Dr Simon Young and Dr Ceri Houlbrook are the contributing editors of Magical Folk: British and Irish Fairies, 500 AD to the Present, published by Gibson Square Books in January 2018. Dr Houlbrook is Early Career Researcher of History and Folklore at the University of Hertfordshire, and previously co-edited The Materiality of Magic: An artefactual investigation into ritual practices and popular beliefs, published by Oxbow. Dr Young’s name may be familiar to many as the author of the regular Fairies, Folklore and Forteana column in Fortean Times. He also runs www.fairyist.com – online hub of The Fairy Investigation Society (est. 1927) via which he collected and collated the data for The Fairy Census 2014-2017 (which is free to read online). The census and Magical Folk were knocked into shape simultaneously during the Autumn of 2017; these two exhaustive and impressive works are closely intertwined, with many encounters documented in the survey also being included in the book.
Magical Folk consists of sixteen chapters on the fairies of different parts of Britain and Ireland, and emigrant fairies in North America. Each chapter is authored by a different contributor whose particular field of expertise covers the fairy history and folklore of that region. Again, many of the names will be familiar to readers already interested in this field: the likes of the eminent folklorist Jacqueline Simpson, and Chris Woodyard, author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, for example.
The body of Magical Folk is divided into three sections: English Fairies (covering Sussex, Worcestershire, Devon, Yorkshire, Dorset, and Cumbria), Celtic and Norse Fairies (covering Ireland, Scotland, Orkney and Shetland, Wales, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and Cornwall), and Travelling Fairies (covering New England, Atlantic Canada, and Irish America). In every chapter we are treated to wonderful chunks of local lore, but perhaps the most surprising and exciting thing is that so often these are followed up with 19th, 20th, and even 21st century examples of those beliefs. How the taking of certain old paths and lanes after dark still puts one at risk of being “Pixy-led” and losing your way in certain parts of Devon. The small, hairy “puckwudgie” who in 1990 terrified a dog walker in Raynham, Massachusetts. I could go on and on and on.
For anyone interested in British folklore I would argue that Magical Folk: British and Irish Fairies, 500 AD to the Present is as indispensable a volume as Simpson and Westwood’s The Lore of the Land. Region to region it covers fairy lore perfectly and exhaustively (surprisingly so for 256 page book), but by including modern as well as historical examples of the lore, Magical Folk manages to bring its subject matter to life. The Fair Folk are alive and well and living alongside us in what remains of their once green and pleasant land. Clap your hands if you believe in the fairies.