My review of Bernard Mees’s Celtic Curses is now published with the Journal of Folklore Research. Read my review below, or at the Journal of Folklore Research webpage:
Bernard Mees’s recent work, Celtic Curses, arrays an impressive range of scholarship on ancient and medieval Celtic cursing practices. Most treatments of this topic focus primarily on literary representations of curses in the British Isles; Mees, however, also considers the historical and archaeological evidence for cursing practices among both Insular and Continental Celts. Throughout his work, the author offers careful close readings of actual curse texts and situates them as best as possible into their historical and cultural contexts, attempting to show how curses were used in particular real-life situations. For this work, the volume was nominated in 2009 for The Folklore Society’s Katherine Briggs Award. Continue reading
My review for Jan M. Ziolkowski’s recent book on medieval Latin fairy tales is now published with my usual venue, the Journal of Folklore Research. I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially its pointed criticism of some recent fairy tale scholarship that ignores viable medieval evidence. Medieval studies in folklore certainly has had its heyday, but those days are long past. It’s refreshing to see some medieval folklorists reminding the discipline of its origins.
Read my review at the Journal of Folklore Research website or below.
We do not, and never will, have access to oral folktales from the Middle Ages. Although unfortunate, this does not mean that folktale scholars should give up hope of ever understanding storytelling in the medieval period or that all our written evidence should be discarded as inauthentic and therefore not valuable. Jan M. Ziolkowski’s book, Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval Latin Past of Wonderful Lies, advocates for a “use what’s available” approach to medieval literature, taking into account the varied and nuanced textual practices in use at the time. Some texts with value to folklorists have survived the centuries, and careful attention to historical and cultural contexts may reveal much about medieval vernacular practices. Folklorists who dismiss written evidence out of hand solely because of its medium downplay the complexity inherent in folklore’s transmission. Continue reading
My review of Jan M. Ziolkowski’s new critical edition of the bawdy medieval text Solomon and Marcolf appeared yesterday in the Journal of Folklore Research. This was a wonderful collection of medieval proverbs, folktales, and traditional lore. Read my review below, or at the JFRR webpage:
Few medieval texts offer such a rich repository of traditional lore as Solomon and Marcolf, which imagines a battle of wits between the biblical King Solomon and the bawdy folk hero Marcolf. Although the text has been reprinted often in its original Latin, Ziolkowski’s new critical edition is the first attempt to translate the original text since the sixteenth century.
In addition to his new English translation, Ziolkowski also includes the original Latin text, a thorough introduction, an exhaustive commentary, extensive textual notes, several indexes (including an index of motifs, proverbs, and tale type numbers), and a hefty bibliography. Also included is a number of appendices: one provides a chart mapping out manuscript variants of the dialogue section, and others provide supplemental texts, including an alternate beginning and ending, a number of sources and analogues, and a modern English translation (by Diana Luft) of a late sixteenth-century Welsh version of Solomon and Marcolf. The volume as a whole is a masterpiece of textual scholarship that should, despite its playful narrative content, be taken seriously by folklorists. Continue reading
My review of Marytrdom, Murder, and Magic came out today. I used this book for my readings course on medieval saints’ legends course last semester (directed by Constance Furey). Sections of the book also connect directly to my work with William of Norwich for my MA thesis.
Although much of its content was interesting, I found some of the assumptions the author made fundamentally flawed. You can read my review of the volume here, or below.
In Martyrdom, Murder, and Magic, Patricia Healy Wasyliw surveys medieval cults of child martyr saints. Although not a folklorist, Wasyliw situates these saints and their cults under the purview of folkloristic research. Saints and saints’ cults were sometimes recognized and maintained by the official church in Rome, but they were just as often sites of diverse folk religious practices. The institution of sainthood in the later Middle Ages, Wasyliw argues, consisted of an “uneasy coexistence of local, regional, and papal influences” (2). Even in the very beginnings of Christianity there existed the notion that models of sanctity and saintly power could also be applied to children in the same manner as adult saints; in several instances, Wasyliw emphasizes that the creation of child saints allowed medieval peoples to grieve for dead children, despite the doctrinal issues surrounding childhood sanctity. Children could not acquire sainthood through the traditionally adult routes of asceticism and excessive piety. Martyrdom, however, offered an avenue for medieval peoples to locate sanctity within the domain of childhood. Continue reading