Saturday, July 25, 2015

William Wallace: Man and Myth


Rating: 2.5 Stars


Anyone who has ever read a review on this blog of a book relating to Scotland knows how I feel about the country. I took my mother there for her birthday in 2009 and fell in love myself. Now I am counting down the years until we can go back and take the munchkin with us - you know, the little lady of mine who takes her middle name from my favorite city on the planet.

That refresher aside, it should then not be a surprise that in addition to defending Mary, Queen of Scots regularly, I am deeply fascinated by the story of William Wallace. I have never seen Braveheart and do not plan to. Movies based on history I am interested in fall into the same category as books of the same - I'd rather not. Additionally, the mistakes are so much worse in movies, since they are working with a much more limited time/space.

So, when I found this one at the library, I was interested. I've been to Stirling Castle, seen the landscape where Wallace's great victory took place, and wanted to read this one in order to see what might actually be fact and what can be safely reconciled into the myth category.

The problem is, this book does not do that. It seems that the author purposely chose instead to simply look at all the ways Wallace's myth has evolved and been use to support varying Scottish politics through the centuries. In the final chapter, the author even begins by writing, "By now the reader should be no closer to finding the real Wallace. If you have followed this text on its journey here to chapter eight - its close - then you might just be hoping the author will go on and tell you who this Wallace really was" (page 134). he then goes on to say we already know who Wallace is - a leader who won a great victory over England at Stirling, only to be betrayed and condemned to a traitor's death upon his capture. So here then the author is basically saying, "Too bad, I am not going to tell you." Truthfully, it is not because he does not want to (I don't think, anyway), but because he can't. In his choppy, meandering, clunky wade through history, he has chosen that path to show you that there is very little factual information that can be corroborated by any sources. And that is fine. I did not like, however, like the fact that he did take such a path. The book is basically just 152 pages of Scottish nationalism, politics, huff-puffing about the various monuments and Braveheart, and then globalization. It is certainly not what I would have expected from a book with this title, and thus a disappointment. A better title would have been something like, 'William Wallace: The Myth and How it is Used in Promoting Scottish Nationalism'. Then, this could have been an essay instead of a book, and would not have dragged on nearly as long. It is not a bad book per se, but not what I was expecting or looking for.

But, as always, when I review a book relating to Scotland, you can be sure I will include photos! All photos were taken by and belong to me, at Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle, 2009.

At Stirling, look out to the Wallace Monument on the far hill. The story I was told on this visit is that stone arch bridge to the left is roughly in the same area as the bridge used where the English crossed in order to engage Wallace's men in battle. Wallace and his men were to have camped on the hill where the monument now stands. In actuality I don't know if the story is true, as other accounts I have read say the hill is possible, but would be difficult for Wallace's men to have descended quickly due to it being steep and slippery in places. (Stirling Castle, Nov. 2009)

A better shot of the monument. Unfortunately, as Stirling was our last stop of the day before heading back to Edinburgh, we were unable to visit. (Nov. 2009)

Statue of Robert the Bruce at Stirling; Nov, 2009

Entrance to Edinburgh Castle. Wallace on the right, Bruce on the left (Nov, 2009)

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