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60 of 72 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great subject - but where were the editors?, 10 Feb 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The Real Middle-earth: Magic and Mystery in the Dark Ages (Hardcover)
Bates is, according to the dustjacket, a professor of psychology, not of history. There is a virtual absence of critical source-analysis in this book, and a tendency to fall into what some might term mystical hokum; he appears to be a Jungian psychologist with interests in shamanic practices.
The bibliography is extensive, mixing the solidly academic with a few smaller works by antiquarians.
Those familiar with the subject-area may feel that too many well-known primary source quotes are being wheeled out again without evaluation.
As someone who's done a Masters in a related field of history, I think footnotes would have been welcome, especially for some of the more sweeping generalisations. However, I can see that not all general readers would like these.
Frequent referral to Anglo-Saxon society as 'Middle-Earth' does grate a bit, though many will surely find a comparison of Tolkien's stories with known history interesting. What irritated me most of all were basic errors of grammar and vocabulary that a good editor should have corrected.
I got the distinct impression that Bates is trying to set up the Anglo-Saxon and Norse cultures of the first millennium to be viewed in the same way as Native Americans are all too often seen these days: as virtually irreproachable guardians of the land and ancient knowledge, with too little close examination applied to this impression.
Not a bad introduction for the general reader, I suppose - especially if followed up by some of the better stuff in the bibliography.
Now, if only Ronald Hutton had written a book on the religion of this period - he's a historian who can balance sympathy towards pagan beliefs with a good historical analysis, and is highly recommended.
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Initial post: 4 Mar 2011 14:59:04 GMT
This is almost word for word the review I was intending to write (without the references to Ronald Hutton, of whom I am unaware), so I'll not bother now! I would only add that Bates falls into the classic trap of being totally uncritical of historical sources dating from Tacitus to the Elder Edda as being indicative of, for example, Old English paganism. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that the Nerthus cult mentioned by Tacitus survived into the migration period.

He is also guilty of both Germanism and Celticism at the same time and will happily throw in tidbits from Gaelic or Welsh tradition to support his overall observations without consideration of whether this is relevent. He will similarly use traditions from modern primitive societies as if they throw light onto the polyglot society he is describing.

He is clearly anti-Christian and sees pagan influence where there is none. In one passage he discusses a spell in the Lacnunga which asks for a virgin to perform an action as part of the ritual, then questions whether a Christian would ask for this. The word used, "unmaelne", can be literally described as "without stain" or "sinless" rather than "mægð" or "fæmne" which would be more appropriate words for a (female) virgin. It may simply be that a baptised child, a nun or a monk or possible someone who had just made their confession would be expected to perform this task.
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