I was given a copy of The Golden Bough as a present when I was a teenager. I remember finding it quite hard reading, it’s very Victorian in its style and can be hard going. What to make of it? Well, Frazer came in for a lot of harsh and scathing criticism from different quarters – be they religious or academic; however, sometimes I feel it is a little unfair as Frazer himself stated that his work was speculative and not meant to be some kind of ethnographic treatise. Furthermore, Frazer was a man of his times, so, inevitably you’ll come across Victorian attitudes towards different people around the world too. Having said that, I still found it a fascinating read and if it does nothing else, it gives you names, places, ideas and hypotheses to explore. Despite its flaws, I’d still say it’s worth a read.
I’ve also read The White Goddess, another book that came in for fierce criticism, again perhaps a little unfairly in that it was criticised for not being something that Graves probably never meant it to be in the first place. Nevertheless, Graves was without doubt a great poet and his skill is such that I’d heed Greywolf’s warning, many of the ideas found in The White Goddess are so convincing that you can easily fall into the trap of being misled into thinking that they were part of some body of “authentic” lore. In fact, The White Goddess has generally been rejected by the academics involved in Celtic studies, yet has “plagued” much non-academic writing on the subject ever since. I’d approach it like you would approach Tolkien, for an understanding of Germanic/Nordic folklore and mythos you could do a lot worse than reading The Hobbit or The Lord of The Rings, yet you’d accept that they were modern works of fiction and concede that Tolkien took his own flights of fancy too.