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The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies (New York Review Books Classics)

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"Kirk is a magnificent dish to set before any student of either folk-lore or folk-psychology." — Times Literary Supplement In the late 17th century, a Scottish minister went looking for supernatural creatures of "a middle nature betwixt man and angel." Robert Kirk roamed the Highlands, talking to his parishioners and other country folk about their encounters with fairies, w "Kirk is a magnificent dish to set before any student of either folk-lore or folk-psychology." — Times Literary Supplement In the late 17th century, a Scottish minister went looking for supernatural creatures of "a middle nature betwixt man and angel." Robert Kirk roamed the Highlands, talking to his parishioners and other country folk about their encounters with fairies, wraiths, elves, doppelgangers, and other agents of the spirit world. Magic was a part of everyday life for Kirk and his fellow Highlanders, and this remarkable book offers rare glimpses into their enchanted realm. Left in manuscript form upon the author's death in 1692, this volume was first published in 1815 at the behest of Sir Walter Scott. In 1893, the distinguished folklorist Andrew Lang re-edited the work. Lang's introduction to Kirk's extraordinary blend of science, religion, and superstition is included in this edition. For many years, The Secret Commonwealth was hard to find — available, if at all, only in scholarly editions. Academicians as well as lovers of myths and legends will prize this authoritative but inexpensive edition.


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"Kirk is a magnificent dish to set before any student of either folk-lore or folk-psychology." — Times Literary Supplement In the late 17th century, a Scottish minister went looking for supernatural creatures of "a middle nature betwixt man and angel." Robert Kirk roamed the Highlands, talking to his parishioners and other country folk about their encounters with fairies, w "Kirk is a magnificent dish to set before any student of either folk-lore or folk-psychology." — Times Literary Supplement In the late 17th century, a Scottish minister went looking for supernatural creatures of "a middle nature betwixt man and angel." Robert Kirk roamed the Highlands, talking to his parishioners and other country folk about their encounters with fairies, wraiths, elves, doppelgangers, and other agents of the spirit world. Magic was a part of everyday life for Kirk and his fellow Highlanders, and this remarkable book offers rare glimpses into their enchanted realm. Left in manuscript form upon the author's death in 1692, this volume was first published in 1815 at the behest of Sir Walter Scott. In 1893, the distinguished folklorist Andrew Lang re-edited the work. Lang's introduction to Kirk's extraordinary blend of science, religion, and superstition is included in this edition. For many years, The Secret Commonwealth was hard to find — available, if at all, only in scholarly editions. Academicians as well as lovers of myths and legends will prize this authoritative but inexpensive edition.

30 review for The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies (New York Review Books Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Xenophon Hendrix

    Hardcore fantasy readers might find The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies by Robert Kirk and Andrew Lang to be interesting reading. Lang, a nineteenth-century folklorist, had printed and wrote a long introduction to a seventeenth-century manuscript by Kirk. Both parts are worth reading if you like the topic. The language is old, and by our standards the spelling is eccentric, but you will see where this little book has had an influence on contemporary fantasy. Definitely read the fo Hardcore fantasy readers might find The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies by Robert Kirk and Andrew Lang to be interesting reading. Lang, a nineteenth-century folklorist, had printed and wrote a long introduction to a seventeenth-century manuscript by Kirk. Both parts are worth reading if you like the topic. The language is old, and by our standards the spelling is eccentric, but you will see where this little book has had an influence on contemporary fantasy. Definitely read the footnotes and make free use of Google.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Benino

