Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Wayland Smith

Since I'm literally in the middle of reading Katherine Roberts' Echorium Sequence, and I want to Blog the whole trilogy at once, I'll talk instead about the legend of Wayland Smith. As regular readers will know, I'm currently working on a piece on the Vale of White Horse at Uffington for the forthcoming Routledge The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Near the White Horse is a chambered long barrow from the Neolithic period that is known as Wayland's Smithy and I've been sufficiently intrigued lately, by the various books that I've read that have referred to Norse and Celtic mythology, as well as the local history of the White Horse Vale to find out more about Wayland. Wayland was the Saxon God of Smiths and metalwork and it has always been said that he lives at Wayland's Smithy, although no one has ever seen him. However, according to legend, if you leave your horse tethered near the barrow, put a groat (or a silver sixpence) on the uppermost stone and then go for a walk by the time you come back you'll find the horse is newly shod.

The story of Wayland Smith is told in various places, but online you can find out more, relating specifically to Wayland and his Berkshire Smithy, at David Nash Ford's Royal Berkshire History. The story of Wayland the Smith was first recorded in a 13th century Norse poem, the Volundarkitha, which tells of the exploits of 'Volundr' (the Norse form of Wayland). There are variations of the story in Thidrek’s Saga, but clearly the legend is much older than this, since aspects of it are mentioned in Beowulf and Deor’s Lament, both Old English poems which date from three centuries earlier. Even older than these poems, however, are the scenes from the tale which appear on the "Franks Casket", which is a beautiful box that was carved from whalebone in Northumbria in the 8th century.

I confess to be utterly fascinated by the legends and history surrounding the White Horse Vale, so don't be surprised if I come back to it again once my piece for the Tolkien Encyclopedia is done.

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