Katharine Briggs Folklore Award 2004: Judges' Report

Folklore, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Katharine Briggs Folklore Award 2004: Judges' Report


The Award was presented by the President, Dr Marion Bowman, on 9 November at The Warburg Institute, after a lecture by Professor Donald Meek, of the University of Edinburgh, on "Folklore and the Creation of Celtic Spirituality: The Case of Carmina Gadelica."

The judges were pleased to note that there was a good number of entries (twenty-nine), and that the standard of scholarship in the books submitted was high. As often happens, some had to be ruled out because they were primarily studies in history or archaeology, not folklore, but an eventual shortlist of twelve was drawn up.

Two of the books shortlisted are collections of papers by several writers. The Monstrous Middle Ages (University Press Wales), edited by Bettina Bildhauer and Robert Mills, contains ten essays exploring how medieval writers used the ideas of monstrosity, hybridity, and metamorphosis to define the limits of human and social identity, and related them to moral issues and apocalyptic scenarios. A Companion to the Fairy Tale (Brewer), edited by Hilda Davidson and Anna Chaudhri, has seventeen papers covering many aspects of fairytale scholarship: aspects of the tales themselves in various European and Asiatic cultures, the work of certain collectors, fairytale themes in literary works, and interpretation of fairy tales. Between them, these papers illuminate the subject from many different angles and make very interesting reading.

Ronald Hutton's Witches, Druids & King Arthur (Hambledon & London) continues the investigation he began in The Triumph of the Moon into the reasons for the growth of various occult movements in Britain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The subject is not folklore in itself, but the use made of folklore and medieval sources by members of the intellectual elite when constructing their own systems of belief and symbolism. There is also an interesting section on the ethical issues raised by doing fieldwork among members of pagan groups.

Mercia MacDermott's Explore Green Men (Heart of Albion Press) addresses a topic that has been very popular in recent decades in a lively manner, at the same time keeping a firm scholarly grip on the material. Reversing the usual procedure, she begins with near-contemporary examples of Green Man carvings, and works her way back through the centuries to a novel and well-argued theory that the motif originated in India.

Regional studies are represented in the shortlist by two books, Roy Palmer's Folklore of Shropshire (Logaston Press), and Simon Walker's The Witches of Hertfordshire (Tempus). Roy Palmer's book is particularly interesting in that it revisits a county studied by one of the finest late nineteenth-century folklorists, Charlotte Burne, supplementing and updating her work, especially as regards fairs, seasonal festivities, and folksong. The lack of source reference notes is regrettable, but Palmer's careful phrasing in the body of the text partly compensates for this. Simon Walker's Witches of Hertfordshire is a careful and well-documented examination of a precisely defined topic, a useful addition to historical witchcraft studies. The writer is clearly aware of recent scholarship in this field, and has applied its principles fruitfully to his chosen county.

Gearoid O Crualaoich's The Book of the Cailleach (Cork University Press) has a dual purpose: to examine Irish traditions about the legendary supernatural Hag or Cailleach associated with certain landscape features, and to relate anecdotes told of certain real-life wise women and healers to aspects and attributes of the Cailleach. …

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