    This is a very difficult book to review. Having languished in a manuscript form for a century, and having been written at a time when witchcraft was still an executionable offence, it might be easy to find fault with Kirk's archaic style, continual use of Scots gaelic, the confusing index, or his almost matter of fact tone. However, it is also remarkable that a Scottish minister should be so frank in his report of the nature of 17th Century beliefs, and give them a measured account, without cont This is a very difficult book to review. Having languished in a manuscript form for a century, and having been written at a time when witchcraft was still an executionable offence, it might be easy to find fault with Kirk's archaic style, continual use of Scots gaelic, the confusing index, or his almost matter of fact tone. However, it is also remarkable that a Scottish minister should be so frank in his report of the nature of 17th Century beliefs, and give them a measured account, without contempt or disdain for the Elves, Fairies, Brownies and Spirits, or those who believe in them. It is also refreshing to find these occurances placed with tradition and folklore but from Kirk's own voice and upbringing, relaying original conversations. The treatise is therefore much more than a retelling old wive's tales and superstition, but is a curious psychological investigation into the culture of reformation Scotland, and how beliefs persist in contradiction of and parallel to religion. Therefore, Kirk's accounts of the supernatural, as well as greatly influencing future writers of magical worlds, present a system of folklore that incorporates both genuine beliefs, and convenient but ludicrous alibis for social misadventure and mischief. It is therefore much more mysterious than the little box of tricks and tales it initially seems to be.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    A fascinating long essay on Scotland's metaphysical beings, including accounts from Scots about their interactions with them, with a introduction from the ever-brilliant Marina Warner, who we stan. A fascinating long essay on Scotland's metaphysical beings, including accounts from Scots about their interactions with them, with a introduction from the ever-brilliant Marina Warner, who we stan.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    Kirk, a parson, wrote this book basically defending the belief in fairies, charms, and second sight that his parishioners had. He wanted to argue that you could be a good Christian and also believe in these kinds of other-world elements that were so pervasive in his community. He describes some of these beliefs and offers examples of specific instances and offers biblical references to back up his position (although some were a bit of a stretch). It's VERY interesting and is considered to be a m Kirk, a parson, wrote this book basically defending the belief in fairies, charms, and second sight that his parishioners had. He wanted to argue that you could be a good Christian and also believe in these kinds of other-world elements that were so pervasive in his community. He describes some of these beliefs and offers examples of specific instances and offers biblical references to back up his position (although some were a bit of a stretch). It's VERY interesting and is considered to be a must for students of folklore. The version I read was edited from the original manuscript by Stewart Sanderson. According to him, the version edited by Lang (which is the more famous and readily available one) has some problems where Lang made some assumptions that maybe he shouldn't have made. Do with that what you will.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

    This was an interesting quick read. It was a little challenging at times to wade through the old English that was used, and I found the introduction to be long winded, but it was fascinating to read a document that was written in 1692. Although it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, since I breezed through it in about 2 hours, it was well worth the time. I’m only giving it three stars because it wasn’t what the description had led me to believe and the introduction got on my nerves.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Luis Velasco

    It was quite interesting read this essay about this imagery topic. Sometimes it was difficult to read but in conclusion I enjoyed the book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kelley

    A late 17th manuscript embedded in a 19th century manuscript. The former was written by a clergyman trying to record some Scottish folklore and reconcile it with snippets of Biblical texts. The latter was written by a scholar interested in psychic phenomena, along with others of his time (which would include Arthur Conan Doyle). So, it's layered--oral tradition, anecdotal experiences of folks that both scholars talked with, and attempts to fit it all into a couple of different frameworks. That's A late 17th manuscript embedded in a 19th century manuscript. The former was written by a clergyman trying to record some Scottish folklore and reconcile it with snippets of Biblical texts. The latter was written by a scholar interested in psychic phenomena, along with others of his time (which would include Arthur Conan Doyle). So, it's layered--oral tradition, anecdotal experiences of folks that both scholars talked with, and attempts to fit it all into a couple of different frameworks. That's what makes it interesting, not any coherence or narrative. There are some interesting insights, though. One item that impressed me was the observation that when Scots with Second Sight emigrated to the Americas they lost their abilities, suggesting that their talent for perceiving an otherwise unseen world and beings was tied to their natal land, not to some essential ability they could carry with them. The translation from printed book to ebook is a bit rough in that the old long s (google "long s" for explanation). In this rendition, it looks exactly the same as the letter f. So, it's slow going. That, and the old spellings based on Scottish pronunciation. But it's worth a look if you are interested in folklore, alternative ontologies/animism/conflation of space and time, or even if you are just interested in where Phillip Pullman got some of his ideas for "His Dark Materials."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joanna

    So very boring. The subject matter - the curious nature of Scottish faeries and the faery faith of those that fear them - held tremendous potential, but this book fell far short of my expectations. It was dull and difficult reading, thanks to the 17th century grammar and vocabulary, and scattered with irrelevant Biblical quotes. If you want to learn about the faery faith, I would recommend Evan-Wentz's "The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries" over this one any day of the week. 'Tis a shame. So very boring. The subject matter - the curious nature of Scottish faeries and the faery faith of those that fear them - held tremendous potential, but this book fell far short of my expectations. It was dull and difficult reading, thanks to the 17th century grammar and vocabulary, and scattered with irrelevant Biblical quotes. If you want to learn about the faery faith, I would recommend Evan-Wentz's "The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries" over this one any day of the week. 'Tis a shame.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Timothy

