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Elves in Anglo-Saxon England

Helps illuminate Anglo-Saxon social attitudes towards the supernatural, health and gender, and shows how texts can be as important in the shaping of social realities as they are in recording them. HISTORICAL JOURNAL Anglo-Saxon elves (Old English aelfe) are the best attested non-Christian beliefs in early medieval Europe, but current interpretations of the evidence derive directly from outdated nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholarship. Integrating linguistic and textual approaches into an anthropologically-inspired framework, this book reassesses the full range of evidence. It traces continuities and changes in medieval non-Christian beliefs with a new degree of reliability, from pre-conversion times to the eleventh century and beyond, and uses comparative material from medieval Ireland and Scandinavia to argue for a dynamic relationship between beliefs and society. In particular, it interprets the cultural significance of elves as a cause of illness in medical texts, and provides new insights into the much-discussed Scandinavian magic of seidr. Elf-beliefs, moreover, were connected with Anglo-Saxon constructions of sex and gender; their changing nature provides a rare insight into a fascinating area of early medieval European culture. Shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Folklore Award 2007. ALARIC HALL is Lecturer in Medieval English Literature at the University of Leeds.
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A work of great value. COSMOS Succeeds in being both a solidly scholarly work, with meticulous discussion of philological matters, and also an open-minded (although strictly evidence-based) attempt to look at the bigger picture. FOLKLORE Should become standard reading in all fields touching on Anglo-Saxon interests for a number of its merits. [...] It is an admirably careful, measured study with a strong focus on primary evidence, lexical items and good philology. MIRATOR Sets an admirable standard for other researchers through its integration of Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, and Celtic lore in a productive European mix. A delightful [book] that will stimulate thought across the disciplines regarding the importance, to the Anglo-Saxons, of a class of creatures whose fascination for us today stands in direct proportion to their enigmatic nature. At many turns, this well-researched study exemplifies the value of joining lexically based research to larger cultural inquiries. SPECULUM

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