Folklore, History, Placenames and Dialect
By Simon Young
The boggart was a much-feared, little-studied supernatural being from the north of England. Against the odds, it survives today, whether in place-names or in works of fantasy literature – not least Harry Potter. Centring on this mercurial and mysterious figure, The Boggart pioneers two methods for collecting folklore: first, the use of hundreds of thousands of words on the boggart from digitised ephemera; second, about 1,100 contemporary boggart memories that derive from social media surveys and personal interviews relating to the interwar and postwar years.
Through a radical combination of this new information and an interdisciplinary approach – involving dialectology, folklore, Victorian history, supernatural history, oral history, place-name studies, sociology and more – it is possible to reconstruct boggart beliefs, experiences and tales. The boggart was not, as we have been led to believe, a ‘goblin’. Rather, this was a much more general term encompassing all solitary, and often ambivalent, supernatural beings, from killer mermaids to headless phantoms to shape-changing ghouls. In the same period that boggart beliefs were dying, folklorists continuously misrepresented the boggart and how the modern fantasy version was born of these misunderstandings. As well as offering a fresh reading of a deep seam of folklore, this book showcases some of the ways in which harnessing recent advances in digitization can offer rich and compelling rewards.
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.