Publication Date: 01/09/2023 ISBN: 9781789148336 Category:

Cloven Country

Jeremy Harte

Publisher: Reaktion Books
Publication Date: 01/09/2023 ISBN: 9781789148336 Category:
Paperback / Softback


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According to legend, the English landscape – so calm on the surface – is really the Devil’s work. Cloven Country, now in paperback, tells of rocks hurled into place and valleys carved out by infernal labour. The Devil’s hideous strength laid down great roads in one night, and left scars everywhere as the hard stone melted like wax under those burning feet. With roots in medieval folklore, this is not the Satan of prayer, but a clumsy ogre, easily fooled by humankind. When a smart cobbler or cunning young wife outwitted him, they struck a blow for the underdog. Only the wicked squire and grasping merchant were beyond redemption, carried off by a black huntsman in the storm.

Publisher Review

'Harte - a curator at Bourne Hall Museum in Surrey - has an encyclopedic knowledge of the diverse sources of England's traditional tales and proves himself to be an authoritative guide . . . From the demon who appears as a fearsome figure hurling stones, gouging out valleys and heaping up hills, or as a sinister black-clad huntsman with his fiery-eyed hounds howling across Bodmin Moor, to ideas about how a woman's wit is better than a man's when it comes to besting the lord of darkness, Harte takes his reader on a devilishly entertaining tour of England and its richly storied landscape.' - The Guardian; '[a] fascinating study . . . In Cloven Country, Harte sets out to discover why the "Devil" appears in so many of our place names, and so many of the accompanying tales and folklore. Along the way it becomes an invaluable guide to some of our more puzzling local oddities . . . It all makes for a highly evocative and original guide to our ever-fascinating, multilayered landscape, so full of shadowy mysteries and stories.' - Sunday Times; 'With so much folklore resting on oral tradition, in which old cycles of storytelling disappear with the breath used to speak them, to be lost beyond recall, it is heartening to have authorities like Jeremy Harte tethering them to the record with books like this. Especially when it makes for such a wickedly good read.' - Literary Review; 'Although [Harte] will retell a tale with a nimble and gleeful charm, he'll then carefully examine them. Harte's skill as a writer makes this process seamless. It also renders what could be an academic and slightly dry exercise every bit as interesting as the narratives themselves. Come for the telling of folktales; stay for the workings of folklore. Cloven Country is testament to Harte's deep personal and learned knowledge of the folklore of England. He's seemingly read everything and been everywhere - and given the book is illustrated from his collection, clearly also bought the postcard. His writing style is wry and frequently aphoristic. Harte is one of Britain's most eminent folklorists, whose previous works have included detailed accounts of gypsy folklore, holy wells and an award-winning book on fairy traditions. As Cloven Country is coming from a more recognised publisher, hopefully his work will now reach a wider audience. Purely on the basis of this erudite, witty and exceptionally entertaining book, it clearly deserves to.' - Ross MacFarlane, Fortean Times; 'This is my favourite book of the year so far. It is immaculately researched, superbly written and - like all Jeremy Harte's work - genuinely breaks new ground in folklore studies. Only somebody with his breadth of knowledge, not only of the lore but of related fields of history, myth and literature, could have done as well.' - Ronald Hutton, Professor of History, University of Bristol, and author of Pagan Britain; 'Jeremy Harte has woven together a rich and wildly entertaining romp through the Devil-pocked English landscape. It is hard not to feel more than a little sympathy, given the amount of times the Devil seems to have been outwitted by all and sundry, but then he must be content in the knowledge that his efforts to disrupt have led to him being memorialised across the UK, in the form of dykes, tors, bridges, cauldrons and punchbowls.' - Simon Costin, director of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic and founder of the Museum of British Folklore; 'Engagingly written and with a fitting pinch of mischief, Cloven Country is both erudite and entertaining. Jeremy Harte is one of the country's leading folklorists and behind his relish for telling tales lies a deep understanding of how devil legends formed in our landscape. Equally delightful to read in a comfy chair or out in the field searching for the many sites he explores.' - Owen Davies, Professor in History, University of Hertfordshire, and president of the Folklore Society; 'This is a damnably good book, thanks largely to Harte's wit and erudition and ability to take folk tales at more than face value, and tease out inferences that would be opaque in a less insightful writer's hands.' - John Billingsley, Northern Earth; 'Cloven Country is an extensive and well-rounded exploration of the image of the Devil as reflected in the English landscape and folklore record, penned in Harte's inimitable clever and witty style. Although rigorously academic, you always feel like you have sat down for a pint with Jeremy, probably in a pub named after one of the Devil's exploits, whilst being regaled with tales. Pull a chair up to the fire, get yourself a drink and a copy of Cloven Country . . . You will not be disappointed.' - Mark Norman, The Folklore Podcast"

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