Audiobook - The Scottish Fairy Book Vol 1

Scottish Fairy Book

It's St Andrew's Day and, as usual, our token Scot, Susan Omand, is "away with the fairies" listening to The Scottish Fairy Book Vol 1 from our friends at Spokenworld...

Traditional Celtic fairy stories have been around for as long as people have been telling stories, being passed by word of mouth down the years to each new generation of Scottish children. Some of these tales were collected in print for the first time in 1910 by Elizabeth W Grierson who published the Scottish Fairy Book to give a representative cross section of different types of fairy tales and to highlight some which she classed as "less well known". This is volume one.

1. Introduction & Preface

Although not a story, this is worth listening to because it gives a good explanation of where the stories came from and how they came about. It also explains a bit about the "characters" involved - the differences between fairies and selkies and how most of these supernatural beings were looked upon as being mischievous or malevolent in the stories, how the mermen could be mistaken for seals and how the brownies were the nicest of them all.

2. Thomas The Rhymer

Thomas of Ercildoune lived in Berwickshire in the Border in the 13th century. He was well known as a poet, but he was also called True Thomas and was renowned for his gift of prophesy. This story is how he got these gifts from the Queen of Elfland and what he had to do in return.

3. Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree

This is the Snow White story with a bit of a twist. Silver-Tree is the name of a Queen of a far away land and Gold-Tree is her daughter. On certain days of the year the Queen visited a well in the glen and asked the trout that lived in it if she was the fairest in the land, to which the answer was always no, it was her daughter Gold-Tree. The Queen decided to feign illness and declared she could only be cured by eating the heart of her daughter. Distraught the King sent his daughter away to marry a prince in a foreign land, and gave the Queen the heart of a goat to eat instead. All went well until the next time the Queen visited the well and discovered her daughter was not dead...

4. Whippety-Stourie

If you know the story of Rumpelstilskin you'll recognise this story instantly. A young mother is tending a small farm when her prize pig falls ill just before it is due to go to market. A weird old woman happens by and promises to cure the pig and the mother, so desperate to get some money from the sale of the pig, agrees to give her anything she asks in return. The old woman cures the pig and then demands the mother's baby as her payment and will only leave without it if the mother can guess her name.

5. The Red Etin

Two widows had 3 sons between them and the boys were great friends. When it came time for the first to leave home, his mother asked him to fetch water for a cake. The watercan leaked so the cake was small. The woman offered him half the cake with her blessing, or the whole cake with her malice. He took the whole cake for it was small but he left his hunting knife with his brother as a token of his wellbeing - as long as the knife was shiny, then he was OK. On his journey he met first a shepherd, then a swine herd, then a goatherd all of whom told him about the horrible Red Etin, a monster that lived in a castle and had captured the King of Scotland's daughter. He came upon the castle and entered, seeking shelter, to be found by the monster and, because he could not answer the questions set by the Red Etin, the monster turned him into stone. His brother, on seeing the hunting knife dull, set out on the same journey and befell the same fate - the cursed cake, the meetings and the capture by the Red Etin who turned him to stone. The third boy heard of the story from a good fairy and sets out on the same journey to rescue his friends. What would become of him?

6. The Seal-Catcher and the Merman

The Seal Catcher lived in the far North of Scotland and made his living by killing seals and selling their fur. One day he injured but didn't kill a large brown seal and it swam off, taking his knife with it. Later that day he was approached by a stranger who wanted a lot of seal-skins by that night, which would have meant a lot of money for the seal-catcher. Encouraged by the stranger the seal-catcher went with him to find a place where there would be enough seals to fulfil the order, only to find that he was taken to a high cliff and thrown into the sea. However, he did not die in the water, instead he met the mermen, whose kinsman he had injured earlier that day, mistaking him for the seal. But was he still in danger?


