In keeping with my tradition of the past few years, I’m sharing a lighter, less scary winter tale for Christmas Eve. As with last year’s Christmas Eve offering, this one is more of a fairy tale. It’s by the minister/scholar/folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924).
The narrator goes hunting with a friend out on Bodmin Moor, in Cornwall. They get lost after sunset, and wander into the boggy mire of Crowdy Marsh. After being separated from his friend, the narrator stumbles upon a mysterious, lonely cottage on the edge of the Marsh.
You can read “Crowdy Marsh” here.
Like many of Baring-Gould’s supernatural stories, “Crowdy Marsh” has a bit of a moral to it, but it’s not heavy-handed, and it feels rather appropriate to the season. Baring-Gould also gives us a nice interpretation of the Wild Hunt, specifically the version of the Wild Huntsman named Dewer.
Here’s hoping you’re enjoying my winter tales in your cozy abode, not a cold damp marsh! I wish a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and a joyous day to all who don’t.
A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.
Featured image: A walk on Bodmin Moor, 30 Sept. 2010 by Phillip Capper (License CC-by-2.0). Source: Wikimedia. It’s not marked, but I believe that’s Brown Willy in the background.
Detail from Bodmin Moor, by Thomas Rowlandson (c. 1825). Source: Wikimedia
Welcome to Winter Tales: The Folklore Edition!
I’m starting off with Sabine Baring-Gould’s version of a story from the Grettis saga (or as Baring-Gould refers to it, the Gretla), a thirteenth century Icelandic saga about the outlaw hero Grettir Ásmundarson. It details Grettir’s fight with the draugr (a vengeful revenant of Norse mythology), Glámr. The bulk of story occurs during the winter months, and the key events on the eve and day of Christmas, making this a perfect way to kick off this winter tales season.
The story first appeared, in a slightly different form, in Baring-Gould’s Iceland: Its Scenes and Sagas (1863), under the title “The Valley of Shadows,” then again in his Book of Ghosts (1904) under its present title. In his earlier work, Baring-Gould prefaced the story with this quaint footnote:
Gretla, chaps. 82–85. I give this story as a specimen of a very remarkable form of Icelandic superstition. It is so horrible, that I forewarn all those who have weak nerves, to skip it.
The reading public’s nerves have hardened a bit in the intervening century and a half, but it’s still a great story.