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27 July 2018: Folklore and Folktales

With the establishment of the printed book as a technology, there came a more definite record of folktales and fairy stories which had previously been passed down from generation to generation orally. Typically, as tales were told by a new storyteller more would be added, slight details would change and the folktales would develop. It is therefore not uncommon that written recollections of the same tale would differ slightly from each other. There is a rich and colourful history of folk-tales worldwide and here at Rooke Books we have many charming and fascinating examples of this traditional art.

One extremely famous example of folk stories is One Thousand and One Nights or The Arabian Nights. This collection of Middle Eastern folk tales was first compiled during the Islamic Golden Age. The first English language edition did not appear until the early eighteenth century.  This compilation of stories were originally collected over centuries worldwide and certain tales can trace their origins to ancient and medieval Arabic, Greek, Indian, Jewish, Persian and Turkish folklore and literature. Several well-known stories associated with this work include ‘Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp’ and ‘The Seven Voyages of Sinbad The Sailor’. These works were added later by European translators, demonstrating how even when in printed form folklore develops. In our library we hold a rather beautiful library edition of this work, translated by Richard Burton and arranged and edited by Leonard C Smithers. Burton was best known for his translation of this work and this particular edition of his translation follows Lady Burton’s editorial of the ‘family edition’.

Smithers was a close friend of Burton and this edition was a restoration of the text previously omitted by Lady Burton in her editions of the work. Smithers notes to the preface of this edition that his intention of restoring the text was so that this translation and the folktales themselves can ‘take its proper place on the library shelf alongside Cervantes and Shakespeare’. Another beautiful collection of The Nights we have is John Payne’s translation in nine volumes. This edition was privately printed for the Villon society of which the translator was closely associated. This vellum bound collection is numbered 222 of 500 copies.

We also have a selection of Indian folk-tales which are beautifully illustrated by Warwick Goble. The Folk Tales of Bengal stories were compiled by a Bengali Indian journalist, Lal Behari Day. These Bengali folk-tales have been translated into English by Behari Day himself.   Lal Behari Day explains in his preface that he visited several people in order to trace these Bengali tales, some of which he was told as a child. Dey was told the tales in Bengali and translated them into English. These folktales are one of his most acclaimed works due to their recording of centuries-old folk-tales. 

These twenty-two stories provide fascinating insight into Bengali oral tradition, with tales titled 'The Origin of Opium', 'The Ghost-Brahman', 'Phakir Chand' and 'The Man who Wished to be Perfect'.  Warwick Goble’s watercolour drawings compliment the tales wonderfully. Goble illustrated many book children’s books and story collections, including Indian Myth and Legend which is another anthology of Indian folktales. These stories are collected and arranged, with an insightful introduction, by Scottish journalist and folklorist, Donald Alexander Mackenzie. Mackenzie wrote several works on Indian fairytales and myths. This particular anthology comprises of twenty-six tales including 'Royal Rivals - The Pandavas and Kauravas', 'Demons and Giants and Fairies', 'Nala in Exile', 'The Rape of Sita' and 'Nala and Damayanti'.


In terms of European folklore, we have several works in the canon such as your well-known Hans Christian Andersen and Brothers Grimm tales. However, we thought we would take this opportunity to display some more obscure examples of European folklore, including Tales From a Finnish Tupa. This is a collection of Finnish folk tales translated into English by Aili Kolehainen.  Illustrated by Laura Bannon. Our copy is the first U.S edition of this work, which has been compiled by James Cloyd Bowman and Margery Bianco. Bowman was an American teacher who penned many children's books and Bianco was an English-American author. Her best known work is 'The Velveteen Rabbit'.

The Marvellous Adventures and Rare Conceits of Master Tyll Owglass features a well-known character in Middle-Low German folklore, ‘Till Eulenspiegel’. The character of Owlglass became better known in print during the Nineteenth century, though previous appearances include Ben Jonson’s play The Alchemist.  

As many of the tales in folklore have been around for centuries, they are quite often the inspiration for more contemporary works. Take, for example, Richard Barham's popular anthology The Ingoldsby Legends. This collection of short myths, legends and ghost stories are based on already well known stories. They are a deliberate humorous parody or pastiche of medieval folklore. 

In addition to anthologies of stories, our library also holds several reference works regarding folklore. The Handbook of Folklore is an extremely useful tool in understanding the history of folklore. It is written by the first female president of the Folklore society, Charlotte Sophia Burne. The Folklore Society is a national association in the U.K for the study of folklore and was founded in 1878. This work is an ultimate guide to folklore and the different fields. The Childhood of Fiction by J A Macculloch is another comprehensive work regarding the origin of folktales with chapters on animals, transformation and magic. 

In the realms of more specific folklore reference works we have Finger-Ring Lore Historical, Legendary, Anecdotal. This work regards rings from the earliest periods, ring superstitions, token rings, rings with ecclesiastical uses and more. It is a fascinating history on both the usage of the jewellery and the significance it has in various cultures. It is illustrated with several vignettes throughout, providing examples of various rings. March Winds and April Showers is a scarce collection of weather lore tales.

 

Weather lore is a branch of folklore related to the prediction of the weather. This work comprises of a wide selection of fables.  As well as reference works on the folklore of specific objects and events, there are also reference works on the folklore of specific places.  Folk-Lore, Old Customs and Tales of My Neighbours looks into the folk lore of Didsbury, Manchester. Our copy of this work is a signed first edition and is written by Fletcher Moss, an Alderman who lived in Didsbury.  Folk Lore, Old Customs and Superstitions in Shakespeare Land regards the folklore of Warwickshire, England. With chapters concerning everything from farm work to the occult, this detailed collection explores local custom in depth, providing rare insight into rural life.

The select works in this post only scratch the surface with regards to the fascinating beliefs, customs and stories that form folklore. Click here to take a look at our other folklore works. In addition to this, if you follow us on social media and are interested in folklore, we'd advise following the 'Folklore Thursday' twitter feed. Every week they provide a folklore topic and theme for people to contribute related facts and images. We often take part, and really enjoy doing so as it's incredibly interesting.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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