7. The Pageboy and the Silver Goblet

There once was a pageboy who lived and served in a big house near a fairy knoll. He was always warned not to go near the fairy knoll but one day he decided to investigate and discovered the little folk. He stood in the shadows of the great hall he found under the knoll and watched them all party and drink from a magic silver goblet, whose contents never ran dry and changed to suit the whim of each drinker. Soon though, the page boy's hiding place is discovered. How would he escape?

8. The Black Bull of Norroway

A woman had three daughters, each of whom in turn left to seek her fortune, stopping at a witch on the way. The witch instructed each daughter to look out the back door of the house and she would see her fortune. The first saw a coach and 6, and went off to marry a prince, the second saw a coach and 4, and also got happily married and the third saw a big black bull, the Black Bull on Norroway, and had to go off with him. This is the story of the many trials and adventures she had with the Black Bull and the spells that were cast upon them.

9. The Wee Bannock

This is basically the Gingerbread Man story when a wee bannock (pancake) escapes being eaten by greedy people several times over as he ran. As night fell he found a hole and decided to go in there to sleep to find it was a fox's den.

10. The Elfin Knight

The Elfin Knight was said to live on a windswept and deserted moor and stories grew up of how people who ventured on there often disappeared. Two earls, Earl St Clair and Earl Gregory, who were friends with each other, lived close by and discussed the story of the Elfin Knight. Gregory told of the story that binding a clover leaf (the sign of the trinity) to his arm would be a protection against the supernatural powers of the Knight, but St Clair didn't believe him. So they set off over the moor, Gregory with his clover talisman, St Clair without, and they meet the Elfin Knight.

11. Nippit-Fit and Clippit-Fit

Essentially the Cinderella story, but without the ballgowns and midnight chimes, where a young prince has a tiny shoe and, whomsoever it fits, will be his bride. A Laird's widow and her two daughters hear of the prince's quest and the elder daughter takes the shoes and returns with them on her feet, although she is limping badly, and claims the prize. The younger daughter, knowing her own feet were smaller than her sister's, said nothing and hid because she did not believe herself worthy of being the wife of a prince. Soon she was discovered and made to try the shoes on because it turns out her sister had cheated in a very gruesome way.

12. The Fairies of Merlin's Crag

An orraman (a farm labourer) was sent to cut peats on the moor near the magical Merlin's Crag. He had nearly finished when he met a fairy who berated him for "taking the roof" from her house so, being fearful of her, he put the peats back. His master, a non-believer in the power of the fairies, is displeased and makes him lift them again. Time passes and the orraman forgets about the fairy until, exactly a year after he first lifted the peats, he is again passing Merlin's Crag and begins to feel very very sleepy. Laying down for a rest he drifts off and awakes to find it is night and he is surrounded by fairy folk...trapped, but for how long?

13. What To Say To The Nu Mune

A tiny rhyme, spoken over Scottish chanter music, about wishing for the new moon to reveal your true love ends the audiobook.

At over three hours for this first volume of three, this is not something to be listened to in one sitting but, when treated as fairy tales should be, one tale every night at bedtime, this is a beautiful collection. The stories are often known in one form or another but that doesn't detract from it. Indeed it enhances the "comfort" feeling because you know pretty much what you are dealing with and they also vary in length which means there’s always one to listen to depending on how busy, or tired, you are. The choice of Steven Cree as a reader was a good one because the stories would have sounded wrong in a more English accent. His voice added a real sense of place, as well as animation, to the stories and, the way the stories were written, they needed to be read in a native tongue. Being Scottish myself, I had no problem with the Scottish words used or the accent, although I understand that some people would have difficulty with some of the more "Scottish" words if not used to them but, to me, that is part of the charm of the collection.

As I have come to expect from Spokenworld, the production on the audio is excellent and the music very well chosen. This is a lovely set of stories for all ages that captures the tradition of Scottish story-telling for future generations and would make a lovely gift for children of any age or just a great excuse to get back into listening to traditional bedtime stories.

Images - Spokenworld and archive.org

Get the all three volumes, or the full collection direct from Spokenworld audio.