Category Archives: History
by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
You probably already know about the huge quantity of great, nonfiction history books at the library. But when you get to wanting something a little different that still scratches that historical itch, where do you turn? I’d like to suggest that Historical Fiction is the genre for you. Whether you’re a voracious reader of historical accounts, or a fiction lover who prefers facts taken with artistic license, this long-established genre is broad enough to hold something for everyone.
Historical Fiction has a few debated definitions, but it is not a work written around the time of the book’s events. For example, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, though now over 200 years old, is not “Historical Fiction,” as it takes place around the time Austen wrote it. (Some critics disagree on that anti-definition.) Wikipedia does a great job of defining the genre in this article, and from it I’ve compiled a working definition for us:
“An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions[,] and other details of the period depicted,” and is “written at least fifty years after the events described,” with “the author … writing from research rather than personal experience.”
Why read Historical Fiction? Why mess with facts? (Assuming the facts as we know them were recorded accurately and without bias in the first place.) Simply put, a good work of fiction can illuminate real-life truths. Fiction allows the freedom to process real issues in an abstract way, while maintaining distance from real, multi-faceted, potentially overwhelming events. A work of Historical Fiction can explore the thoughts and emotions of larger-than-life heroes and villains – those who have become so lauded or reviled, they no longer seem human – , and obscure commoners – forgotten by history, but transformed into composite characters who demonstrate the state of the world in the time they lived. For some readers, this is the best way to make an emotional connection to the past and gain fresh insight.
Let’s look at some great examples of historical novels you can find at the Williamson County Public Library. Because I love classics, I’ll list some classic examples first; then we’ll move on to more modern selections.
Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) deals with characters and events in England and France around the time of the French Revolution of 1775. Dickens often included members from all strata of society, but he did not necessarily sketch them in black and white. Wealth did not always equal virtue; poverty did not always equal ignorance; and the powerless did not always stay that way. A Tale of Two Cities features sympathetic characters, diabolical villains, and some of English literature’s most well-known passages. The description of the storming of the Bastille left me breathless with its intensity. In addition to the book, you can find READS eBooks and audiobooks, children’s adaptations, and DVD versions.
Other classic, historical works available in a wide variety of adaptations and formats are Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy (set around Scotland’s 1715 Jacobite uprising), James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (taking place during the 1757 French and Indian War), and Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (though we don’t carry the chocolate adaptation of that one at our library – sorry!).
The Middle Ages
A popular setting for Historical Fiction is medieval Europe, which covers the 5th to 15th centuries AD. Series abound, which means plenty of reading material in your new favorite genre! Here are some popular medieval historical series to check out. Series titles are in bold. The first novel in the series follows in italics. While not every book in a series may be available at this library, you can always request books through the Inter-Library Loan program!
- Paul C. Doherty, Hugh Corbett, Satan in St Mary’s. Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan, The Nightingale Gallery (under pen name Paul Harding). Doherty is a highly regarded historian, educator, and writer. He uses various pen names. He has also written about ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, first century Rome, and more.
- Ken Follett, Kingsbridge, The Pillars of the Earth.
- Margaret Frazer, Dame Frevisse series, The Novice’s Tale.
- Philippa Gregory, The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels, The Other Boleyn Girl (first published) or The Lady of the Rivers (first chronologically). Gregory’s popular novels have inspired controversy in historical circles.
- Michael Jecks, Knights Templar Mysteries, The Last Templar. The Medieval Murders series, The Tainted Relic.
- Sharon Kay Penman, Welsh Princes, Here Be Dragons. Plantagenet, When Christ and His Saints Slept. When researching for a book, Penman keeps in mind the saying, “History is written by the victors.” She scours new and alternate sources and uses deductive reasoning to come up with versions of events you may not have heard before, but may yet approach the truth.
Selections from Other Periods
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun — Nigeria’s struggle for independence in the late 1960s.
- Geraldine Brooks, The Secret Chord — The life of King David from the prophet Nathan’s point of view.
- Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See — Occupied France during WWII.
- Emma Donoghue, The Wonder — Mid-1800s Ireland, shortly after the official “end” of the famine.
