November 2002

Joseph J. Finn

nonfiction

Scottish Traveler Tales By Donald Braid

Admittedly, it would appear that this book is outside of my usual purview of the Speculative Fiction Libertine. But hey, if Adam Sandler can stretch himself and play a rage-filled loner in "Punch-Drunk Love," why not me?

For generations, the Scots and Irish have had families of wanderers, known as the Travelers. No-one is quite sure where they came from; they might be the descendants of displaced landowners from British invasions, or their ancestors may simply have been wandering merchants and tinkers. However they began, the Travelers are an ancient tribe among the Celts, one who have shaped a magnificent legacy of oral culture.

Donald Braid, a lecturer on English at Butler University, has written a fascinating text on the form and function of this oral culture. While it might be too technical at points for the casual reader, the book yields riches in ideas and conclusions, as well as some damn good tales.

The main theme of Braid's book is about how this oral culture of the Travelers is their main way of defining themselves as a people. Though, in recent years, nay Travelers have settled down to houses and homes, many of them still maintain the art of the story to remind themselves and kin of who they are and where they come from. A main feature of this is the two main divisions of their tales; "story," which is always understood as being a fiction, and "crack," always understood as being a true tale (though perhaps a little stretched in the telling).

For instance, at one point of the Travelers tells the tale of Cinderella (pp. 174-194). What makes this telling of the tale so interesting is that in this version, it's the family that is good and kind, and the outsiders (the prince and his underlings) the unfamiliar and untrustworthy. A highly unique version of Cinderella, and Braid makes great use of the contrast in highlighting the Travelers art of story and their insular culture.

Braid does a fine job of examining Traveler culture in this text, and showing how such a seemingly innocuous art form as storytelling can contain a huge amount of social commentary (it's interesting to compare the tales contained in the book with such speculative classics as Asimov's Foundation and Michael Resnick's Kirinyaga tales for sly commentary). Highly recommended for anyone who would like to see the backbone of fiction, Scottish Traveler Tales would be a fine addition to any nightstand.

Scottish Traveler Tales by Donald Braid
University Press of Mississippi
ISBN: 1578064503
313 Pages