According to legend, runaway slaves could attain a sort of freedom by breaking off a branch -- the Golden Bough -- from a sacred tree. If the runaway could kill the tree's attendant priest, he would become King of the Wood until his defeat by a new challenger. This 1890 work by Sir James George Frazer, an expert in myth and religion, was inspired by the legend. An extensive study of the cults, rites, and myths of antiquity, The Golden Bough explores ancient customs and their parallels with early Christianity. Frazer's definitions of such terms as "magic," "religion," and "science" proved highly useful to his successors, and his explications of the legends profoundly influenced generations of prominent psychologists, writers, and poets. This abridgment of his multivolume magnum opus omits footnotes and occasionally condenses text; nevertheless, as the author himself observed, all of the original work's main principles remain intact, along with ample illustrative examples.
Scottish folklorist and anthropologist Sir James Frazer (1854-1941) spent three decades assembling The Golden Bough, a pioneering study of ancient cults, rites, and myths. Generations of writers and poets, including Sigmund Freud and T. S. Eliot, were inspired and influenced by his work.