Finished in 1959, this study preserves the culture of the playground, handed down from older child to younger child with no adult interference for hundreds of years, before the lowest common denominator of television eroded its separate, hidden distinctiveness. No doubt much has survived till the present day, but only those fresh from the playground will know; adults lose this suddenly-obsolete body of folklore, social behaviour and superstition very rapidly when they hit adolescence.
Fossilised in the closed world of children, medieval superstition, eighteenth century political satire and music hall ribaldry blend seemlessly into a new cadre of rhyme and nonsense featuring the stars of film and radio, the skits of wartime humour and the politics of the day, all garbled through the half-comprehending medium of the child's eye view. It is a fascinating, sprawling body of material.
The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, along with other work by the Opies, set the standard for a new type of inward-looking anthroplogy. It is no surprise, therefore, that it is a turgid read at times. The authors are concerned that their apparently trivial subject should be accepted with the seriousness which it undoubtedly merited. Any sparkle in the book comes from the loopy daftness of the rhymes and the pure gold of the unedited child voice. I do not know that the book could have been produced differently at the time, but it isn't something you could sit down and read from cover to cover for pleasure unless you were unusually sober in your tastes. For most readers, better to dip in and out.