Author: Elizabeth Reynard
Trade Paperback, 326 pages
Publisher: Chatham Historical Society
Publication date: December 1985
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If you're drawn to the strange wild beauty or the rich history of the Cape, you must read The Narrow Land. This lovely book collects the tales and folklore connected to Cape Cod, and captures the poetry and mystique of the Cape.
Elizabeth Reynard wrote this book in the 1930s using a variety of sources, including historical society documents, private family histories, town records and living storytellers. She wove different bits of lore and legend into complete tales, or selected the most interesting bits from several versions of the same tale.
Different sections of the book tell of the traditional Native American legends of Cape Cod (Death of the Giant, Tales of the Praying Indians) and early tales of the doings of the Puritan settlers (Men of God and the Primitive Earth).
Other sections of the book cover stories of local witches, pirates, spirits and ghosts. There's even a charming story about how Yorkshire "stable fairies" stowed away by mistake on a ship and ended up in Eastham.
Perhaps most interestingly for a Neo-Pagan, the book provides an insight into how traditional European folklore beliefs couldn't be quelled either by Christianity or the passing years, and were taken to (and altered by) the New World. Even though the settlers were good Christians and would have been insulted by any suggestion otherwise, no one could tell them folk magic wasn't real or that fairies didn't exist.
Also of interest, you can see a progression in the local Native American Wampanoag tales from a pre-Christian to a post-Christian environment. At the beginning, we have the stories that seem relatively uninfluenced by Christianity (Death of the Giant), and then the section on "Praying Indians" where Christian beliefs and non-Christian beliefs are often intermingled.
Last but not least, if you want to learn more about traditional local spirits, especially in preparing to honor them and the "feel" of the land, this book is very valuable.
One important thing to keep in mind, don't look to this book for history. There are inaccuracies and author's license and the love of a good story. If the book says Elisha Chase did thus-and-so in the year 1899, it'd be best to check historical records before including it in your research paper. Also, the section on Viking settlers is wildly out of date in the light of current knowledge.
It would be wonderful to have a companion book to this one that covered the same ground but had a solid academic focus. Failing that, it would be great to have someone go through Narrow Land and provide annotated commentary. For example, I would enjoy knowing what a contemporary Wampanoag made of the section on Indian legends. Whether those legends are still told today, or whether more important tales were kept within the community or not included. There's a little bit of this in the Appendix, but it doesn't begin to answer all of my questions on the subject. However, for inspiration and furthering an emotional/spiritual bond to old Cape Cod, The Narrow Land is splendid.
Reviewed by Janna