Anderson, Karl. "Scandinavian Elements in The Roots of the Mountains," from "Scandinavian Elements in the Works of William Morris." Diss. Harvard University, 1940, 319-35..
. . . Very marked is the influence that [the Icelandic sagas] exerted upon Morris’s next prose romance also, The Roots of the Mountains, which was begun in January, 1889, about a month after The House of the Wolfings appeared, was completed in October, and was in the hands of the public in November of the same year.3 In this story, which is laid in an indefinite location at an equally vague time and which describes an attack made by several tribes of noble, stalwart men, the most notable being the Tribe of the Face and the Tribe of the Wolf, upon an encroaching race of a decidedly inferior nature called the dusky Men, the number of Scandinavian details is equally as great as – if not greater than – in the first; but this tale as a whole has less of the saga atmosphere, for, as compared with the first, it is less heroic and elevated in tone, the expression lacks much of the terseness and restraint that was prominent in The House
of the Wolfings, and throughout the tale we find more warmth, color, and sentiment.
Mackail says of this work,
For combination and balance of his qualities it may perhaps be ranked first among his prose romances. It has not the strength of its predecessor, “the House of the Wolfings,” nor the fairy charm of its successor, “The Wood beyond the World.” But in its union of the gravity of the Saga with the delicate and profuse ornament of the romance, it may perhaps take the first place among the three as a work of art.1
When we compare Morris’s later romances with the first two, we find that this change in style from the method of the sagas to that of the romances becomes more and more pronounced, so that in the last tales that came from his pen we have pure romance. Oliver Elton in his A Survey of English Literature: 1780-1880 describes this development thus:
The tales change in character. The process from Jason to Sigurd begins to be reversed. The romances begin in a saga-like and a more heroic manner, and end in a softer and more shimmering one. The comparative precision of time, place, and trappings in The House of the Wolfings contrasts with the dateless enchanted land of the last unfinished story, The Sundering Flood. This recession from reality may be described as a movement from epic to romance.2
I shall comment further upon this change in connection with the later romances.
As I have already said, we find a host of Scandinavian details introduced into The Roots of the Mountains. As in the first romance, a number of the terms used in connection with the legislative and
judiciary activities of the people described are reminiscent of the sagas. Almost countless are the references to the “Thing,”1 the “Folk-thing,”2 the “Gate-thing,”3, the “Thing-stead,”4 the “Mote,”5 the “Folk-mote,”6 the “man-mote,”7 the “Mote-stead,”8 the “Mote-field,”9 the “Mote-hall,”10 the “Mote-house,”11 the
“Doom-ring,”1 and the “Speech-mound.”2 Furthermore, in many of the accounts that Morris gives in this tale of the procedure followed at the various “Things” and “Motes,” he draws upon Scandinavian sources. Thus, on two occasions he describes in detail the ceremony of “hallowing the Thing”; the second account, which is the longer one, runs thus:
So the Alderman fell to hallowing in the Folk-mote: he went up to the Altar of the Gods, and took the Gold-ring off it, and did it on his arm; then he drew his sword and waved it toward the four airts, and spake; and the noise and shouting fell, and there was silence but for him:
“Herewith I hallow in this Folk-mote of the Men of the Dale and the Sheepcotes and the Woodland, in the name of the Warrior and the Earth-god and the Fathers of the kindreds. Now let not the peace of the Mote be broken. Let no man rise against man, or bear blade or hand, or stick or stone against any. If any man break the Peace of the Holy Mote, let him be a man accursed, a wild-beast in the Holy Places; an outcast from home and hearth, from bed and board, from mead and acre; not to be holpen with bread, nor flesh, nor wine; nor flax, nor wool, nor any cloth; nor with sword, nor shield, nor axe, nor plough-share; nor with horse, nor ox, nor ass; with no saddle-beast nor draught-beast; nor with wain, nor boat, nor way-leading; now with fire nor water; nor with any world’s wealth. Thus let him who hath cast out man be cast out by man. Now is hallowed-in the Folk-mote of the Men of the Dale and the Sheepcotes and the Woodlands.”
Therewith he waxed his sword again toward the four airts, and went and sat down in his place.3See Collected Works, XV, 4, 1.20; 9, 1.22; 101, 1.26; 102, 11.11 and 13; 110, 1.17; 113, 1.26; 115, 1.26; 123, 11.25 and 36-37; 124, 11.1 and 28; 129, 1.2; 172, 11.5-6; 264, 1.14; 274, 1.16; 291, 1.33; 294, 1.3; 301, 1.12; 370, 1.29; and 408, 11.23 and 27.
