The Water of the Wondrous Isles


The Orchard, Merton Abbey tapestry, 1890

Morris's Notes on Plot of Tale

BL Add . MS. 45322 ff. 439--442.

Outline of plot for The Water of the Wondrous Isles. Feb. 189-..

f. 439.An oldish woman (a witch) appears at a market town near a forest and buys a woman child (say 2 years) of a very poor woman, and takes it back with her to her house (lonely) on the borders of a great water. There she rears her as a slave or servant till she has grown up to a very beautiful young woman.

The forest comes close to the witches' house, but she never goes into it, except when she has to go to the market town, and then she goes with changed appearance, but she sends the maiden to hunt there. The witch has a boat in which she journeys from time to time, always reddening the stern with her blood: the maiden is forbidden to go near it under threat of dire punishment. But one night she gets up and goes down to the boat reddens it with her blood, and is just going off when the witch comes down on her and drags her back to the house and binds her for the rest of the night. In the morning she comes to her and tells her there are 3 ways of dealing with her for her disobedience 1st to kill her & 2nd to let her live & keep her there but to torture her grievously & 3rd to send her away in the boat and she chooses to do the last. So she strips her mother naked and the boat (enchanted) carries her off over the Lake.

In a certain time she comes to an island and is met on the shore by 3 girls 1 clad in gold 2 in green 3 in black. They take her to their mistress who is a sister of the first witch. She has the girl thrown into prison and again considers the three things to do to her. (Her coming naked is a sign she is not to send her back.) She being prayed by the 3 girls (her servants whom she has carried off from their lovers) chooses to send her off. The 3 girls come to the maid in prison and tell her the news and lead her down to the boat. Then 1 gives her her smock 2 her shoes and a ring 3 her gown [f. 440] and a collar of gold. Then they redden the boat; but before they send her off they tell her that they have lent her the smock, the shoes & the gown, and they must [be] sent back to them by the first male men she shall meet who want to know where they are.

She takes loving leave of them and goes off in the boat and after a while comes to another island in which are the ruins of a beautiful town and in [them] an old man and a young child: they entertain her and she goes on the next day.

She comes to another island and finds a grand palace there and in the great hall a company of ladies with a queen on the dais but they are all dead. She goes [on] and had had not victuals.