The Era of Fairies and Dragons

by Lisa Agnew

Folklore is often dismissed as an irrelevance, even by some scholars, yet, as a branch of historical study, its dissemination can throw much light upon a myriad of subjects. Within the folktale, the everyday lives of mediaeval residents can be glimpsed as if through a telescope peering back through time and, in doing so, peel layer upon layer of lifestyle and belief from the words that have come down to us via well-known fairytales and nursery rhymes.

Many were the creatures, so it was believed, that impacted on the lives of the common man, blamed for any bad luck or misfortune that befell a household in mediaeval times. This is reflected in the folklore that has come down to us, thanks largely to the work of Joseph Jacobs (1854-1916), who published detailed notes to accompany his collections of fairy tales, exploring the comparative and historical aspects of the stories and providing information about their sources. An Australian by birth, he grew up in England, where he became famous as a scholar and folklorist. During the latter period of his life, he moved to America where he concentrated on research and publications centred on Jewish contributions to world culture. He was one of the first scholars to call attention to the importance of Jewish transmission of Aesopic fables in the ancient world and European Middle Ages.

St George, Fairies and Giants.

Upon reading any collective works of classic English fairytales, especially those illustrated by the likes of Sir Arthur Rackham, the uninitiated will be surprised, perhaps disturbed, to find the stories within resonate of far darker images than the more familiar Disneyesque manifestations or sanitised participants of children’s nursery rhymes and continental fables collected by the likes of the Brothers Grimm. In an original English rendition, the story of St George & the Dragon features not only the champion crusading knight, his noble horse Bayard and dragon of the title, but a fell enchantress named Kalyb, a Middle Eastern necromancer named Ormadine, Almidor the black king of Morocco and the Egyptian princess Sabia. St George has to defeat the first three characters in order to marry the fourth. Obviously influenced by the Crusades, this tale deviates significantly from the watered-down, more-well-known version which features only St George, the obligatory princess and their dragon foe. Interestingly, it is the horse Bayard around whom many comparative folklores revolve. Beside the Roman road of Ermine St in Lincolnshire, England, one can still find two sets of four horseshoe prints, said to denote ‘Bayard’s Leap’. This refers to an early account, perhaps originally part of St George’s story, about a knight, astride his steed, who went riding past the area. A bogey (ghost or evil imp), who haunted the place, leapt up behind the hero and onto Bayard’s back. In his fright, the horse took three great jumps which were originally marked by three stones about thirty yards apart. There are also associations with the French hero Renaud de Montauban, who was given a magical horse by Charlemagne. This Continental Bayard left hoof prints in at least two sites on mainland Europe, one in the forest of Soignes, the other on a rock outside the city of Dinant (both locations are in modern-day Belgium).

The evolution of the myth of St George may well have taken centuries, yet folk of the mediaeval era would have had little doubt in the existence of enchantresses, bogeys and necromancers, especially if, in the best xenophobic tradition, such fell characters belonged to another race. Another story in the same vein is prosaically named Tom-Tit-Tot, an English variant of the Continental Rumplestiltskein tale. Within its framework there is evidence of a residual pagan belief that to know the true name of something gives one power over it. The story tells of a nameless Thing, small, black, with a long tail, who helps a maiden spin five skeins a day for a month in order for her to remain queen. As a form of payment, the maiden must guess the Thing’s name. If she fails to guess its name after a month of trying, she forfeits herself to it forever.

Fairy manifestations from this era are most often portrayed as creatures who fall far short of our modern ideals of flighty delicacy and altruism. They helped folk, to be sure, yet always demanded something in return, usually something beyond the power of any mortal to give. In this way, they forced mortals to forfeit their lives. Many are the stories of fairies kidnapping mortal young, leaving changelings in their place. They were fey in name and deed. It is only comparatively recently that popular culture has morphed them into safer manifestations like Tinkerbell (though even Tinkerbell exhibits a vestigial wicked side.) Small and evasive by nature, they engendered more common belief than bigger creatures of Middle Age mytholog y— the giants and dragons — who were too large and apparently absent to garner the same depth of mystery. Belief in giants and dragons hark back to pre-history, as do fairies, yet, as there was no convincing evidence of their continued survival, it was assumed that these larger manifestations of myth had died out. Effigies of giants, in particular, are still evident within the historical landscape of Britain — they feature in place names such as Thursford in Norfolk and Tusmore in Oxfordshire, where both prefixes derive from the Old English word thyrs, which means giant. They also feature in caricature — the Cerne Abbas Giant carved into the turf of a hillside in Dorset is very likely either prehistoric or 2nd century AD Celtic in origin, its outlines periodically scoured clean by locals. Gog and Magog were supposedly two giants captured by the Trojan leader and, in myth, founder of Britain, Brutus, who took them to be porters at his palace in Troynovant (New Troy, i.e. London). The Guildhall in London has housed the effigies of a pair of giants for at least three centuries. A pair, perhaps not the originals themselves, was replaced after the destruction of the Guildhall in the Great Fire of London and again replaced after the Blitz of 1940.

