Thursday, November 8, 2012
Happy Birthday, Katharine Mary Briggs
Today is Katharine Mary Briggs's birthday. She was born 114 years ago today. To salute her, I decided to repost a post about her from 2010. I really should dig up that Faerie Magazine article and post it here, too. Beauty and horror of the web--nothing goes out of print!
Here's my original post:
I recently finished an article on Katharine M. Briggs (1898-1980) for the next issue of Faerie Magazine. I was familiar with Briggs’ body of work, but not so much with her personal life. The most stunning part of all was realizing that while she had earned both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Oxford in her twenties, she spent much of the first half of her life away from academia. It wasn’t until after WWII that she completed her doctorate in folklore in 1952 at the age of 53.
Not to say that she didn’t spend much of her life loving and immersing herself in folklore. She spent many of those years writing and producing plays with her sisters, using folklore as inspiration. It was a lifelong interest.
Her first book, The Personnel of Fairyland: A Short Account of the Fairy People of Great Britain for Those who Tell Stories to Children was published in 1953. After that, there was essentially no stopping her. She continued to research and write as well as serve as a key member in the British Folklore Society, using her resources and time to keep the society alive when it was faltering.
Her other books include The Anatomy of Puck: An Examination of Fairy Beliefs Among Shakespeare's Contemporaries and Successors (1959), Pale Hecate’s Team: An Examination of the Beliefs on Witchcraft and Magic Among Shakespeare's Contemporaries and His Immediate Successors (1962), as well as The Fairies in Tradition and Literature (1967).
These were followed by four volume opus, A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language (1970-1) followed in 1976 by A Dictionary of Fairies (also known as An Encyclopedia of Fairies in the U.S.), one of the most comprehensive and reliable reference books on faerie lore to this day.
She was also a cat lover and so wrote Nine Lives: The Folklore of Cats in 1980, the year she died.
There were also two novels for children, Hobberdy Dick and Kate Crackernuts, a novel based upon her favorite fairy tale of the same name. I haven’t read either although I have several of her other works on my shelves. I am especially interested in Kate Crackernuts and have it on my personal wishlist.
Overall, Katharine Briggs was an amazing woman. Many of her books remain in print thirty years after her death. She is honored in memoriam by The Folklore Society (formerly The British Folklore Society) with the annual The Katharine Briggs Folklore Award. Her body of work and influence is stellar.
If you want to read more about her life, you can look for a copy of Katharine Briggs: Story-teller (1986) by H. R. Ellis Davidson. You can also look for issue 20 of Faerie Magazine which should be on newsstands by the end of this month to read my full article.