3 August 2020

ELVISH LORE AND LIFE

The Lore of Old Elfland: Secrets from the Bronze Age to Middle Earth by [Linda Raedisch]Linda Raedisch. The Lore of Old Elfland: Secrets from the Bronze Age to Middle Earth. Llewellyn, 2019.

The elves have been among us throughout recorded history. Reports of these elusive beings predate Christianity and have been intertwined with Norse mythology, the magical powers and the capricious behaviour of the gods. As with other liminal beings, elves do not have a scientific, objective existence. They have been reported to live mainly within hills or, more precisely, mounds, but human society in general, at least in this day and age, does not recognise such places as the dwellings of humanoid creatures. 
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No technology is displayed that would exist if recognisable humanoids lived there, not even at the level of the Stone Age. However, even now, some of the people of some nations such as Ireland and Iceland will react to the proposed removal or destruction of a notable landscape feature such as a tree, rock or mound as undesirable because the elves would be adversely affected. Events such as these demonstrate that elves actually influence real-life events despite questions over their existence.

According to her brief biography on the Llewelyn publisher’s website, Linda Raedisch is an eclectic writer, papercrafter, and soapmaker who loves to explore museums, grave mounds and old coal sidings. She is conversant in German and is the author of Night of the Witches and The Old Magic of Christmas as well as numerous articles on folklore, herblore, and ancient religions. She lives in northern New Jersey.

The Lore of Elfland comprises of several distinct parts. There is the personal history and experience of the author. She spent parts of her childhood in Germany that affected her deeply. This happened to be part of the area that the Northern European folklore about Elves originated. This coincided with her and her family coming into contact with JRR Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, which was famously influenced by Norse mythology. Then there are experiences and sightings from her childhood which seemed out of place around her neighbourhood back in the USA. To this is added the crafting aspect which crosses over into cookery and other, more broad projects. 

There are detailed instructions for projects that the reader can follow, if they so wish. The body of the writing is a loose history of the peoples who lived in and around the heartland of Norse mythology, how their ancestors may have influenced tales of the dark people who lived there before and, therefore, that of Faerie. This encompasses northern Germany and most of Scandinavia with Great Britain on the edges at first, then gaining traction because of the input of Tolkien and his Legendarium.

August Malmström, 'Dancing Elves' (1866)
Swedish National Museum, Stockholm


This is a book that defies categorisation. It is too organised and compact to be a stream-of-consciousness journal, although there are elements of it here. It is not a craft book, neither is it a cookbook. It is certainly not a detailed history of the Norse folk, their religion and how it relates to and incorporates elves. It may possibly be considered to be a muscular form of meditation upon elves and all matters elvish. The history to inform, the personal experience to aid empathy and the various projects to cement the thoughts invoked from the writing. The closest genre to this tome are the books on witchcraft that have a narrative interspersed with spells and recipes, but they are written for another purpose. 

The writing flows and the book is an accessible read that may appeal to the Young Adult market and probably even younger than that. That said, considering that the author makes no claims as to the concrete, external existence of elves, it is possible that the narrative lacks a certain twinkle that could be present when discoursing about a magical people.

Whilst resolutely defying categorisation this book has much in the way of research.It would be tempting to say that there is a surprising amount of research but, seeing as no category can be discerned, the degree of surprise is irrelevant. The issue is accessing it. Yes, there are footnotes and such, but to be able to use it in the most efficient manner then you have to read it through a few times as depending on a casual dipping-in will not always guide you to the desired information. This is entertainment but with large doses of researched data accompanying it. This volume also has a pronunciation guide, a bibliography, footnotes and an appendix entitled 'A Guide to Elves, Elfkind and Related Phenomena'.

Readers who may get the most out of it may be those who desire some more down-to-earth background as to the North West European (and by extension, North American) elves, but in a more informal way than a book from one of the burgeoning academic folklore departments. -- Trevor Pyne

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