Book of the Month, September 2023 – Anthology of Scottish Folk Tales

For September’s Book of the Month I have chosen the Anthology of Scottish Folk Tales, published by The History Press in 2019, with a forward by Donald Smith, Director of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. This 176 page hardback was put together with the support of the Scottish Storytelling Centre and TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland).

The twenty-four stories in the anthology are arranged by the areas they come from, reflecting the different landscapes and cultures of the peoples living across Scotland in the past. Each area has stories narrated by its own resident storyteller: Lawrence Tulloch in Shetland, Tom Muir in Orkney, Ian Stephen in the Western Isles, Bob Pegg in The Highlands and Argyle, Grace Banks and Sheena Blackhall in Aberdeenshire, Lindsey Gibb and C A Hope in Perthshire, Sheila Kinninmonth in Fife, Lea Taylor in Midlothian, Tim Porteus in East Lothian, James P Spence in the Scottish Borders, and Tony Bonning in Dumfries and Galloway. The different styles of storytelling made reading this book feel like sitting at a gathering of the bards of old, warming oneself at the fire while each storyteller tries to top the tales of the others.

I bought this book during a visit to the Bannockburn Experience at Stirling in late August. It appealed to me because I have always enjoyed reading myths, legends and fairy tales, and have often noticed how some old tales recur in different cultures, only slightly altered to reflect the local customs. Such occasional ubiquity was mentioned in this book, with a reference to Cinderella and her small shoe, a story which probably originated in China where girls’ feet were traditionally bound as babies to be as small as possible.

As I read this book, I particularly liked the authentic nature of the telling of the different stories. The narrators retold the stories in the way they had heard them, using the language and styles of their local oral tradition. Too often, folk collections are written in the bland language of a collector of fables. Here, it was clear the narrators understood and knew well the landscapes and the peoples they described. It was also very encouraging to know that the practice of telling the old tales in the oral tradition is still thriving in Scotland.

So there we have it, September’s Book of the Month! Be sure to check back in October as I’ll be revealing another must read.

Maggie x

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