Friday, March 16, 2012

Irish Fairy Tales in the Clarke Historical Library

[editor's note: Today's posting has been done to highlight just one item of the Clarke Historical Library's extensive holdings. If you click on the title of the book, you will be linked to our catalog listing for the book. There you will view a bar in the middle of the entry noting that the book is available on-line. This link will take you to a digitized version of the book made available by Hathi Trust - a cooperative project of more than 60 institutions attempting to digitize their holdings and publish them on-line. If you can't make it into the Clarke to view the hard copy of this book, you can still enjoy an Irish fairy tale or two from the comfort of your own computer!]

Irish Fairy Tales in the Clarke Historical Library

by Hannah Jenkins

With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, we turn our attention to the Emerald Isle, Ireland. One book pertaining to Ireland among many in the Clarke’s collection is Irish Fairy Tales by James Stephens and illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Stephens is a well-known author for his work on compiling and retelling Irish myths and folktales. Rackham is a famous illustrator who often did work for children’s books as well as fairy tale and mythology books. Irish Fairy Tales contains stories of kings and queens in Ireland and the powerful men that worked for them, as well as stories of the mischievous Irish fairies who were always trying to trick humans.

In this book, one group of fairies leads a woman astray in her attempt to meet her lover. There are also jealous fairy men and women who attempt to curse humans or do them harm. However there are also nice fairies, such as the story of a fairy woman who asks for protection in exchange for her hand in marriage, and in another story a fairy lord helps protect Ireland and its kingdom. Irish fairy tales often present a very strong connection with nature because of the pagan beliefs that stretched across the country before Christianity. Ireland is known for its beautiful landscape of rolling green hills and this comes across in the stories. Again, in association with pagan beliefs, three of the stories found in this volume speak of animals. One tells of a man who transformed into various animals and survived hundreds of years. Another tells of a man who was granted the gift of the Salmon of Knowledge. The third tells of a woman who was transformed into a dog. Irish fairy tales such as these are full of wonder and fancy and often a bit of darkness. The Clarke Historical Library has many books on fairy tales from Ireland, and from across the world. If you would like to read more about them, we would be happy to help you. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!