It's a credit to Thomas Keightley's "World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves & Other Little People" that it's still a relevant mythologic source today, over a hundred years after it was first published. The stories, explanations and legends are still as informative as they were in 1880, although they are rather restricted.
Okay, "World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves and Other Little People" sounds like a cutesy title for a Brian Froud-illustrated book. And it's a rather lightweight title for a book with genuine merit -- especially the "little people" part of it, since the elves, fey and gnomes in here are anything but dainty Victorian fairies.
Instead, Keightley focuses on traditional goblins, dwarves and elves -- Scandinavian trolls and beautiful alfar, Germanic Zwerge and kobolds, British fairies, Celtic spirits and seal-men, and the epic sagas that greatly influenced early fantasy authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and George MacDonald. Take a look at the chapter on the "Eddas and Sagas," and it's hard not to think of Middle Earth.
Its one flaw is that it's restricted mostly to Europe -- there's a brief chapter on African superstitions, and one for Judaistic ones, and for Persian ones, et cetera. Other than that, nothing that originates outside Europe. While it's understandable, considering the time that Keightley lived in, it's hard not to wonder if he couldn't have found out at least a few other cultural legends.
However, this is a rich source for European myths and legends, especially since Keightley obviously did his research. He includes snippets of untranslated poetry, ballads, and footnotes detailing migratory myths and differing versions. He also summarizes some of the denser material like the two Eddas, which are extremely long and sometimes difficult.
Though Thomas Keightley wrote this a hundred and twenty-five years ago, "The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves and Other Little People" is still a valuable and informative resource for anyone interested in European myths and legends. So ignore the title.
51 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on 28 December 2000
A welcome re-issue of Keightley's 1878 Fairy Mythology (a title I personally much prefer). Keightley had contributed material to Thomas Crofton Croker's famous Fairy Legends and Traditions and went on to produce this more scholarly book looking at fairy mythology throughout the world. This is based on his third edition. He could read 20 languages - and his copious footnotes show off his knowledge, and his pride in his own achievements. But this is a masterly work and well deserves to be back in print again.