978-0-19-860398-6 / 9780198603986

A Dictionary of English Folklore (Oxford Paperback Reference)


Publisher:Oxford University Press, USA



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About the book:

Popular opinion might side with academic prejudice in thinking that there is hardly such a thing as English folklore, and certainly nothing worth studying--just a few superannuated old customs such as morris dancing. Certainly nothing to compare with the rich folk heritage of the Celtic countries. A Dictionary of English Folklore triumphantly proves that viewpoint wrong. It is a wonderful book--lively, authoritative and packed with fascinating information. It both collates the work of many scholars over the last 150 years, and establishes a new ground level for research and comment in the future.

Bot of the authors are leading folklorists who know the field inside out, and readers can have confidence that their views are based on the most reliable sources. They--sometimes reluctantly--debunk various common misconceptions about the origin and meaning of folk customs and superstitions. "Ring-a-ring-a-roses" is not anything to do with the Great Plague--the first English versions were recorded in the 1880s; the New Year ceremony in Allendale, Northumberland, in which the men march through the village with blazing tar barrels, is not a pagan custom--it only started in 1858.

By displacing romantic fancies with hard facts the authors do not take the fun out of their subject. Instead, they bring out with shining clarity the vitality of folklore, and its remarkable ability to adapt to new means of transmission such as the Internet. There are entries here on all kinds of ancient folk customs such as well dressing and harvest festivals, but also on photocopylore, the Tooth Fairy and the folklore of sex.

This is an indispensable reference book that does for English folklore what Jan Harold Brunvand's American Folklore: An Encyclopedia did for that of the USA--providing a reliable summary of modern scholarship in a form that is itself entertaining and provocative. --Neil Philip

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