THERE IS A TRADITION--which, not having seen in print, I may designate as folk-lore--that at Oxford, Sir James G. Frazer is recognized as the only Cambridge man who can write well. Without wishing to subscribe to any invidious distinction against Bertrand Russell and others, I may, at the outset, testify to the magical quality of Frazer's way of writing. Only some sort of magic can compel one to read through a three-volume book of over sixteen hundred pages from beginning to end, and this too, despite a most thoroughgoing dissent from the fundamental ideas and methods at the basis of all of Frazer's anthropologic work.
Following the procedure of his The Golden Bough, a number of passages in the Old Testament are used as pegs on which to hang vast collections of myths, magic rituals, and popular beliefs of "primitive" people, collected from all possible and many impossible sources. Frazer is a born story-teller, and the collocation of biblical themes with primitive superstitions--all done with rather naïve humor--produces most charming results. The treatment of the stories about the patriarchs as if they were actual history produces rather broadly humorous results--e.g., when Jacob is spoken of as squeezing Laban dry as a lemon, and the latter as being as inferior in the gift of gab as in the finer reaches of cunning.
Without meaning to be in the least irreverent, he is certainly____________________