REVIEW: The Anthology of English Folk Tales

I’ve always been interested in folk tales, their origins, the art of oral storytelling etc etc, in fact I start a 10-week course next week – An Introduction to English Folklore – so when I saw this little beauty, I couldn’t resist buying it.

First published in 2016 (my edition is 2019) and published by The History Press, this lovely anthology has been produced in association with the Society for Storytelling and has sought folk tales from storytellers and writers from around the country to source tales from one end of England to the other.

Not every county is included in this book and each that is has just one story to represent it, but the variety in here is great.

We have fairies, and green children, murderous clergymen, ghosts, a dragon, the odd giant or two, a vampire, wild animals, a hunchback and much, much more.

In the book the stories start in Cornwall and work their way geographically north, with the final story coming from Yorkshire.

This isn’t a book of fairy stories and, unless you want to introduce your seven-year-old to a fair amount of violence and the odd expletive, I wouldn’t use it as children’s bedtime reading.

These are folk tales, not fairy stories, they have been handed down from generation to generation of oral storytellers until they are captured on paper. Before each tale begins, we are given some biographical about the author/storyteller and then the origins of the story and sometimes even the first time it was written down.

I live in Nottingham and the tale for Nottinghamshire centres on the city itself and a Gypsy Boy who sets out to marry a beautiful older woman… only to find she is a vampire.

Others I really enjoyed was a tale from Sussex called the Lyminster Knucker (knucker being the local word for dragon), The Murderous Vicar of Broughton Hackett from Worcestershire, The Potter Heigham Drummer from Norfolk, Ingimund’s Saga from Cheshire and Cat and Man from South Yorkshire.

There are 28 stories in total. Is there a basis of truth running through any of these tales? Who knows? There could be, or someone could just have spun a yarn around a fire one night and passed it on orally in the same way an author writes fiction and passes it on in book form.

I like to think at least some of them have an element of reality somewhere, even if they have been distorted Chinese Whispers style through the years. These stories were not learnt verbatim but interpreted by the generations of storytellers.

I love myths, legends and folk tales and I thoroughly enjoyed this anthology. I am looking forward to learning much more about folklore.

I also love the brilliant cover design by Angela Annesley which looks like it is a lino print. It’s beautiful.

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