Upon incidental examination, it seems incredible that such beliefs could have survived across the ages, especially after the arrival of Christianity. Yet the Christian practice of sanctioning pagan temples for their own religion, which was undertaken by papal order, inadvertently helped the retention of these beliefs. In a letter from Pope Gregory I to Abbott Mellitus, during the latter’s visit to Britain in 597 AD, he writes ‘… the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed, but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let holy water be made and sprinkled in the said temples — let altars be erected, and relics placed… the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts and, knowing and adoring the true God, may the more familiarly resort to the places to which they have been accustomed.’ This extended to holy wells, ancient earthworks and other obviously ancient pagan sites. A church was specifically erected below the Cerne Abbas Giant in an attempt to nullify its strikingly rampant symbolism.

The Story of Childe Rowland.

Joseph Jacobs’ favourite folk tale, Childe Rowland, incorporates many traces of extremely primitive pagan custom. It is possible to separate this story into successive layers of history and is worth telling in its entirety to illustrate the fact.

Childe Rowland and his brothers twain
Were playing at the ball.
Their sister, Burd Helen, she played
In the midst among them all.

For Burd Helen loved her brothers and they loved her exceedingly. At play she was ever their companion and they cared for her as brothers should. And one day when they were at ball close to the churchyard —

Childe Rowland kicked it with his foot
And caught it on his knee.
At last as he plunged among them all
O’er the church he made it flee.

Now Childe Rowland was Burd Helen’s youngest, dearest brother, and there was ever a loving rivalry between them as to which should win. So with a laugh —

Burd Helen round about the aisle
To seek the ball is gone.

Now the ball had trundled to the right of the church; so, as Burd Helen ran the nearest way to get it, she ran contrary to the sun’s course, and the light, shining full on her face, sent her shadow behind her. Thus that happened which will happen at times when folk forget and run widershins, that is against the light, so that their shadows are out of sight and cannot be taken care of properly. Now what happened you will learn by and by; meanwhile, Burd Helen’s three brothers waited for her return.

But long they waited, and longer still,
And she came not back again

Then they grew alarmed, and —

They sought her east, they sought her west,
They sought her up and down.
And woe were the hearts of her brethren,
Since she was not to be found.

Not to be found anywhere — she had disappeared like dew on a May morning. So at last her eldest brother went to Great Merlin the magician, who could tell and foretell, see and foresee all things under the sun and beyond it, and asked him where Burd Helen could have gone.

‘Fair Burd Helen’, said the magician, ‘must have been carried off with her shadow by the fairies when she was running round the church widershins; for fairies have power when folk go against the light. She will now be in the Dark Tower of the King of Elfland, and none but the boldest knight in Christendom will be able to bring her back.’

‘If it be possible to bring her back’, said the eldest brother, “I will do it, or perish in the attempt.’

‘Possible it is’, quoth Merlin the magician gravely. ‘But woe be to the man or mother’s son who attempts the task if he be not well taught beforehand what he is to do.’

Now the eldest brother of fair Burd Helen was brave indeed, danger did not dismay him, so he begged the magician to tell him exactly what he should do, and what he should not do, as he was determined to go and seek his sister. And the great magician told him, and schooled him, and after he had learnt his lesson right well, he girt on his sword, said goodbye to his brothers and his mother, and set out for the Dark Tower of Elfland to bring Burd Helen back.

But long they waited, and longer still,
With doubt and muckle pain.
But woe were the hearts of his brethren,
For he came not back again.

So after a time Burd Helen’s second brother went to Merlin the magician and said: ‘School me also, for I go to find my brother and sister in the Dark Tower of the King of Elfland and bring them back.’ For he also was brave indeed, danger did not dismay him.Then when he had been well schooled and had learnt his lesson, he said goodbye to Childe Rowland his brother, and to his mother the good queen, girt on his sword and set out for the Dark Tower of Elfland to bring back Burd Helen and her brother.

