Summary: Eddie Lenihan’s collection of authentic, oral-history fairy tales from the last of southwest Ireland’s elder storytellers. Meeting the Other Crowd is a glimpse into the original world of fairies as remembered by a generation of Irish who recall horse-drawn wagons, candlelight, chamber pots, and an invisible realm of “the other crowd” that was never more than a misstep away. An invisible nation intersecting theirs in a maze of dangerous interactions, threatening great harm to any who ran afoul of their ubiquitous fairy forts (hillocks ringed by Hawthorne trees that dot the land) or mysterious plans. There are 72 stories in all divided by subject into “who they are and what they want,” “fairy places and signs of their presence” and the “gifts punishments and other outcomes of fairy encounters.”
My thoughts: Meeting the Other Crowd can be read two ways. As a source book of authentic Irish folklore and the history of fairy lore, it’s good. Lenihan is a folklore preserver who’s combed his chosen habitat (southwest Ireland) for all the legends, fairy-tales and pub talk about Ireland’s mystic beliefs he could harvest, and this collection reads like no other book on fairies. It’s all about what neighbors have heard from neighbors and other relations, the real heart of fairy stories, and there ain’t no Tinkerbell. The Irish fairies were dangerous, their stories often fitting the framework of American ghost stories with added dangers of abduction like you’d find in demon lore (which some thought the fairies may actually be) and deformity and general misfortune if you crossed them. From this point of view it’s a 4-star book. The heart of traditional Ireland, a lost land whose memory is slipping away, thunders in every tale. The world revealed is fascinating. The only drawback is Lenihan’s heavy-handed analysis, which repetitiously warns of the dangers of disrespecting ancient traditions.
As a pure storybook, though, Meeting the Other Crowd is slaved to its oral roots. The fully formed stories of 6 or more pages are very satisfying, but many of them are not fully formed stories. Most of the 72 tales are just bare outlines of stories: ‘I once heard of a man who cut a tree from a fairy fort and don’t you know he died the next week.’ As a representation of Irish culture, that’s satisfying; as a story it’s not. So between that and Lenihan’s commentary, as a storybook I have to give this 2 stars. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, but it’s not an entertaining read on the strength of its stories alone (which are admittedly meant to be told, not read). You have to be interested in the culture they capture to be entertained, and then it’s more of a history book.
About the Author: Folklorist Eddie Lenihan is the author of 16 books, 11 audiotapes, a double CD and a video of traditional Irish stories. His Ten Minute Tales and Storyteller shows on Irish national television launched an international career, and he now visits many countries to tell traditional Irish tales.