Sunday, October 30, 2011

Library Essentials: A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language (Part A: Folk Narratives) edited by Katherine Briggs

A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language (Part A: Folk Narratives) edited by Katherine Briggs is an amazing book, one of the largest collections of folklore from one region in print. If every country had a collection like this in print, the world of folklore would be a happier place. Briggs was an impressive scholar and this is only one of her important contributions to folklore studies. It is impressive. And heavy. Truly. Don't drop this one on your foot.

Book description from the publisher:

First published in 1970 to a chorus of critical acclaim, the Dictionary of British Folk-Tales is now regarded as a classic in folklore scholarship.

Arranged in two parts, the first, Folk Narratives, contains those tales told for edification or delight, but not thought to be factually true. The second, Folk Legends, presents tales believed by the tellers to be records of things that actually happened.

Part one is divided into five groups: Fables and Exempla, Fairy Tales, Jocular Tales, Novelle, and Nursery Tales. The Fables are animal stories after the manner of Aesop, that point to a moral or satarize human frailties, and the Exempla too are tales used for moral illustration. The Fairy Tales are narratives containing or hinging upon supernatural happenings, while the Jocular Tales form a great body of drolls, noodle stories, and bawdy tales. The Novelle are narratives in which there is no explicitly supernatural element, and the Nursery Tales include both tales obviously invented for small children, and tales of horror.

Folk Legends are much commoner in Britain than Folk Narratives, and the second part of the Dictionary gives a representative collection of them. They are arranged mainly under subjects treated: Black Dogs, Bogies, Devils, Dragons, Fairies, Ghosts, Giants, Historical Legends, Local Legends, Origin Myths, Saints, the Supernatural and Witches. Many of the tales are given in full, some are slightly shortened and many others are summarized. The sources are given in each case - whether medieval, from nineteenth-century collectors, or from current oral traditions.

Each part of the Dictionary includes a bibliography, a tale-type or classified index, and an index of story titles.

The entire set, all parts, is also available from the Folio Society. I don't own the set, but I would love to. It is on the wishlist! Here's a video from the Folio Society, too. It's actually two sets of three volumes each. What is in the first three is essentially what appears in the copy I featured at the top of this post.

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