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Introduction
The tales contained in this little volume of North Cornwall fairy stories, by Enys Tregarthen, are either founded on folk-lore or they are folk-lore pure and simple.

The scene of the first story is laid amid the ancient walls and gateways of ‘Grim Dundagel thron’d along the sea,’ and other places not quite so well known by those who live beyond the Cornish land, but which, nevertheless, have a fascination of their own, especially Dozmare Pool, where Tregeagle’s unhappy spirit worked at his hopeless task of emptying the pool with a crozan or limpet-shell ‘that had a hole in it.’

This large inland lake, one mile in circumference, is of unusual interest, not only because of the Tregeagle legend that centres round Dozmare, but from a tradition, which many believe, that it was to this desolate moor, with its great tarn, that Sir Bedivere, King Arthur’s faithful knight, brought the wounded King after the last great battle at Slaughter Bridge, on the banks of the Camel.

A wilder and more untamed spot could hardly be found even in Cornwall than Dozmare Pool and the [xii]barren moors surrounding it. As one stands by its dark waters, looking away towards the bare granite-crowned hills and listening to the wind sighing among the reeds and rushes and the coarse grass, one can realize to the full the weird legends connected with it, and one can see in imagination the huge figure of Tregeagle bending over the pool, dipping out the water with his poor little limpet-shell.

The Tregeagle legends are still believed in. When people go out to Dozmare Pool, they do not mention Tregeagle’s name for fear that the Giant will suddenly appear and chase them over the moors!

On the golden spaces of St. Minver sand-hills the legends about this unearthly personage are not so easily realized, except on a dark winter’s night, when the wind rages fiercely over the dunes and one hears a fearful sound, which the natives say is Tregeagle roaring because the sand-ropes that he made to bind his trusses of sand are all broken. St. Minver is not only known for its connection with the legend of Tregeagle, but it is one of the many parishes beloved by the Small People or Fairy Folk with whom Enys Tregarthen’s little book has mostly to do.

Piskeys danced in their rings on many a cliff and common and moor in that delightful parish, and on other wild moors, commons and cliffs in many another parish in North and East Cornwall. Fairy horsemen, locally known as night-riders, used to steal horses from farmers’ stables and ride them over the moors and commons till daybreak, when [xiii]they left them to perish, or to find their way back to their stalls.

Numberless stories of the little Ancient People used to be told, which the cottagers often repeated to each other on winter evenings as they sat round the peat fires, and some of these Enys Tregarthen has retold. The author writes concerning them: ‘Many of the legends were told me by very old people long since dead. The legend of the Doombar was told me when I was quite a small child by a very old person born late in the eighteenth century. The one of Giant Tregeagle came, I think, from the same source, but it is too far back to remember. I only know it was one of the stories of my childhood, as were also the Mole legend and some of the Piskey-tales, handed down from a dim past by our Cornish forebears.

‘The legends about the Little People are very old, and some assert to-day that the tales about the Piskeys are tales of a Pigmy race who inhabited Cornwall in the Neolithic Period, and that they are answerable for most of the legends of our Cornish fairies. If this be so, the older stories are legends of the little Stone Men.

‘The legends are numerous. Some of them are very fragmentary; but they are none the less interesting, for they not only give an insight into the world of the little Ancient People, but they also show how strongly the Cornish peasantry once believed in them, as perhaps they still do. For, [xiv]strange as it may seem in these matter-of-fact days, there are people still living who not only hold that there are Piskeys, but say they have actually seen them! One old woman in particular told me not many months ago that she had seen “little bits of men in red jackets” on the moors where she once lived. She used to be told about the Piskeys when she was a child, and the old people of her day used to tell how “the little bits of men” crept in through the keyhole of moorland cottages when the children were asleep to order their dreams.’

These stories are given to the world in the hope that many besides children, for whom they are specially written, will find them interesting, and all lovers of folk-lore will be grateful to know that the iron horse and other modern inventions have not yet succeeded in driving away the Small People, nor in banishing the weird legends from our loved ‘land of haunting charm.’

H. F.


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