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Thursday, 28 April 2016

‘Behind the Text 33. ‘The Wanderer’ 3 : ‘Isle Of Disorder’


This book is the third in ‘The Wanderer’ saga and is set in Ireland (981-84) divided between the native Celts and Viking invaders (largely based in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork & Limerick). The earliest written chapter I can date is 2:2 on 30/12/93 but it was extensively revived both in 1998 and subsequently.

Ethelwulf the Wanderer and his followers land near Waterford keen to sell their swords in this land of turmoil but quickly find themselves out of their depth. The machinations of a treacherous employer and their destruction of him win few friends. Ethelwulf’s involvement with Gormflath (a dominant figure in that period being married in order to Olaf, King of Dublin, and then the rivals Mael Sechlainn & Brian Boru before retiring into a nunnery) make matters worse and the strangers are expelled from Ireland – including a new recruit, Gunnar Thorgeirsson, destined to be a major figure in the rest of the saga

This book is heavily involved with historical events so the detailed End-Notes (easily accessible) should be very useful. However, it also deals with myth and magic which affect events in a manner not seen elsewhere in ‘The Wanderer’ saga. I was attracted to basing part of the saga in Ireland by both the above factors. To some extent I exceed my aim to write HISTORICAL Fiction but I make no apology because all may well be included in  FICTION. Could such creatures as a Phouka or Pishogue really exist? And what about the goddess Morrigan, especially in a form appearing here? They all exist in Irish mythology and folklore

I’ve made much play with characterisation in ‘Isle of Disorder’. There are villains – Brian of Clonmel and Harald, the psychotic killer outside the walls of Waterford; then the more ambiguous such as the traitor, Fergus O’Malley or Queen Gormflath or Cuan the Pishogue; finally here are the good, but few of them, such as Padrid O’Mara and his daughter, Deirdre. Perhaps the most important character to appear for the first time is the Gall-Gael, Gunnar Thorgeirsson, a self-serving master of the axe whose dreams are so cruelly shattered. Throughout the rest of ‘The Wanderer’ his character starts to unfold, gradually learning to master weaknesses such as his temper and to use his brain as well as his muscles. Here, for perhaps the first time, Ethelwulf reveals abilities in battlefield tactics – much borrowed from ancient authorities. In this book the three leading characters of the saga (Ethelwulf, Edwine and Morkere, twin sons of Elfhere Ethwoldsson) deepen their characterisation; the latter two abandon hope of return to home and family while Ethelwulf lays aside memories filled with sorrow and accepts the ‘wyrd’ (fate) of lifetime exile.

Bob Hyslop

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