    This short, unusual book is intended to be a record of the existence of actual fae-folk. Tales of fae-folk are part of common folklore in England and Scotland, and this book was put together by a Scottish-Presbyterian minister. I'm always interested in folklore, and this book is an interesting read. This short, unusual book is intended to be a record of the existence of actual fae-folk. Tales of fae-folk are part of common folklore in England and Scotland, and this book was put together by a Scottish-Presbyterian minister. I'm always interested in folklore, and this book is an interesting read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Hennessey

    every ufologist should read it .. the clear link between faeries of old and the greys of today - same drink through the pores stuff etc this book totally blows away exopolitics 'they came in 1947 at Roswell' rubbish every ufologist should read it .. the clear link between faeries of old and the greys of today - same drink through the pores stuff etc this book totally blows away exopolitics 'they came in 1947 at Roswell' rubbish

  11. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

    Completely fascinating, an amazing source for fairylore studies.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Norman Howe

    An interesting work. Obviously a predecessor of Charles Fort and John Keel.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rob Chappell

    This curious and fascinating volume has been on my shelf for many years, and I find myself returning to it again and again. At the dawn of the "Age of Reason," new vistas of discovery were being unveiled by the telescope and the microscope; using scientific methodology, and first-person narratives collected from his parishioners, Rev. Robert Kirk proposed that the academic world should start exploring the "secret commonwealth" where the Fair Folk dwell -- a separate species, ranking midway betwe This curious and fascinating volume has been on my shelf for many years, and I find myself returning to it again and again. At the dawn of the "Age of Reason," new vistas of discovery were being unveiled by the telescope and the microscope; using scientific methodology, and first-person narratives collected from his parishioners, Rev. Robert Kirk proposed that the academic world should start exploring the "secret commonwealth" where the Fair Folk dwell -- a separate species, ranking midway between humans and angels on the "Great Chain of Being." Antiquaries and folklorists took an immediate interest in the book, and it has inspired many writers of fiction and paranormal investigators ever since. The book discusses the Fair Folk in great detail and is especially valuable for preserving a "snapshot" of the folk beliefs of the Scottish people in the late 17th century. The author included several stories from local "seers" (who could perceive the Fair Folk using "Second Sight"), along with his own observations and conclusions. This book will be enjoyed by lovers of fairy tales, folklore, and speculative fiction, as many authors have used Rev. Kirk's material in their own tales of the Otherworld and its enchanting inhabitants.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    I was in an English Major-y mood last time I went to the bookstore. This little oddity came home with me. It’s easy to spot folklore and myths that morphed and changed into more fantastical elements over the centuries. It’s also interesting to note Kirk’s descriptions of the metaphysical are not very different from Shakespeare’s in various plays, though Warner in the introduction suspects Kirk would have never had any exposure to Shakespeare living in the Scottish highlands. The most intriguing p I was in an English Major-y mood last time I went to the bookstore. This little oddity came home with me. It’s easy to spot folklore and myths that morphed and changed into more fantastical elements over the centuries. It’s also interesting to note Kirk’s descriptions of the metaphysical are not very different from Shakespeare’s in various plays, though Warner in the introduction suspects Kirk would have never had any exposure to Shakespeare living in the Scottish highlands. The most intriguing part of the essay is the religious connections in it. Kirk, as a minister, likened these supernatural experiences to the Bible, and believed these beings were just in the next stage between earth and heaven. His defense of his writings is full of scriptural references as further evidence of his belief. He didn’t see any paganism in these encounters, and thought they went hand in hand with his spiritual beliefs. Four stars for the curiosity factor of the book. Lots of fun and interesting tidbits. Two stars because it’s not exactly an easy or particularly entertaining read. And honestly, sometimes Warner’s introduction was just as overwrought as Kirk’s 17th century-style run-on sentences (which was strange to me, since I usually enjoy her commentary). That evens out to three stars.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    This was the first complete 17th century text that I read that was in its original form and not transliterated into our modern script and edited into standardized English. I went into this hoping for more of an encyclopedic explanation of the aetheric beings and a description of their realm. I'll admit that I read it without chasing down the meaning of several words and concepts. I found at times an apologetic commentary from a Christian perspective. I guess that is to be expected from a 17th ce This was the first complete 17th century text that I read that was in its original form and not transliterated into our modern script and edited into standardized English. I went into this hoping for more of an encyclopedic explanation of the aetheric beings and a description of their realm. I'll admit that I read it without chasing down the meaning of several words and concepts. I found at times an apologetic commentary from a Christian perspective. I guess that is to be expected from a 17th century minister. I'll have to reread it at some point.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Pony