But long they waited, and longer still,
With muckled doubt and pain.
And woe were his mother’s and brother’s hearts,
For he came not back again.

Now when they had waited and waited a long, long time, and none had come back from the Dark Tower of Elfland, Childe Rowland, the youngest, the best beloved of Burd Helen’s brothers, besought his mother to let him also go on the quest; for he was the bravest of them all, and neither death nor danger could dismay him. But at first his mother the queen said: ‘Not so! You are the last of my children; if you are lost, all is lost indeed!’

But he begged so hard that at length the good queen his mother bade him Godspeed, and girt about his waist his father’s sword, the brand that never struck in vain, and as she girt it on she chanted the spell that gives victory.

So Childe Rowland bade her goodbye and went to the cave of the great magician Merlin.

‘Yet once more, master’, said the youth, ‘and but once more, tell how man or mother’s son may find fair Burd Helen and her brothers twain in the Dark Tower of Elfland.’

‘My son’, replied the wizard Merlin, ‘there be things twain; simple they seem to say, but hard are they to perform. One thing is to do, and one thing is not to do. Now the first thing you have to do is this: After you have once entered the Land of Faery, whoever speaks to you, you must out with your father’s brand and cut off their head. In this you must not fail. And the second thing you have not to do is this: after you have entered the Land of Faery, bite no bite, sup no drop; for if in Elfland you sup one drop or bite one bite, never again will you see Middle Earth’.

Then Childe Rowland said these two lessons over and over until he knew them by heart; so, well schooled, he thanked the great master and went on his way to seek the Dark Tower of Elfland.

And he journeyed far, and he journeyed fast, until at last on a wide moor land he came upon a horse-herd feeding his horses: and the horses were wild, and their eyes were like coals of fire.

Then he knew they must be the horses of the King of Elfland, and that at last he must be in the Land of Faery.

So Childe Rowland said to the horse-herd, ‘Canst tell me where lies the Dark Tower of the Elfland king?’

And the horse-herd answered, ‘Nay, that is beyond my ken; but go a little farther and thou wilt come to a cow-herd who mayhap can tell thee.’

Then at once Childe Rowland drew his father’s sword that never struck in vain, and smote off the horse-herd’s head, so that it rolled on the wide moor land and frightened the King of Elfland’s horses. And he journeyed further till he came to a wide pasture where a cow-herd was herding cows. And the cows looked at him with fiery eyes, so he knew that they must be the King of Elfland’s cows, and that he was still in the Land of Faery. Then he said to the cow-herd: ‘Canst tell me where lies the Dark Tower of the Elfland king?’ And the cow-herd answered, ‘Nay, that is beyond my ken; but go a little farther and thou wilt come to a hen-wife who, mayhap, can tell thee.’

So at once Childe Rowland, remembering his lesson, out with his father’s good sword that never struck in vain, and off went the cow-herd’s head spinning amongst the grasses and frightening the King of Elfland’s cows.

Then he journeyed further, till he came to an orchard where an old woman in a gray cloak was feeding fowls. And the fowls’ little eyes were like little coals of fire, so he knew that they were the King of Elfland’s fowls, and that he was still in the Land of Faery.

And he said to the hen-wife, ‘Canst tell me where lies the Dark Tower of the King of Elfland?’

Now the hen-wife looked at him and smiled. ‘Surely I can tell you’, said she; ‘go on a little farther. There you will find a low green hill; green and low against the sky. And the hill will have three terrace-rings upon it from bottom to top. Go round the first terrace saying:

“Open from within;
Let me in! Let me in!”

Then go round the second terrace and say:

“Open wide, open wide.
Let me inside.”

Then go round the third terrace and say:

“Open fast, open fast,
Let me in at last.”

Then a door will open and let you in to the Dark Tower of the King of Elfland. Only remember to go round widershins. If you go round with the sun the door will not open. So good luck to you!’

Now the hen-wife spoke so fair, and smiled so frank that Childe Rowland forgot for a moment what he had to do. Therefore he thanked the old woman for her courtesy and was just going on, when, all of a sudden, he remembered his lesson. And he out with his father’s sword that never yet struck in vain and smote off the hen-wife’s head, so that it rolled among the corn and frightened the fiery-eyed fowls of the King of Elfland.

