By the time you’re reading this post, I’ll be on my way to the airport to catch a flight to Jersey, so I thought it would be fitting to review a book which includes some of the legends told about the island.
In Jersey Legends, Erren Michaels includes eleven tales. Some are rewrites of stories, others incorporate two legends into one new story. In the introduction, Michaels writes:
The island of Jersey is a singular place of great natural beauty which lends itself well to fairy tales. The dramatic cliffs of the north coast are as beautiful in their rugged majesty as the sand dunes of the western shores and the golden beaches that surround the island. Jersey’s patchwork of green farmland is interspersed with rich woodland, and medieval castles are juxtaposed with the bustling hub of the town.
The landscape is evident in all of the stories in the collection. Indeed, many of the tales are set around Jersey landmarks.
In ‘The Vioge’, Alicia makes her way up La Ruette à la Vioge, nicknamed Crack Ankle Lane before finding herself weary. When she wakes, she finds she’s been sleeping on bones…
In ‘Sacred Ground’, Tom Grondin tries to build a new church in a peaceful glade but finds that all the equipment keeps being moved. It couldn’t be fairies, could it?
While in ‘Devil’s Hole’, the figurehead of a ship, shaped like the devil, ends up in a cave on the coast.
As you might expect, ships and the sea feature heavily. In ‘Witches’ Rock’, Madelaine’s fiancé, Hubert, walks along the coast towards Witches’ Rock or Rocqueberg.
The rock was only a stone’s throw from the beach, and had been carved by nature into exquisite beauty. It was bigger than Hubert’s fisherman’s cottage and formed of jagged, peach-coloured granite. In daylight the colour stood in warm, glorious contrast to the green glade surrounding it.
No prizes for guessing who Hubert encounters there but this story does have a particularly excellent solution brought about by Madelaine who’s smarter and more adventurous than we’re led to believe at the beginning of the tale.
Three stories in particular stood out to me: ‘The Crooked Fairy’ tells the tale of Amory Harker, ‘That’s not my name’, who’s bullied by the kids at school who think he’s a changeling. The joy of this story comes with the ending and a little twist in the tale.
‘Sir Hambie and the Dragon’ has a knight determined to slay the dragon that’s landed on Jersey, despite his wife’s concerns. The battle with the dragon is exciting but it becomes the wife’s story and it was great to see a woman with agency in this type of fairytale especially.
But the story that’s absolutely worth buying the book for is ‘The Black Dog of Bouley Bay’. The black dog is one of those creatures that everyone claims to have seen or heard – it reminded me of The Beast of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall – but no one’s ever managed to capture it. In this case there’s a very obvious reason:
Had anyone chosen to follow the erratic path of the black dog down the steep slope to the shore, they might have seen that, as it crunched onto the pebbles and drew near to the water, its rear end stood up and said firmly, ‘Right that’s it, Pierre, I’m sick of looking at your backside. I want to be the head on the way back up.’
Jersey Legends is a good introduction to the folklore of the island. There are some interesting tales here if fairy stories, myths and legends are your bag.
Erren Michaels appears at Jersey Festival of Words on Friday 30th September, 3.30pm, in the Arts Centre. Tickets are available here.