Book Review: “Faeries, Elves and Goblins: The Old Stories” by Rosalind Kerven, published by the National Trust
I bought this book recently in a National Trust gift shop, and found it captivating. Rosalind Kerven explores the raw material from which many of our great fantasy novelists have derived their archetypes. She includes “mystical tales of faery royalty, mischievous goblins, helpful house-elves, changelings and enchantments across the British isles”, with spotlight features on “faery folklore, faery morals, the various faery tribes, and spells and dealings between faeries and mortals”. As a paranormal thriller writer I loved this wonderful survey of centuries of folklore and faery mythology in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The book reminded me too of why I was so fascinated by the idea of supernatural malevolence hidden beneath mystical beauty (a common theme in faery lore and in Arthurian legends) which was part of my inspiration for “A Passionate Spirit.”
Rosalind Kerven covers all the major themes in traditional tales of the faery realm, including what she describes as “typical Faery perversity”, spells that are both mischievous and malevolent, and the toxic nature of any deals struck by a faery with a mortal. Reading these tales reminds us that any mortal who ultimately comes out well from dealing with a faery, is extremely lucky!
Shakespeare had it exactly right with his fairies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, showing them having fun with and mocking the folly of the human beings, then putting things to rights once they have tired of their sport, wryfully signing off with the words, “If we shadows have offended…” In widespread stories down through the centuries, faeries are shown behaving towards mortals rather like a supernatural gang of brigands running a protection racket. These tales made me reflect upon how much they say of the life experience of their creators; an explanation for the changing fortunes we all encounter in this world.
There is so much here that we can identify with on the level of our own unconscious: “The transformation of a familiar path into an endlessly looping labyrinth” – for which a well-known antidote is to “remove one’s coat, turn it inside out and put it on again”; the experience of being “pixy-led”; the idea of obtaining “faery sight” which reveals a parallel world. I can see from this book how deeply influenced JK Rowling was by British folklore, in the Harry Potter novels: Dobby is set free when his master gives him an item of clothing; Harry is deposited as a baby on the Dursleys’ doorstep, by magical agency; and the idea of veritaserum, to name just three examples among countless others.
Highly recommended for adults interested in a survey of archetypal themes in folklore and mythology, though not suitable as a storybook for young children; they are best introduced to fairy tales and folklore through the many other books aimed specifically at their age-groups.