Monday, October 29, 2018

Forests full of forgotten folktales (Following folktales around the world 89. - England)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

I could not get access to any collections that cover all parts of the UK in one volume, so I decided to do them separately.
Forgotten Folk-tales of the English Counties
Ruth L. Tongue
Routledge, 1970.

This book instantly became one of my all-time favorite folktale collections; it is full of enchanting and unknown stories. Ruth Tongue's vast folklore collection burned down in 1966, after which she began to salvage what she could, by writing stories down from memory, and copying scorched pieces of paper. Some of these had been sent to her before and she did not even have time to read them, so it was a close call for them to be lost forever. Luckily, we now have them printed in this book, and they are a treasure trove!
The book contains 90 stories, grouped into three parts of 6 sections each. The sections are thematic (e.g. "Ghosts and Curses", "Witches and Evil Spirits," or "Rhozzums"). Each story comes with sources and notes, and there is a list of them compiled by county.


I found a lot of new favorites. I fell in love with The Vixen and the Oakmen, where trees and plants helped a fox get away from hunters and home to her husband. I encountered again the Elder Tree Witch, a fascinating and creepy story that I also included in my own book. Trees kept popping up in many of the best stories: Timbertoes and Silvertoes was about the friendship of an oak and a birch, The Wonderful Forest saved a girl from an evil king hunting her, and the Green Ladies of One Tree Hill punished two men who cut them down. There were many tales about apple trees specifically; they were often protected by fairies, or fairy horses (Lazy Lawrence) from greedy people.

Several stories that featured helpful animals. I loved the Wee Little Tyke, a tiny black dog that was adopted by a family and defended them fiercely from the curses of a witch. A little boy was helped by a donkey, a cat, and a dog to rescue her baby sister who had been taken through The Fairies' Mist Gate (lovely Christmas story, by the way). A mother was also helped by a horse, a hound, and a lap dog (!) in the fight against a Grim to save her daughter. In Food and fire and company a little old lady was helped by an invisible being around the house.
There were some stories that almost brought me to tears. Next to the wee little tyke, such a story was Poor Mall's Pilgrimage, the sad tale of a girl sold to a lord for a night, and then bullied mercilessly by her village. Eventually a strong and brave priest came along that protected her from the villagers, and carried her on his back to see her baby boy who'd grown up to be the bishop of Canterbury.
There were some ancient tales in the book too, such as one about the Wild Hunt, summoned unwittingly by a boy who blew into Herne's Horn. Or the Dragon of Solway, killed by people who dug stakes into the beach at low tide, and impaled the monster; a story that appears in indigenous traditions around the world. Dragons featured into a few stories, among them the one that got banished not once, but twice - first, by a monk on Winlatter Rock, and second, by Thee Valiant Lads who chased it into the Blue John Mines (this is how I found the book in the first place).
There were many other supernatural beings included in the book - quiet, deepwater mermaids (Asrai), the legendary Black Dog, it's cousin the Dog of the Hills, second cousin the Daisy Dog (actually a Pekingese), Black Annis the blue-faced hag, the Shuck, water ponies (shoopiltee), and fair folk under dozens of names (grig, boggarty, silky, etc.).
Even Robin Hood appeared in one story. We are in England, after all...


The story of the Seven Swans took an unexpected turn: One was wounded by a hunter, turned into a girl, and was carried away by him - but when she recovered, she turned back into a swan, chased him out of the house, and her swan sisters drowned him (just sayin'). The tale of the Cheshire cheese that went to heaven after rolling away from the priest and dividing itself among the needy reminded me of all the rolling pancake / gingerbread man tales.
Ruth Tongue suggests that the In my pocket story was probably known to J. R. R. Tolkien. It is about the friendship of a dumb giant and a smart dwarf, the latter of which hides in the pocket of the former, and beats a wizard at a game of riddles.

Where to next?

1 comment:

  1. Great to learn about my home country's folklore - knew of a few but far from all. Looking forward to Wales and beyond.