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Not quite what I was expecting
on 15 January 2002
Green's book, "Exploring the World of the Druids" is a brief introduction to ancient and modern druids. The scope of her book is quite broad and she undertakes the daunting challenge of exploring over 2000 years of history; the documentation for which is sketchy at best. She touches on topics as diverse as the portrayal of druids in classical literature and the modern Neo-pagan movement. Green draws on a large, although rather ambiguous body of archaeological evidence to complement and enhance the information gleaned from a variety of written sources. She seeks to present a balanced view of the facts citing different opinions and interpretations. All in all, it sounds like the ideal, if rather general, introduction to a fascinating subject. Unfortunately, there are a few key problems with Green's book that make it difficult to recommend to other readers.
Green attempts to make history "reader friendly". She does not want to overwhelm her reader with technical jargon and complicated stories. In order to make the sheer mass of subject matter less intimidating, she has broken her book up into bite-size chunks of information that may be considered more digestible. Most of her readers will find, however, that Green fails to strike the right balance necessary to make a general survey of this type work. One can appreciate that sacrifices have to be made in order to cover such a large amount of material, but this book lacks a sense of continuity, making it easy for the reader to put it down at any point without ever feeling the need to pick it up again. The text has a disjointed feel. The paragraphs read like a series of photo captions strung together.
While it would be impossible for Green to comment fully on any one of the many topics she introduces in her book, it seems as though she has lost a good deal of valuable space in needless repetition. She quotes the same passages from the same classical writers over and over again in their entirety. Verses 13 and 14 from Caesar's Gallic Wars VI (pg. 10) are repeated over half a dozen times throughout the book. It is important to draw the reader's attention back to these key quotes, but one would imagine that a reference to the original citation would suffice.
Finally, good illustrations can add so much to a text. It is important to note however, that more is not always better, especially if the pictures are not relevant to the topic under discussion. A large number of the illustrations in Green's book are renditions of things that may or may not have taken place. Many where done in the late 1800's/early 1900's when scholars and artists where "rediscovering" the druids. These pictures are extremely important in tracing the revival of the public's interest in druids and the various theories scholars have put forward over the last 150 years. They even constitute a vital part of the history of modern Druidism and the Neo-pagan movement, but they do not tell us anything about ancient druids. Many of them reinforce the noble savage/inhumane primitive dichotomy that Green warns her reader against. The artist's conception of "The Horrors at Byciskala Cave" (pg. 84) is blatantly sensational and adds little value to topic. Even some of the photographs that Green includes seem inappropriate or at least mislabeled; like the religious practitioner who is labeled as an example of "mere Medicine Men uttering ineffective mumbo-jumbo spells" (pg.46).
Green's book touches on a number of interesting points. She is obviously working with a wealth of information and must be quite knowledgeable about her subject. She has the makings for a wonderful book on the revival of Druidism in the late 19th/early 20th century. Unfortunately, "Exploring the World of the Druids" fails to draw the reader in.