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The Origins of Wizards, Witches and Fairies (Hardback)

Ancient History P&S History

By Simon Webb
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 208
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399000079
Published: 30th January 2022

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RRP £20.00

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This book tells the fascinating story of the origin of our ideas about wizards, witches and fairies. We all have a clear mental image of the pointed hats worn by such individuals, which are based upon actual headgear dating back 3,000 years to the Bronze Age. Carefully sifting through old legends, archaeological evidence and modern research in genetics, Simon Webb shows us how our notions about fairies and elves, together with human workers of magic, have evolved over the centuries.

This exploration of folklore, backed by the latest scientific findings, will present readers with the image of a lost world; the one used as the archetype for fantasy adventures from The Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones. In the process, the real nature of wizards will be revealed and their connection with the earliest European cultures thoroughly documented.

After reading this book, nobody will ever be able to view Gandalf the wizard in the same light and even old fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast will take on a richer and deeper meaning. In short, our perception of wizards, witches and fairies will be altered forever.

This was a super interesting read! I went into it thinking it would be a tale of magic, but it provides a very grounded, well-researched historical perspective on how common archetypes of wizards, witches and fairies came to be, and how it has permeated into our common cultural consciousness from 4000-5000 years ago to today. It illuminates how ubiquitous all these archetypes are in our daily lives, yet we never stop to wonder at its origins - well, this book delves into it. I loved how it incorporated many recent pop culture references as well, such that a reader will be able to relate what is said to something they are familiar with. At the same time, it espouses enough history in an accessible way that a reader unfamiliar with history (like myself) is able to understand. And a little bonus that made my Linguistics student heart pitter-patter with excitement: There's some discussion on linguistics!

I came away really feeling like I truly learnt something, and it really enriches my understanding of wizards, witches and fairies. While the conjectures postulated in this book are more grounded in reality, debunking much of the mysticism surrounding wizards, witches and fairies, it doesn't necessarily take away from the mysticism; instead, I felt like I got a deeper appreciation for how these myths and folklore came to be, and the power of human imagination and the oral tradition, to have endured for so long and morphed into what it is today. Truly fascinating!

NetGalley, Cleo Loi

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

"The Origins of Wizards, Witches and Fairies" is chock full of ideas that have you rolling your eyes at yourself, because they seem so obvious once they've been pointed out to you! This is a very, very interesting read that's written well and has clearly been researched thoroughly. I enjoyed it a lot, but now I feel like I have to reread a lot of fairy tales to see what else I missed!

NetGalley, Dawn Lewis

The origins of wizards, witches and fairies piqued my interest as soon as I saw it. I love everything fantasy and love history regarding Witches etc.
I found this to be a fascinating and intriguing read, parts I hadn't given much thought to before.
I felt that this book was well written and well researched. It's definitely for those that enjoy the fantasy world and want the extra history information..

NetGalley, Marcia Deans

It was so fascinating to read some of the origins of very famous stories having their roots some 11,000 years ago. I never would have thought this. Or that of the sound of music dating back to the bronze age. Not only was the book informative it was told in a way that was interesting, if you find yourself a curious person. This book dares to answer all the questions you never had but want answered once you start thinking about the subject matter. It's also a bit philosophical too which works nicely with fairy tales.

NetGalley, Suzanne Rickel

The Origins of Wizards, Witches and Fairies by Simon Webb is a concise and well-researched bringing together of the many strands of both the stories themselves and the various ways of tracing their origins.

>From research specifically tracing the "family lines" of the many stories to using archaeological findings to posit ideas about how much of the fiction is based, minus the supernatural aspect, on real (or believed to be real) entities. That isn't to say those at the time didn't ascribe a supernatural power to some of the people and creatures but that in looking back we are seeing very real precursors to what later became fantasy characters.

The writing is engaging and keeps the narrative of the history moving right along. It may not be thriller-reading exciting but you are compelled to keep reading because the information is so interesting.

While definitely of interest to those who read a lot of fantasy it is also just as interesting for those who like literary history as well. It isn't just the fantasy genre that has been built on this foundation.

