“The tale tells that in times long past there was a dwelling of men beside a great wood. Before it lay a plain, not very great, but which was, as it were, an isle in the sea of woodland, since even when you stood on the flat ground, you could see trees everywhere in the offing, though as for hills, you could scarce say that there were any; only swellings-up of the earth here and there, like the upheavings of the water that one sees at whiles going on amidst the eddies of a swift but deep stream.”
“… they worshipped the kind acres which they themselves and their fathers had made fruitful, wedding them to the seasons of seed-time and harvest, that the birth that came from them might become a part of the kindred of the Wolf, and the joy and might of past springs and summers might run in the blood of the Wolfing children. And a dear God indeed to them was the Roof of the Kindred, that their fathers had built and that they yet warded against the fire and the lightning and the wind and the snow, and the passing of the days that devour and the years that heap the dust over the work of men. They thought of how it had stood, and seen so many generations of men come and go; how often it had welcomed the new-born babe, and given farewell to the old man: how many secrets of the past it knew; how many tales which men of the present had forgotten, but which yet mayhap men of times to come should learn of it; for to them yet living it had spoken time and again, and had told them what their fathers had not told them, and it held the memories of the generations and the very life of the Wolfings and their hopes for the days to be.”
This is the first book I have read by William Morris. I already had The Well at World’s End on my reading list, but I was in the mood for something with a bit more action in it, so I decided to start with this one instead.
This novel is historical fiction and also to some extent fantasy, although the fantasy elements tend to stay in the background. Morris includes some excellent poetry as well. It is a fictionalized portrait of the lives of the Germanic Goths and their war against imperial Rome. There are prophecies and battles and women who take part in defending their homes, although only men fight on the battlefield. The main character, Thiodolf, falls in love with a woman who is a seer and a daughter of the gods.
The Wolfings and their allies, the Laxings, live by a river in the forest of Mirkwood in a land called the Mark. If I hadn’t already known that J.R.R. Tolkien was influenced by Morris, that would make it pretty obvious. (Tolkien mentioned this book and The Roots of the Mountains as influences on Lord of the Rings.)
I have read a couple of short essays about this book that I found insightful: