Spanish and Basque Legends


Enda Ó Catháin, Béaloideas: The Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society, Vol. 78, 2010

Spanish and Basque Legends is an engaging book which might well appeal to a popular readership. It is written in a concise, readable style, gives pride of place to the adapted narratives and although it does not attempt to prove an academic thesis, the background notes, contextual information and clear reference to sources do demonstrate a certain rigour with regard to the selected material.

The interplay between historical and oral accounts is of interest and is highlighted on occasion. ... This book is a fine compendium of the editor’s repertoire of legends and traditional narratives from parts of the Iberian Peninsula. ... It helps to bring history to life. One is given an introductory insight into aspects of Spain’s culture and history as transmitted through legend and the author’s experience.

Gabriele Haefs, Folk Magazin, Germany

Richard Marsh, a storyteller living in Dublin and a member of the Dublin Yarnspinners, has travelled all over the place telling stories, and this certainly bears fruit. After several volumes of Irish tales and his own version of Irish medieval epics, he now introduces us to Spanish and Basque ballads and legends. He goes far back in history, back into pre-Christian times – and lets it all end in the present, with a tale about King Juan Carlos’ missing watch. But the larger part of the stories, of course, deals with the fight against the Moors and about the Reconquista – and a quite a few stories show the scene as seen with the eyes of the Moors.

We meet old friends equally known from Germany’s treasure of tales, like Charlemagne and his paladine Roland – the one of the Rolandsbogen, known from so many wine-dripping Rhinesongs (in the Spanish tales however he dies in the fight against the Sarazens and never returns to the Rhine). Of course also the great Hero El Cid, the one Schiller wrote about, is important here. But we are not likely to forget others we meet here, like the Seven Princes of Lara or Jaun Zuria, an early Basque lord, who is said to have come over from Ireland.

All of these things, ballads as well as stories, are presented with their historical background, and we also hear which parts can be proven and which obviously are only legends – and how some stories or episodes were an inspiration to the masterworks of Spanish literature, like Cervantes’ Don Quijote. Apart from that we learn amazing things – like that we cannot insult a proud Spaniard any worse than by throwing a cucumber filled with blood at him!

In short, this is a book which we absolutely need to take along on our next journey to Spain – and those among us who don’t happen to be going to Spain soon can simply enjoy Richard Marsh’s art of storytelling.

(translated from German by the reviewer)

Books Ireland, No. 321, May 2010

[Richard Marsh] is a professional storyteller and views legends not as something fabricated or untrue but rather the telling of history by ordinary people. He believes that all legends have some truth at their core and most of the legends here deal with actual historical characters, El Cid probably being the one best known to Irish readers. Marsh used a wide range of sources including living people, historical records and even Washington Irving, author of Sleepy Hollow. One tale tells how the Basques and Celts of Spain discovered Ireland. [Author note: those are two separate stories.] All told in the same straightforward style with a minimum of flourishes or description. This does have the advantage of making them read like history but does so at the expense of the literary qualities we have come to expect from legends.

The book itself is a nice production with colour photographs of places mentioned in the text.

Gillie Revill, Talk Radio Europe

“Fascinating, especially to those of us who live down in the south of Spain”
15-minute interview with Gillie on Talk Radio Europe 14 December 2010, mp3, 6.73MB

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