Another Good Friday (Friday Folklore Roundup)

This is my half-century year.

Oddly enough, I'm not really all that worried about it.

50 is the new 30.

Not really.

But it's really okay.

Generous margin. Quality over quantity when it comes to food and drink. Close relationships with the people I care about. These are the things which really matter. 50 is just old enough to finally figure that out.

Stories are also more important to me at this point in life. Family stories. Family-lore. As I think about the next fifty years (with modern medicine being what it is, I intend to live until my eleventy-first birthday, at which time I will depart for the next adventure most unexpectedly), the things that matter — the things that will live on well after I'm gone — are the stories we tell. The life we pass along to the next generation.

I love graveyards, and I can't help but wonder how much has been lost over the years every time I wonder among the tombs. What are the stories that have ceased to be told?

Helping the story continue is really the purpose of this website.

Speaking of "Long-Expected Parties" ...

Be sure you are following @JRRTolkien on Twitter. This coming Monday there will be a most interesting announcement.

For The Friday Folklore roundup this week, I've found some fascinating articles related to folklore from the three major countries of North America.

Slightly Bizarre But Compelling Mexican Folklore Photos

This series of photographs from Mexico are truly fascinating, if not a little disturbing. This is reported in "The Sun" — so make sure your ad block is on. I was not able to locate this photographer's home online, so if anyone knows, please leave a comment. I'd rather give him the link than "The Sun". Nevertheless, these photos are truly fascinating — and bizarre. We will explore Mexican folklore in more depth at some point — but in the meantime look through these images.

And be sure to do so with the lights on.

Meanwhile in Toronto ...

As baseball season kicks into gear in North America, I was watching a couple of videos of the Cub's winning the World Series last year (talk about sports-lore), and came across this well written article about sports-lore in Toronto. The Toronto Olympics in 1976 were the first games I remember watching with interest. This piece from CBC is an interesting read.

Food Glorious Food

And finally — let's talk nation-defining regional snack foods in the USA. The Thrillist published an incredibly interesting piece on this subject, and the section about hushpuppies is worth the read by itself. Grab a soft pretzel from Philly or maybe a "wickles pickle" in 'Bama and check out the story behind the snack. This is a great read.

More to come. Stay tuned. In the meantime, you have you signed up to receive the folkloristic Troll Report? For free?

You should do that now.

Enjoy your weekend! May it be magical.

The Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story — and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.
— JRR Tolkien

Friday Folklore Roundup: Memphis, Iceland and the Supernatural

Folklorists, story-tellers, and lovers of tales - Greetings from Memphis, TN!

Another update from

The vernal equinox is past. The Northern hemisphere is now on the long side of daytime. While there is still a possibility of cold nights — things are looking rather spring-y, at least here in the Southeast where Folkloristic currently resides.

The Podcast will be back in the next few weeks. Winter hibernation is nearly over and weekly audio is peering out of its cave into the bright sunlight once again. We're just lining up a few more guests and will soon be exiting the darkness with more interviews, creature features, book reviews and more. Thanks for your patience with the outage!

Article content is also forming. For those of you who live in various parts of North America, I'd love to hear some of your local or family lore. Drop me a line, and let's talk.

This week, I've been in Memphis, TN and spent a little time at the Center for Southern Folklore - and met the creative, witty and enterprising entrepreneur who founded the Downtown Memphis landmark. More on this place to come.

Some interesting bits of Folklore in the news this week —

Apparently there was a map depicting scenes of American folklore created in the 1940's by a man named William Gropper. Superfluous copies of this map no longer exist because of McCarthyism. Interesting article, particularly in light of our current political state. Also - Atlas Obscura is a website about obscure maps and I think that's amazing.

Because of Iceland's geographic location on the tectonic plates, I've made an executive decision. We're counting her as North American, at least as far as Folklore is concerned. Icelandic Folklore is too incredibly fascinating not to do so. (Check out the Christmas 2016 podcast to hear more!) When the Golden Plover arrives in Iceland, Spring has arrived.

G. W. Mullins is a prolific author and scholar of Cherokee decent who has written numerous books on the lore of Native America. A hardback version of The complete Supernatural Tales of the Native American Indians was released this week. This looks like an item which needs to be added to my library (as well as someone I need to get on the podcast!)

That's all for this week! More to come.

Hope your week (or weekend) is magical!

A Spring Resurrection and Folklore in the News


Winter in South Carolina (where I currently reside) is essentially nonexistent. Growing up in realms north of the Mason-Dixon line, and having lived in the coldest capital city in the world, I know winter. This ain't it.

That said, along with the daffodils and tulips creeping up from the earth in my backyard, this website is also beginning to show signs of life again.

We've taken a break since Christmas. Many reasons for that — both personal and strategic.

Posting this to Just let you know the podcast and fun folklore content is coming back. Slowly but surely.

I've discovered a few links to keep you busy in the meantime.

There is a fun website called "Only in Your State" which posts oddities from the 50 states. For example, there's this post on 9 urban legends in the State where I reside. Search your State (or a state you'll be visiting soon!) to see the things which make that location odd, unique, or downright creepy.

While we focus primarily on North American folklore here at Folkloristic, let's be honest - North America gets a sizable chunk of our lore from the British motherland. The BBC published a wonderful article on the folklore of Essex - the origin point of demon-dogs, giant snakes, and the weird but intriguing owl-man. The photo of owl-man alone makes this worth a read through.

Winter breathes its final gasp here in South Carolina.  

Winter breathes its final gasp here in South Carolina.  

While we're still outside of North America (but still within the realm of her Majesty), this Australian craftsman has created furniture inspired by the monsters of Australian folklore. Unique and strange animals live in Australia in real life, making the beasts of Australian lore even more interesting. I want the scaled wardrobe.

Finally - if you plan to see Disney's live-action release of Beauty and the Beast this week, be sure to check out the folkloristic origins of the tale. Spoiler alert: the original is darker and there's no singing candlestick.

More coming soon! May your week be magical.

Baltimore and Edgar Allan Poe Folklore

One of the many interesting burial places in the Westminster Hall Burial grounds, Baltimore, MD. 

One of the many interesting burial places in the Westminster Hall Burial grounds, Baltimore, MD. 

The day-job requires I go to the city of Baltimore a fair amount. In spite of what many folks say about the Baltimore, I find it fascinating. Charming even. 

It is, after all, the “Charm City,” right?

Interesting architecture is one of the most notable features of the Charm City. One of the lessor notable features is the city’s rich legacy of folklore, legend and myth. There are lots of stories, purported hauntings and other-worldly materializations in Baltimore’s history. This includes the 19th floor of the Lord Baltimore Hotel, a place I frequently stay during my visits. Of course, the closest I’ve been to the haunted floor was when I stayed in room 1801. It was a quiet and restful night. 

Edgar Allan Poe is Buried Here

Perhaps the central character of Baltimore myth and legend is the city’s most famous writer, and one of America’s original authors, Edgar Allan Poe. 

I’ve visited his final resting place several times, and did so on my latest excursion to Baltimore a few weeks ago. He’s been laid to rest in a lovely gothic cemetery, just off the beaten path in Downtown Baltimore, along with many other historic figures from Revolutionary War era America. It’s a quiet place in the middle of a busy city. 

The Gate was Opened by a Large Vaping Man … 

I most recently arrived at the burial grounds surrounding Westminster Hall with a cup of coffee a bit before 8:00 AM. Apparently that’s too early, as the gates were locked. I almost went away disappointed. A large, rather unkempt looking man came out of a side door of the church with a vape pipe and a large set of keys. 

Apparently, the gate is unlocked daily at 8:00 AM. 

Old Fake News

Many people assume Edgar Allan Poe must have been this strange, other-worldly, oddity to have written his death-obsessed work. It’s and unfortunate fact some of Poe’s legacy was indeed shaped by a rival named Rufus Wilmot Griswold. He does have a Wikipedia page, but he’s mostly unknown today. When Poe died, Griswold published an obituary (under a fictitious name) which began: 

Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.
— Rufus Griswold

He went on to paint Poe as a tortured soul, addicted to alcohol, drugs and women. 

Little of it was true. Most was embellishment. Much was believed by the general public. 