- Robert Graves, I, Claudius — A pseudo-autobiography of misunderstood Roman emperor Claudius.
- David Liss, The Whiskey Rebels — Post-revolution America.
- Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove — 1870s Texas: the Wild West.
- Toni Morrison, Beloved — An escaped slave’s memories and experiences after the Civil War.
- Julie Otsuka, When the Emperor Was Divine — A Japanese-American family is held in an internment camp during WWII.
- Shyam Selvadurai, Cinnamon Gardens — 1920s Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
- Sherri L. Smith, Flygirl — A light-skinned African-American woman has to make choices about her identity as she tries to become a pilot in WWII-era America.
- Markus Zusak, The Book Thief — Germany during WWII.
I hope I’ve piqued your interest, or given you some new authors to check out. Is your favorite book missing from this list? Leave a comment below!
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Fairy tales come from many places; mythology, folk legends and even news headlines of the day. Hansel and Gretel may have hearkened back to the great famine of the fourteenth century when parents abandoned children and cannibalistic old ladies were not unheard of. The Pied Piper of Hamelin refers back to the children’s crusade when thousands of children left for the holy land to convert the Muslims. Cinderella has elements from the original King Leir folk tale (evil sisters who steal a throne) mixed with the myth of Rhodopis, a high class escort whose sandal is stolen by an eagle and dropped on a prince’s head causing him to search the kingdom for the owner of the mysterious footwear. Snow White and Rose Red hearkens back to the mythology of animals turning into gods. Snow White and her sister help a bear and an ungrateful dwarf. The dwarf tries to get the bear to eat the girls but is himself killed. The bear turns into a prince and the girls marry him and his brother respectively. Interestingly, in the original German folktales there are two different snow whites; Schneeweißchen has the sister, while Schneewittchen has the dwarves.
Time has removed the darker parts of many fairy tales. Many of the events of early versions of the fairy tales we know and love would be unfit for children (and some adults).
- In a very early version of Sleeping Beauty by Giambattista Basile the princess is raped by a king and then gives birth to twins that revive her. She tracks down the twins married father only to have his queen try to eat her babies. It’s all happily ever after though, the king has the queen burned alive for her attempted infanticide so he can marry sleeping beauty.
- The Grimm Version of Snow White is truly grim. The queen isn’t her step mother, it’s her mother. The prince finds her dead and she is woken when he is carting off her body and the poisoned apple falls from her mouth. I don’t care to speculate as to why he is carting off a beautiful, dead girl. Finally as punishment for what she’s done, the queen, who in this version asks the huntsman to bring her Snow’s liver and lungs to eat, is made to wear iron shoes that have been kept in a fire all day and dance until she dies.
- Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm don’t bother to take out the gory details of Cinderella. Their version has the step-sisters cutting off toes to fit their feet into the slipper, and when Ella is finally proven to be the prince’s one true love, they get their eyes pecked out by doves.
- In early versions of Little Red Riding Hood, prior to the polish and lightening of the Brothers Grimm, Red is fed bits of her grandmother before being eaten by the wolf. Oh, and there’s no passing woodsman to rescue her so she just gets eaten. She doesn’t learn her lesson, only the reader does.
- Ariel, not her name in the original Little Mermaid, didn’t always end up with Eric (not his name either). In the original Hans Christian Andersen version, the mermaid was given legs but every movement felt as if swords were impaling her extremities. As she truly loves the prince, she dances, despite the pain, to win his affection, but he marries a princess from the neighboring kingdom. In one last grasp at gore, the little mermaid’s sisters bring her a knife and tell her to kill the prince and let his blood drip on her feet so that she becomes a mermaid again. She declines and, brokenhearted, dissolves into sea foam. So much for the Disney ending.
