Friday, September 17, 2021

Shetland Folk Tales - Lawrence Tulloch

I've been looking a long time for a book on Shetland folklore that's authoritative and enjoyable to read - I have a feeling Earnest Marwick's collection might be what I want but it's out of print, expensive in paper, and ebooks defeat me when it comes to referring back to things. Lawrence Tulloch's collection was this summer's hopeful purchase but it wasn't quite what I expected.

I did look at it in The Shetland Times before I bought it, but by chance hit on a couple of stories that looked like exactly what I wanted. As it is I'm not disappointed with the book I got, but I am still searching for the right one. Lawrence Tulloch's father, Tom was a noted storyteller and is collected in Scottish Traditional Tales where his authentic voice really comes through - I'm assuming without re-acquainting myself with the introduction that his words were recorded and then transcribed as there are pauses included in the text and the dialect is broad. 

The Lawrence Tulloch collection by contrast has been anglicized for a broader audience, and I guess to fit into the wire series that this book is part of. I can imagine him as being a notable storyteller in person, there's not much sense of his personality here which makes reading this a little bit like eating unseasoned food. Re-reading some of Tom Tulloch's stories before writing this really highlights the difference between storytelling in your own dialect, and in speech which is slightly foreign.

Aside from that, there's a lot to enjoy here, and I'm tempted to collect more of the series in time. This book is full of the kind of thing I was told by our neighbour when I was growing up and have sadly completely forgotten. There are the sort of tall stories we used to hear about life for the antarctic whalers, stories that were well-known jokes, and the supernatural and ghostly tales that I absolutely believed back in the day (Njuggle's especially, which are a lot like Kelpies).

There are more personal local legends passed down, and one about an eagle stealing a child that has versions all over Scotland, Ireland, and further - including in Greek mythology. I don't know if these stories are told as widely as they were when I was a child and there were only 3 channels on T.V. (which also closed down for the night) there was no internet, and you had to do work a bit harder at making your own entertainment. I hope they are, there's a rich legacy of them and when you get to trows, witches, selkies, and finnmen you need to hear those stories whilst you're still young enough to believe them. 


  1. There are some copies of SHETLAND TALES available on the old books for sale websites. Try and persevere.

    Ginny Jones