NetGalley, Jack Messer

This was a fascinating look at the origins of many fantasy elements. I love fantasy but admittedly had never given much thought to the common fantasy framework. Why do many fantasy stories feel like they take place in a shared universe? Why is iron harmful to fairies? Why do witches wear pointy hats? The author offers plausible non-supernatural explanations for the origins of our modern ideas of fantasy and this shared framework. I learned a lot in this book and will definitely be thinking of fantasy differently from now on... Recommend for fans of fantasy.

NetGalley, Lauren M

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

An utterly intriguing and painstakingly well researched book. Mr. Webb has compiled all of his research into this book and gifted readers with a fantastic resource that dives deep into history and folklore.

NetGalley, Michelle Smith

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was perfect to read around Halloween. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read this because it is so interesting and there were moments of epiphany when making connections to my favorite fantasy characters.

NetGalley, Summer McCoy

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Best October read. So much fun and very informative.

NetGalley, Blind Bat Books Bakunzi

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I loved this book. I thought it was really well written and quite interesting. It's a book I will be suggesting to other people. Very good.

NetGalley, Norma Carroll

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Real though provoking book. I have always suspected that stories I was told as a child had a very, very long history and as I got older, I realized many were object lessons as well. I thought the the wizard link to a once living one-eyed man was amazing--and credible. It made sense! I am still a lover of told stories and never tire of researching for new ones. It's interesting to see how they are all connected and reach so far back in time. Simon Webb has really done his homework and come up with an amazing book. Story lovers are going to love this.

NetGalley, Catherine Hankins

Very well researched, it gives a good insight about where magic, witches etc comes from and everything in between. . I really enjoyed learning more about everything surrounding the Arthurian legend as it is my favourite since forever.

NetGalley, Josefa Torremocha

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Wow fantastic book and totally changed my perception of all things wizardry ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

NetGalley, Michelle Coates

I adored this book it was such an interesting read that delved into history along with popular wizards, witches and fairies from popular culture. I didn't want it to end I really enjoyed it.

NetGalley, Aria Harlow

So, let’s talk about the book…first off, it’s really good. The publisher tends to specialize in military themes, but lately they’ve been going off the beaten path and veering in all sorts of (to me) much more interesting and entertaining directions. Like this book. To be fair, the tone of it isn’t quite the jocularly charming one of their traditional diversions, but it’s nowhere near pedantic. What you get is a well-informed, well-presented and, despite the numerous digressions all of which with a purpose, pleasingly concise book that offers exactly what the title promises.
Since proverbially there’s nothing new under the sun, it shouldn’t surprise you to find out that the modern ideas we have of wizards, witches and fairies are actually based on centuries of historical past (some factual, some invented) and have profound and elaborate sociocultural bases. It is these winding paths that the author so expertly travels in this book from prehistoric constructs to much more recent ideas.
Pointy hats (or horned helmets) and magic wands will be explained, fairies will be linked to long-gone ancestorial branch, witches will be culturally contextualized. And, because of the excellently meandering ways of this book, it’ll take you from the beginning of civilization to present day and span an impressive variety of subjects, continents, eras, etc. A most striking accomplishment for such a slender tome, this book will not only educate and entertain, it’ll actually give you an entire new and informed framework for thinking about the cultural history of things we find ubiquitous in modern culture, be it fantasy tales or October window decorations and customs. Excellent read. Recommended.

NetGalley, Mia D

A compact and engaging book which explores the origins of our modern love of wizards, witches and fairies.

Although some of the evidence can be seen as coincidental, it is food for thought. Fairytales and folk stories are much older and darker than the Disney counterparts. Ritual killings from the Bronze Age are eerily similar to the means they murdered witches in England. Our ancestors cast their goods into pools, hoping to gain favour to the gods. In modern times, we throw coins into fountains and make a wish. Our school holidays mirror the Celtic year. It is fascination to see how ancient customs have become ingrained into our day-to-day lives to the point we take them for granted, and rarely stop and ask why.

If you are interested in our ancient history and folklore, it is an intriguing book to read.

NetGalley, Emma L Cox
 Simon Webb

About Simon Webb

Simon Webb is the author of a number of non-fiction books, ranging from academic works on education to popular history. He works as a consultant on the subject of capital punishment to television companies and filmmakers and also writes for various magazines and newspapers; including the Times Educational SupplementThe Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.

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