According to a study by Durham University anthropologist, Dr. Jamie Tehrani, many of these tales are thousands of years old, going back to before the indo-european langauge family began to split. Tehrani believes that this is why so many of these tales are found in multiple cultures. But Fairy Tales are finding themselves pushed to the foreground once again. Television, film, books, and comics have all revived classic tales with new twists. Disney’s revived princesses are seeing a further recreation into live action movies and their show, Once Upon a Time, has brought these characters into the real-ish world of primetime soap operas. Bill Willingham’s Fables series has done something similar with the characters of our children’s stories living in modern Manhattan and a farm upstate for those less human and more anthropomorphic. New books are written retelling old tales all the time. Anne Rice, writing as A. N. Roquelaure, wrote a series of erotically charged sleeping beauty tales in the mid-1980s with a follow up that came out in 2015. Jasper Fforde turned the nursery rhymes into nursery crimes with his books The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear. Neil Gaiman has taken elements of fairy tales and made them even darker. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked went from best-selling novel to Broadway where it joined Into the Woods in modern retelling musical history. All of this shows the endurance these tales have and the future traction for their continued popularity.
Perhaps the most fascinating question of all this is, where our great x8 grandchildren will find their fairytales. Will their parents lull them to sleep with the tales of diminutive people trying to destroy a magic ring? Will their grandparents recall nights listening to the story of the beautiful girl who fell in love with the handsome vampire? Will their dreams be peppered with stories of magical children in a sorcerous school making the world safe for everyone? Histories suggests that they will; that the tales of our modern pop culture will traverse the ages, slightly bent, occasionally warped and find themselves sitting on the nightstands of children for generations to come, probably with some of the darkest parts edited out right next to the copies of Jack the Giant Slayer and Cinderella.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Everyone loves a good mystery. We love to hear the details and questions left. We love to put our brains to the facts and puzzle out what may have been missed. A small part of us hopes (however unlikely it may be) that we may actually be able to find that crucial overlooked bit, or make that perfect leap that could bring the mystery to an end. It’s one of the reasons the mystery genre has been so popular since Poe created it, through books, radio, film and television. Sometimes though, the mysteries are real, the people have disappeared. I’m not talking about the search for mysterious creatures like big foot or the investigations of odd phenomenon like the Bermuda triangle. I’m talking about the actual mysteries from the real world that puzzle investigators and theorists every day.
The Lost Persian Army
Some mysteries go back in time, way back in time. For instance, in 524 BCE the emperor of Persia sent an army into Egypt. The emperor, Cambyses II, was attempting to solidify his claim to the throne of Egypt. This meant destroying an oracle and priests of Amun that declined his invitation to legitimize his right to pharaonic glory. To do this he sent 50,000 troops from Thebes in the east of Egypt into the desert. These were Persian soldiers and Egyptian conscripts, men used to the harsh deserts. However not a one of them ever made it to the oasis where the temple was. They had simply vanished into the desert. Theories have abounded to explain their fate for millennia. Herodotus believed they were lost in a sandstorm and the entire army is buried beneath the dunes of Egypt. Most recently an Egyptologist and Professor, Olaf Kaper, has said he believes they were slaughtered by the rival claimant and Cambyses just claimed they were lost to avoid the embarrassment according to some hieroglyphics he has just discovered.
Let’s jump forward about 2000 years. While we are all at least somewhat familiar with the lost colony of Roanoke, most of us never understand the immensity of it. Sure there were other colonies that failed. The initial attempts at Jamestown collapsed. The Popham colony in Maine thirteen years before the pilgrims also ceased to be. There was even a late 1600s colony near the site of Roanoke on Colleton Island that ceased to exist. These examples have one thing that Roanoke does not. We know what happened to the people. Poor planning, internecine strife and fiscal mismanagement brought those colonies to an end, and we have the records, survivors and graves to prove it. Roanoke has none of this. Here an entire colony just simply vanished from the face of the Earth in the time it took the governor to sail to England and back. Governor White had gone back to England for supplies for the struggling colony and left 115 people, including his granddaughter, and first English child born in the new world, Virginia Dare. When he returned three years later the colony was deserted. A fence post had the word Croatoan carved into it and a tree had the letters cro. All the buildings had been taken down showing it was not a hasty departure and no new graves were located. The agreed on sign that they were forced to withdraw, a Maltese cross, was not found anywhere. The people had just gone and, despite much trying and many theories, no one has figured out their fate in the intervening five hundred years.
