Hey Janice, did I tell you I had received The Lore of Scotland, by Jennifer Westwood and Sophia Kingshill? Remember, I had mentioned it in my last post. You know, I have always been very interested in myths and legends and so I’m looking forward to reading it.
When I was a little girl, I used to come back from our local library, a very old building situated in a picturesque cobbled street near the big and dark cathedral, carrying in my arms a treasury of books which had been carefully chosen, one after the other and in very different genres. Rules have changed since that time for then you could not borrow many books at the same time and the choice always proved to be a dilemma. Among the books which I remember best are the books which were published by Fernand Nathan in their famous collection “Contes et légendes de tous les pays” as the one you can see above and there were many of them.
Look at the beautiful illustrations and you’ll understand why I got so quickly immersed in the pages of these captivating stories.
From the era of the bards to that of the media, great writers have largely contributed to popularize the old tales, which were traditionally sung, by collecting them in books. Walter Scott was one of the first to do so with The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders (1802-1803) together with his friend James Hogg who later published his Tales and Sketches of the Ettrick Shepherd (1837). Both of them must have been much influenced by Hogg’s very charismatic mother, Margaret, who was known for collecting native Scottish ballads and telling them to local audiences. Indeed she seems to have resented the fact that these ballads could be written down instead of being told or sung as it had always been done.
You know, I’m very enthusiastic about immersing again in folk tales, especially in Scottish tales since Scotland, like most countries with celtic roots, have inherited a particularly rich and lively story-telling tradition. As I have already underlined it, Scottish people are born story-tellers !
In Scotiana’s library we already have a lot of books about myths, legends and fairy tales and among them those of a very prolific Scottish author, Andrew Lang. Lang became famous, among other things, for his publications on folklore. Blue Fairy Book (1889), a very beautifully illustrated edition of fairy tales, has become a classic in the genre and I personally own a remarkable Folio edition of it. Lang published many collections of fairy tales which are collectively known as Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books.
Each of them have been named after a colour: red, pink and crimson, green, brown and olive, yellow, orange and violet, lilac and grey and I think we have all of them in the fabulous Dover edition qualified on each cover as “Complete and unabridged, every word, every one of the Illustrations”. Let us mention also, from the same author, Tartan Tales (1928) and Sir Walter Scott and the Border Minstrelsy (1910), and by George MacDonald, another famous Scottish author, The complete Fairy Tales.
The Reverend Kirk would not contradict me if I say that the world of the fairies is an unfathomable well or, most appropriate, a very hollow tree. By the way that famous Reverend Kirk’s tree is worth the trip and testifies to Scotland’s love of fairy tales.
We’ll come back soon to this incredible story and there is certainly one entry for the Reverend Kirk’s name in The Lore of Scotland. We’re going to check.
Not easy to find our marks in this world and one thing is to read these stories of fairy tales and legends which have been transmitted from generation to generation and another to try to learn more about the origins of these stories and to replace them in their national, local and even international context.
The world of myths and legends has never been so popular and many interesting books have been published on the subject by people who have devoted their life to collect the stories, travelling all over the country to find these old story tellers who happen to be the last links between oral and written tradition. The Lore of Scotland is one of these books. Not only will it prove to be very useful in our quest of Scotland folk-lore but we’ll certainly read it with much pleasure too.
It is divided into sections. Ten are devoted to the Scottish regions, each of them being illustrated by a map with very funny little symbols like “Animal legends”, “Clans and family legends”, “Devils and Demons”, “Fairies and trows”, “Ghosts and omens” and so on …
The ten regions are the following ones :
ARGYLLSHIRE & ISLANDS
The county of Argyllshire and the islands of Arran, Bute, and Lismore
CENTRAL & PERTHSHIRE
The counties of Clackmannanshire, Dunbartonshire, Fife, Kinross-shire, Perthshire, and Stirlingshire
DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY
The counties of Dumfriesshire, Kirkcudbrightshire, and Wigtownshire
GLASGOW & AYRSHIRE
The counties of Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, and Renfrewshire
LOTHIAN & BORDERS
The counties of Berwickshire, East Lothian, Midlothian, Peeblesshire, Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire, and West Lothian
The counties of Aberdeenshire, Angus, Banffshire, Kincardineshire, Moray, and Nairnshire
The counties of Caithness and Sutherland
ORKNEY & SHETLAND ISLANDS
The counties of Inverness-shire and Ross & Cromarty
There is an interesting introduction by Sophia Kingshill and, at the end of the book, a rich bibliography which will undoubtedly tempt us to add more volumes to Scotiana’s library, plus a very useful index and annexes. Many colour and black and white illustrations ornate the pages all over the book.
So, for those who want to go further than reading or listening to the good old tales we can only advise to read The Lore of Scotland.
Bonne lecture ! A bientôt.
Once, walking in Wester Ross, we came to Loch Maree, one of the grandest of Scottish lochs,
dominated by Ben Sleoch. It has twenty-seven islands, most of them in the middle where the
water is more than two miles broad. That evening we heard of a holy well on one of the
islands and next morning, borrowing the forester’s boat, we rowed out into the loch. On the
second day we found a round island with many oaks – trees famous in mythology and legend – but there was no well, only a small dead tree scaled with copper coins knocked into the wood
with stones. We paid our tribute to the spirit of the place and rowed back to the shore
Many years later we read the legend of the Princess Thyra of Ulster (see The Legend of Loch
Maree, p.224), written down by the Reverend J.G. Campbell of Tiree at the end of last century
from the lips of an anonymous storyteller. The tree he describes, beside a well, with a
hollow in its side into which gifts were dropped, may have been the mother of the little
tree we saw. There were no ruins of monastery or chapel, but this well and another are in
the title of this book.
We have sat with the travellers, once called tinkers, listening till long after midnight
to their Lowland tales, driving home in the dark through an Angus mist so thick the trees
were invisible. We have listened to, and recorded, Jeannie Robertson in Aberdeen singing
the traditional ballads and songs which had come to her from her mother, and not from
The stories in this book, all of them, came originally out of that world of storytellers
and singers. For many years they were passed on from one storyteller to another. For a very
long time they were not written down, nor printed, but there are a few references to some
of them. James IV of Scotland (1488-1513) encouraged tale-tellers, minstrels, stage-players,
singers, fools or privileged buffoons, and jesters, who might contribute to the amusement
of the court.
(The Folk Tales of Scotland – Norah and William Montgomerie – Extract from Introduction to
the 1975 Edition)