    Well worth the effort of reading, but don't expect to be entertained. This is a seminal text exploited by many fantasy authors. It is quite famous for its rolling list (it's been revamped and re-published numerous times) of supernatural beings and the like, it even has a pre-Tolkien mention of hobbits! If you want to mine through it for ideas its a good resource, though commentaries upon the book exist in other works that are more readable than this version. I'm keeping it handy for inspiration Well worth the effort of reading, but don't expect to be entertained. This is a seminal text exploited by many fantasy authors. It is quite famous for its rolling list (it's been revamped and re-published numerous times) of supernatural beings and the like, it even has a pre-Tolkien mention of hobbits! If you want to mine through it for ideas its a good resource, though commentaries upon the book exist in other works that are more readable than this version. I'm keeping it handy for inspiration when writing fantasy!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte

    Given how often this book is quoted and is a must-read in the realm of fae folklore, I really wanted to enjoy this book. Annoyingly, I couldnt comfortably read it let alone finish it. Through no fault of its own, the old-fashioned writing style of its time was hard for me to get into and meant I had to keep looking up the meaning of various words, which, for a casual reader, made for a fairly frustrating read, especially given the fact that the content itself seemed pretty interesting. I'm still Given how often this book is quoted and is a must-read in the realm of fae folklore, I really wanted to enjoy this book. Annoyingly, I couldnt comfortably read it let alone finish it. Through no fault of its own, the old-fashioned writing style of its time was hard for me to get into and meant I had to keep looking up the meaning of various words, which, for a casual reader, made for a fairly frustrating read, especially given the fact that the content itself seemed pretty interesting. I'm still intrigued by this book and so will try to gather whatever details are within from other sources.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    An important work on the existence and lore around the beings known as fairies or fays, as well as on the phenomenon of the "second sight" or clairvoyance required to perceive them. I'm glad someone has made this book available to a modern public, but as a reader I wish that its 17th-century language had been recast in modern English, and also that the long introduction had been written by someone who was more sympathetic to the author's viewpoint, for it spends much time trying to find reasons An important work on the existence and lore around the beings known as fairies or fays, as well as on the phenomenon of the "second sight" or clairvoyance required to perceive them. I'm glad someone has made this book available to a modern public, but as a reader I wish that its 17th-century language had been recast in modern English, and also that the long introduction had been written by someone who was more sympathetic to the author's viewpoint, for it spends much time trying to find reasons why people might believe in fairies.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Philippa Evans

    Not the easiest read, but a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a tolerant, curious man whose writings on fairy lore have survived nearly 400 years, despite not being published in his lifetime. I wish that Kirk had been a little *more* curious as to why seers were (apparently) seldom women. Possibly because women were more associated with witchcraft? I feel that Kirk's investigations suffered for his exclusion of women's experience, but this is still an interesting, valuable piece of work with Not the easiest read, but a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a tolerant, curious man whose writings on fairy lore have survived nearly 400 years, despite not being published in his lifetime. I wish that Kirk had been a little *more* curious as to why seers were (apparently) seldom women. Possibly because women were more associated with witchcraft? I feel that Kirk's investigations suffered for his exclusion of women's experience, but this is still an interesting, valuable piece of work with a good introduction by Marina Warner.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    An interesting historical artefact, documenting old Scottish beliefs about fairies, elves and other such spirits. Although I can't really call it a *good* book, I certainly made a lot of notes. Interestingly, this is one of Philip Pullman's favourite works (the second volume of The Book of Dust is to be called The Secret Commonwealth after it) and scholars of His Dark Materials may well perceive the kernels of ideas within these pages. In particular, the Deaths in the Amber Spyglass feel prefigur An interesting historical artefact, documenting old Scottish beliefs about fairies, elves and other such spirits. Although I can't really call it a *good* book, I certainly made a lot of notes. Interestingly, this is one of Philip Pullman's favourite works (the second volume of The Book of Dust is to be called The Secret Commonwealth after it) and scholars of His Dark Materials may well perceive the kernels of ideas within these pages. In particular, the Deaths in the Amber Spyglass feel prefigured in the eye descriptions of fairie doppelgangers, which often presage death or misfortune.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

