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File:YoungBekie.jpg

Burd Isabel and Billy Blind, from Young Bekie

Has nothing to do with children.

In the late 19th century, Harvard professor Francis James Child was concerned that the tradition of folk songs in the British Isles was endangered--songs were dying out, unrecorded. He made it his personal mission to collect as many traditional folk songs as he could from England and Scotland. (Including Ireland, he felt, was way too ambitious a goal. He was right. Ireland has its own folk tradition, which is still active, with new ballads for major political events and new stories up to the present day.)

He got about 300 of them, not including variants; many of the ballads have a dozen variants, or more, and most have several. Even today, ballads are often referred to by the numbers Child assigned them. See here for the full text of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads.

They range, as ballads often do, from Fairy Tales in verse form all the way through to accounts of historical events, with historical characters, perhaps a little refined for story form. Many are recognizably popular forms of medieval Chivalric Romances.

Many of them are heavy on dialect, especially the Border Ballads, those collected on the English-Scottish border. Metrical considerations means that using standard English often requires a total rewrite. This also helps keep the number of Evil Matriarchs high; unlike a Fairy Tale, you can not merely Bowdlerise her into a Wicked Stepmother, because the terms change and no longer fit the meter. A Wicked Stepmother appears in different ballads than the Evil Matriarch.

Many Murder Ballads are Child Ballads. Robin Hood has so many that Child lumps them all together in their own volume.

Child Ballads with their own pages:
Tropes common in the Child Ballads:

Those interested in a more thorough and detailed discussion might wish to check out this post and comment thread.

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