I loved The Land Of The Green Man: A Journey Through The Supernatural Landscapes Of The British Isles by Carolyne Larrington. I really, really loved it. I think it’s safe to say that, following Folklore, Myths & Legends Of Britain, it’s the best book I’ve read on the subject. I learned so much.
It’s a thoroughly researched, witty and ever so evocative read about ‘another Britain,’ a ‘Britain beyond the housing estates and high streets.’ It’s a book about giants and elves, hobs and boggarts, selkies and fairies, black dogs and witches – all the supernatural beings that make me proud to call myself a British woman. It looks, deeply – it’s really quite academic in that sense – at the ways in which imaginary and fantastical beings have shaped Britain’s cultural history and how the mythologies of these creatures have helped – and continue to help – people deal with love, loss, death, and change.
While every chapter held me captivated and reading until stupid o’ clock in the morning, my favourite would have to be chapter Three: Death & Loss which focuses on supernatural beings such as the Black Dog, the Banshee and The Wild Hunt. One of the most intriguing paragraphs in the chapter was when Larrington spoke of Moddey Dhoo of Peel Castle on the Isle of Man, a black dog that was sighted by soldiers garrisoned there in the reign of Charles II. The story involved a foolhardy guardsman who ended up challenging the black dog, and, well, you can imagine what happened to him… What I’d give to have been a fly on the wall of that castle!
But the worst tale, the very worst tale talked about in the chapter was about a pack of hounds led by a huntsman ‘muffled up to his strange, dead eyes.’ The pack was encountered by a drunk farmer who asked the huntsman if he’d had good hunting, to which the huntsman replied ‘that I have.’ The farmer then said ‘give us some of your game.’ The huntsman tossed him a bundle and took off across the moor, his pack of hounds howling at his feet. When the farmer arrived home, he tossed the bundle on the table and announced to his wife ‘here’s dinner!’ When they unraveled the wrappings, they found the lifeless body of their own child.
The Banshee isn’t a being I’ve paid much attention to in the past, but Larrington has changed that for the better, and now I’m somewhat obsessed with this white-haired omen of death. What really struck that longed for terror into my heart was learning about the Banshee clapping her hands. For some reason, that’s what haunts me the most about her – she claps and wails outside the home of the person doomed to die until they pass over.
Here I’ve mentioned just a few small sections of this vast and impressive landscape of a book, and I recommend you to hasten to Amazon or your library, pick up a copy and get lost in The Land Of The Green Man for yourself.