After that he went on and on, till, against the blue sky, he saw a round green hill set with three terraces from top to bottom.

Then he did as the hen-wife had told him, not forgetting to go round widershins, so that the sun was always on his face.

Now when he had gone round the third terrace saying:

‘Open fast, open fast,
Let me in at last’,

What should happen but that he should see a door in the hillside. And it opened and let him in. Then it closed behind him with a click, and Childe Rowland was left in the dark; for he had gotten at last to the Dark Tower of the King of Elfland.

It was very dark at first, perhaps because the sun had part blinded his eyes; for after a while it became twilight, though where the light came from none could tell, unless through the walls and the roof; for there were neither windows nor candles. But in the gloaming light he could see a long passage of rough arches made of rock that was transparent and all encrusted with silver, rock-spar and many bright stones. And the air was warm as it ever is in Elfland. So he went on and on in the twilight that came from nowhere, till he found himself before two wide doors all barred with iron. But they flew open at his touch and he saw a wonderful large and spacious hall that seemed to him to be as long and as broad as the green hill itself. The roof was supported by pillars wide and lofty beyond the pillars of a cathedral; and they were of gold and silver, fretted into foliage, and between and around them were woven wreaths of flowers. And the flowers were of diamonds, and rubies, and topaz, and the leaves of emerald. And the arches met in the middle of the roof where hung, by a golden chain, an immense lamp made of a hollowed pearl, white and translucent. And in the middle of this lamp was a mighty carbuncle, blood-red, that kept spinning round and round, shedding its light to the very ends of the huge hall, which thus seemed to be filled with the shining of the setting sun.

Now at one end of the hall was a marvellous, wondrous, glorious couch of velvet, and silk, and gold; and on it sat fair Burd Helen combing her beautiful golden hair with a golden comb. But her face was all set and wan, as if it were made of stone. And when she saw Childe Rowland she never moved, and her voice came like the voice of the dead as she said:

‘God pity you, poor luckless fool!
What have you here to do?’

Now at first Childe Rowland felt he must clasp this semblance of his dear sister in his arms; but he remembered the lesson which the great magician Merlin had taught him, and drawing his father’s brand which had never yet been drawn in vain, and turning his eyes from the horrid sight, he struck with all his force at the enchanted form of fair Burd Helen.

And lo! when he turned to look in fear and trembling, there she was her own self, her joy fighting with her fears. And she clasped him in her arms and cried:

‘Oh, hear you this, my youngest brother,
Why didn’t you bide at home?
Had you a hundred thousand lives,
Ye couldn’t spare ne’er a one!
But sit you down, my dearest dear,
Oh! woe that ye were born,
For, come the King of Elfland in
Your future is forlorn.’

So with tears and smiles she seated him beside her on the wondrous couch, and they told each other what they each had suffered and done. He told her how he had come to Elfland, and she told him how she had been carried off, shadow and all, because she ran round a church widershins, and how her brothers had been enchanted, and lay entombed as if dead, as she had been, because they had not had courage to obey the great magician’s lesson to the letter, and cut off her head.

Now after a time Childe Rowland, who had travelled far and travelled fast, became very hungry, and forgetting all about the second lesson of the magician Merlin, asked his sister for some food. And she, being still under the spell of Elfland could not warn him of his danger; she could only look at him sadly as she rose up and brought him a golden basin full of bread and milk.

Now in those days it was manners before taking food from anyone to say thank you with your eyes, and so just as Childe Rowland was about to put the golden bowl to his lips, he raised his eyes to his sister’s.

And in an instant he remembered what the great magician had said: ‘Bite no bite, sup no drop, for if in Elfland you sup one drop or bite one bite, never again will you see Middle Earth.’

So he dashed the bowl to the ground, and standing square and fair, lithe, and young, and strong, he cried like a challenge: ‘Not a sup will I swallow, not a bite will I bite till fair Burd Helen is set free.’

Then immediately there was a loud noise like thunder, and a voice was heard saying:

‘Fee, fi, fo, fum,
I smell the blood of a Christian man.
Be he alive or dead, my brand
Shall dash his brains from his brain-pan.’

Then the folding doors of the vast hall burst open and the King of Elfland entered like a storm of wind. What he was really like Childe Rowland had not time to see, for with a bold cry: ‘Strike, Bogle! thy hardest if thou dar’st!’ he rushed to meet the foe, his good sword, that never yet did fail, in his hand.

