Book Review: Botanical Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland

botanicalfolktalesSchneidau, Lisa. Botanical Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland. The History Press, 2018.

One of the things I want to do over the course of my Bardic year with OBOD is to learn more folklore and traditional stories, particularly stories of the land where I live. I love plants and nature, so when I saw this book I knew it would be a good place to start.

In the introduction, Schneidau writes:

“I watched the storytellers at nature reserve events. They were telling stories of Coyote from America and Anansi from Africa. They were great stories, but they came from thousands of miles away; they had little to do with the nature and landscape that we were in. Where were the stories of this landscape, the things that grow and live and die here, the traditions of our own wildlife? And could these stories help us, living in Britain and Ireland, to reconnect with our own fragmented ecology?”

Stories are always more than just fun tales. Stories are a people’s connection with their lands and lives, they ground us and root us in the ancient earth and the lives of our ancestors, and they connect us to each other, to the land and to ourselves. This book collects folk tales from the lands of Britain and Ireland, chosen to “resonate with our natural history and heritage”.

The connecting thread between these 39 disparate tales is plants. While Britain and Ireland have a long history of plant folklore, there are relatively few stories with plants as the main feature, rather than simply as a backdrop to the tale. In these stories, plants take centre stage and are often presented in a living, aware, animist way, as sentient beings able to offer guidance or hinderance, wisdom or temptation. From the ancient and magical yew tree to the guardian apple, to the ill-tempered spirit of the dandelion and more, Schneidau has collected tales that speak to the complex relationships between people, plants, and place.

One feature I particuarly like in this book is that Schneidau arranges these tales according to the traditional Wheel of the Year, beginning at Winter Solsice and continuing through the seasons, highlighting the traditional seasonal and folk festivals throughout the year. This, as Schneidau writes, “is a very natural way to work with our stories about plants, even better of they are being told outside in the wild”.

I really enjoyed the tales in this book, which have been rewritten and presented in a wonderfully accessible way. They make for excellent bedtime reading, and I would recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more of the old folklore and stories from Britain and Ireland, and our living heritage.

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