Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Legends of Prince Edward Island, compiled by F.H. MacArthur

I picked up a copy of Legends of Prince Edward Island when I vacationed there with a friend of mine too many years ago. Honestly, I picked up this book because a.) it was a cheap and b.) I was penny pinching like crazy to be able to afford the trip! I told myself it would help me to understand the Island and Lucy Maud Montgomery's story-telling instincts better and I was right about that. I just took, oh, say 10 years (give or take!) to actually read it!

(Well, that's not entirely accurate. According to where I located a very old bookmark of mine, I did read about half of it upon arriving home from my journey. I just didn't finish it completely.)

Having just read it from cover to cover, I remember why I only read it halfway! It's full of ghost stories and they can be kinda creepy. I can't imagine I would have cared much to read them back them. Can't say I totally cared to read all of them right now! But I do handle the scare factor a bit better.

F.H. MacArthur compiled this list of ancient stories and legends from PEI and dedicates it to the following:

"To our forebearers the pioneers of this Island, who, during the long winter nights of yesteryear, helped entertain each other by narrating such sagas as appear in this unpretentious little volume."
As he says in his introduction:

"These stories depict Islanders and their mode of life before modern transportation linked the Island Province with the mainland.

The book contains a total of fifty-nine stories set against the background of the Garden of the Gulf before the turn of the century. Some of the legends are written in the Island dialect. Many persons and places in the area are actually mentioned by name."

What you can expect to find:

  • Stories of ghosts in the graveyard.
  • Stories where the devil himself makes an appearance (always with a pitchfork so, of course, you know it's him.
  • Fairy weddings.
  • Mysterious trains traveling in the night.
  • Houses of Death.
  • Buried treasure (some of Captain Kidd's treasure, no less!)
  • Indian folklore.
  • People being turned into mermaids.

Yes, it is fanciful. Yes, it is the stuff of legends. These are stories which have been passed down through generations on the Island and were put together and preserved by F.H. MacArthur who definitely has a sense of Island pride about him. (This pride, by the way, is not something I mind. I don't even live there and I feel rather prideful about it so I won't begrudge an Islander their feelings! So long as they don't mind my envy, we're all good!)

I did like reading this from the perspective of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Both she and her father were noted as being very good story tellers, as many Islanders are. It's curious to me to hear some of the stories that have circulated around the Island as to the history of it. I particularly enjoyed the stories told in the Island dialect as it helped me to "hear' the voice of the teller.

Certainly this is by no means a polished book. All of the stories within it read as if someone is talking to you. You can well imagine yourself sitting in a cozy Island parlor or kitchen while someone is relaying a story to you that would give you chills in-person. (Honestly, I would up and leave the room or ask the story teller to stop if I were in person.) Reading it reminded me of the more mystic episodes of Road to Avonlea and it certainly reminded me of the Emily of New Moon television series! (Emily, being linked to my thoughts which I shared over at 5 Minutes for Books last year.)

This is not my normal reading fare, to be sure. But it was insightful and some of the stories were downright entertaining and pleasant to read. It's just that most are not. I'm not a fan of ghost stories and have never really understood why people like to scare themselves spitless. This is definitely not my style. But again! Curious nonetheless.

So I present it to you should you feel the urge to explore a little Island lore. There are reasonably priced used copies on Amazon if you are interested and if not, well, at least you know this book is out there. (Sometimes that's really all I like to know about certain books. Just that they exist!)


Barbara H. said...

Hmm -- don't know that I'd like that one. Not big into ghost stories. When you take tours in Charleston they go into some of that kind of thing, too.

Big Life Little Country said...

I purchased that when I was in PEI myself. I got it because I was kind of desperate for any little piece of the island that I could take away with me and what better than the stories of the people? I dont really think of it as a cover to cover kind of thing. In the couple of years I've owned it I dont think I've read all of the stories I just dip in and out when I want a PEI fix. It's very cool that you would feature the book though :) It's such a shame that a visit to PEI requires such penny pinching isnt it BUT it's definatley worth it.

Hazel said...

Well, I'm a fan of ghost stories. They're some of what I read when my eyebrows are not clashing against each other in the middle analyzing cognitive complexity, (lol) a heavy bulk of my working life right now. Fairy weddings?! Now that will hold my sanity.

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