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At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Nymphs, and Other Troublesome Things Paperback – November 1, 2003

12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0814766866 ISBN-10: 0814766862

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Editorial Reviews

Review

At the Bottom of the Garden is brilliant, always on the move, and bone-chilling. There's nothing cutesy about this highly suggestive, provocative scholarship; the creatures animating this book are about as cuddly as scorpions, wee rattlers, and black-widow spiders. Purkiss has written a witty and compelling work that will fascinate readers and haunt our imaginations.”
-James Kincaid,University of Southern California, author of Erotic Innocence



“Fascinating. . . . Rigorously researched. . . . Highly recommended.”
-Choice(Nov. 2001)



“Enchanting . . . witty . . . full of surprises and delights.”
-The Times



“. . . a scholarly overview of the role that fairies have played in culture from the past to the present.”
-Publishers Weekly



“Illuminating and enormous fun.”
-Spectator

About the Author

Author of The Witch in History, Diane Purkiss was formerly Professor of English at Exeter University and is now Fellow and Tutor at Keble College, Oxford.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 356 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (November 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814766862
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814766866
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,150,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Kelly (Fantasy Literature) VINE VOICE on March 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Faery lore is a complicated thing--a mishmash of myths, beliefs, and tales that don't always add up to a coherent whole. Much has been written about the connection between faeries and half-remembered indigenous gods, and about the possibility that faeries were actually an ancient race of humans banished to the wilds. The market is filled, today, with books of beautiful and sweet faeries. But there is no other book like this one.
Diane Purkiss's theory is that the faeries are reminiscent of the demons of the Mediterranean culture--the lamashtu who steals babies away into death, the lamia who seduces and devours men--and that faery lore deals with the same issues as these earlier myths. The faeries, she contends, were an explanation for why beautiful young people were taken away in illness and death. She tells heartbreaking stories of women who tortured and abandoned their sick babies, thinking them changelings; she disturbs us with the tale of Michael Cleary, who killed his wife and honestly seemed to believe his *real* wife would return to him now that he had disposed of the faery impostor. A far-fetched belief? Perhaps not; fairy stories of the time seemed to advocate just such actions. Purkiss takes us on an uncomfortable journey through the most brutal of faery myths, then into the Victorian age, when faeries became a symbol of idealized childhood. But there was a dark side to this as well--onstage "faeries" were played by street orphans who lived incredibly hard lives, and Barrie's _Peter Pan_ takes on a very different undertone when it comes out that the children in the play were based on children Barrie had known, who had *died young* and therefore stayed forever young.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth A. Denton on May 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A fantastic resource for skeptics and believers in the hidden world alike, At the Bottom of the Garden tracks the reasons behind the fairy mythos from ancient roots to present day UFOs. Despite criticisms of Purkiss's scholarship, the book sheds more light on the human condition than anything else, and is an excellent resource for writers and others who are trying to understand the way human need creates myths.
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37 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Maren on November 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book thinking it would be an light-hearted, fun history of fairies, and was certainly not prepared for the author's rather darker take on the subject. However, I was willing to give it a try, despite the heavy academic tone.
Purkiss starts off well, drawing interesting parallels between the demons of the ancient Mediterranean world and later Celtic and European fairy beliefs. However, she skims right over the Middle Ages, a time which, to my mind, really represents fairy lore at its most prototypical, and launches into a rather tedious examination of the role of fairy stories in the Scottish witch trials. It was not until I looked up Purkiss' bibliography that I realized this was a subject she was very well-versed in, and it is at this point that the book really suffers.
Throughout the rest of the book, Purkiss insists on tying everything back to these Scottish tales, though I do not think they are particularly representative of fairies in general. Even at the end, she is still remarking upon stories which are "like Bessie Dunlop's", despite the fact that fairy beliefs existed long before Bessie did, and therefore it is not really correct to use the Scottish stories as a measuring stick for all fairies.
However, this is the period of time in which she chooses to fix her idea of the "real" fairy, and this is the problem with the book. Purkiss is obviously disgusted with the modern concept of sweet, tiny flower fairies, which has its roots in Victorian times. Instead, she believes the "real" fairies were the dark, malicious, death-bringing fairies of medieval Scotland, and does not fail to let us know this by continually dismissing literature and folk beliefs throughout the ages as not true to her "real" fairies.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Susan Thompson on September 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
It seems as though Diane Purkiss tried to do too much. There are a lot of interesting tidbits here, and she starts off strong with an interesting thesis that the origin of fairy-type myths is actually in the demons of the Mediteranean, etc. rather than in Celtic beliefs. Unfortunately, while I think her purpose here was to provide a clear continuum of fairy beliefs to the present, her arguments get a bit muddled as she tries to gather together a lot of different fairy types/stories in one place, organized by historical time period, without exactly explaining where or how they fit with one another. There are no strong conclusions to tie the book together - if anything one ends up rereading the introduction to try and keep her chain of reasoning straight. I had difficulty getting through it and I am very interested in this kind of material. Try Katharine Briggs' Encyclopedia instead, if you can find it.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Readalot on December 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This satisfactorally fat book kept me happily occupied for two days. I read the last chapter first, for some reason, but then began at the beginning and read straight through. Since I had a smattering of knowledge on the subjects covered, I was delighted to find out more. The scholarship is never allowed to become overbearing, and I found the style enjoyable. The matters were heavy enough for me to feel pleasantly stretched, but not swamped. Whether or not you agree with all the conclusions reached, this is an excellent buy for anyone interested in historical perspectives.
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