In the early literature of Scandinavia there are numerous references to this custom of “hallowing the Thing,”1 but there is not, so far as I know, any complete description of the ceremony, so that for his accounts Morris must have drawn to a great extent upon his own imagination. One detail, the chieftain’s wearing of the gold-ring on his arm, is frequently mentioned in the sagas; one of the best descriptions of this ring is to be found in the Eyrbyggja saga,2 which was either the first or the second work that Morris translated from the Icelandic. His account of the Alderman’s waving his sword “toward the four airts” at the beginning and at the end of the ceremony seems, however, to be his own invention, for this detail is not mentioned in the Scandinavian accounts. Moreover, the speech of the Alderman is apparently in great part Morris’s own. The formula or formulae that were used in opening the ancient Scandinavian Things are not given in the sagas or the early Scandinavian lay-books. However, there is an Old Norse formula fairly similar to Morris’s, which is called the “tyrgðamál,” or the “speech of truce”; this is presented in full in two of the sagas which we know Morris translated into English.3 It is not at all unlikely that he had this Old Norse oath in mind when he composed the speech of the Alderman, for in the “tyrgðamál” we find a rather
similar punishment promised to anyone who should break the peace, and the nature of the punishment is here graphically described, as in the passage from Morris, through the piling up of concrete, vivid images, most of which are grouped together in alliterative phrases. Thus, in Morris’s translation of the “tyrgðamál” we read,
“This is the beginning of our speech of truce, that God may be at peace with us all; so also shall we be men at peace between ourselves and of good accord, at ale and at eating, at meets and at man-motes, at church-goings and in king’s house….Knife we shall share and shorn meat, yea, and all other things between us, even as friends and not foes….But he of us who tramples on truce settled, or fights after full troth given, he shall be so far wolf-driven and chased, as men furthest follow up wolves, Christian men churches seek, heathen men temples tend, fires flare up, earth grows green, son names a mother’s name, ships sail, shields glitter, sun shines, snow wanes, Fin states….
“He shall shun churches and Christian men, God’s houses and men’s, and every home but hell….
“Now are we at one, and at peace wheresoever we meet on land or on water, on ship or on snowshoe, on high seas or horseback:
Oars to share
Thoft or thole plank
If that be needful.
…Let him have the grace of God who holdeth the truce, but him have God’s grame who riveth rightful truce…..1
At one of the Things described in The Roots of the Mountains, a chieftain who is momentarily carried away by his ire forgets the sanctity of the assembly and draws his sword, but before he can strike a blow he is quieted by calmer spirits; for this “troubling of the Peace of the Holy Thing” he pays a fine.2 Breaking the peace of the Thing seems to have been a fairly common
occurrence in Scandinavia; there are a number of references to this offence in the sagas.1
In the description that he gives in The Roots of the Mountains of the treatment of the crime of “manslaying” in this early state, Morris also introduces several customs often mentioned in the sagas. Thus, when Folk-might, the chief of an alien tribe, is driven by the force of necessity to plunder the home of a miserly member of the House of the Face, and in so doing slays a man, he leaves his spear in the wound “so that he might be known hereafter, and that he might be said not to have murdered Rusty but to have slain him.”2 Such was the usual procedure in early Scandinavia also, according to the sagas.3 As a result of this robbery and killing, Folk-might, who is then unknown to all but one of the members of the tribe of the Face, is outlawed;4 later, when Folk-might and some of his followers come to one of the Folk-motes of the House of the Face to seek the aid of this tribe against the Dusky Men, Folk-might confesses his guilt and offers to make atonement, either by paying a fine, “handselling self-doom” to his accuser, or by accepting a challenge to “Holmgang.”5 The punishing of robbery or
manslaughter by a sentence of outlawry or by the imposition of a fine is repeatedly mentioned in the sagas,1 these being the usual penalties inflicted not only in medieval Scandinavia but among all the early Germanic tribes; definitely Scandinavian, however, are the “handselling of self-doom” and the “challenging to Holmgang.” “Hansel,” as Biber, who comments on these two expressions, points out in the section of his study called “Supren des Altnordischen,” is explained in one of the indexes to Volume I of Morris and Magnússon’s Saga Library as “the customary sign manual to a binding contract in an illiterate age,” and the term”self-doom” is defined at the end of Volume II of the same series as “a sort of legal surrender at discretion by the offender.”2 Both words, “handsala” and “sjalfda͜emi,” occur frequently in the sagas Morris knew.3 With the institution of “Holmgang” we have already seen that Morris was familiar.4
As I pointed out above, Folkmight offers to pay a fine for his slaying of Rusty; this offer being accepted, he is condemned to “pay a full blood-wite…, that is to say, the worth of three hundreds in weed-stuff in whatso goods thou wilt.”5 In stating the amount of the fine in these terms Morris is making use of one of the common early Scandinavian units of measure; as Vigfússon explains in his Dictionary, the word “hundrað” was often used to signfy “a hundred and twenty ells of the stuff wadmal, and then simply value to that amount….”6 However,