Closer to today we have the case of the MV Joyita. This was a yacht built for a 1930s film director that was found adrift in the south pacific in 1955. But this was no luxury toy, discarded when the next shiny bauble appeared. This boat had gone from luxury yacht to U.S. Navy patrol ship to a charter boat for hauling or fishing. She was sturdy, despite some radio range issues and leaky pipes. She was found listing, but afloat, five weeks after and 600 miles off course from her last planned trip. She was found with the dingy, life rafts, emergency supplies, firearms and crew of twenty-five missing. Not a person was aboard, which was odd considering the fact that she’d been afloat all that time. Here too you find a lot of theories, from injured captains to attacks by Japanese military personnel that refused to believe the war was over, but no answers.
Apollo Mission Goodwill Displays
Here we find the theft of an object. Not too irregular, right? Things get stolen all the time. How about when twenty-seven versions of the same thing go missing? Now we have your attention. After the Apollo program managed to reach the surface of the moon, NASA put together plaques and displays of moon dust and a flag that was carried on an Apollo mission. They were made for all the United States Territories and States and multiple other countries as well as the United Nations as good will gifts by the Nixon administration. Since that time the displays from Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Honduras, Ireland, Malta, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and West Virginia have all vanished mysteriously. Several attempts have been made to locate the displays but none have surfaced, not even on the illicit markets catering to less than scrupulous collectors. This is made more suspicious by at least five more thefts of moon materials.
While we like a mystery that ends with a solid resolution, there is something to the unexplained mystery that draws us to seek new answers and solutions. Maybe someone should write and unsolved mystery novel next?
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Since man learned that there were things in the natural world that he could bend and shape to make his life easier, inventors (however primitive they may have been at the start) have sought for new ways to make our lives easier. In some instances these inventions were stumbled across entirely by accident. Others, revolutionary at their time of inception, have become so common place that we rarely even remark on their origin. Yet these inventions and inventors have transfigured our daily life.
Think back to a time when early man began to use fire. Now we didn’t invent fire, it was most likely gathered naturally from lightning strikes and then kept burning in family shelters for up to centuries. Evidence of this can be found in a cave in China where a fire was kept burning for so long it left a bed of ashes twenty-two feet deep[i]. What they invented was a method to make fire on their own. Now, when you light your fire pit, gas oven or even just start your car, you don’t think about the amazingly complex reactions you’re continuing or their inventor. Similarly, many of the everyday inventions we use don’t even occur to us to be special.
Arguably the biggest impact on everyday life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries comes in the form of the automobile. While steam trains predate the car, they were limited to the areas that their tracks ran leaving those outside the rail service stuck using the same method of transportation we’d been using for 5,000 years, the horse. Now a carriage comes along with nothing to pull it other than the torque provided by a new method of harnessing that fire our ancestors shepherded so carefully. It’s no wonder that some people thought the whole thing a ridiculous fad. Similarly, when we deigned to light our homes for thousands of years we burnt something: oil, wax, fat or natural gas. It is an amazing leap to move to light bulbs, something that just glowed with the application of electricity. The idea that you could just use these metal and glass contraptions that you hooked in to deadly electricity was considered quite dangerous, even by people who were used to lighting volatile natural gas in their lamps.
As you can see these inventions, along with vulcanized rubber, powered flight, assembly lines and telephones, made the turn of the nineteenth century a time when anybody could completely restructure our daily lives with the newest inventions. All of these things we take for granted were harebrained schemes and crazy pipedreams.
While many innovators have pushed the boundaries of our world with a will and determination, some have stumbled across ideas and devices completely by accident. Things we’re all used to as models of modern engineering were originally flubs, failures and freak accidents.
