From Publishers Weekly
"The Wallace story is part of Scotland's imagined community.... We can't break the story because there is no story." In this densely written scholarly study, the author, a professor at Edinburgh University, examines the legends that have surrounded the exploits of William Wallace (1274-1305). Wallace is credited with liberating Scotland by defeating the English at Stirling Bridge (1297); his stature as the savior of Scotland has been reinforced by the recent film Braveheart. Later Wallace was vanquished by Edward I of England at Falkirk (1298). He lived as an outlaw and guerilla fighter until he was betrayed to the English, tried and bloodily executed in 1305. The author researched the very slim historical sources available and found problems with corroborating evidence. Much of Wallace's early reputation, for example, rested on the verse of "blind Harry," who wrote in the late 15th century. According to Morton, Harry's poetry has been romanticized and is almost certainly filled with errors. Ballads, songs and biographies of later centuries extolling Wallace's heroism are based on patriotism rather than truth. Morton also investigates how the myth of Wallace served both Scottish nationalism and socialism. In recent years the Wallace cult has grown, due to video games and Web sites. Although the author does not argue for completely abandoning national myths that cannot be proven, his hope for the Wallace mystique is that it is time to "lay his ghost to rest."
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Among recent works about Scotland's national martyr are Peter Reese's Wallace: A Biography (Interlink, 1998), James Mackay's stellar William Wallace: Brave Heart (Mainstream Pub., 1996), and the famous Hollywood film rendition by Randall Wallace (no relation). All are solidly researched and certainly entertaining, but, given that so little real evidence exists about Wallace, they are also suspect. Historians still debate the troubadouric work upon which the Wallace myth is based, and even current books, such as Nathaniel Harris's Heritage of Scotland (Checkmark, 2000), reveal little. Historiographer Morton (history, Edinburgh Univ.) is a deconstructionist at heart, referring to "invented tradition" in the first pages of the work. His early chapters can bog down in the detail of his meticulous research, but in the robustly entertaining last chapters, Morton lays waste to the entire Scottish tourist industry as well as to the rise of "international Scottish nationality." While this work is indeed about Wallace and myth, it is as much about the whole tourist-heritage link. Morton unearths loony tourist brochure mistakes and equally gaga "Wallace.com" web sites. He is, however, generous to authors like Mackay. Historians will laud this book; Braveheart fans will be enraged. Highly recommended for all academic and larger public libraries. Gail Benjafield, St. Catharine's P.L., Ont.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.