A light exploration of English myths, legends and country lore. Some are based on historical events or people; others are long-standing superstitions and country tales.
Country Lore and Legends is an extract from The Lore of The Land and forms part of Penguin’s English Journey’s series of classic extracts and reprints.
Books in the English Journeys series are produced as inexpensive paperbacks and include coverage of a wide range of topics from poetry to food and gardens, mostly feeding a nostalgic view of a traditional bucolic England.
Tales, Myths and Mysteries of the English Town and Countryside
This small volume covers legend and mysteries associated with historical events and people. It starts with the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket and dispels many of the myths associated with the consequences for the murderers who did not suffer supernatural penalties.
Other tales associated with legendary figures such as Robin Hood, Saint George and Mother Shipton are explored and put into context. Myths associated with real figures such as Dick Turpin or Boadicea are refuted as romantic reinterpretations by the Victorians or otherwise clarified.
Superstitions and Country Lore across England
Country Lore and Legends also explores those tales and beliefs that occur in various forms across England and beyond. They often involve people with special skills or knowledge that would have looked mysterious and magical in times before science and includes Witches and Cunning Men.
Many of the other stories are about harbingers of tragedy or phenomenon that provide warnings. Such superstitions exist in very similar forms, such as the Seven Whistlers, in different parts of the country.
Much of the rest gives a quick overview of supernatural occurrences and beliefs such as Ghosts, Bogey Beasts and Fairies.
More Modern Myths
Other more modern tales, or perhaps jokes on the unwary, such as the secret Treacle Mines which figure in local folklore in many areas are discussed. Similar myths exist about Secret Passages and often appear to have a genuine historical context but are unlikely to be true for a variety of reasons such as the nature of the ground not allowing such tunnels..
An Undemanding and Pleasant Enough Read
Country Lore and Legend is an easy read but the content feels rather lightweight (at least in this extracted form). It could even be described as superficial at times. As a consequence it does not really justify the description of classic unlike other titles in the English Journeys series such as The Pleasures of English Food.
However it is an easy way to while away a spare hour or so and would provide a wider background to the many booklets that are available locally on their version of the stories.
Country Lore and Legends (ISBN: 978-0-141-19104-1) by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson is published by Penguin Classics at £4.99 (Can$9.99). It is part of the English Journeys series.
First appeared on Suite101