If your hand itches, you're about to receive money. Walking under a ladder is not just unlucky, but might mean you'll never marry or are bound for the gallows. To get rid of mice, speak to them politely, suggesting another house they might prefer. Filled with fascinating bits of information, A Dictionary of English Folklore catalogues many of the tales and beliefs, ancient, medieval, and contemporary, in England. The term "folklore" may have been invented in 1848, but the stories and legends it encompasses reach far back into history.
Their intention, say authors Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, "is to provide a work of reference, not to build theories--the entries therefore emphasize established dates and facts; speculative interpretations are kept to a minimum." Though dryly academic at times, the dictionary is a wealth of information on English folklore, of which little has been written (Scotland, Ireland, and Wales all have their own folklore and mythologies). Broader than just a collection of tales, the book includes important folklorists, holidays, numbers, plants, animals, and customs. Did you know "Goldilocks" was once "Silver-Hair" and before that an old woman? Or that folding your thumb into the palm of your hand and closing the fingers over it was believed to protect against witches?
Organized in alphabetical order with cross-referencing, the entries are thorough and well-cited (including books, publication dates, and page numbers). A Dictionary of English Folklore is a great reference tool for historians and folklorists, but also for those interested in the origins of fairy tales, old wives' tales, and superstitions. --Dana Van Nest