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Vigfússon goes on to say, “In olden times a double standard was used, –the wool or wadmal standard…and a silver standard….It is probable that originally both standards were identical;…the wool standard is the usual one, but in cases of weregild the silver standard seems always to be understood….”1 Thus, although Morris was obviously trying to imitate the early Scandinavian custom, he departed slightly from the usual practice in expressing the amount of the fine in terms of “hundreds in weed-stuff.”2
In my treatment of Morris’s first romance I pointed out that the hall in which Morris represents the Wolfing men as living is very similar to the typical early Scandinavian hall.3 In The Roots of the Mountains he does not present any complete description of the home of the Tribe of the Face, but from the scattered references to “the hearth amidmost the hall,” the dais around the hearth, the “thwart-table,” the two doors “at the lower end of the hall…going into the butteries, and kitchen, and other out-bowers,” and the loft used as a sleeping chamber above these doors, it seems that he had the Norse type of structure in mind, although he introduced a few essentially non-Scandinavian details, such as stone-vaulting and stone pillars.4
One typically early Scandinavian domestic object which he mentions for the first time in The Roots of the Mountains is the “shut-bed.” Biber points out that according to one of the indexes in Volume I of The Saga Library, “shut-bed,” which occurs in The Story of Howard the Halt, is Morris’s translation of the Old Norse “lokrekkja,” which Vigfússon glosses as “a ‘lock-bed,’ a locked bed-closet, in ancient dwellings.”1 Morris represents the “shut-beds” as projecting from the sides of the hall, just as in early Scandinavian buildings.
Only one of the war-customs mentioned in The Roots of the Mountains is definitely Norse. This is the circulation of the “war-arrow” as a summons to arms,2 – a practice which I have already discussed in my comments on the Scandinavian elements in The House of the Wolfings.3 Often mentioned in the sagas, though it was by no means limited to the Scandinavian countries, is another war-custom described in this romance, – the “Weapon-show,”4 – which Vigfússon explains as “..a meeting where all the franklins had to appear and produce for inspection the arms which every man was lawfully bound to have….”5
In The House of the Wolfings we found frequent allusions to several of the deities and lesser supernatural beings of the early Scandinavians. In The Roots of the Mountains only one Norse god is men-
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tioned – namely Thor; and he is always referred to by the epithet “the God of the Earth,” – never by his own name.1 So far as I know, this particular expression is never employed for Thor in the Old Norse prose and poetry.2 However, the epithet is perfectly intelligible and its use is entirely justified, for according to the Prose Edda, Thor was the son of Odin and the Earth,3 he was considered to be, as Vigfússon says, “…the friend of mankind, the defender of the earth, the heavens, and the gods, for without Thor and his hammer the earth would become the helpless prey of the giants…,”4 and he was alluded to by early Scandinavian poets by such phrases as “Iarðar burr,” “Iarðar sonr,” “Hlóðynjar mőgr,” “Fiőrgynjar burr,” “grundar sveinn,” and “Miðgarðz veorr.”5 We also find that one of the Old Norse customs relating to the worship of Thor is imitated in this tale; Morris refers on several occasions to people making “the sign of the Earth-god’s Hammer,” over their food before beginning to eat.6 In heathen Scandinavia, as Magnússon states in Volume VI of The Saga Library, “men who confessed believing in nothing but their ‘might and main’ were in the habit, before quaffing festive cups, to make over them the sign of Thor’s hammer.”7 A particu-
larly interesting allusion to this practice occurs in the Saga Hákonar goða in the description of a blood-offering held at Ladir: when King Hakon, who has accepted Christianity ahead of his people, makes the sign of the cross over his cup, his heathen subjects grumble in disapproval, but Earl Sigurd, the faithful counsellor of Hakon, calms them by stating that it was the sign of the hammer that the king made over his drink.1
Aside from these references to Thor there are comparatively few allusions to Norse mythology in The Roots of the Mountains. Occasionally we come across the term “Chooser of the Slain,” as in the first romance.2 Moreover, in the description of the Hall of the Wolf we learn that a certain shield was “painted with the green world circled with the worm of the sea”;3 by this “worm of the sea” Morris must mean the “Miðgarðsormr.”4 In Gold-mane’s remark to his beloved that she is as beautiful as if she had “come down from the golden chairs of the Burg of the Gods,”5 Morris is apparently referring to Asgard.6 Somewhat more frequent are the allusions to the “trolls”;7 Morris’s trolls, it should be pointed out, are not the giants which the Prose Edda tells us that Thor was in the habit of combating, but the powerful, ugly, evil spirits which the early Christianized Norsemen believed inhabited the woods and mountains.8 Very interesting is the statement
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 that the Dusky Men, when they were defending themselves in the Mote-house of the Wolf, even climbed up on the roof, where they “were riding the ridge and mocking like the trolls of old days”;1 in making this comparison Morris almost certainly had in mind the account in the Grettis saga of how Glam rode the house-roofs at Thorhall-stead.2
