Review: The Land of the Green Man

Short post today because I don’t have a ton to say about Carolyne Larrington’s The Land of the Green Man, except that it’s delightful. It’s a tour around the folklore of the British Isles, looking at local tales of selkies, black dogs, giants, banshees and more. Many of these tales are tied to specific landmarks: churches, chalk drawings, mountains, stone circles. Larrington’s interested in the stories as ways of explaining the origins of such landscape features, but she also reads them in terms of what they have to say about such universal subjects as sex, death and our relationship to the natural world.

I enjoyed this as a work of comparative folklore that’s very attentive to the specificities of place: it’s even got a handy map in the front showing the locations of the tales it looks at. And as such it can perhaps help us rebuild relationships with the landscapes we live in, in this increasingly urbanised age. A few weeks after I read this I visited the Rollright Stones – one of the closest sites featured in the book to where I actually live – with my family and told them the story of the witch and the king and his knights. It was an immensely powerful experience being up there on the ridge of the world, with those stones that people have honoured for generations, feeling connected to those stories that go back centuries if not millennia. Remembering the places our folklore comes from keeps it alive; and in some way preserves the spirit of those places too.

In short – if you’re interested in storytelling not just about the British landscape in general, but about specific places within Britain, in how British people have connected with their environments since the Middle Ages and earlier, The Land of the Green Man is a good place to start.

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