• Clive Gilson


Updated: Dec 14, 2019

The worlds of folklore and traditional storytelling are fascinating places to visit wherever the land or the people may be Tales from different regions are often shaped by geography and by cultural and historical factors that have accumulated over the course of centuries. At their heart, though, is an ever present desire to explain and understand the world and the experience of living in it day by day.

The Balkan Peninsula is a region in South-Eastern Europe, and has a full and rich history and tradition where cultures have been mixing for at least 2,000 years and Slavic civilisation has had an especially strong influence. The result is diverse and fascinating folklore with its own set of mythical beings and legendary heroes.

One of the more common characters of Slavic mythology is the Samodiva. The Samodiva is a forest spirit in the shape of a beautiful woman who never loses her youthful looks. The Samodivi bathe in forest springs underneath the moonlight and sometimes make young bachelors from the nearby villages play the kaval (a wooden flute) for them. If a man steals a Samodiva's veil, she becomes an ordinary woman and has to be his wife, but will spend every moment she can looking for her veil to regain her freedom, even if it means leaving her children behind. The Samodivi also protect forest animals.

These tales are taken from collections such as Serbian Folk-lore by Madame Elodie L. Mijatovich, published by The Columbus Printing, Publishing and Advertising Company, 1899, from Hero Tales and Legends of the Serbians by Woislav M. Petrovitch, published in 1914, and from Andrew Lang's various coloured Fairy Books from the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Of these original collectors Madame Elodie Lawton Mijatovich, 1825 –1908, was a British author who lived in Boston in the 1850s, where she was an advocate of the abolitionist movement.

In 1864 she married Serbian politician, writer and diplomat, Čedomilj Mijatović (1842–1932), and lived with him in Belgrade and then in London where she died. She translated several works from English into Serbian, and published several books on Serbia in English, including The History of Modern Serbia (London: William Tweedie, 1872) and Serbian Folk-lore (London: W. Isbister & Co, 1874). She translated Serbian national songs of the Kosovo cycle into English and tried to organise them into one national ballad: Kossovo: an Attempt to bring Serbian national songs about the fall of the Serbian Empire at the Battle of Kosovo, into one Poem (London: W. Isbister, 1881).

Woislav Maximus Petrovitch, 1885 – 1934, was a librarian and attaché to Royal Court of St James on behalf of Serbia. As of yet I’ve not sourced any more detail.

Andrew Lang FBA was a Scottish poet, novelist, literary critic, and contributor to the field of anthropology. He is best known as a collector of folk and fairy tales. The Andrew Lang lectures at the University of St Andrews are named after him.

Lang was born on 31 st March 1844 in Selkirk. He was the eldest of the eight children born to John Lang, the town clerk, and his wife Jane Plenderleath Sellar, who was the daughter of Patrick Sellar, factor to the first duke of Sutherland. On 17 th April 1875, he married Leonora Blanche Alleyne, youngest daughter of C. T. Alleyne of Clifton and Barbados. She was (or should have been) variously credited as author, collaborator, or translator of Lang's Colour / Rainbow Fairy Books, which he edited. He was educated at Selkirk Grammar School, Loretto School, and the Edinburgh Academy, as well as the University of St Andrews and Balliol College, Oxford, where he took a first class in the final classical schools in 1868, becoming a fellow and subsequently honorary fellow of Merton College. He soon made a reputation as one of the most able and versatile writers of the day as a journalist, poet, critic, and historian. In 1906, he was elected FBA.

He died of angina pectoris on 20 th July 1912 at the Tor-na-Coille Hotel in Banchory, survived by his wife. He was buried in the cathedral precincts at St Andrews, where a monument can be visited in the south-east corner of the 19th century section.

Lang is now chiefly known for his publications on folklore, mythology, and religion. The earliest of his publications is Custom and Myth (1884). In Myth, Ritual and Religion (1887) he explained the 'irrational' elements of mythology as survivals from more primitive forms. Lang's Making of Religion was heavily influenced by the 18th century idea of the 'noble savage', in it, he maintained the existence of high spiritual ideas among so-called 'savage' races, drawing parallels with the contemporary interest in occult phenomena in England.

His Blue Fairy Book (1889) was a beautifully produced and illustrated edition of fairy tales that has become a classic. This was followed by many other collections of fairy tales, collectively known as Andrew Lang's Fairy Books. In the preface of the Lilac Fairy Book he credits his wife with translating and transcribing most of the stories in the collections.

Lang was one of the founders of 'psychical research' and his other writings on anthropology include The Book of Dreams and Ghosts (1897), Magic and Religion (1901) and The Secret of the Totem (1905). He served as President of the Society for Psychical Research in 1911.

He collaborated with S. H. Butcher in a prose translation (1879) of Homer's Odyssey, and with E. Myers and Walter Leaf in a prose version (1883) of the Iliad, both still noted for their archaic but attractive style.

Lang's writings on Scottish history are characterised by a scholarly care for detail, a piquant literary style, and a gift for disentangling complicated questions. The Mystery of Mary Stuart (1901) was a consideration of the fresh light thrown on Mary, Queen of Scots, by the Lennox manuscripts in the University Library, Cambridge, approving of her and criticising her accusers.

Lang was also active as a journalist in various ways, ranging from sparkling 'leaders' for the Daily News to miscellaneous articles for the Morning Post, and for many years he was literary editor of Longman's Magazine.

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