INSPIRATION With laurel crowned

With the recent selection of Lauren Child as the new Children's Laureate, K. M. Lockwood considers the laurel wreath and its associations. With some ideas for your own work, of course . . .

I'm rather delighted by the double element of nominative determinism in the choice of Lauren Child as Children's Laureate. Her first name was probably inspired by the stage name of actress Betty Jean Perske (1924 – 2014) - Lauren Bacall. It's a variant of the male name 'Laurence' which means 'from the City of Laurels'.

Public Domain Image c/o Plant Curator

Laurus Nobilis (sweet bay) was used to make wreaths for the victors at the Pythian, or Delphic, Games. These were held every four years like the Olympics with similar events in honour of the god Apollo. In one legend, the god Apollo is sent on a pointless chase after the water nymph Daphne by an angry Eros. Apollo has been shot by the gold arrow of love, but Daphne by the lead arrow of rejection. When the god catches up with the naiad, she begs for help from her father the river god Ladon, and her mother Gaia, the earth goddess. She is transformed into a beautiful sweet-smelling tree. Apollo can never forget her loveliness and so uses the laurel wreath in her memory as the finest reward he can bestow.

Apollo was the god of poetry - and thus the Poet Laureate in the UK is so-named for the crown of laurels they deserve. He or she (Carol Anne Duffy is the first and only woman so far) receives £5,750 a year and a 'butt of Canary wine' - which is 126 gallons of sherry!

Dryden - the first official Poet Laureate appointed in 1668.
Notice the laurels, and oak leaves for Charles II, around the frame.
Image c/o the National Portrait Gallery

I don't expect the Children's Laureate gets such a reward - nor the gold medal and eight million Swedish krona of the Nobel Laureates. But each one of the five men and five women we have had so far, deserves their laurels - and are unlikely to rest on them!

Gold Laurel wreath 1st century BCE - by Mary Harrsch

Ideas for your own work

  • Following Chris Riddell will be seen as a challenge, even for Lauren Child - how would your main character cope with such expectations?
  • Wearing a crown, literally or figuratively, marks you out - how might the other characters react? With respect or jealousy, support or resentment, concern or mockery . . ?
  • With such honours come expectations that the bearer will do more. What if your antagonist received such a public display of praise? What would they go on to do?
  • What would it actually be like to wear a laurel wreath, or some other kind of coronet? They're not just for princesses!
  • There are other traditions than the Graeco-Roman that wear wreaths in their hair - could an understanding of these inform your work?

Polynesian girl (Public Domain)
Feature photo: Marble head of a man wearing a laurel wreath 1st C bce (Public Domain)  The Met

K. M. Lockwood writes and edits in The Garret. Once downstairs, she runs a tiny writer-friendly B&B or wanders off looking for sea-glass on the Sussex coast.
Twitter: @lockwoodwriter


  1. What a wonderful piece. It answers all the questions I was too afraid to ask for fear of looking like an ignoramus!

  2. Thank you Camilla - I bet you were only wanting to know the same as everyone else - only you are brave enough to admit it!


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