Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain and Ireland // Did We Just Steal Other People’s Stories?

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Does Britain have its own set of folk and fairy tales? We hear so much more about the German classics, made famous by the Brothers Grimm. But believe it or not, they do exist, and Kevin Crossley-Holland has brought them into our modern day. 

Covering many different stories split into sections such as love, little people and ghosts, Kevin Crossley-Holland retells the folktales in a simplistic but lowkey whimsical way. While the simple style doesn’t distract away from the story, it doesn’t do much to enhance it either – though the simplistic style usually stems from the time when folktales were told orally, and I’m glad to see Crossley-Holland didn’t try to change the stories and claim them as his own. In fact, one of the parts I found most interesting about the book was the list of sources for each story in the back. Something about knowing where the stories came from added an air of magic to them – though that’s probably just my love of history coming through.

Speaking of where the stories came from though, I loved loved loved recognising some of the cities and towns mentioned in the stories. I’d read a folktale set on a bridge in Nottingham and think “I’ve been on that bridge!” and get excited over my next visit, knowing the story will spring to mind. Folktales generally hold a nostalgic feel to me anyway, but bringing them closer to home in a collection like this really added to the reading experience.

It was strange though, how many of the tales were recognisable. Not because I’d heard them before – in fact, there were only a couple I had heard of before this collection, hence my excitement towards reading it and discovering new folktales. No, it felt strange because Britain – or rather, England – basically stole some of the well known stories. The most obvious of the lot was the clear anglicised versions of Cinderella and Rumplestiltskin. Now I’m not really presenting this as an outright criticism of the book, as Kevin Crossley-Holland just retold the folktales as they came. And he does acknowledge the original fairy tale in the obviously copied stories. But it did thrown me off slightly, reading these stories under the name of a British or Irish folktale knowing full well it’s been taken from another culture. Of course, every story is inspired by something, so similarities won’t be hard to come by. But these were straight up replicas, just with a few name changes. It felt odd.

Of course, as with any collection of short stories, my interest dipped and peaked at random depending on the story I was currently reading. I’d have been amazed if my interest remained high throughout, really. But as always, the length of the stories meant I could flip through them in rapid succession, keeping me motivated to continue even when the current story was just not to my taste.

That being said, I did still really enjoy reading them. My favourite sections without a doubt were the sections on love and ghosts. Those two genres of storytelling just feel so traditionally whimsical to me, and so discovering old stories of the sort fascinated me to no end. Accompanied by silhouette style illustrations too, it really was a lovely experience flipping through the pages. I can imagine this being a sweet gift for those with a fanciful mind, an easy but fascinating read to curl up with in these winter months.

Rated 3.5/5 stars

Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book. This in no way affects my opinion.

Do you have any recommendations for collections of folktales or myths? From any country? I’d love to hear them!

Until next time,

sign off handle saying "Ashleigh" for A Frolic Through Fiction blog


10 thoughts on “Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain and Ireland // Did We Just Steal Other People’s Stories?

  1. With folktales, I often wonder if the similar tales in different European cultures are derived from the same really old “ancestor” folktale. If you think about how the languages have branched off and evolved from common ancestors, I think it would make sense for the old oral stories to have a common ancestor in an ancient language.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Many of the traditional Germanic (Grimm, etc.) fairy tales exist worldwide in some form or another, some of the forms are, indeed, almost identical to each other – also, most English people are descended from the Anglo-Saxons – who were Germanic peoples (the Angles and the Saxons.)

    Was it just England and Ireland represented in the book? What about Scotland and Wales? Are they all folktales only? Or are some Celtic fairy tales and myths included? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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