“Fake news” is not a new phenomenon. 

A Professional Writer

What I find interesting is the fact that Edgar Allan Poe was a hard working writer who had no more quirks than most of us. He gambled and drank more than he should have at times. He did marry his 13 year old cousin. Not that this should ever have been an historic or culturally acceptable thing, but in his day, this was not nearly as scandalous as it would be today. The point is, he had a fairly ordinary existence for the mid–1800s. He lived his life in relative poverty. Much due to the fact he made some poor financial choices — as well as his career choice of “Author and Poet,” something more or less unheard of at that time. It didn’t pay much. 

He never made a lot of money as a writer. The bread and butter of his career was his work as an editor and publisher — and even then, there wasn’t a lot of bread or butter on Poe’s table. However, Poe did achieve notoriety when his poem “The Raven” was published in 1845. He was essentially an overnight success. 

People knew him as a poet. And he was paid as a poet - a grand total of $9 bucks for the poem. 

Granted, that was a decent bit of cash for a piece of writing in 1845. But rights and usage laws were very different in those days. It never brought him the passive income a work with similar popularity would bring a writer today. If someone were to write a poem, and a team in the National Football League used the main character of said poem as a mascot, the poet would be doing quite well for herself. 

Maybe the Baltimore Ravens should consider a generous contribution to the Edgar Allan Poe Foundation, at the very least?

Affluence vs. Influence: The Author’s Conundrum

Poe didn’t achieve the sort of success one would have expected in his lifetime. In fact, he died a couple of days after he was found wandering the streets of Baltimore in a stupor, wearing someone else’s clothes. There is an element of mystery surrounding his death. Speculation ranges from rabies to cholera to alcohol poisoning. No one knows for sure. 

Poe remains a stalwart and a pioneer in American and other English language literature today. From Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle to Jules Verne to Stephen King, Poe has influenced both writer and genre: detective stories, science fiction and gothic horror. 

It’s why Poe is required reading in every high school and university level American Lit class today. 

I’m pretty sure there aren't too many people in the world today who have ever read anything by Rufus Griswold. 

A Toast to Poe

As I wandered the Westminster burial grounds in downtown Baltimore, I did wonder about all of the other folks buried there: a lot of our country's backstory is underfoot here. Poe is buried with Revolutionary War heroes, and founding mothers and fathers of the USA.

Like I said, there’s a lot of history in Baltimore. 

The first Edgar Allan Poe burial place. His remains are now at the front. This spot was originally unmarked. 

The first Edgar Allan Poe burial place. His remains are now at the front. This spot was originally unmarked. 

Poe died and was buried at the back of Baltimore’s Westminster burial grounds in an unmarked grave in 1849, at the age of 40. 

His body was later moved to a marked grave in the front of the cemetery. 

Starting sometime in the 1930s a mysterious person began to secretively appear every year on Poe’s Birthday (January 19th) and leave a half bottle of cognac and three roses at the grave. This continued every year until the “Poe Toaster” mysteriously stopped appearing in 2010, the year after the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth. 

While the Maryland Historical Society is bringing the tradition back in an official capacity, the identity of the original "Poe Toaster" is still a mystery today.

I feel Mr. Poe himself would have approved.

If you're ever in Baltimore, be sure to check out all of the Poe History. It's quite fascinating.

Westminster Hall Burial Grounds
The Edgar Allan Poe House (Baltimore)
The Hospital where Poe Died
The Annibel Lee Tavern(purportedly frequented by Poe. Now a very Edgar Allan themed place for pub food and drink)

Be sure to Subscribe to the Folkloristic Podcast for a weekly dose of North American Folklore, stories and fun.

Holiday Season 2016 - Tell More Stories

(and why this should become an important part of your family tradition)

If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.
— Rudyard Kipling

Thanksgiving Day in America has caused this week's post to be a day late. I trust all US Folkloristic readers have enjoyed some time with friends and family — and at the very least a long weekend.

The Christmas season is now full on. It's "Black Friday" as I write this, and I, for one, am thankful to be sitting at a table overlooking trees and dull, gray sky with a coffee and a laptop writing this post, rather than in a line at Best Buy fighting someone over a TV.

