Dee Dee Chainey and Willow Winsham, the luminaries behind the hugely successful Folklore Thursday hashtag phenomenon on Twitter, prove their own individual talents and deserved presence in the folklore world with this enchanting book which presents a collection of strange aquatic tales gathered across the ages and across the globe; varying from Mami Wata to the Mary Celeste, from The Lost city of Ys to the subterranean rivers of London. Within its rolling pages the reader encounters both familiar figures such as Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid (one of the more frankly disturbing tales to have ever have been given the Disney treatment) and lesser-known entities such as the Funayūrei – the revenants of drowned Japanese mariners who unless placated will cause harm to living souls.
Kelpies (water horses) and Selkies (Seal folk) of Scotland, nymphs, sirens, ghosts, gods and goddesses galore such as Poseidon, Sedna, Hit (the Octopus Goddess of the Caroline Islands) and Arnaquagsaq (the sea mother of Greenland) and more all appear within. Superstitions abound in the sailors’ world and this book casts a net to land numerous omens heeded when setting sail. In our voyage through calm and storm, over ocean, sea, river and lake there is a wealth to be found of subjects that have intrigued Forteans for many decades such as that zone of mysterious maritime vanishings The Bermuda Triangle (which also intrigued crooner Barry Manilow enough to record a song about it) and Ignis Faatus – the fool’s fire (also known as Will o’ the Wisps, Jack o Lanterns and by many other appellations) the lights that flicker above swamplands and marshes, and in legend are said to have led many a nocturnal traveller to their own sodden grave. Cryptids such as Nessie, Ogopogo and The Bear Lake Monster also raise their heads above the surface.
It must be noted that this book is not an in-depth analysis of any particular tales or cases and should be seen as more of a port from which readers may seek to explore further or dive in deeper to other tomes. It is however a lovely little book.
As a gift book, although there are a few adult themes which are subtly addressed, I would have no qualms about giving this work to both children and adults as a present. As a child, brought up on the Usborne Mysteries, Arthur C Clarke and varied mythology books I’d have loved it. It can be dipped into here and there or read cover to cover. It is also very charming in its presentation. It has a gilt effect cover which rather than seeming gaudy, looks quaintly magical and is illustrated throughout in a block print style by the artist Joe McClaren. I look forward to their forthcoming sylvan lore book, and hopefully more titles in a series that could prove to be a contemporary equivalent of Andrew Lang’s coloured fairy book collection.
Treasury of Folklore. Seas & Rivers: Sirens, Selkies and Ghost Ships
Dee Dee Chainey & Willow Winsham
Batsford 2021 Hb. Illus. 192 pgs.
Review by Andy Paciorek