And Childe Rowland and the King of Elfland fought, and fought, and fought, while Burd Helen with her hands clasped, watched them in fear and hope.

So they fought, and fought, and fought, until at last Childe Rowland beat the King of Elfland to his knees. Whereupon he cried, ‘I yield me. Thou hast beaten me in fair fight.’

Then Childe Rowland said, ‘I grant thee mercy if thou wilt release my sister and my brothers from all spells and enchantments, and let us go back to Middle Earth.’

So that was agreed; and the Elfin king went to a golden chest whence he took a phial that was filled with a blood-red liquor. And with this liquor he anointed the ears and the eyelids, the nostrils, the lips and the fingertips of the bodies of Burd Helen’s two brothers that lay as dead in two golden coffers.

And immediately they sprang to life and declared that their souls only had been away, but had now returned.

After this the Elfin king said a charm which took away the very last bit of enchantment, and down the huge hall that showed as if it were lit by the setting sun, and through the long passage of rough arches made of rock that were transparent and all encrusted with silver, rock-spar and many bright stones, where twilight reigned, the three brothers and their sister passed. Then the door opened in the green hill, it clicked behind them, and they left the Dark Tower of the King of Elfland never to return.

For, no sooner were they in the light of day, than they found themselves at home.

But fair Burd Helen took care never to go widershins round a church again.

The narrative style, beginning with verse and reverting to prose, dropping at intervals into verse again, is known as a cante-fable, and is utilised in the folk stories of other cultures. The language in which the story is written is another strata of historical reference. The term childe was used to refer to the sons of noblemen until they came into possession of their ancestral or knightly title. Similarly, burd is an archaic term for ‘lady’, related to the word ‘bride’. Shakespeare even makes mention of the tale in his play King Lear (Act III, Sc IV). The fairy ointment used by the Elfin king seems to have its origins in the extreme unction of the Roman Catholic church, which itself harks back to extremely archaic beliefs concerning the eye.

It is the fairy hill Dark Tower which resonates of the perhaps the oldest memories, reminiscent as it is of the many prehistoric burial mounds that can still be seen quite plainly dotted about the English countryside. The terraces on the fairy hill were identified by Jacobs as possibly referring to Neolithic terrace cultivation practices. An illuminated carbuncle often appears in stories of violated prehistoric tombs. As for the Elfland King, he, like all the various manifestations of fairy folk, can be equated with Britain’s shadowy prehistoric inhabitants.

If it is the lot of Britain’s first inhabitants to be remembered for posterity as akin to hob-goblins, then those personages of more recent history are more likely to be morphed by popular folk memory into heroes, or at least anti-heroes. Robin Hood is probably the most famous example, yet he only robbed from the rich because the poor had nothing he wanted! He certainly did not give any of his ill-gotten gains away. His nemesis in legend, King John, may well have been an inept ruler, but it was he who signed the Magna Carta and he who maintained rule of England in the absence of his brother Richard, whose main passions had always lain elsewhere. There appears to be little rhyme or reason to how folk memory deals with the defining traits of its heroes and villains.


Whether she actually lived in this world or not, the origins of the classic Cinderella story can be found in the English tale of Tattercoats who, having lost her mother at birth, ostensibly lives in the castle of an old lord, her grandfather, who resents her for being alive when his own daughter is dead, and swears never to look upon her face. Tattercoats grows up with only an old nurse to care for her, sometimes giving her scraps of food to eat or a torn petticoat to wear. Her only friend is a crippled gooseherd, who feeds his flock of geese on a nearby common. The gooseherd listens to her woes and cheers her by playing merry tunes on his pipe. Meanwhile, news of the king’s grand plans for a ball is spreading throughout the land. Tattercoats’ grandfather perks up at this news, intent on meeting the king, yet never once considers his poor granddaughter. Hearing the news and knowing that she would not be able to go to the ball, Tattercoats seeks the solace of her friend. The gooseherd plays his little pipe, temporarily cheering her, and they skip off down the road. Before they had gone very far, a handsome young man, splendidly dressed, rides up and stops to ask the way to the castle where the king is staying. When he discovers that they are going his way, he gets off the horse to accompany them, saying ‘you seem merry folk, and will be good company.’

