University of Exeter Press

The Boggart

Folklore, History, Place-names and Dialect

    • 330 Pages

    The little-studied and once much-feared boggart is a supernatural being from the north of England. Against the odds it survives today, both in place-names and in fantasy literature—not least the Harry Potter universe. This book pioneers two methods for collecting boggart folklore: first, the use of hundreds of thousands of words on the boggart from newly digitized ephemera; second, about 1,100 contemporary boggart memories from social media surveys and personal interviews relating to the interwar and postwar years.

    Combining this new data with an interdisciplinary approach involving dialectology, folklore, Victorian history, supernatural history, oral history, place-name studies and sociology, it is possible to reconstruct boggart beliefs, experiences and tales. The boggart was not, as we have been led to believe, a ‘goblin’. Rather, ‘boggart’ was a much more general term encompassing all solitary supernatural beings, from killer mermaids to headless phantoms, from black dogs to shape-changing ghouls.

    The author shows how in the same period that such beliefs were dying out, folklorists continually misrepresented the boggart, and explores how the modern fantasy boggart was born of these misrepresentations. As well as offering a fresh reading of associated traditions, The Boggart demonstrates some of the ways in which recent advances in digitization can offer rich rewards.


    The little-studied and once much-feared boggart is a supernatural being from the north of England. Using long-forgotten sources as well as social media surveys and personal interviews, this ground-breaking book reveals that almost everything we thought we knew about the boggart is wrong.

    Simon Young is one of the leading scholars of a new generation of folklorists. His research and scholarship in this evolving and exciting discipline is thorough and outstanding. His meticulous attention to detail and skill in using newspaper archives as primary sources for folkloric materials makes The Boggart a unique resource for those who wish to delve deep into traditions of supernatural belief in England and elsewhere.

    David Clarke
    author of Supernatural Peak District and Associate Professor, Centre for Contemporary Legend, Sheffield Hallam University

    This is an excellent study, focusing on an aspect of the folklore from one corner of England. Drawing on a wide range of sources beyond the ‘usual suspects’, it presents a new, multidimensional picture of a particular folk belief.

    Jonathan Roper
    author of Charms, Charmers and Charming and Associate Professor of English and Comparative Folklore, University of Tartu

    Boggarts are elusive creatures, but Simon Young has vividly captured their inherently slippery natures. Never before has the landscape of Boggartdom been so carefully mapped, nor its history so comprehensively told. 

    Dr Ceri Houlbrook
    author of Magical Folk, Building Magic and The Materiality of Magic and Lecturer in Folklore and History, University of Hertfordshire

    The Boggart is a ground-breaking exploration of a supernatural entity from the north of England. More importantly the author offers an object lesson in how we can recreate, on the page, vanished mental universes. Key to his success is combining digital resources (even Facebook!) with a cross-disciplinary approach (linguistics, onomastics, history, oral history and folklore). What emerges is a study of the boggart ecosystem, as Simon Young describes it, exploring a hazy land that only nuance crafted by an expert can bring to focus. Here is the definitive treatment of the wispy tradition of the boggart.

    Ronald M. James
    author of Introduction to Folklore and The Folklore of Cornwall

    The study of legends in relation to the landscape and its evolution has seldom been pursued by scholars. Simon Young offers a truly innovative combination of landscape studies, social history, linguistics and folkloristics. His book transforms our understanding of how legend and landscape interact at the local level.

    Davide Ermacora
    University of Turin

    The Boggart is a meticulous, eye-opening and likely definitive account of a central figure in the folklore of the North of England.

    Francis Young
    author of Magic in Merlin's Realm

    The amount of focus, lateral thinking and sheer dogged research that has gone into this work is admirable dedication, and leavened by a light touch that makes it intensely readable throughout.

    John Billingsley
    Northern Earth

    Illustrations and Maps

    Part I: Situating the Boggart
    1. Boggart Definitions and Sources
    2. Boggart Origins
    3. Boggart Distribution

    Part II: Lived Boggart Folklore
    4. Boggart Landscapes
    5. Boggart Beliefs and Transmission
    6. Social Boggarts

    Part III: The Death and Rebirth of the Boggart
    7. Boggart Death
    8. The New Boggart

    Appendix: Boggart A–Z

    Simon Young is a British folklore historian, based in Italy. He has a longstanding interest in the study of the supernatural. In 2017 he edited Magical Folk (2017) with Ceri Houlbrook, and has published dozens of peer-reviewed articles in Folk Life, Folklore, Gramarye, Supernatural Studies, Tradition Today and other journals.

      • 330 Pages