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The original fairy book
on 6 January 2007
It's great to see a reissue of the greatest fairy book of them all, Robert Kirk's 1691 tome, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. This amazing book--with its descriptions of second sight, of doublemen or co-walkers, and of fairy lives, customs and even past-times--has an amazing backstory attached to it too. Kirk, seventh son of a seventh son(in the Highlands, almost a guarantee of psychic powers) was a bilingual(English and Gaelic) Episcopalian pastor, working at Aberfoyle in the Trossachs area of the Highlands. The material he collected in this book comes direct from his Highland parishioners but he also compiled it for the delectation of his enlightened and curious friends in England, so the book is an eccentric mixture of the very folkoric and the proto-scientific. (Kirk also had a metaphysical reason for compiling the book--and an interesting one, given the attitude of many religious fundamentalists today to such beliefs. He felt that if people discounted or ridiculed such beliefs then it wouldn't be long before they started discounting all supernatural things, including a belief in God Himself.) Anyway, not long after the publication of the book, Kirk was found stone dead one morning at the foot of the Dun Sidh (doonshee, or fairy hill) at Aberfoyle. Though his red sandstone gravestone is in the Aberfoyle cemetery(with only a mention of his work in translating the Bible into Gaelic, and not his fairy work), it's said that his body is not in that grave but that he was spirited body and soul into the great tall Scots pine that sits at the top of the Dun Sidh, surrounded by an army of little oaks. That was because the fairies were reputedly so angry with him for divulging their secrets! Today, the site is still extraordinary, spooky--with hundreds of wishes on ribbons tied to all those little oaks, and the Scots pine standing there alone..It's easy to believe in Kirk's curious and piteous fate.
A must-have addition for the library of anyone interested in fairies, Highland folklore, and myth. For those who are interested, I have a piece about Kirk on my site at [...] And for those interested in reading novels inspired by this book, the greatest is Australian writer Christopher Koch's 'The Doubleman.'