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Thursday, 28 April 2016

‘Behind the Text 31. ‘The Wanderer’ 1 : ‘Witness To Murder’



This book may be the first in ‘The Wanderer’ saga but it wasn’t the first written - for the details go to ‘Behind The Text’ 35. This book was started on 23 Oct 1992 but  was the first part to have detailed End-Notes.. Nine ebooks make up ‘The Wanderer’ saga, originally appearing as a paperback trilogy, which spans the northern world in the late 10th century. The hero, Ethelwulf of Arne, travels from England to Palestine over 22 I deliberately started the work slowly, getting the reader OUT of the 21st century and into Dorset in 979. It’s part of England which eighty years before was divided between the native Saxons and the invading Vikings, resulting in the use of several languages and dialects, differing customs and values, both Christianity and paganism - all resting on a tradition of honour and vengeance and racial hostility

This book is set 979.Ethelwulf is a nobleman fighting off control by his widowed mother and drawn towards a neighbour, ten years his senior, the step-mother of King Edward. But the Queen at Corfe is plotting for her young son, Ethelred, to be the sovereign and that means assassinating her step-son. Ethelwulf by chance witnesses the murder on 18 March, narrowly escapes with his life and is blamed for the crime, becoming a Wolfs-Head or outlaw. Although the area is terrorised by Haakon, chief assassin and tool of the Queen, Ethelwulf gains supporters and, trusting Truth will out, challenges that authority. It doesn’t and he fights his way out of England at a frightful personal cost.

The Wanderer’ has extensive notes ‘so you can learn as well as be entertained! Full of historical detail, this is an epic saga!’ (to quote one reviewer). Certainly I have my influences (e.g. Franz Bengtsson’s ‘The Long Ships’ and the Icelandic sagas) but it rests firmly on historical events. My hero tends to interfere when he shouldn’t (starting at Corfe castle and ending in a back-street in Jerusalem), wins both loyalty and enmity, drifts into the life of an exile affecting his personality (see the Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Wanderer’ for that aspect). His cousins, Edwine and Morkere, represent the good and darker side of his personality. Such inner turmoil appears in other characters (e.g. the Queen and Haakon)

The background is a 10th century England perhaps more organised and ‘tidied up’ than reality. Once the story gets going it moves quickly  - sometimes graphically – towards a climax with a sea-battle in Poole Harbour.

Bob Hyslop

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