Today is the day the Christmas tsunami breaks on America - retail-ly speaking. Christmas music started in October this year for some reason. Now it's full swing Andy Williams everywhere.

There is an Andy Williams song which has confused me over the years. The song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" has a line about telling "scary ghost stories" and "tales of Christmases long ago."

Ghost stories? That seems odd to most of us. Perhaps we'll explore the victorian tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve in another post. However, I do wonder if the opportunity for the general telling of stories during the holidays is something we have mistakenly overlooked.

When generations gather, there is an opportunity for stories to pass, and I believe this is an opportunity we shouldn't miss.

That's the very definition of folklore. And this is something we should care about.

This speaks to one of the big questions I wish to answer in this place, over time: "Why should folklore be important to North Americans?"

Stories are important for every culture. And stories may be more important in present day North America than ever before.

Stories connect us with our heritage.

It's interesting to observe increased advertising and interest in sites like — where you can have your DNA tested to find out how your family immigrated to the US. (Mildly ironic, in light of increased anti-immigration sentiment which has become so politically popular in recent days.) Perhaps we've lost connection to heritage because we've lost connection to family stories. The tradition of story-telling at family events is being lost because we don't ask the older generations to tell their stories — and they don't get passed along. This leaves future generations in a place of insecure foundations and an unnerving sense of rootlessness. We need stories to stay connected with our past, whatever that past may have looked like.

Stories cause us to feel.

This is not a researched conclusion. Nor is it some kind of social/anti-technology commentary. But I do wonder if technology has made us less empathetic than we might be. Could reality TV and movies and video games somehow be making us less sensitive to the very real pain others feel? Could our entertainment choices be desensitizing us to the media's narrative of war, displaced peoples, and racial and social inequity, causing us to distance ourselves emotionally from those realities? Don't know for sure. But I wonder.

There are studies which have proven that literary fiction, in particular does increase empathy. A story told properly will allow us to enter into another persons plight and to potentially feel their pain. And allow their pain to change us.

I remember the first time I saw tears in my Dad's eyes. It was while he was telling a story to my brother and I about a time he'd taken advantage of one of his friends as a little kid. Even as a child, I could feel his regret for what I know to be uncharacteristically mean behavior. From hearing his story, I knew I didn't ever want to be a perpetrator. His story made me a better person and more aware of others — not just that day, but for the rest of my life. It was a story passed down, lore, if you will, which changed me.

Stories help us to see what is real.

Especially folklore, because folklore is intrinsically connected to what is real. By definition, folklore is "tales of the people". Folklore (and ensuing myth and legend) are stories that orient us as a culture. These stories motivate us, as well. Thus it is so critical for our North American society to pass along the right stories that will help us understand our current realities.

In being aware of our own stories, tales, myths and legends, we become more aware of ourselves and our history.

The telling and perhaps, more importantly, the re-telling of stories is peculiarly important to the North American context. As a relatively young society, the United States, being a cultural "melting pot," has a tendency to be culturally shallow. I wonder if we would find our culture deepened, as we learn to extract, record, and retell our family stories? Generational stories. The stories which make us who we are. The lore of our own folk.

As we step into the holiday season, what are some of the stories important to your family?

Don't know?

Try this:

  1. Ask. At a family gathering over the holiday season, sit down with one person who is of a different generation than you — and ask questions about their childhood and teenage years or early adult years. Ask them what they remember about their parents or Grandparents or uncles or aunts. Ask about their school; their worries and their fears. Ask them what they remember of family and living conditions. Ask them about anything you find interesting.
  2. Listen. It's a rare and valuable gift. Give it. Turn off your phone and give undistracted attention and interest to someone in your family. It's the most humanizing thing anyone could do for anyone.
  3. Record. When you finish listening, record what was said in whatever way serves you best. Use the voice recorder on your phone, a journal or a notebook, or a piece of software like Evernote or the Day One Journal.
  4. Retell. Tell the stories of the older generations to those who are of the younger generation. Tell them publicly and (when appropriate) online, with a blog or a Tumblr. Use them to illustrate whenever possible. Life lessons. Business lessons. The possibilities are endless, really. Re-tell the stories of your people. Your family. Your folk.

