As a student of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, I’ve come across Carolyne Larrington’s work before — we used her translation of the Poetic Edda in 1st year Old Norse. Last year, when I saw The Land of the Green Man on NetGalley, I was quick to request it and was also fairly promptly approved.
But I didn’t get around to reading it. I had formatting issues with the eARC, that was part of it, and I also find it really hard to read non-fiction on a Kindle, and I’m disorganised… so it didn’t happen.
Then my uncle gave me the hardback for Christmas, and I figured I really had no excuse now. I gave it a go.
(I’m not sure this picture was as successful as the one I took for Storm Front, but we can’t have everything.)
The Land of the Green Man is, broadly speaking, an introduction to British folklore, looking at themes that appear in lots of stories from death to prosperity, and exploring how they crop up in different places. From the subtitle, A Journey through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles, I thought it would be organised geographically, but instead Larrington arranged the chapters by theme or idea.
In some ways that was a disappointment — I’d have liked to be able to quickly look at how different places differ from or resemble each other in the stories they tell, and jump to places that I knew the least about — but for the most part, it worked well. Tying the stories together by theme not only created more of a sense of unity and an understanding of the broader themes of folklore, but also helped prompt some ideas for one of my books which I’m desperately trying to fix. (Editing broke it.)
Obviously, that’s not really going to be a factor for most people, but most people probably don’t know much about folklore anyway. I’d recommend this, if you’re looking for a good introduction: it’s readable and detailed. Larrington references lots of popular novels and TV shows, including Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and the folklore-heavy work of Alan Garner, Susan Cooper and Neil Gaiman.
Looking at how modern fiction is influenced by stories people have been telling for hundreds of years is fascinating, and I think it’s an oft-neglected area of study, since a lot of academics are purists and more interested in the ‘genuine’ versions of stories or whatever. It also makes it more accessible to the general reader.
That said, as someone with a fair bit of knowledge of folklore from all my writing research, as well as my degree, it didn’t contain a huge amount that was new to me. Some of the ideas Larrington put forward were things I hadn’t thought about, and I hadn’t combined a lot of the stories in the way she did, so it helped me see overarching themes a bit more, but it wasn’t quite meaty enough to fix my plot problems. Alas.
I’m tempted to pursue some of the texts in the bibliography to learn more about these stories — fortunately there’s one of those. If you’re looking for an introduction to British folklore, though, whether you know a bit or nothing at all, you could do a lot worse than to give this a go.
I’m giving it three stars, because it took me a while to get really interested in the stories she was putting forward. I found the chapter on death particularly interesting, but that might just be because of the nature of the book I’m trying to edit! (My Death and Fairies series…) I would have liked more depth, but I realise this is more for general readers than academic study.