Although very few of the deities of the heathen Norsemen are mentioned, the religious background of the tale is decidedly early Scandinavian. In my comments on the ceremony of “hallowing the Thing,” I mentioned the golden ring which the Alderman wore on his arm. There a number of other allusions to this ring in the story; as in the sagas, it usually lies on the altar, but the pries or Alderman must always have it on his arm or on other holy occasions, and anyone making a particularly sacred vow or oath must take it in his right hand.3 Moreover, we are told that the men of that Tribe of the Face frequently held “…great feasts and made offerings to the Gods for the Fruitfulness of the Year, the Ingathering of the Increase, and in Memory of their Forefathers. Natheless at Yule-tide also they feasted from house to house to be glad with the rest of Midwinter, and many a cup they drank at those feasts to the memory of the fathers…”4
In ascribing these customs to the people of his story, Morris very likely had in mind some of the saga-accounts of the early Norse sacred festivals. In the chapter called “Of Odin’s Law-Making” in The Story of the Ynglings, for example Snorri Sturluson states, “Folk were to
hold sacrifice against the coming of winter for a good year; in midwinter for the growth of the earth; and a third in the summer that was an offering for gain and victory.”1 The Norse practice of drinking to the memory of one’s ancestors I have already discussed in my treatment of The House of the Wolfings.2 Another early Scandinavian custom of a sacred nature which is alluded to in the first romance3 is mentioned on several occasions in The Roots of the Mountains and is in one case described in detail: this is the custom of swearing oaths on the Holy Boar of Yule.4 Once Morris refers to the Holy Beast as the Boar of Atonement,5 evidently in imitation of the Old Norse “Sonargőltr,” this term being thus interpreted by scholars at the time.6
There remain a few Scandinavian features of a miscellaneous nature to be commented upon. The first four I shall treat are mentioned by Biber in his study. At the end of my discussion of The House of Wolfings I quoted some of Biber’s comments on the Norse character of the personal and place-names used in that tale;7 in regard to The Roots of the Mountains Biber points out that many of the names Morris introduced into this romance are likewise of Scandinavian origin, but he finds that the Norse influence on the nomenclature is not so extensive in this story as in the first.8 Moreover, Biber
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notes, as most of the other critics of Morris who have dealt with this work have also done, that the descriptions of the mountain scenery in this tale – and even to a greater extent in some of the later ones – undoubtedly owe much of their vividness to the firsthand acquaintance with the landscape of Iceland which Morris had gained on his two visits to that country.1 In presenting specimens of such descriptions, Biber gives only one reference to The Roots of the Mountains, but there are several passages in this story containing pictures of typical Iceland scenery.2
Of less importance are the other miscellaneous matters I should like to mention here. In his discussion of “Spuren des Altnordischen” Biber lists the word “skids,” which occurs in the sense of “ski” several times in The Roots of the Mountains, both alone and in the combination “skid-strap”;3 Morris evidently used this word in imitation of the Old Norse term “skíð,” which he had occasionally met in his saga translations.4 The term “skin-changer,” the use of which Biber attributes to Morris’s Scandinavian studies,5 I have already discussed.6 It also seems to me rather likely that Morris’s description of a certain character as “a lucky man” because his enterprises turned out well7 is the result of his familiarity with the early Scandinavian
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belief, often alluded to in the sagas,1 that every man was accompanied through life by a “hamingja,” or guardian spirit, and that in some cases the power of these “hamingjur” was greater than in others, so that some men were known as especially lucky and might even share their gift of luck with others on particular occasions. Also to be attributed to Morris’s study of the sagas is his use of the term “hundred” to signify one hundred and twenty units, as was the custom throughout early Scandinavia.2 Moreover, it is barely possible that the title of the romance, The Roots of the Mountains, which has no special significance for the tale beyond the fact that the story is laid in a mountainous country; was suggested to Morris by a phrase in The Prose Edda; in the Gylfaginning we are told that the chain with which the gods finally bound the Fenris-Wolf was fashioned by the dwarfs out of “the noise mad by the footfall of a cat; the beards of women; the roots of stones; the sinews of bears; the breath of fist; and the spittle of birds.”3 Perhaps the phrase “the roots of stones” made a special appeal to Morris’s imagination, and was in his mind when he named his second romance The Roots of the Mountains. Finally, I should like to point out that in two of the verse interludes which Morris introduces into this tale,4 he uses the verse form which I discussed in my comments on The House of the Wolfings;5 in these poetical
passages, however, he uses less alliterations and fewer kennings, so that the resemblance to early Germanic poetry is much less marked here than in the preceding romance.