Post in the comments some of your family stories, which you feel free to publicly tell. We'd love to hear some of them.

The monthly Folkloristic newsletter is packed with fun and useful information — and if you sign up now, you will get a free copy of "The Troll Report - an update on the state of trolls in North America". You'll love it. You know you will.

Be sure to also subscribe to the Folkloristic Podcast. New Episodes come out every Monday.

Creature Feature: Wendigo

From North Wood’s Myth to Hannibal Lector

Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.
— Primo Levi - Author of "Survival in Auschwitz"

The Legend of Jack Fiddler

His given name was Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubo - meaning he who stands in the southern sky in Cree. He was known to Canadian settlers, and the government that wanted to place his people under State law as Jack Fiddler. Jack was considered the leader of s devil worshiping tribe of aboriginal people by the Canadian government.  

To his own people he was a leader. 

And a Wendigo hunter. Legend has it, Jack Fiddler killed 14 wendigos in his lifetime, and a wendigo can be a hard thing to kill.  

There’s a Monster in the Boreal Forest

At least according to the Algonquin and the Inuit peoples of Norther Canada.  The Tsaatan or Duhka people of North-Central Asia share similar legends of a flesh-eating, forest-dwelling creatures. In North America, the monster is known as the wendigo. And this particular monster is the stuff of which nightmares are made. 

The primary terrifying, characteristic of the wendigo is its appetite. It consumes human flesh. The word in the Algonquin language essentially means “the evil spirit that devours all of mankind.” Fairly apocalyptic.  These monsters were said grow up to 10-15 tall but looked  completely emaciated. Their starved appearance should deceive no one, however. Wendigo carry super-human strength and speed, especially in the cold of a North Wood winter, when they’re most hungry. They were also said to have glowing, yellow eyes, as if one would not already be frightening enough to meet in a dark, cold wood.  

How to Become a Flesh-eating Monster that is not a Zombie

According to the variety of Algonquin speaking peoples who once populated a large portion of Northern and Eastern North America, there were two ways a wendigo could form. 

  • A person could become possessed by the “spirit of wendigo." If left untreated by shamanist ritual, that person could eventually turn into a full-blow flesh eating monster. 
  • A person could transform into a wendigo at a speedier rate should they become obsessively greedy or participate in cannibalism.  

Just to be clear with our monster-lore: a wendigo is not the same thing as a zombie. A zombie is someone who has died whose body has been re-animated through magical means. A wendigo is a person who who has been transformed into a creature through supernatural means, often because of choices they have made. 

Jack Fiddler believed his purpose was to protect his people by making sure that transformation never happened. 

Possible Origins of Wendigo Lore

The origins of the wendigo lay in the harsh winters of the north woods.  Native peoples of this region often faced severe food shortages - when game for hunting was scarce and the snows were deep.  Wendigo myth and lore may have been used to dissuade people from participating in cannibalism to stay alive. Eating human flesh was not only something the Algonquins didn’t practice, it was taboo. It was better for people to sacrifice themselves and die of starvation, than  to eat another human being.  Folklore stepped in to create a fate worse than death. 

But there were winters when entire Algonquin villages died. Extreme and harsh conditions may have driven some people to make an impossible choice and to step into a taboo realm, in order to stay alive.  The human will to live can be a powerful thing.  

Some researchers say that wendigo myth may also be the Algonquin explanation of a psychosis which accompanies degenerative brain diseases like Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease (“mad-cow disease” is a form of this) - which is known to be transmitted by eating human flesh.  

The Bane of Jack Fiddler

Within the Algonquin community there was a culturally-bound psychosis/paranoia in which some people either obsessively believed they were becoming wendigo or that people around them were becoming wendigo.  This possibly affected Jack Fiddler.  His 14th and final “wendigo kill” was a woman he believed about to turn.  The Canadian government stepped in about a year later and put him and his brother on trial for murder, using the media of the day to leverage government law and control over all First Nations people. Jack Fiddler’s tribe was one of last hold outs from the Canadian government.  

Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubo, AKA Jack Fiddler, the Last Wendigo Hunter, hung himself on September 30th, 1907, days before he was to go to trial.  Jack’s people and descendants live at Sandy Lake, Deer Lake and North Spirit Lake First Nation in Ontario today.  

Today’s Wendigo

Of course, the forest everywhere is a place full of story and legend;  monsters and myth. Ancient places like the northland boreal forests of Scandinavia, North America and Asia are the birthplace of much wonder and terror, as far as stories are concerned. While this was where the wendigo legend was birthed, it is not where it dies. Movies, TV shows and video games continue to use the wendigo as the stuff of nightmares. The first season of the popular television show Supernatural has a wendigo monster, some B-movies have trie to tell the flesh-eaters story (apparently a new one in development) and several fantasy video and roll-playing games have wendigo characters.  Perhaps the most famous fictional bad-guy to channel the spirit of wendigo is Hannibal Lector, the serial killer who always tasted a bit of his victims. While he did class up human liver with fava beans and chianti, it was still a monsterous meal.  

Folklore is often used in most cultures to prevent bad behavior.  Stories do seem to do the trick. “Go to sleep right now or the boogeyman will get you.” However, the result is often the appearance of a boogeyman in dreams, fears and nightmares.

Stay tuned!  Monday’s Podcast will be an audio “Creature Feature” - exploring more about the wendigo.  Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, so you never miss an episode. 

If you enjoy the “creature feature” segment, you might consider becoming a patron at Folkloristic.  When you become a patron for any amount, you will get an extra “patrons only” creature feature ever 4-6 weeks. 

Subscribe to the Folkloristic Newsletter to receive all of the latest folklore news every month.  


Of Monsters, Grief, and Yew Trees

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.
— Patrick Ness

My mother, like all mothers, would drag my brother and I to those stores where mothers take their children to be tortured.

Buildings with large open interiors stocked with large rolls of fabric and high shelves of glass plates and crystal glasses.

And here's where, as an adult, I begin to question my mental stability.

When I was a kid, I regulary entertained fantasies of destruction. (Should I publically admit this? Could I even now be institutionalized?) As a little boy, I felt I would find some sort of emotional satisfaction if, in the midst of my utter boredom, I could take a baseball bat to the entire china department, shards of broken glass clinking to the floor. Follow this demonstration of utter devastation by watching yards and yards of paisley fabric go up in smoke.


I sincerely hope and pray I'm not the only kid who ever thought these horrid, ruinous thoughts. Of course, I never acted upon my fantasies. Which is good. And, perhaps, why one doesn't end up in a group home for troubled children.

Part of my juvenile delinquent imagination is captured by Patrick Ness' children's/YA novel, "A Monster Calls" - set to be released in theatres as a major film in January of 2017. Of course, Ness' story is about a boy who also entertains destructive fantasies, but for much deeper and more significant reasons than being bored in a fabric store. This beautifully written and deeply moving tale is about Connor, a young boy dealing with the grief accompanying his mother's terminal illness. His companion in grief is a tree-like monster, who (as the absolutely perfect first line of the story explains) "showed up just after midnight. As they do."

A little about Patrick Ness, for those who may not be familiar. He writes exquisitely-crafted young adult ficiton. I was enthralled with his "Chaos Walking" series, in which Ness created an emotionally poignant world with no excuses or explanations. It's a world simply is, as is true with the best created worlds. The characters who live their lives within this world kept me turning pages. Ness has a new novel called "The Rest of Us Just Live Here", apparently about normalcy. Though I've not read this one, I am confident that Ness can turn a novel about about the mundane into something compelling and lavishing to read.

Stories are wild creatures. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?
— The Monster

In "A Monster Calls" Patrick Ness tells an honest, emotionally layered story. Yes, there's a monster involved. A pretty cool living yew tree monster (more on that in a moment). But the Monster only helps Conner to understand the compounded grief and pain he is experiencing. And this is really the tale's heart: a young boy dealing with grief. The monster tells Conner stories helping him to see reality in ways that he couldn't see before. And yes, there is also destruction involved and, while understandable, it proves to be not ultimately healing. "Now that, said the monster, is how destruction is properly done." The other characters are fully developed and meaty. The mother and grandmother feel like real people who the reader has met at some point.

