Monday, 6 December 2010

Catching up on reviews

Feeling kind of bereft with nothing to write about at the moment - I'm picking at bits, but I haven't really decided on what to do next, yet, and I need to go to the library again at some point before the new year, if possible, so I should really get a move on I suppose...Then again, I didn't get to the library last weekend because of the snow, and it doesn't look as though it's going anywhere anytime soon. So maybe not.

But in the meantime, I've got a few reviews to catch up on from my last batch of library books and a bit of extra reading I've done.

I know. Exciting

British Calendar Customs: Scotland Vol III - June to December, Christmas, the Yules
Mrs M MacLeod Banks

This is one of those books that have been like trying to get hold of the holy grail: So impossible to find, you end up wondering if they actually exist...

Well this one does, apparently, although I can't vouch for volumes one and two because it seems they've gone missing from the library where I spotted this volume purely by chance. I've seen the books referenced a lot in some of the reading I've been doing over the years, so obviously I had to have a look, even if I'm missing out on the other two.

I suppose given my quest and my happiness at getting hold of a copy, it was invevitably going to be a bit of a let down - it didn't blow my socks off, let's put it that way - but it did offer some good bits and pieces here and there that I found useful. Really, my lack of excitement about it is more to do with the fact that I'm already familiar with most of it by now, and that's not the fault of the book or the author.

The book is a collection of excerpts from other works, so it's only natural that it draws from all of the usual suspects - Alexander Carmichael, Revd. Napier, Campbell, Pennant, Martin, Gregor, and so on. In that respect it's very useful if you don't have access to all of the works themselves because it's all handily compiled in one place (or, three volumes) because it excerpts all of the relevant bits under the relevant day. In this day and age it's not so much of a plus, really, if you have internet access and can look them all up on I probably would have been a lot more excited about the book if I couldn't do that.

The book is ordered by month, with excerpts listed for relevant days that have particular customs associated with them, and Banks makes her own contributions and a little commentary here and there as well. For the most part, though, she lets the material speak for itself, unless it's necessary to add context (June starts off with a lot of Bealltainn customs that have been shifted from the start of May, for example, so she adds commentary here - this was all especially useful, or would've been when I was doing research on that).

The larger entries are also subdivided by subject matter, though the layout there is a bit confusing and repetitive. You still have to sift through the chapter, because sometimes a subject is listed again with more information later on, so it could have been a real plus but it ends up a bit of a headache if you want to make a quick reference to something. That's a minor inconvenience, really, though.

One really useful aspect of the book is that it makes a good compliment to F. Marian McNeill's work in The Silver Bough. McNeill doesn't always reference things in as much detail as would be helfpul to do more research on something she touches on, I find, but here you get the sense of a lot of bits and pieces that McNeill's drawn from but hasn't necessarily mentioned. This alone makes me want to get hold of the other volumes by Banks, but alas, it seems it's not meant to be just yet.

Ultimately, I can't say I love this book, but if Scottish folklore is your bag, I'd definitely recommend adding this one to your list. If anything, it's an excellent resource for the lazy researcher...