My initial thoughts on “The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind” by Claude Lecouteux were, this is SO COOL! In case that’s not enough for you to go out and give this book a try, let me give you some details.
Now this isn’t my first rodeo, I’ve read all kinds of ghosty folklore type books. However, this book discusses revenants and ghosts from a whole new perspective, through the lens of medieval literature. When I first picked up the book I thought, a former professor of medieval literature wrote this book? Not what I’m used to seeing in the bios of what would be lumped into the ever growing “paranormal” book category. Once I started reading it, I was like, hell yeah, bust out those sagas professor!
How do I love thee “The Return of the Dead”? Let me count the ways. (See I can be all literature-like when I want to be.)
One, it’s nice to see Lecouteux giving revenants their due. Revenants are the animated corpses of the medieval era and honestly, they’re not discussed as much as I’d like. I found myself asking, when was the last time I read anything that even mentioned revenants? I’m not positive, but I think it was in my White Wolf gaming phase, before I moved to a town where all these gamer heathens play Hero and Dungeons and Dragons. Anyway, what I’m saying is that I suspect there are many out there that aren’t familiar with the term revenant, and that’s a shame. It’s a fantastic name for a truly creepy thing. If you’re interested in the paranormal, read this book and up your game by learning about some old school haunting.
Two, sagas. This book is loaded, jam-packed, nearly bursting at the seams with excerpts of sagas. From the “Saga of Kormak” to the “Saga of the Volsungs”, you will find great excerpts and explanations of the ancient literary traditions of medieval times. All with an eye to the restless dead. Sagas are cool, end of discussion.
Three, perspective. Thanks to thoughtful writing and well selected excerpts, I feel I have a better understanding of the medieval Pagan mind. I found it surprising, but how people view death and their dead offers great insight into their lives. All of you modern day Pagans that are interested in learning about the pre-church lives of medieval European citizenry should definitely check this book out.
Four, perspective. That’s what’s fantastic about perspectives, there can be more than one! Due to the time period this book focuses on, Lecouteux has to address the influence of the church. “The Return of the Dead” focuses equally on steps the church took to eliminate Pagan beliefs and how the citizens adapted to the church’s influence. I find the evolution of religions fascinating, making this my favorite thing about the book.
Here we are, at the end of my review. To sum up, and touch back on my initial thoughts. This is SO COOL!