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THE BARDIC HANDBOOK: The Complete Manual for the Twenty-First Century Bard

By Kevan Manwaring, published by Gothic Image at £14.99. 320pp. ISBN: 0-906362-67-9 (Reviewed by Blackbird Hollins)

This excellent book is a treasure trove of information. It is accessible and nicely laid out with full colour illustrations and detailed contents and index pages.
The book is structured as a twelve month course designed to take someone from total beginner to a basic level of understanding and ability. As someone quite familiar with bardic lore, I’ve enjoyed dipping in and out of this book – the short sections lend themselves to this approach. Regardless of your skill and experience, you will find something of interest here.
In a work of this scope, only an overview of each subject is possible. The short sections provide general information and are a good starting point for further research and inspiration. Extensive resource lists are given for those wishing to pursue topics in more depth.
The Handbook contains a good balance between information and bardic material. Most of the classics are within, including the Dialogue of the Two Sages and the ubiquitous Tale of Taliesin. But there are also dozens of lesser known tales, songs and poems which would form a solid foundation to the repertoire of a budding bard.
The author emphasises that higher levels of bardic craft take decades of study to achieve, and that being a bard is as much about performance skills as poetic talent. To this end, there are excellent sections on how to begin performing, from how to market yourself to dealing with heckling.
So what’s not to like? Not much. Being a miserable old git, I can find lots to nitpick about, but given the vast range of this book, it’s understandable that the necessary generalisations lead to a few glib statements and inaccuracies.
My only real disappointment were the ‘Eco-Bardic Principles’, which are given as a code of practice. These first come up in the all too brief section on cursing – which only really consists of an exhortation not to do it. Confusingly, the Wiccan Rede and principle of Three Fold Return are the only reasons given for not doing so. I’m not sure what relevance they, or the ‘Eco-Bardic Principles’, have to the old Bardic practices, or to the British and Irish cultures with which we are mostly concerned. Given that creating curses and satires was, and is, an important part of the bardic craft, it’s a shame this subject wasn’t treated seriously. 

That – and assorted other nitpicks – aside, this is a useful resource for anyone interested in bardic skills. Anyone completing the course would find themselves well equipped for most aspects of bardic life.