Folklore for Inspiration

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Magpies are known for collecting odd bits of this and that.

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References to familiar fairy tales, and folklore in general, add a richness of cultural beliefs to stories.

The Denham Tracts constitute a publication of a series of 54 pamphlets and jottings on folklore collected between 1846 and 1859 by Michael Aislabie Denham, a Yorkshire tradesman. The tracts were later re-edited by James Hardy for the Folklore Society and imprinted in two volumes in 1892 [1] and 1895. It is possible that J.R.R. Tolkien took the word hobbit from the list of fairies in the Denham Tracts. [2]

Michael Aislabie Denhamwho died in 1859, was a collector of folklore, a native of Yorkshire.

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One for Sorrow is a traditional children’s nursery rhyme about magpies (or perhaps crows).  According to an old superstition the number of magpies one sees determines if one will have bad luck or not. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20096.


One version of the nursery rhyme goes like this:

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
— from:
    P. Tate, Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend, and Superstition, New York: Random House, 2010.

Other References:

1. James Hardy, ed., The Denham Tracts: A Collection of Folklore by Michael Aislabie Denham. London: Folklore Society (1892).

2. Michael D.C. Drout, ed., J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment, Routledge (2006), p. 121.

3. I. Opie and M. Tatem, eds, A Dictionary of Superstitions (Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 235-6.

4. J. M. Marzluff, A. Angell, P. R. Ehrlich, In the Company of Crows and Ravens (Yale University Press, 2007), p. 127.


Today’s Assignment: Add a bird with mystical attributes to your writing today.