The boggart was a much-feared, little-studied supernatural being from the north of England. Against the odds, it survives today, whether in place-names or in works of fantasy literature – not least the Harry Potter books.

Dr Simon Young’s research into this mercurial and mysterious figure pioneers two methods for collecting folklore: first, the use of hundreds of thousands of words on the boggart from digitised ephemera; second, about 1,100 contemporary boggart memories that derive from social media surveys and personal interviews relating to the interwar and postwar years.

Through a radical combination of this new information and an interdisciplinary approach – involving dialectology, folklore, Victorian history, supernatural history, oral history, place-name studies, sociology and more – it is possible to reconstruct boggart beliefs, experiences and tales.

The boggart was not, as we have been led to believe, a ‘goblin’. Rather, this was a much more general term encompassing all solitary, and often ambivalent, supernatural beings, from killer mermaids to headless phantoms to shape-changing ghouls. In the same period that boggart beliefs were dying, folklorists continuously misrepresented the boggart and the modern fantasy version was born of these misunderstandings.

Dr Simon Young is a British folklore historian based in Italy. He has written extensively on the nineteenth-century supernatural. His book The Boggart (from Exeter University Press) and The Nail in the Skull and Other Victorian Urban Legends (from Mississippi University Press) are both due out in 2022. He is the editor of Exeter New Approaches to Legends, Folklore and Popular Legends and teaches history at University of Virginia’s Siena Campus (CET). Over the years he has run courses on the History of Christianity, Italian Food History, Italian Media History, Contemporary Italian History, the Second World War in Italy and Italian Renaissance History.

Your host for this event will be the writer Edward Parnell, author of Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country. Edward lives in Norfolk and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He is the recipient of an Escalator Award from the National Centre for Writing and a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Ghostland (William Collins, 2019), a work of narrative non-fiction, is a moving exploration of what has haunted our writers and artists – as well as the author’s own haunted past; it was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley 2020 prize, an award given to a literary autobiography of excellence. Edward’s first novel The Listeners (2014), won the Rethink New Novels Prize.

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Date: 2 June 2022. Time: 8pm – 9.30pm (London time)

£5 – £10 & by donation