Take the microwave for instance. Now you get home after a long day at work, too tired to cook and you throw some leftovers in a magic box for a minute or two and it comes out hot and ready to eat (well, except for the middle, that’s still ice cold). You’d think some scientific genius would have brought this gift of intellect to us, but actually not so much. A man working with an especially strong magnetron to improve radar for the Raytheon Corporation noticed something odd. The gentleman in question was Percy Spencer, a self-taught grammar school dropout who worked hard enough and had enough natural brilliance to go from the paper mills of Maine to developing and producing radar equipment for M.I.T.’s Radiation Laboratory. He noticed that while working with the magnetron, the chocolate in his pocket melted. He wasn’t the first to see this, just the first to investigate why it happened. From this radar experiment he went on to try it on another food source, targeting a direct radar beam on the food produced a result, and now 70 years late countless households reenact his first experiments nightly when they microwaves bags of popcorn.[ii]
Matches were an accident as well. The lighter may seem newer, but it actually predates the match by three years. The new-fangled match was created when an English Pharmacist noticed a buildup of chemicals on his stirring stick. When he attempted to scrape off the offending chemicals, the stick ignited. That must have been a bit of a shock to Mr. Walker, the pharmacist in question. [iii]
By far my favorite happy accident was the Popsicle. Eleven year old Frank Epperson had been mixing a powdered fruit flavored beverage with a wooden stick. He left the drink out on a cold night and it froze. In the morning he warmed the glass and removed the ice block with its wooden stirring stick still frozen inside. By chance he took a lick of the ice and now children everywhere have one of their own to thank for one of the most famous frozen treats. [iv]
Even being at best absent minded, at worst lazy, can lead to one of the greatest inventions of all time. Dr. Alexander Fleming hadn’t cleaned his lab before leaving for his summer holidays. When he came back he found an untidy workspace that included some exposed petri dishes. Some had a strange mold on them that repelled the bacteria around it. After a little tinkering and some concerted mold culturing, Fleming was able to reproduce the accidental experiment, leading to the development of penicillin.[v]
Some inventions come into being like embryos, bearing a slight resemblance to the finished product. There are a great number of these out there that were crazy when they were first proposed, but are now gaining traction.
- Yves Rossy may have finally perfected the Jet pack we’ve all been waiting for.
- The Inter auto, a spool to spool map that moved as you drove was like a nascent GPS.
- The Laryngophone, a means for speaking over telephone lines without use of your mouth has become the modern day throat mics of pilots.
- Hugo Gernsback once decided to make a wearable pair of small cathode ray tubes to produce a 3D television experience. This concept is finally coming to fruition with google glass and all the VR headgear attachments you can buy for your smart phones.
- Even the idea of the radio controlled lawn mower is reaching fruition. Who doesn’t want a remotely operated spinning blade moving across your yard? Roomba is readying a yard version of the famous vacuum for market.
The future may hold glorious new devices or more feasible innovations on weird ideas from the past. More unforeseen consequences may lead us to new discoveries. Something you see on the “as seen on TV” shelf may turn out to change the lives of every person on earth. You never know.
[i] The Cartoon History of the Universe Vols. 1-7 By Larry Gonick, 1990 902.07 GON
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
On July 14, 1881, Billy the Kid was killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett. Those are the facts, nothing but the facts. Oh, but the legends on these two and how they are linked forever in history makes this killing as important as the OK Corral in the annals of history.
So, who exactly was Billy the Kid? History gives him several names: probably born as Henry McCarty, and took the aliases Henry Antrim and William H. Bonney. Information is sketchy about his early years: it is known that he was born in New York City in to a poor Irish family. Not much is known about his early years but he ended up in New Mexico Territory in 1873. Again, not much is known about him at this time, but 4 years later he arrived in Lincoln County, New Mexico. This is where he makes history, mostly of the notorious type.
Lincoln County had just been established and was divided between two factions of cattlemen, the John Tunstall/ Alexander McSween side and the James Dolan faction, allied with the county sheriff William Brady. William Bonney (Billy the Kid) joined the Tunstall side, which was ultimately the losing side as well. Each faction had enforcers (gunfighters and criminals). Tunstall was murdered and in revenge, his men, “the regulators”, killed the sheriff. That brought on what came to be called the Lincoln County War, a five day gunfight and siege battle. The regulators were surrounded, McSween was murdered and the Tunstall men that were able to escape scattered. Billy the Kid was on the run for two years before being captured by Pat Garret the first time. The Kid was tried, convicted and incarcerated. He escaped from jail, after shooting both guards, and rode off into the sunset—for a while.
