Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Folktales of the British Isles - (Edited By) James Riordan

I love folktales. Well, who doesn't? They are such windows to the minds and hearts of people who lived long ago, in parts of the world one might not be familiar with. A good collection of folktales is a perfect mixture of the myths, the men and the legends and James Riordan's Folktales of the British Isles is right up my alley.

The book looks beautiful, it is a nice chocolate brown hardbound with yellow lettering. It belonged to mom but she gave it to me last month and that in itself makes the book special. It is more than thirty years old. Maybe because of the gesture behind it, opening the book was like opening a musty old treasure chest, a little rickety but good enough and sound enough to preserve all those stories within its covers. I ran my hand over the pages, breathed in deeply, that particular smell that only old books have and settled down to devour it.

The book contains a collection of tales from The west country, The south east, Wales, The midlands, East Anglia, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, The north east, Scotland, Isle of Man, Ireland and a couple of Gypsy tales. The tales range from whimsy to superstitious to cute to horrific. The collection of stories from each region resonates with the voices and lives of its people in that obscure yet insightful way that only folktales can.

So you read about demons and dragons, elves and pixies and fairies, boggarts and banshees. Some of the stories warm your heart, some make you laugh and some might make the hairs on the back of your neck stand stiff. But they are all immensely entertaining and you are swept along effortlessly till there is no barrier between you and these people who profess to have experienced or witnessed or heard of these things.

Perhaps to really like it, you need to have a taste for such stories but it is that very thing, the incredulity quotient that folktales have that make them so beguiling. So read away. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

One last thing - The one jarring note was perhaps how elves, fairies and pixies were considered to be dangerous and not to be trifled with, rather than cute and fun and so on. It went against how I have considered these magical creatures to be and that worries me. I love to believe. In Santa, in fairies, in angel food, in elves, in Rudolph. And I want them to be the good guys so if I ever come across a teeny tiny leprechaun, all green and beard I will be sure to ask him :)

I could not find the image for this book anywhere, but if anyone is able to get hold of it I shall be grateful.


bikerguy said...

lovely review :)
yes folktales are always beautiful to read...filled with mysteries, magic, imagination!
the last para is very nice :) reminds me of someone who believed in Santa until high school, and was dissapointed to know the fact ;)

Pavi said...

Hahaha.:) I liked the last para or even better,I liked the last para of the previous comment ;-)..But honestly a good review..I might give it a try ..sounds nice.. also will try to find you an image of the book:)

Whitney said...

Beautiful review! I love that last paragraph, it reminds me of "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" :}

Shweta said...

With the recent surge in faeries books in YA fiction world , you will be shocked at how these faeries and elves and others are portrayed. Negative would be an understatement :)

I am sure I would love to read this book.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review.. Love the last paragraph, and I can see many of them loved it too..

Vaishnavi said...

@Avi - Just FYI....I got disillusioned when I was ten years old..not when I was in class ten :)

@Pavi - I'll lend you this book and I am ignoring the previous comment (sort of) because it isn't exactly accurate.

@Whitney - Thanks a lot! Where does this line come?

@Shweta - Really?? I had no idea, haven't read that much of fantasy YA. Yes, I think you will love this book :)

@Sumanam - Thanks a lot :) And welcome!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I wonder whether you have read Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill, Vaishnavi? I think you will find it most appealing to your tastes.

And by the way, you had this feeling that elves and fairies and pixies were always supposed to be nice and cute only because your generation grew up on a heavy diet of Disney animation movies! The literature is old and rich, and these mythical creatures are actually much more complex, even revolting and sinister at times. See, for example, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, to name only a fairly recent classic. And there are all sorts of dark hints in Grimm's Fairy Tales, and even in the Harry Potter books...

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,
I have actually read Puck of Pook's hill ages ago but I have completely forgotten the story. Will have to read it again!

You are right sir, growing up we were surrounded by Disney everywhere and that perhaps influenced my opinion on this but I have always felt sir that Tolkien painted a rather nice picture of elves and goblins and other such mythical creatures his villains were mostly orcs and ogres isn't it Sir?