Some Excursions into Cornish Folklore

I’m sure some of you might have doubted my Cornish folklore addiction, but I can assure you it is both a rare and serious condition.  Now that Oberon is off to the printer and my next project still awaiting additional information, I’m indulging deeply in its depths.  Here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been reading.

If you’re going to start with 19th century Cornish folklore, there’s no better place than Robert Hunt‘s Popular Romances of the West of England.  Hunt covers all of the major topics – giants, fairies, saints, megaliths, witches, King Arthur, etc. – at exhaustive length and with an eye to all manner of folkloric oddities.  Plus, just about everyone else who writes about Cornish folklore is going to be referring back to Hunt frequently, so why not just read the original?

But what about Hunt’s sources?  His chief one was William Bottrell, a former teacher turned world traveler turned folklorist, who later took it upon himself to write three more books, being two volumes of Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall (volume 1 and volume 2) and Stories and Folk-lore of West Cornwall (which I have yet to read).  Bottrell is much more steeped in the Cornish “droll” tradition, which means that his stories give you a better taste of the interests of his audience.  This is sometimes very interesting, but other times quite tedious, given the Cornish penchant for the young lovers who are separated, with the woman pining as the man goes off to sea, is captured by pirates, takes over the pirate ship, etc., or detailed descriptions of the manor grounds of Trewoofe.

For a more up-to-date take, including many legends up to modern times, Folklore of Cornwall by Tony Deane and Tony Shaw is a pretty good book, covering many of the same stories as above with more references to recent additions, such as the Beast of Bodmin Moor and the Owlman.  The book is more of a summary than an in-depth look at any of these, and its lack of footnotes on particular entries can be frustrating if you want to find out more.  (Where am I going to find references to that Victorian killer octopus on the northern coast?)  Still, for most of these, a Google search or a reference to one of the above books can turn up quite a bit of information.

These books are more for broad overviews.  Later on, I think I’ll discuss my new Cornish folklore book-buying habit.

Published in: on February 5, 2015 at 10:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. You may find that Stephan Yeates’s books, The Tribe of Witches and A Dreaming for the Witches, are valuable to you in this matter. They deal more with southeastern Wales and the Severn Valley, but they also touch on the West Country. They focus more on archaeology, but tie that archaeology into the folklore and Medieval literature related to the area. At some points, they become quite speculative, but I find that refreshing.


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