And Pat Garrett?? More is known about him (there usually is for lawmen). He was born in Alabama in 1850, but the family moved to Louisiana in 1853, and lost everything after the Civil War. In 1869, he headed west, resurfacing in 1876 as a buffalo hunter. As the buffalo disappeared, he headed to New Mexico territory. He became a ranch hand for Pete Maxwell, married and had children. Pat Garrett was sworn in as the new sheriff of Lincoln County in 1880 with the understanding that he would clean up Lincoln County. Several times he almost caught Billy, but each time he slipped away or Garrett was given the wrong information. He finally caught him, arrested him and put him in jail. Garrett was away from jail when the Kid escaped. Eight months later, Garrett found out that Billy was staying with Pete Maxwell, at his ranch. He came at night, and shot and killed Billy the Kid.
Almost immediately, Billy the Kid became a folk legend, which in turn mage Garrett seem an assassin. Garrett wrote a book about tracking and killing Billy. It didn’t sell well, but has become quite the collectible. The book was later found to be full of errors and imaginative tales. It was ghost written by a friend of Garrett. Pat did not run for sheriff again, but moved with his family to Texas and briefly became a Texas Ranger. He returned after a year or so to Roswell, New Mexico where his ranch was. He had several businesses that never prospered and moved back to Texas in 1892. In 1896, he returned to New Mexico where he was appointed sheriff of Dona Ana County. He was nominated by President Teddy Roosevelt as customs officer in El Paso, and confirmed by the Senate. He burned his bridges with Roosevelt and was in deep debt the rest of his life. He also was highly disliked for killing Billy, as the Kid had become a folk hero. He was shot in the back as he was going from his ranch into town. His murder was never solved.
As time passed, some people started the rumor that Pat Garrett either shot somebody else and claimed it was Billy or helped him fake his death. Someone even claimed to be Billy in the 1940s. Even so, historical records show that Billy’s body was identified by several different people—most generally agree that Pat Garrett got the right man—Billy the Kid.
- Billy the Kid was involved in at least nine murders. He was said to have committed as many murders as he had years—he was killed at age 21. (He may have been his own best publicist.)
- Over 50 movies have told this famous historical event. He worked on his reputation before his death, and afterward his legend only grew. The first movie was the silent film in 1911, entitled Billy the Kid. Other stars who played him on the silver screen have been Paul Newman, Val Kilmer and Emilio Estevez (in Young Guns, which we have in our collection.)
- When Bill Richardson was governor of New Mexico, Billy the Kid found another champion. Richardson was a New Mexico history buff and was publicly thinking about pardoning William Bonney posthumously. Before Billy the Kid died, he appealed to then governor, Lew Wallace (who while in office wrote Ben Hur!) for a pardon for his role in the Lincoln County Wars. Wallace agreed, but the pardon was never given to him because he was killed. So when Richardson was thinking about this pardon, he churned up old history. The descendants of Pat Garrett started a petition to stop the pardon from going ahead. Bill Richardson is no longer governor of New Mexico, so this pardon will never happen, but it just goes to show that the past is not that far away.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
You’ve all heard of Limericks, I’m sure
Whether racy or actually pure
They’re funny old rhymes
From good old times
And the good ones are rarely demure
They all start in jolly old Britain
Whose poems were occasionally written
In lyrical styles
To bring forth some smiles
And the poets were instantly smitten
The name, it comes from good green Erin
The Maigue Poets used to declare in
the city, Limerick.
Those bards got a kick
from the poetry style used there in.
The transition to bawdier verse
(Or something ocassionally worse).
The decade was roaring
and not a bit boring,
still, reactions were quite terse.
