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‘A Treasury of British Folklore: Maypoles, Mandrakes & Mistletoe’ by Dee Dee Chainey is the comprehensive guide to all things mythical and magical in the UK, collecting British customs, superstitions and legends from past to present. It covers everything from Cornish pixies to Grindylows to the seasons of the year, and everything in between. Most importantly Chainey links these traditions, that our culture is so ingrained in, to the present day and how they continue to influence events today.
This is a book in three parts. The first covers the land and its inhabitants, from strange water creatures to the lore of birds. The second looks at the supernatural, the magical, and the heroic, demonstration the multitude of legends surrounding warrior kings and giants roaming the land. Lastly, the folklore turns to humanity and the milestones of life from birth through marriage until death and burial. In each of these parts, the book ranges across the British Isles to incorporate Irish, Scottish and Welsh lore in comparison with one another. In doing so, this book creates an extensive overlook of the sheer range of legends, the similarities between various folk tales and reasons for conflicting superstitions and beliefs.
The illustrations by Joe McLaren really added to the quality of the book. There is something bold, scraper-board like and slightly humous at times about his style. It has a fitting dark humour when required, but the lighter touch of caricature in some of his people-based illustrations. Most importantly, they make the book beautiful, highlighting the best parts of Chainey’s writing and bringing them to the fore as all good illustrators do.
One of my favourite extracts from the book is from chapter 4:
‘Walking through the forest, tracing the gnarling tree roots while leaves brush your face and sunbeams dance among the leaves, It’s easy to be seduced by their magic. As you breathe in the scent of the mouldered loam, you can get lost in the dense wilder woodlands, both bodily and metaphorically.’
I think it’s easy to forget how routed Britain in mythology, legend and folklore, Greek, Norse, and countless others surround us in literature and media. But it is Chainey’s ability to write poetically, to highlight the magic in the everyday woodland or river, that makes this book so interest. Not only is the writing style beautiful, but it is also engrossing and aims to make you extraordinarily look at the ordinary. It is easy to see how Chainey helped build up the successful online magazine #FolkloreThursday, as her writing style is so unique and entrancing.
One of the best aspects of this book is the ‘Where to Find Folklore’ section in the back of the book, which collates a calendar guide of the various festivals and events across the UK that happen on a yearly basis. For me, this is the heart of the book, as it allows people to engage with the folklore that is already surrounding them or find new parts of the British culture that they didn’t know before.
This is one of those books I picked up by chance, just something that caught my eye on the table as I walked into the bookshop. I had no expectations of it, and I wasn’t especially expecting to buy it, but its beautiful illustration, easy-to-read style and fascinating contents hooked me immediately. It’s a great read, something you can quickly dip in and out of between other things or get stuck into cover to cover. So if you’re at all interested in folklore, or are even just looking for something to do over the long summer holiday, then this is the book for you.