Worse than Pagans

Tom Shippey

  • Elf Queens and Holy Friars: Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church by Richard Firth Green
    Pennsylvania, 285 pp, £36.00, August 2016, ISBN 978 0 8122 4843 2

At the start of ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’, Chaucer has the Wife declare that her tale is set long ago, in the days of King Arthur. Back then the land was ‘fulfild of fayerye’, and the elf queen danced with her company in the green meadows. But that’s all over now. The elves and fairies have been driven out by the friars, who have blanketed the country with prayers and blessings. Women can go anywhere in safety, because there is no ‘incubus’ left lurking in the bushes except for the friar himself, and he ‘ne wol doon hem but dishonour’: all he will do is dishonour them (sexually).

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