The Banshee by Patricia Lysaght

The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger
Patricia Lysaght
Roberts Rinheardt, 1997
433 pages

It’s been a few months since I read this, but the information stands out in my mind more than most books do. I’d been talking about it recently, so i decided to go ahead and do my official review of it.

This is by far the most comprehensive, scholarly exploration of Irish banshee lore out there. Tired of fantasy fiction featuring male banshees, and confusion between banshees and other denizens of the Otherworld? This book sets the record straight.

The author draws a lot of her information from two sets of surveys about banshee lore; one is from the turn of the 20th century, and the other is from the 1970s. The surveys targeted regular, everyday people across Ireland in numerous counties, and Lysaght is careful to show the distribution of the respondents. Lysaght herself is concerned less with what mythology books have to say, and more what the common person in the country fo the banshee’s origin believed via oral tradition.

There’s also a lot of discussion as to what the banshee actually is (dead relative, faery woman, etc.) as well as her appearance. Her behavior is also scrutinized, as is the comb that is sometimes featured in anecdotes about her, and whether she is seen, heard or both. And there’s a good talk about the origins of the word bean-sidhe, “faery woman”, and the connotations thereof.

Lysaght has been absolutely meticulous in her research. Primary sources are a definite plus, and her bibliography is quite solid. Her writing style is excellent, too–rather than being bored by dry academic writing, I found myself drawn into her quest to find more information about this enigmatic member of mythology.

Five pawprints out of five.

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