British Goblins

British Goblins really ought to be called Welsh Goblins as it deals only with stories from Wales. That said, the 1881 folklore classic is a great read, packed full of various accounts of fairy behaviour from a time when the belief in such beings was still current in some of the population.

Goblins details various types of fairy (I think from reading this that at the time of writing, the use of goblin and fairy were pretty interchangeable and not as distinct as today; that is to say that the fairies of old were not these pretty, dainty Walt Disney things that we see today) with lots of anecdotes gathered from Welshmen by the author.

The stories themselves are somewhat charming. Mr Sykes put it well himself in the beginning of the book when he wrote "There was something so peculiarly fascinating in that old belief, that "once upon a time" the world was less practical in its facts than now, less commonplace and hum-drum, less subject to the inexorable laws of gravitation, optics, and the like." Being from the Victorian era, they contain those quaint wordings that we don't use so often nowadays (of which I will include my favourites) and also makes reference to things that for whatever reason are not spoken of so much today, such as The Wandering Jew.

The only thing that I can fault the book on is that this edition has some poor punctuation and spelling mistakes, where a Welshman's name changes from Iola to lob and a d is typed as '(l'. Those aside, this is an interesting book of folklore and worth a read... and as promised, here are some tit-bits that caught my fancy:

  • Near the stile beyond Lanelwyd House they saw a company of fifteen or sixteen coblynau engaged in dancing madly.
  • There was a Bwbach belonging to a certain estate in Cardiganshire, which took great umbrage at a Baptist preacher who was a guest in the house, and who was much fonder of prayers than of good ale... it was continually... frightening the farm boy by grinning at him through the window.
  • A very long time ago, St. Patrick came over from Ireland on a visit to St. David of Wales... and as they were strolling by Crumlyn Lake conversing on religious topics in a friendly manner, some Welsh people who had ascertained that it was St. Patrick, and being angry at him for leaving Cambria for Eire, began to abuse him in the Welsh language, his native tongue. Of course such an insult could not go unpunished, and St. Patrick caused his vilifiers to be transformed into fishes; but some being females, were converted into fairies instead.
  • A shriek resounded through the air, awakening the echoes of the hills, as the butcher's bludgeon went through the goblin head of the elfin cow, and knocked over nine adjoining men, while the butcher himself went frantically whirling around trying to catch hold of something permanent.
  • There was a certain farmer who, while going early one morning to fetch his horses from the pasture, heard harps playing. Looking carefully about for the source of this music, he presently saw a company of Tylwyth Teg footing it merrily in a corelw. Resolving to join their dance and cultivate their acquaintance, the farmer stepped into the fairy ring. Never had man his resolution more thoroughly carried out, for having once begun the reel he was not allowed to finish it till years had elapsed. Even then he might not have been released, had it not chanced that a man one day passed by the lonely spot, so close to the ring that he saw the farmer dancing. "Duw catto ni!" cried the man, "God save us! but this is a merry one. Hi, holo! man, what, in Heaven's name, makes you so lively?" This question, in which the name of Heaven was uttered, broke the spell which rested on the farmer, who spoke like one in a dream: "O dyn!" cried he, "what's become of the horses?" Then he stepped away from the fairy circle and instantly crumbled away and mingled his dust with the earth.
And finally, some excerpts from my favourite chapter of all - Changelings:
  • A mother whose child had been stolen, and a changeling left in its place, was advised by the Virgin Mary to prepare a meal for ten farm-servants in an egg-shell, which would make the changeling speak. This she did, and the changeling asked what she was about. She told him. Whereupon he exclaimed, "A meal for ten, dear mother, in one egg-shell? I have seen the acorn before I saw the oak: I have seen the egg before I have seen the white hen: I have never seen the like of this." The mother replied, "You have seen too many things, my son, you shall have a beating." With this she fell to beating him, the child fell to bawling, and the fairy came and took him away, leaving the stolen child sleeping sweetly in the cradle.
  • Martin Luther described a changeling once as thus: "It would eat as much as two threshers, would laugh and be joyful when any evil happened in the house, but would cry and be very sad when all went well."
  • The veracious Prophet Jones testifies to a case where he himself saw... an idiot left in the stead of a son. Says Jones: "I saw him myself. There was something diabolical in his aspect," but especially in his motions. He "made very disagreeable screaming sounds," which used to frighten strangers, but otherwise he was harmless.
You can legally download British Goblins here


Cheryl said...

Very nice review. I have not heard of this book before but will have to check it out.

Nice blog

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