A DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH FOLKLORE
By Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, published by Oxford University Press at £20.00. HBk. 410pp. ISBN: 0-19-210019-X
This volume has been several years in the preparing and, as a member of the Folklore Society, of which the authors are well-known members, I had received a request to input ideas and topic suggestions along with all other members. They seem to have managed very well without my assistance.
Although Simpson and Roud are both essentially academics, the book is easy to use and a pleasure to dip into at random for the non-specialist reader as much as for the folklore enthusiast. The several hundred entries are, in typical dictionary style, arranged alphabetically and range from King Arthur and charms to the Seven Whistlers and Mischief Night, from excrement and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to Sir Ralph Vaughan Williams and the folk song revival to red hair and horses.
Anyone wanting, or expecting, to read that all English folklore is a survival of ancient pagan fertility rites is going to be disappointed, not least because this theory about English folklore is about 50 years out of date and has not place in a book such as this. Nevertheless, there is much of "pagan" interest, including entries on Stonehenge, the Rollright Stones, Long Meg and many other ancient and megalithic sites, on foliate heads, Gerald Gardner, curses, cunning men and women, and on practices and artefacts traditionally associated with witchcraft in England, such as hagstones and magical flying.
Many hours of happy browsing, then, to be found between the covers of this volume. The price may deter some readers but that would be unfortunate because it's an excellent read and an even better long term reference to have on your shelf.