Both of the books I’m reviewing this week I bought because they have relevance for my Pagan Pilgrimage project. I’m in an ongoing process of studying writing about landscape and the many different forms that takes. The CD in the set has turned out to be an excellent soundtrack for colouring Camelot…
Gloucestershire Folk Tales – Anthony Nanson.
Many of the stories in this book are connected with landscapes I know intimately. Some of the tales were familiar, others not, including one about a hill that has left me with a significant mystery to ponder. For me, what made the book so valuable was the intertwining of known history, physical place, and story. At times there are reasons to think that the stories have grown out of those other features, perhaps to explain something. I particularly liked the way in which the Devil stories for the county were woven into one tale. I hadn’t realised just how much of the landscape was of the Devil’s making! Parallels with tales from elsewhere were also fascinating. It’s a lively read, and a must if you’re in the county.
You can buy direct from the publisher – thehistorypress.co.uk or find it anywhere you’d normally buy books.
Dirty Toes – Mad Magdalene
Both the band and the album names are reference to Tom O’ Bedlam, which is a favourite song of mine. This album is an exuberant mix of folk and Pagan music, and very danceable to. It sounds like live performance – there’s something raw and immediate about the production, which I prefer anyway. I’ve seen Mad Magdalene perform live a couple of times, and this is very much their gigging sound. The arrangements are innovative and freshen up some classic folk songs. You can always hear the words. The final track is a version of Lord Randall, unlike any other I’ve heard – (plot spoilers!) the replacing of a sweetheart with a stepmother suggests a far more complicated and unpleasant sort of back story. You can listen to them on bandcamp – https://madmagdalen.bandcamp.com/album/dirty-toes if you like them, do consider supporting them by buying a copy.
Mountains of the Mind, Robert Macfarlane,
This book explores the differences between mountains as people imagine them, and mountains as they turn out to be when you’re on one. It’s a difference that has a habit of killing people. Through talking about historic understandings of mountains, Macfarlane is able to open up the broader territory of landscape writing, ideas of masculinity, adventure and conquest. It’s a beautiful, fascinating read, weaving history with personal experience. You don’t have to be obsessed with mountains to enjoy it, either. Being the sort of person who likes to admire them from afar, reading about other people’s deaths, accidents and near-deaths on slippery, near-vertical surfaces has confirmed me in my prejudices! Easily sourced from all places that sell books.