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Posted March 8, 2007
Ships of Destiny Are Sometimes Slowed by Barnacles
Two Scots were heroic contemporaries around the year 1300. William Wallace was recently portrayed by Mel Gibson in the film BRAVEHEART. Many of us remember from school days the discouraged King Robert the Bruce. He took heart watching a spider try and fail six times till it wove the next strand in its web. This generated the schoolboy maxim, 'If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.' *** Sir Walter Scott linked these two heroes in his narrative poem, THE LORD OF THE ISLES. Scott excerpted and compressed events from 'THE BRUCE,' by the 14th century Scottish historian Archdeacon of Aberdeen, John Barbour. Scott also demonstrated here as elsewhere that history is far more than the swift movement by impersonal vessels toward gigantic destinations. The ships of national history are also weighted down by barnacles: the lives, loves, hatreds and jealousies of lesser beings who move willy-nilly about in the great events. *** THE LORD OF THE ISLES covers seven crucial years in the life of Robert the Bruce. Crowned King of Scotland in 1306, he was driven to Ireland by the English led by the imperialistic King Edward I. But in the spring of 1307 Bruce sailed with his sister Isabel and brother Edward back to his native Ayrshire on the rugged western coast of Scotland. He won growing support from the clans and seven years later, June 24, 1314 destroyed a vast English army at Bannockburn near Stirling. *** The subplots of the story involve the initially thwarted marriage between Ronald (real name Angus Og), the Lord of the Isles, and Edith, the Maid of Lorn housed with her Bruce-hating kinsman in the mainland castle of Atornish. Ronald would really like to marry Bruce's sister Isabel. But she becomes a nun and persuades Edith to take Ronald back. This becomes easier to do after The Lord of the Isles distinguishes himself at the battle of Bannockburn. *** Someone reading Sir Walter Scott for the first time might find too much Scottish history, explained in too many notes. But reading this long poem is altogether other for someone enamored of all things Scottish, including intricate genealogies of bygone clan leaders. That said, for any reader the story moves briskly, abounds in cameos of mighty figures of medieval Scotland and England, is lyrical in descriptions of the landscapes of some of the 200 islands (Skye, Mull, etc.) of the West of Scotland and tells a love story of a maid disguised as a mute minstrel (making us recall a similar character in another long poem by Scott, HAROLD THE DAUNTLESS). ***Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.