Yew Mythology - from Britian to North America

This story is set in England, where yew trees are commonly found in church yards. Some of the most ancient Yew trees are estimated to be up to 4000 years old. It's no wonder that magical and transformative properties are associated with these massive conifers. Old yew trees take on monstrous shapes, which I am sure became inspiration for the monster in this story. English Yew-lore is a finely woven tapestry of pagan legend and Christian symbolism.

I see you
— Lily

Yew trees are not as common in the US as they are in their native England. There is a rare species found in northern Florida, and a more common species found in the Pacific Northwest. Because of this, they do not have quite the entertaining folklore in North American folklore as they carry in the British Isles. The more populous cedar tree tends to carry more tree-lore here. There is an interesting Makah First People's creation legend involving the origin of the yew tree. Otherwise, little is said about these gnarley giants. Many an American suburban home is garnished with a miniature version of the yew, also known as the mountain yew. Or, more commonly, the juniper.

A Fitting Tribute

The genesis of "A Monster Calls" is not Patrick Ness. He is the finisher. Ness gives a lovely and fitting tribute to the stories origins in the preface. Siobhan Dowd was the author of several YA novels published in her lifetime - and posthumously. "She had the characters, a premise, and beginning. What she didn't have, unfortunately, was time". Siobhan died from breast cancer in 2007. Ness honored her life in finishing this story for her - and did a fine job of it.

The Jim Kay Illustrations are gorgeous. 

The Jim Kay Illustrations are gorgeous. 

A Monster Calls is atmospherically illustrated by Jim Kay, of Harry Potter fame. I recommend getting a physical copy of this book for the illustrations alone.

Grief, anger, destruction, change and redemption: this story of a yew tree monster and a young boy, confronting pain no kid should ever have to confront, is rich and emotionally satisfying.

Read the book before you see the movie. Purchase a copy at your local, independent (not corporate) bookstore, because independent bookstores need your help to exist. If you do not have an independent bookstore near you, purchase a copy through one of the links here at, as that will help support this project.

If you enjoyed this review, be sure to check out the Podcast version.  In fact, Subscribe to the folkloristic podcast.  You'll love it.  Also be sure to subscribe to the newsletter and get a FREE Troll Report.  


Purchase A Monster Calls on Amazon

Check out the Chaos Walking world, by Patrick Ness

Movie Trailer for "A Monster Calls" 

Patrick Ness Author Page on Amazon

What Makes Interesting: Phenomenology Of Story Telling And The Serial Podcast

Academic articles with long and impressive titles always make me smile. Having had to write a couple os these and read many more of them for my Masters dissertation, they cease to be intimidating and become almost entertaining.

I read the following this week:

"That's Interesting! Towards a Phenomenology of Sociology and Sociology of Phenomenology"

Having done my graduate work in the area of spirituality, the idea of "phenomenology" is familiar, It's the idea of attempting to objectify something that is typically subjective by nature.

Like a person's spirituality.

Or what people find interesting.

That's what makes this article worth reading.

Why are some things generally interesting to people and other things generally uninspiring?

This article from 1971 answers that question in a way that is ... well ... interesting.

Bottom line, the author says: "Interesting theories are those which deny certain assumptions of the audience, while non-interesting theories affirm certain assumptions of the audience."

The general formula for "interesting" is "what seems to be X, is actually Y."

He gets quite specific regarding what this might look like.

"What seems to be structured, is actually highly unorganized"

"What seems to be bad, is actually good"

"What seems to be unrelated is actually deeply co-dependent"

"Things that seem to be different are actually very similar"

You get the idea (read the article, for more specifics).

This is why the "you won't believe what happens next" headline works for clickbait.

I think this article is probably most important for story-tellers. The best stories — the ones people love to listen to, tell and re-tell are the ones where nothing is as it appears to be.

That's why Harry Potter is so popular.

That's why Serial is such a phenomenal podcast.

Fiction or non-fiction, great story telling is interesting story telling.

Interesting story telling is about messing with people's assumptions.