Shock! The Black Dog of Bungay: A Case Study in Folklore
by Dr. David Waldron and Christopher Reeve
Shock!The Black Dog of Bungay
This is probably the first review of a book that I have written that it is not related to Dorset’s folklore. The reason why I have chosen to review this book is due to the fact that it is a study of perhaps one of my favourite creatures in folklore and the paranormal – The Black Dog.
Black dogs, in a plethora of situations, feature prominently in folklore worldwide.
When I was collecting material for Dark Dorset I was fascinated by the stories of these supernatural animals in my own county – most notably ‘The Black Dog of Lyme’ and ‘The Roy Dog of Portland’. Perhaps the most famous in the British Isles is “The legend of the Black Dog of Bungay”. I was fortunate to visit the Suffolk town of Bungay, when I was visiting my late uncle in October 2002. I was a little disappointed to find that the town’s main symbol of identity and most significant local myth wasn’t made enough of. For example there was no literature in the local library. Apparently their copy of ‘A Strange And Terrible Wonder: The Story of the Black Dog of Bungay’ by local historian Christopher Reeve was stolen and I was even more saddened to find that the famous weather-vane depicting the canine apparition riding the lighting, which is often found in paranormal books. Had apparently gone AWOL for three years, until the following year it was returned fully restored and refurbished.
So I was delighted, at last, to hear of the announcement of a new publication called Shock! The Black Dog of Bungay: A Case study in folklore by Dr. David Waldron and Christopher Reeve, published by Hidden Publishing.
This book concentrates mainly on the incident that occurred in the small Suffolk towns of Bungay and Blythburgh in the late 16th Century. It is claimed that on the 4th August 1577 a violent thunderstorm shook the church of St. Mary’s, Bungay, accompanied by a fearful apparition of a black dog, which entered the nave unseen by the assembled parishioners. Two of the congregation were touched by the animal and were promptly killed. A third parishoner was “drawn together and shrunk up as like a piece of leather.” according to Abraham Fleming’s account of this event in his pamphlet of 1577. Even stranger, on the very same day, seven miles away at the Holy Trinity church of Blythburgh, three parishioners were killed and others ‘blasted’ by the demonic creature, an event duly recorded in the church documents.
This story has inspired and fascinated generations who have lived in and visited the town for centuries. This became the foundation of the research for Dr. David Waldron, an anthropologist, from the University of Ballarat, Australia. He became interested in the legend whilst visiting his parents who live in the parish (his father being the former Minister at Bungay's Emmanuel Church). He decided, with the collaboration of local historian and curator of Bungay Museum Christopher Reeve, to delve deeper into the story to separate fact from fiction.
The book traces the further development of this story from its origins in the pamphlet of Abraham Fleming, where the first mention of the creature appears. It illustrates the social, political and religious background of it’s time and place to try and explain the nature of the Chinese whisper-like growth of this tale. It explores just about every angle from which one could wish to come at this story. This includes the life and times in Elizabethan Bungay, the dog’s folkloric significance and symbolism, cultural influences, its religious connotations and links to other similar tales.
It is a scholarly approach but that is not to say that it is not a cracking good read. Basically it gives you everything you ever wanted to know about this beast and more. You will find yourself thinking more deeply about everything surrounding these types of stories and to dismiss them as mere folktales would be to have missed the point. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the serious study of folklore.
Reviewed by Mark North - 2010
Below: video of official Book Launch of 'Shock! The Black Dog of Bungay: A Case study in folklore' by Dr. David Waldron and Christopher Reeve at St. Mary's church, Bungay, Suffolk. 27th March 2010.
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