    A charming and weird little book on fairies, written in Scotland in 1641 or so. The latter third of the book gets a bit tedious as it's mostly arguments about why those who have second sight should not be considered witches. The meat of the book is a sort of anthropological and sociological account of the Sithe and other fey folk that is quite fascinating, as much for what it reveals of the psychology the 17th century Scottish Seers as for for the info about the elves etc. A charming and weird little book on fairies, written in Scotland in 1641 or so. The latter third of the book gets a bit tedious as it's mostly arguments about why those who have second sight should not be considered witches. The meat of the book is a sort of anthropological and sociological account of the Sithe and other fey folk that is quite fascinating, as much for what it reveals of the psychology the 17th century Scottish Seers as for for the info about the elves etc.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    A very short (~100 pages counting the scholarly intro) text from the 1690s, not published until the 1800s, interesting to me primarily as a major inspiration for Philip Pullman’s novel of the same name. A bit of a letdown, less interesting fairy stories or theories and more apology to nervous would-be witch hunters that a spirit world is not anti-Christian and to skeptics that it is not anti-reason. Somewhat interesting in that respect, though the antiquated language makes it a bit of a slog.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jason Savin

    This book is quite amazing, as it is one of the earliest ever written that fully describes the fairy race. Although it has been written in quite an old fashioned style, making it a little tricky, at times, to fathom out what is being described, but overall it is certainly worth persevering. I highly recommend it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    David Brooks

    This was an odd, but quite fun little read. I find it very much akin to books such as The Field Guide to Little People, though without the charm of the in-depth discussion. It's very much a recommended read for those interested in the folklore of the time period, and those who enjoy brief dashes into the mythical lands of elves. This was an odd, but quite fun little read. I find it very much akin to books such as The Field Guide to Little People, though without the charm of the in-depth discussion. It's very much a recommended read for those interested in the folklore of the time period, and those who enjoy brief dashes into the mythical lands of elves.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Black

    This was actually pretty boring and hard to read, but it was part of my "learning about fairies" kick that I went on after reading a couple books about the King Arthur legend. It's also an important book because it's essentially a primary source on British folklore. And I bought my version at the Harvard bookstore, so there's that... This was actually pretty boring and hard to read, but it was part of my "learning about fairies" kick that I went on after reading a couple books about the King Arthur legend. It's also an important book because it's essentially a primary source on British folklore. And I bought my version at the Harvard bookstore, so there's that...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carole

    Very strange accounts of Scottish Highlands folklore by an Episcopalian minister gathered in the 17th century, published by Sir Walter Scott in 1815, and then re-edited in 1893 by Andrew Lang. Some accounts of being taken and then returned have an "X-file" vibe. Very strange accounts of Scottish Highlands folklore by an Episcopalian minister gathered in the 17th century, published by Sir Walter Scott in 1815, and then re-edited in 1893 by Andrew Lang. Some accounts of being taken and then returned have an "X-file" vibe.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    Another short but challenging read written by an eccentric Parson from the late 1600s as an open-minded (for the time) treatise on second sight & fairy-lore. Reading all your "s" as "f" is a novel experience, but that and the rest of the old-timey language did affect my reading comprehension. Another short but challenging read written by an eccentric Parson from the late 1600s as an open-minded (for the time) treatise on second sight & fairy-lore. Reading all your "s" as "f" is a novel experience, but that and the rest of the old-timey language did affect my reading comprehension.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    I had to read this book for uni - it's a strange piece which I didn't particularly enjoy while I was reading it, but after reading some articles discussing the text, the author, and it's context, I definitely found it more interesting. I had to read this book for uni - it's a strange piece which I didn't particularly enjoy while I was reading it, but after reading some articles discussing the text, the author, and it's context, I definitely found it more interesting.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Freeman

    First-hand crypto-zoology and anthropology at its finest.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Joel Zartman

    Any society unable to keep books such as this in print deserves to be dissolved and forever consigned to neglect.

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