Wednesday, May 17, 2017
"A droll! A droll! Tell me a droll!" Cornish Folktales, Legend and Lore ~ Katherine Bone
The Cornish are descendants of Druids, Celts, and the Welsh, ancestors typically referred to as the ‘old ones’ with a fifteen hundred year history of mining ore, copper, and tin. Living and working in harsh conditions—influenced by Welsh saints who settled throughout Cornwall, and later Methodist Evangelist John Wesley—the Cornish were enthralled by supernatural folklore, tales of ghosts and legend. Nights spent around a hearth of blazing furze and turf was never wasted. Especially if a droll teller—a storyteller traveling hamlet to hamlet across the moors to tell stories, play the fiddle, and sing old ballads about Cornwall's past—ventured near.
“In Cornish dialect a ‘droll’ is an oral story.” Visits by a droll teller—or ‘old crowder’ because they attracted a crowd—happened but once or twice a year as a means of keeping the old ways alive.
Our Cornish drolls are dead, each one;
The fairies from their haunts have gone:
There’s scarce a witch in all the land,
The world has grown so learn’d and grand.
~ Poet Henry Quick
In Cornish Folk Tales by Mike O’Connor, droll teller Anthony James of Cury and his son traveled throughout Cornwall in the late 18th- to early 19th Centuries to pass on legends and lore.
The Legend of Tamara offers a theory on how Cornwall became distinct from England. The tale also offers two interesting morals. The first, beware those who live in darkness. Second, a warning to allow young people to make their own decisions.
The Legend of Tamara
"Once there was a bad-tempered troll who lived high up on the moors in the north of Cornwall. This troll had a beautiful daughter called Tamara. Now this old troll hated the light, so he slept during the day and would only venture out of his cave at night time. And Tamara, she was forbidden to go out during the day and only allowed out after sunset. But you’ll soon learn about young women! You will find they are independent and inquisitive, just like many other people, perhaps more so. Well, Tamara was like that. One bright day, when her father was fast asleep, she crept out of the cave to see what it was like.
As soon as she came out of the cave she was enchanted by the bright light, the colours, the reflections. There was the blue of the sky, the brilliance of the sun, the rich green of the moors, the silver streams and the sparkling, shimmering sea. And on the side of the hill there she found two young giants enjoying a friendly wrestling match, and I can tell you she was even more enchanted by these two strong, handsome young men.
And those two young men were friendly and courteous. They introduced themselves as Davy and Terry, and Tamara enjoyed their wit and their good company. She was fascinated by their knowledge of the world that lay beyond her close horizons. So next day she joined them again, and the next day, and the day after. And gradually she realized she was falling in love, not only with her young giants, but with life outside the cave, life in the light.
One day Tamara was sitting in the sunshine on the hillside between her two young friends. She was wondering which, if either, she preferred when she heard a howl of rage. She looked towards the entrance of the cave and there was her father. The old troll had woken and found that his daughter was gone. From the shadows of the cave entrance he ordered Tamara to come back to the darkness at once. Tamara looked at the dark cave and her angry father. Then she looked at the bright land outside the cave and the two genial giants. Finally, weeping with fear, Tamara refused to do what the old troll said. Then her father’s rage was so great that he was almost incapable of speech. Finally, screaming with anger, he uttered a great curse in a tongue no one else could understand.
Then Tamara felt her blood run cold and her limbs become stiff. Tears began to flow from her eyes as she realised that the curse was turning her into stone. Soon she was a lifeless rock, but from that rock the tears still flowed. At the base of the rock formed a pool of tears, tears that flowed forever, forming first a brook, then a stream, then a river that flowed down to the sea.
Then Davy cried out for the bad-tempered old troll to undo his terrible curse. At first the troll refused. Davy was insistent. But then the troll admitted that the curse could not be undone. So Davy threw himself to his full height and demanded that he too should be cursed, so that he could suffer the same fate as his sweetheart and share her course to the sea. So for a second time, and now himself trembling with fear, the troll uttered his great curse. Then Davy too felt his blood run cold and his limbs become stiff. Tears flowed from Davy’s eyes as he was turned to stone by the troll’s curse. From that stone the tears continued to flow. At the base of the rock formed a pool of tears, tears that flowed forever, forming first a brook, then a stream, then a river that flowed down to the sea; a river that joined with his beloved Tamara and flowed with her to the sea, far away to the south.
Then Terry roamed the hills seeking solace or diversion. But, wherever he went, he was haunted by the memories of his brother and his friend. Eventually from far across the moors he gave a great cry, demanding that he too should share the same fate. And far away the old troll heard his cry borne on the wind and for the last time uttered his terrible curse. In turn Terry heard the troll’s faint words on the wind. Soon Terry felt his blood run cold and his limbs become stiff. Tears flowed from his eyes as the third curse turned him to granite; a stone that like the others wept an eternity of tears. At the base of the rock formed a pool of tears, tears that flowed forever, forming first a brook, then a stream, then a river. But he was far away across the moors, so his river did not flow to the south and join Tamara and Davy. Instead his river flowed to the north, eventually joining the Bristol Channel.
That’s how the granite kingdom of old Cornwall defined its borderlands—three curses, three tears and three rivers: the Tamar, the Tavy, and the Torridge. That’s what they call them now."
Cornwall. Corn stems from the Iron Age tribe Cornovii, later pronounced ‘Kernow’, possibly meaning people of the horn. Wall comes from old English, ‘w(e)alh’ meaning foreigner. Corn Walum dates back to 891 A.D.
From sunbathed paradise to Jurassic coastlines, Cornwall according to Peter Grego in Cornwall’s Strangest Tales, Extraordinary but True Stories, is ‘a land of dream and mystery’. A land of Arthurian legend, an unconquerable fortress where smugglers reigned, where naval fleets sailed off to victory and folk tales spoken around a hearth prevent the loss of the old ones.