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Book Review: Celtic Myth and Legend by Charles Squire

Continuing the mythology theme in line with this month’s featured books for this month’s review however, unlike some of the contemporary retellings highlighted, this title was originally published back in 1919. This is important to note because naturally it means the style, language and approach.

On the cautionary side, I would say this falls into the category of being fairly academic and therefore not always the most accessible. Squire steams through huge swathes of history, literature and analysis drawing from across his vast research, interpretation and conclusions. While it is utterly coherent throughout, it’s also a massive amount to digest all at once and there is no attempt to cut it into bitesize chunks and spoonfeed the reader. I suspect this is especially challenging for anyone not already familiar with the Celtic pantheon or stories as no sooner are you introduced to a particular deity or hero than you are given several other names and variations to compare and contrast them with or distinguish them from (and that’s just before you get into immediate and extended families, foster families, friendships, feuds and fates!)

On the other hand, I don’t think anyone can make a serious study of any mythology without getting caught up in the romance, adventure, symbolism and complexity of it and this more than comes through in the sheer poetry of the language used when discussing the great Celtic heroes and their deeds. This is the style in which I was used to reading mythology when I grew up and, as much as I have enjoyed some of the modern takes, experiencing them again in a ‘traditional’ (classical?) style only helped to add to the enchantment for me. There is a clear love and admiration that shines through and a desire to share these tales and their significance with the wider world.

Compared to more recent explorations this is a title that might take a little more effort in the reading, but I think the richness of both style and substance make it more than worth it.

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