Traditional and other lore

Victorian Christmas Mummers Play
Victorian Christmas Mummers Play

Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud
A Dictionary of English Folklore

Oxford University Press 2001 (2000)

For me the best reference books are those which not only provide a entry matching your initial query but which also encourage you to browse and read other not always related entries. This Oxford Dictionary does it for me on both counts: authoritativeness and readability. Folklore here is rightly interpreted as including aspects of modern popular culture as well as topics beloved of antiquarians.

Authored by two stalwarts of the Folklore Society — who should then know what they are talking about — the Dictionary contains over 1250 entries covering a wide range of topics including seasonal customs, traditional tales, superstitions and beliefs. Key figures involved in the recording of lore are noted here, and evidence presented that folklore is part of a continually evolving process. What makes this book particularly worthwhile is that not all so-called traditional lore is accorded uncritical acceptance, a plus for any truth-seeker when Victorian speculation about origins and meaning often became spurious fact.

For those wanting more there are relevant references and a bibliography, and in common with many in this Oxford reference series, pretty pictures are excluded in favour of more text. Sometimes this is a disadvantage but in this case I’d rather have more entries than a limited number of select and maybe unrepresentative illustrations. (Having said which, I include a curious photo of 19th-century mummers acting out their seasonal play.)

Modern Arthuriana: a bibliography

Original artwork by Simon Rouse for the Journal of the Pendragon Society
Original artwork by Simon Rouse for the Journal of the Pendragon Society

Ann F Howey and Stephen R Reimer editors
A Bibliography of Modern Arthuriana (1500-2000)
D S Brewer 2006

What is Arthuriana? The authors choose to define it as “the Arthurian legend in modern English-language fiction”, and include such manifestations as literary (but not non-fictional) texts, audio-visual media (film, television, radio, audio-books) and aspects of popular culture such as graphic novels and games. Aimed at students (the general public as well as scholars), collectors and librarians, this compilation is ideal both as a reference work and as a treasure chest to dip into. Continue reading “Modern Arthuriana: a bibliography”

Haiku summaries | bewitch, befuddle and bug: | serious humour?

gateway

A haiku is a traditional Japanese poem with some aspect of the seasons as a theme. In English it has sometimes, for better or worse, developed beyond the original concept of a seasonal link, and occasionally is found in the form of three lines of up to seventeen syllables in total with no reference to the time of year:

The conceit is this: / five, seven, five syllables? / Summative poem!

The book-cataloguing and social networking site Library Thing has provision in their listings for what they call a ‘haiku summary’ of literary works. I thought I might try to amuse readers (as I may have entertained with the Twitter hashtag #bookcheat) by inviting you to identify books by the following summaries. If you’re stuck, follow the links! Continue reading “Haiku summaries | bewitch, befuddle and bug: | serious humour?”

What’s the use of a book without pictures?

skyline

Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopædia
by David Day.
Mitchell Beazley 1993 (1991)

This is a work that attempts to live up to its title: it includes an introduction to Tolkien’s published works (not just related to Middle Earth), then rushes straight into chapters on history, geography, peoples and nations (pretentiously called sociology here), natural history and a Who’s Who in Middle Earth, finally ending with indices and acknowledgements.

Because David Day doesn’t just limit himself to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, there are charts and maps that help to place the War of the Ring in context, and the whole is profusely illustrated by nearly a score of artists.

Continue reading “What’s the use of a book without pictures?”

A commendable compendium

King Arthur by Julia Margaret Cameron
Nineteenth-century photographic study for a portrait of King Arthur, by Julia Margaret Cameron

The New Arthurian Encyclopedia
Edited by Norris J Lacy et al
Garland Reference Library of the Humanities 1996

With the publication of The Arthurian Encyclopedia in 1986 students were able to access, in one volume, academic discussion on a range of Arthurian topics — art, history, literature, fiction, drama, music and cinema for example — across space and time, all listed in alphabetical order. In 1991 an updated hardback edition was published as — naturally — The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, followed by a paperback edition in 1996 which was itself supplemented by an addendum detailing video games and new fiction that had appeared in the intervening years.

Anybody remotely interested in Arthurian matters should own or at least have regular access to this last volume, despite a desperate need for it to be updated yet again some two decades on from its last publication. Continue reading “A commendable compendium”

Born to be wild

Western Polecat (Mustela putorius)
Western Polecat (Mustela putorius)

Helga Hofmann Wild Animals of Britain & Europe
translated by Martin Walters
Collins Nature Guide, HarperCollins 1995

As we drove down a country road yesterday morning a familiar form crossed in front of us: a polecat. We recognised it by its colouring, the distinctive dark mask over its face, and by its size. What we weren’t familiar with was its gait, because the only previous time we’d seen one was after our field had recently been mowed for hay, and by then the poor creature was quite dead. The cat appeared interested in it, mainly because of the strong scent it had left behind — the second element of its Latin name Mustela putorius means ‘smelly’. We left it for other carnivores to feast on or for a passing buzzard to carry away. To identify it was just a matter of moments Continue reading “Born to be wild”

Celts, cults and comprehensiveness

Newport church, Pembrokeshire http://wp.me/s36La9-celtic
Newport church, Pembrokeshire http://wp.me/s36La9-celtic

James MacKillop Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Oxford University Press 1998

The tag “Celtic” is one of those catch-all but often meaningless labels that are a lazy shorthand for anything mystical, fey or even implicitly racial. Too often it is used by those profoundly unaware of its scholarly origins in linguistics or cultural history, so it is refreshing to have this Dictionary written by a specialist displaying his undoubted expertise in linguistics, literature, archaeology, history and comparative religion. Continue reading “Celts, cults and comprehensiveness”

Not academic but accessible

Original artwork by Simon Rouse for the Journal of the Pendragon Society
Original artwork by Simon Rouse for the Journal of the Pendragon Society

Ronan Coghlan The Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends
Element Books 1992

Often plundered and even plagiarised – frequently online and most notably in print by Mike Dixon-Kennedy in his Arthurian Myth and Legend: an A-Z of People and Places (1996) – this was the first really accessible dictionary of Arthurian personages, locales and other miscellanea. While not an academic publication the Encyclopaedia at least references most of its entries (unlike its main rival, mentioned above) while still striving to be user-friendly. This original edition Continue reading “Not academic but accessible”