A new book by my friend Pete Castle

Here’s a little book (190 pages) to recommend to anyone interested in storytelling! Where Dragons Soar, by Pete Castle, has been published by The History Press, Stroud, this year.

Like Pete’s other books with The History Press (Derbyshire Folk Tales, 2010 and Nottinghamshire Folk Tales, 2012), Where Dragons Soar is a delight. All sixty-seven stories in the volume are simply and engagingly told so they can be enjoyed by readers of any age and background. I suspect they’ll prove especially useful for storytellers who want to recruit material for gigs involving animal stories, because there’s a rich variety of tales here and each of them begs to be told. This is hardly surprising, since most of them have been in the oral tradition for longer that we can know. Pete has added a few modern tales to the brew as well, but these are no less tellable than their more venerable companions.

In compiling the book, Pete tells us he chose stories that can be called “British” because they’ve circulated in Britain for long enough to become “naturalised”, even if we know they’ve been imported from elsewhere. Another criterion for selection was that each story had to involve one or more animals as its principal focus. Some have human participants, too, but in those cases the humans play a secondary role, even when they spend parts of their lives in animal form (e.g. as werewolves or selkies). Most of the animals are mammals, but there are birds, reptiles, frogs and fish as well – and, as the title indicates, dragons. (Are dragons mammals or reptiles? The synonym worm or wyrm suggests the latter, but modern zoology textbooks are silent on the subject.) Apart from dragons, all our favourite folktale creatures are there: dogs and cats, foxes and wolves, bulls, horses, donkeys, bears, monkeys, hares, seals, lions, unicorns…

The book is divided into eleven chapters, each comprising stories about particular sorts of animals, and the text is interspersed with charming black-and-white illustrations. The author’s introduction is illuminating, explaining his selection from the hundreds (thousands?) of animal-related stories available, and there is a short bibliography at the end of the volume. On the final page there is also a short ‘plug’ for the Society for Storytelling, which is worth joining for any storyteller, professional or amateur.

Our local reading group next meets on Tuesday 5th April and I shall be recommending Where Dragons Soar ­– an ideal birthday or Christmas present, and perfect holiday or bedtime reading. I shall also mention it, proudly displaying my own copy, at the next storytelling evenings I attend (Matlock, Buxton, Glossop and Hebden Bridge). I’m very glad to have the book on my shelves. I don’t expect it to gather much dust there!



  • “Some have human participants, too, but in those cases the humans play a secondary role, even when they spend parts of their lives in animal form (e.g. as werewolves or selkies).”

    Ah, if only I had the money. This is a nice write up Mark. Detailed and friendly.

    I’d love to buy the Blue Crow volume too, but I’m afraid that will have to wait. Maybe you could treat us to a passage from your own contribution? I’d love to read it.

    best regards to your many friends, Yolanda

    • Mark Henderson

      Thanks, Yolanda! Yes, I really enjoyed Pete’s book. Among other things it contains one of the best written versions of “The Small-Tooth Dog”, Derbyshire’s version of “Beauty and the Beast”, that I’ve ever read.

      I might post an excerpt from one or more published stories at some point (thanks for asking!) but I’d need to check with editors and publishers first because there can be copyright issues. Any story you post on your own personal blog counts as “published”, so if it’s already been published elsewhere… I don’t want to get entangled in the multiple coils of copyright law!

      • Hi Mark,

        Most books I come across do not consider the inclusion of extracts, small quotations, as a breach of copyright as far as I know.

        Best wishes, Yolanda

        • Mark Henderson

          As I understand the law, Yolanda, you can quote up to fifty words from another source verbatim (citation is de rigueur if not obligatory!) but you need permission from author and publisher to quote more. But maybe I’m out of date…

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