‘Good company indeed!’, replies the gooseherd, and plays another tune on his pipe. It was a curious tune, and made the young man stare and stare at Tattercoats until he no longer saw her rags, only her beautiful face. He immediately asks for her hand in marriage, yet she scoffs, saying ‘No, not I, for you would be finely put to shame if you took a goose-girl for your wife!’ However, the more she refuses him, the sweeter the pipe plays, and the deeper the young man falls in love. He begs her to come that night at twelve to the king’s ball, just as she is, with the gooseherd and geese, in her torn petticoat and bare feet. Eventually, she agrees. Come twelve o’clock, she and the gooseherd turn up at the castle and the prince—Tattercoats’s admirer—announces to his father that he has found his bride. The gooseherd plays a few sweet notes on his pipe and Tattercoats’s rags are changed into beautiful robes sewn with glistening jewels. A golden crown is laid upon her head. The old lord cannot stay at court, for he has sworn never to look upon his granddaughter’s face. He returns to his castle, more sad and bitter than ever. The gooseherd is never heard of again. Tattercoats and her prince live happily ever after, of course.

The gooseherd is obviously a pre-cursor to Cinderella’s fairy godmother, in the same vein as characters like the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Flutes and lutes and music generally are often employed by fairy-like folk and the above story nicely illustrates the fact that fairies can be perceived as good or malicious, a la the Pied Piper, whose basis can be found in history (1212 to be exact) and the German version of the lamentable Children’s Crusade.

The old lord is the original wicked step-mother, but with an edge of genuine pathos. Within these older versions of our modern fairytales, the humanity of the villains is still apparent. Their motivations, however skewed, can still been worked out and even garner our sympathy.

Another English variant on the Cinderella story is Catskin (also known as Cap o’ Rushes) which, in the more well-known Continental version, appears to have amalgamated with the Tattercoats story to make up the familiar version known by children throughout the world.

The fact that folklore in general has largely become marginalised as a source bona fide tradition appears to have something to do with an association with women and, by extension, with children and perhaps also with the fact that spreading urbanization has Gradually encroached upon the traditional realms of the fairy folk. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Hugh Miller (1802-1856), a Scottish palaeontologist and folklorist, recorded in The Old Red Sandstone of what was purported to be the final departure of the fairies from Scotland: One Sabbath morning … just as the shadow of the garden dial had fallen on the line of noon, a herd-boy and his sister saw a long cavalcade ascending out of a ravine through a wooded hollow. It wound amongst the knolls and bushes, and, turning round the northern gable of the children’s cottage, began to ascend the eminence toward the south. The horses were shaggy diminutive things, speckled dun and grey; the riders, stunted, misgrown ugly creatures, attired in antique jerkins of plaid, long grey cloaks and little red caps, from under which their wild uncombed locks shot out over their cheeks and foreheads. The boy and his sister stood gazing in dismay and astonishment as rider after rider, each one more uncouth and dwarfish than the one before, passed the cottage and disappeared among the brushwood on the hill, until at length the entire rout, except for the last rider, who lingered a few yards behind the others, had gone by. ‘What are ye, little mannie, and where are ye going?’, asked the boy. ‘Not of the race of Adam’, said the creature, turning for a moment in his saddle. ‘The People of Peace shall nevermore be seen in Scotland.’

Many were the lessons passed down in the oral tradition of the common folk. Shakespeare himself is an excellent source of folklore references. In King Lear, he also makes liberal use of the story format from the tale of Catskins and uses a multitude of archaic folk knowledge in his other well-known plays. The ‘Middle Earth’ references from Childe Rowland resonate within the works of JRR Tolkien. ‘Fe fi fo fum’, thought by some to be a linguistic remnant of a prehistoric counting system, is a phrase ubiquitous with fairytales.

The realities of medieval life can still be plainly gleaned from a proper dissemination of folklore. Old wives’ tales or not, they served a distinct purpose by entertaining and warning the unwary of dragons and changlings and the dangers of running widershins!

Story Source:
Childe Rowland taken from English Fairy Tales, Wordsworth Classics, 1994
Tattercoats abbreviated from above

Other sources:
Albion: A Guide to Legendary Britain, Jennifer Westwood, Granada Publishing, 1985

Lisa Agnew is a freelance writer based in Auckland, New Zealand, where she has lived for over thirty years, although she is English by birth. Whilst her main focus is the writing of speculative fiction drawing upon her knowledge of folklore from various cultures, she also writes articles for the likes of the Internet Review of Science Fiction,, Fate Magazine and others. Her website can be accessed at

Image: Edward Robert Hughes, Midsummer’s Eve