On My Fairy Bookshelf: ‘Fairies- A Dangerous History’ and others

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On a recent visit to Glastonbury I picked up a couple of fairy texts in Labyrinth Books.

Fairies- A Dangerous History

The first was Fairies- A Dangerous History by Richard Sugg (2018).  This is a handy general history of the subject and Sugg writes in a very stylish and enjoyable manner.  There was not a great deal in the book that was new to me, but there were nonetheless some new facts and cases as well as new perspectives on familiar subjects, that made me reconsider those in a fresh light.  That alone can make a book worthwhile.  The content is selective, rather than comprehensive, but he has chosen interesting angles to illustrate his topic.

As a researcher in this subject, I was (I must confess) somewhat vexed by the fact that Sugg gives no footnotes.  Indeed, although there is a reading list at the end, he often seems to refer in the book to texts that he doesn’t mention in his final bibliography.  This is a little trying, although armed with Google, some creative thinking and some patience, you can track most things down on the world wide interweb.

Other than that (rather specialist) gripe, this is an entertaining and informative book and good value, too.  Sugg also wrote a chapter on the Cottenham fairies in Magical Folk, by Simon Young and Ceri Houlbrook.  Simon recommended the book in the newsletter of the Fairy Investigation Society, which encouraged me to make the purchase.

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Hikey Sprites

At the same time in Labyrinth Books, I found Ray Loveday’s Hikey Sprites- the Twilight of a Norfolk Tradition (2009).  Loveday is a Norwich man and he has conducted a personal survey of the surviving fairy beliefs in his home county, interviewing witnesses himself (as well as illustrating the book with charming line drawings).  It’s only 40 pages long, but it’s a fascinating little study into this quite obscure East Anglian spirit, a being that’s got characteristics in common with both wills of the wisp and bogies.  It’s a bit ‘nursery-sprite,’ a bit ‘Hobby lantern’ and a bit goblin.  The booklet was a pleasure to read.

Suffolk Fairylore

Lastly, by mail order, I decided to get Suffolk Fairylore by Francis Young (Lasse Press, 2019); also recommended by Simon Young in the FIS newsletter.  Francis Young is a more academic writer to the previous two (which means, for the fussy amongst us, that the book is fully annotated!) and he provides a thorough analysis of fairy lore in another East Anglian county.

The focus might seem too specialised or limiting, but there are many fascinating stories to be told (such as the Green Children of Woolpit) and Young provides lots of well informed analysis, setting Suffolk fairy lore in a wider context.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book, as well as finding it very useful.

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Further Reading

I’ll conclude with a shameless plug: my own new book, Faery: a Guide to the Lore, Magic and World of the Good Folk will be issued by Llewellyn Worldwide in April 2020.  This builds upon the information contained in my British Fairies and offers an even more comprehensive survey of faery folk in the British Isles.  See a full list of my faery titles here.

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