with Gosat once a tale of obsession, a comedy of errors, and a hymn to the hawk. It was this that became The Goshawk, one of modern literatures most memorable and surprising encounters with the wildernessas it exists both within us and without.