Monday, 6 August 2012

The Broonie, Silkies & Fairies

Author: Duncan Williamson
: 9780862410872

Why did I read it? I had read Duncan Williamson’s “The Land of the Seal People” and truly enjoyed it, so I purposely sought his other publications, mostly because he includes so many tales of the Silkie, also known as the Selkie and seal people, a subject which truly fascinates me: a race people who move between two worlds.

What’s it about? This is a collection of fireside tales told to Duncan Williamson during the years he spent travelling. The tales are from the north-west of Scotland and include:

The Silkie’s Revenge”;
The Broonie on Carra”;
Saltie the Silkie”;
The Taen-Awa”;
Torquil Glen”;
The Lighthouse Keeper”;
Archie and the Little People”;
The Broonie’s Curse”;
The Fisherman and his Sons”;
The Tramp and the Boots”;
The Crofter’s Mistake”;
The Broonie’s Farewell”;
and an annotated glossary.

As can be gleaned from the titles, all are tales involving other folk, and include lessons on how to behave, or not when encountering these folk.  

What did I like? Aside from relishing the tales of the seal folk, I was particularly taken aback by the lack of happy endings often encountered in children’s tales of the modern age. These stories contain warnings, though not all, and very few have a particularly happy ever after feel. Though these are cautionary tales, none was overly terrifying; rather the some characters terrified themselves, particularly in the case of “Torquil Glen”.

I also enjoyed learning different lore surrounding certain creatures, such as the broonie. I had always understood them to be attached to particular families, or homes, but this appears not to be the case in the stories presented in this book relating to the broonie. Rather, a broonie appears as a travelling man to assess the nature of a human’s character and reflecting their fortune accordingly; more as a short lesson than a lifetime curse.

Each story is preceded by a few paragraphs revealing the source of the tale; many have summaries wherein Duncan Williamson adds his own thoughts and feelings on the preceding story, which provides a unique insight into the purpose, and culture of fireside storytelling.

What didn’t I like? It was the small matter of some of the dialect. There are footnotes for some words, and the editor, Linda Williamson, the author’s wife, provides an explanation in the glossary of how they arrived at appropriate language for the publication, it was still sometimes a little hard to discern what was being said. Still, the language did evoke a sense of authenticity of the tales.

Would I recommend it? Yes. I highly recommend “Broonie, Silkies and Fairies: Travellers Tales” by Duncan Williamson to anyone that enjoys a good story, folklore, fairy tales, or has an interest in otherworld beings, and/or the culture of travelling folk, crofters or the north west of Scotland.  

Rating: 4½/5.

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