- Paperback: 264 pages
- Publisher: Luath Press Ltd (July 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0946487332
- ISBN-13: 978-0946487332
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #632,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Blind Harry's Wallace
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Blind Harrys Wallace is one of the most popular Scottish books of all time. -- Scottish Book Collector
From the Publisher
Which book has been the greatest inspiration to Scots within and outwith Scotland over the last 500 years?
Why has one of the most influential books ever published in Scotland been out of print for almost 140 years, despite the fact that at least 47 editions are known to have been published?
Is the "lost manuscript" on which the book is said to have been based in existence?
How did American writer Randall Wallace come to base his script for Braveheart on this book?
Would a parliament in Scotland have won decisive support without the Braveheart factor?
Why has the poet and minstrel - whose work Burns deemed worthy of Homer - been ignored for so long?
Who was Blind Harry, and what is the significance of his work in modern Scotland today?
Top customer reviews
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Read it for the drama, and the poetry of the legend. Or read it out of respect for the world's first, and best, guerrilla fighter.
Lord Michael Hays
Viewers of "Braveheart" also tend to come away with the impression that Wallace was a Highlander leading clansmen into battle - which certainly cannot be supported by Harry's references to Wallace's supporters. In fact in this edition of "Wallace" (on page 225) a very interesting map of 'Wallace place names' suggests that the hero's support was in the South and North-East (of Scotland)- not in the North and West where the great clans were located. There are often such (major) problems when books (like this) are 'adapted' to be popular movies, and these each reader may enjoyably discover for himself.
It is only fair to add, however, that the movie could also be seen as a corrective to the book. Randall Wallace's script does warn us (at least twice) of the hyperbole that results when verbal anecdotes of historical and legendary figures are passed on, and there is clearly a great deal of this reflected in Harry's epic (since he relied partly on just such anecdotal evidence). Moreover the film-script (understandably because of the sensibilities of a modern audience)is not so shockingly racially-prejudiced as "Wallace".
I had the impression (reading the bard) of alternating between the 'Declaration of Independence' and 'Mein Kampf'. The "blood untainted" of Harry's Scots (such references begin on page 1 of the book)is, of course, nonsense, as I think is his demonisation of the "Picts, Danes and Saxons" that the 'Scots' historically fought. To the knowledgable, Harry's 'English' were simply a combination of Gaelic and Germanic elements (quite like the Scots themselves) mustered by descendants of their Norman conquerors (Scotland itself was filled with many Norman aristocrats and was to be ruled by a largely Norman dynasty in the person of Bruce and his descendants).
The introduction to this edition of "Wallace" perhaps fittingly holds the key to Harry's racial preferences. Page xvii reveals that Harry's chief patron was the Scottish king himself - descendant of the Norman royal house of Scotland. Obviously the poet could not have included Normans in his enumeration of Scotland's enemies (as a Saxon might have done) - but the 'English' (his and Scotland's historic rivals) were fair game. Burning thousands of 'English' alive (see, for example, page 90) in retaliation for the perfidy of England's alien rulers seems not a little unfair (though Harry interestingly indicates that the nascent Commons of England actually acted as a restraint on 'Longshanks'). It also takes away the impact of Wallace's own horrible death which Harry (at least consistently) does not dwell upon.
Since there is a dearth of early historic sources for Wallace's life this is certainly worth a careful read. I devoured greedily many details that seemed to me to be authentic. It may be at least as accurate a portrayal of a part of early Scottish history as Shakespeare's Macbeth, and certainly illuminates the author and his audience. In short I concluded that Randall Wallace and Blind Harry had both dramatic virtues and vices; consequently "Wallace" was both better and worse than "Braveheart".
Blind Harry wrote his original epic in the fifteenth century. Hamilton remade it into modern English sprinkled occasionally with Scots words. Most of these are glossed in the margins in this edition; modern readers will not find its story hard to follow. Hamilton is not always faithful to his source; the introduction notes that a supernatural sequence, where Blind Harry had Wallace dreaming a vision of the Virgin Mary, and had his vision interpreted by a priest, has been altered in this retelling to better suit Presbyterian sensibilities. Again, the subject resists Augustan polish, and the occasional inclusion of highfalutin' vocabulary or stock pastoral imagery here only adds a disconcerting bit of cognitive dissonance. On the whole, the verse seems more reminiscent of broadsheet ballads than of Dryden or Pope; as such it's more accomodating to contemporary readers.
The story reads like an over the top novelization of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure. Wallace seems to be portrayed as a turbo Grignr, a Tasmanian Devil of manslaughter; he commits a fresh homicide in almost every chapter, even the ones that aren't about warfare and battle. The Scots are the good guys and the English are the bad guys, so any time Wallace encounters an Englishman, blood is spilt.
The net result is to make the poem a highly entertaining yarn, at least in small doses at a time. It's hard to have much empathy with the hero, but the lurid spectacle of his exploits and downfall is told with enough hyperbole to make up for the one-dimensionality of its characterizations.
The pleasures of fine writing aren't to be found here. It's hard to give the poem much credit as a historical source. The pleasures of sword and sorcery, comic books, and murder ballads are what the poem has to offer; and if you bring appropriate expectations to the work, you may well find it quite entertaining.