Tempus Publishing, Ltd.,
Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2001
ISBN: 0 7524 1935 8

Myths, legends, and fairy tales were once imbedded in the daily lives of peoples around the world, and to some extent still are–mostly in ‘developing countries’. In the West, they linger in the realm of consumer fiction–Rolling’s Harry Potter, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings–or are visited in updated versions for prime time television like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Though their meaning in modern life has been diminished, there is still a great need to grasp mysterious, mystical and magical layers that flow below the thin layer of reason upon which we tread.
        Anne Ross, the author of Folklore of Wales, spelunks below that layer of reason to resurrect many of the old myths and legends that have survived in Wales from pre-Roman times to the present. One of the contributing factors to the retention of some of these legends has been the fierce determination of the Welsh people to resist England’s domination of their culture and language. Though the myths and legends are losing their hold to television, the Internet, and the sense that Wales is a dead-end backwater amongst youth, Ms. Ross attempts to chronicle much of the folklore of Wales into a concise work before it is lost forever. This she does, and does it well. However, in trying to pack all of the folklore of Wales into an accessible 150 pages, she is unfortunately unable to make accessible an advanced level of detail. This book could be at least twice, if not three times its present size. But that sad fact is overshadowed by the sad fact that if it were that much larger, it would probably be relegated eccentrics’ dusty shelves instead of being available to a broad reading public.
        Wales is a rough region of Great Britain, strewn with moody hills and peaks, packed with lush and secluded post-coal mine valleys etched by streams and waterfalls. Windswept, ragged coastlines are equally bombarded with rain and sunshine, peppered with wildflowers, echoed with gull screeches and the occasional ghost-like seal swimming in the surf. A mystical sense pervades in the hills, teaming with sheep and small farms. Hundreds of castles, many dilapidated, are scattered around the countryside, a relic of how the English attempted to control this land. There are also remnants of iron age forts and Stonehenge-era structures the offer eerie reminders of the impermanence of societies. Walking the streets of the larger cities and towns, browsing the shops, you will sometimes hear the sing-song oddness of spoken Welsh. This is a rich ground for myth.
        Ms. Ross explores first folk narrative and what it meant to the people who learned most stories by memory and word of mouth. Some fables are as exciting as those presented by a Tolkien adaptation. But these stories did not serve as fiction or entertainment, but as lessons in life and morality for the early inhabitants of the British Isles. Ms. Ross also explores calendar customs, the church’s influence, healing and herbal remedies and charms. Where Folklore of Wales glitters is in the sections where she brings direct translations of folk tales to the page–giants, water monsters, ghosts, seers, fairies, and supernatural birds and animals roam the pages. Also fascinating are the different interpretations of the Arthurian legend, the Holy Grail, and special thought given to Merlin the Magician.
        Ms. Ross provides a fascinating and accessible introduction to the folklore of Wales that should opens doors to the reader interested in pursuing additional knowledge that could not be rendered in this text.