There once was a man, name of Lear
Who wrote them, though not very clear
His meanings were nonsense
With ridiculous contents
And his fame stretches from then to here
Some people delight to change form
From the meter and scheme as a norm
They sometimes depart
On whole, a la cart
But can do so in in whatever manner they choose and still leave it mildly humorous
So let us praise the limerick this way
On this, the Limerick’s Day
They bring joy and delight
And the length is just right
Except like now when I’m carried away!
As one last PS I must add
A very hard time I have had
To not use Nantucket
Or mention a bucket
But I know that would really be bad.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Faith and Begorra! It’s March again, which brings us to think about spring, St. Patrick’s Day, and little people. Eh, what?? Little people, you say?
We all know about leprechauns and their pots of gold (if nothing else from the Lucky Charms cereal commercials): little men dressed mostly in green who’ve buried their treasure at the end of the rainbow and don’t want anyone to find it (an ironic choice). In past centuries many have tried to find these pots of gold at the end of rainbows, but most never did.
In Irish folklore, stories and tales of “the little people” abound. We’ve heard these names: leprechauns, banshees, pookas, and selkies. Most of the fantastic creatures from Irish folklore did not like humans. According to the legends, the first inhabitants of Ireland were the Fomorians, who were said to have been giant-like. They were supernatural beings who kept being pushed off the good land of Ireland by humans and the other supernatural race—the Tuatha de Dannann (or the Fae).
According to legend, both of these races were pushed out of Ireland by human invaders. The Fomorians and the Tuath de Dannann fought each other regularly, but the Formorians were ultimately defeated. The Fae were also defeated by humans, the early Irish, and were consigned to live underground, occasionally kidnapping children and replacing them with changelings. They were also known to take unwary humans underground to keep as entertainment for a while, which was always longer than the human expected. The Tuatha de Dannann became known as “The Little People” partly to reduce the terror of the stories told about them, and also because they became lost in the myths of Irish legends.
One of the most well-known of the Little People is the leprechaun. Anyone who has seen Darby O’Gill and the Little People knows what a leprechaun looks like; most people recognize them from Lucky Charms cereal and remember “They’re magically delicious!” (the Lucky Charms, not the leprechauns). But long ago, leprechauns weren’t nice or friendly. They knew all humans wanted their pot of gold, which as everyone knows is at the end of the rainbow. Here are a few things you probably never knew about them.
- Leprechauns are fairies. Fairies are the little people of Ireland and leprechauns are little people; therefore they are fairies
- If you are kind to them, they might give you a golden reward—you may find a golden coin for your trouble
- There are no female leprechauns
- Sean Connery may have won the role of James Bond after Albert (Cubby) and Jane Broccoli saw the movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People, starring Connery. They thought he had the sex appeal needed to play Bond
- There is a supposed colony of them in Portland, Oregon in a tiny park dedicated to the magical creatures
- Sometimes they are dressed all in red—these may be their cousins, the clurichauns, though. These red garbed fairies are mean and drunk. Some say that the red clurichauns are what leprechauns become at night after a wee bit of whisky
- At Carlingford Mountain, there are supposed actual remains of a leprechaun under glass. A business man found a tiny suit, gold coins and some bones after hearing a scream. The earth was also scorched near the site
- They are protected under European law. The Carlingford site is considered a Heritage site, protecting the colony of leprechauns and the plants and animals that live in its vicinity
- Although the legend of the leprechaun is known mainly of Ireland, other countries have legends of small men. Although the gnome doesn’t wear all green, he fits the bill as a small magical creature
- Leprechaun means small body in Middle Irish—that fits, since they are small men
- The leprechaun is the mascot for the University of Notre Dame (The Fighting Irish!) now, but it wasn’t always.
- You can make a leprechaun trap—all you need to get started is something shiny to lure the little men. The traps can be simple as a shoebox, or elaborate as your family can imagine. Although no one has caught anything yet—that anyone knows of—it doesn’t hurt to try!
- An Irish Blessing for St. Patrick’s Day
Wishing you a rainbow
For sunlight after showers
Miles and miles of Irish smiles
For golden happy hours
Shamrocks at your doorway
For luck and laughter too
And a host of friends that never ends
Each day your whole life through.