Strange Terrain:
The Fairy World in Newfoundland

by Barbara Rieti,
289 pages,
ISBN: 091966671X

Community & Process

by Gerald Thomas, J. D. Widdowson,
332 pages,
ISBN: 1550810359

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My Oberon! What Visions!
by Edith Fowke

NEWFOUNDLAND'S Memorial University is the only university in Canada with a folklore department that provides undergraduate and graduate courses. Since Herbert Halpert initiated folklore courses in 1963, it has become the main centre of Anglo-Canadian folklore studies, and acquired a very valuable archive on the subject. From it have come most of the recent Anglo-Canadian folklore publications.

Studies in Newfoundland Folklore is a selection of 16 articles by Newfoundland scholars presenting a wide variety of folklore material. In a preface, Herbert Halpert explains how the folklore department started and how he initiated the Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore Archive, known as MUNFLA.

Four articles deal with Newfoundland popular beliefs: Diane Goldstein discusses an informant who reports supernatural religious experiences; Martin J. Lovelace reports on the belief that animals kneel at Christmas; Gerald Thomas analyses the beliefs of one storyteller; and Violetta Halpert writes of death warnings.

In a section on folksongs and music, David Buchan discusses the classical ballad "Sweet William's Ghost," Kenneth Goldstein reports on Newfoundland "treason songs," and Neil Rosenberg describes MUNFLA as a resource for studying folk music.

Elke Dettmer describes "folklorism": the use and misuse of folklore in popular culture, and Philip Hiscock and Peter Navaez discuss its use in the radio programs of Irene B. Mellon and Ted Russell. Gary Butler, W. J. Kirwin, J. D. A. Widdowson, and Gerald L. Pocius report on various aspects of Newfoundland language and dialect. Roberta Buchanan writes of the folklore in Lydia Campbell's autobiographical Sketches of Labrador Life, and Pat Byrne discusses tall tales in contemporary Newfoundland writing.

This is a valuable book for folklore scholars, and some of its articles will also interest general readers.

Strange Terrain: The Fairy World in Newfoundland is an interesting and unusual book: the first extensive study of belief in fairies in Canada. It is based on Barbara Rieti's field research, and on material from MUNFLA that she used for her Ph.D. dissertation. Fairy beliefs were more common in certain areas of Newfoundland, and a useful map shows the location of these regions.

Rieti notes that previous writers and some informants think that fairy beliefs existed in the past but are now almost extinct. However, as she demonstrates, the belief in fairies is alive and well in the Newfoundland outports. Her stated aim is to examine the nature of the fairies, the narratives and customs that express ideas about them, and to consider why people tell stories about them.

Strange Terrain presents a great deal of interesting material, much of it in the words of the informants. Chapters are centred on particular informants, who are described in some detail and shown in photographs. There are many stories about fairies substituting changelings for human babies, abducting persons for long periods, playing tricks, etc. Some stories describe the fairies as fallen angels or devils, and others seem to identify them with ghosts or witches. Rieti concludes: "The fairies are the ultimate strangers and serve as metaphor for all that is strange, not only in nature but in other people "

The book has extensive footnotes some 28 pages - and a 25-page bibliography. However, the only index is of informants. A general index of writers, collectors, legends, and beliefs would have been useful, and -an index of motifs is usually provided for studies of this type. Some motifs are identified by numbers in the notes, but folklorists normally index them with their descriptive titles.

This is an important book for anyone doing research into popular beliefs and superstitions. Some of the material will also interest general readers, but they may find the many repetitive reports of the same beliefs a bit tedious and be put off by the academic apparatus and rather ponderous language.


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