Why You Should Steer Clear Of Fairy Rings On Midsummer’s Eve
I was made to read Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Puck of Pook’s Hill’ at school and I can honestly say I have rarely detested a book with more vigour. In my memory, it pretended to a quaint idyllic ‘Englishness’ full of folklore and faeries. Tales from English History that were thought both educational and morally edifying were sprinkled with magical whimsy to make them more palatable. The book came back to me out of the blue a while ago and wondered what I’d make of it now. A quick google later and a secondhand copy was on its way.
To be fair, our teacher made a grave mistake embarking on such a book with a class full of 13 year olds. Books about fairies? I’m afraid that ship had most definitely sailed. If I’d read this before the age of 9, I would been more receptive, although it probably still would have had that unmistakable whiff of education by stealth – groan!
The story begins with two children, Dan and Una, staging a performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in the middle of a fairy ring, on Midsummer’s eve. Having chanced upon all the magic ingredients to conjure some midsummer magic, up strolls Puck, and adventures are afoot. Puck introduces the children to Romans, Crusaders, Saxons, Vikings as well as bringing a fair dose of magic and enchantments to the proceedings himself, and poems and songs intersperse all the stories.
Having read ‘The Little Grey Men’ to both my children, I’m not averse to fairyfolk/gnome tales if they’re well told, and I liked the drawing together of some of these stories from English folklore into a collection, linked together by Puck and the children. It is enchanting in an old-fashioned way – it was written in 1906 – and the edition I have has wonderful illustrations by H.R. Millar.
Unfortunately, as I was about to berate my younger self for judging the book too harshly, I encountered the kind of racial stereotyping that proliferated at the time this was written, and tended to go hand in hand with a British Imperial vision of the world seen through rose-tinted mapping. I’ve become quite adept at on the spot editing when reading to children – it comes with the territory if you’re planning on reading them any of the books of Enid Blyton!
If nothing else, it’s a timely reminder not to start spouting Shakespeare if you find yourself in a fairy ring on Midsummer’s Eve. You might start hopping about through periods of English History with a rude magic imp who has yet to grasp the fundamentals of political correctness – Midsummer Nightmare more like.