Like The Battle of Maldon, The Wanderer is one of those fragments of Anglo-Saxon poetry which has survived into the present day. It was preserved in the Exeter Book, a manuscript dating from the late 10th century, therefore written down in Byrhtnoth’s lifetime. It consists of only 115 lines of verse and the composer and compiler are anonymous.
The poem is untitled, but tell the story of a man who has lost everything. He has no Lord to serve and receive gifts from. He had no hall in which to feast and no friends “to whom I dare clearly speak of my innermost thoughts.” He remembers his life of long ago and contrasts it with his life now: “the friendless man… sees before him fallow waves. Sea birds bathe, preening their feathers, Frost and snow fall, mixed with hail.”
He talks about how all life comes to this: “throughout this middle-earth walls stand blown by the wind, covered with frost, storm-swept the buildings.” Towards the end, he accepts that this is how things are and always will be. The wise man must keep his faith and seek “mercy, consolation from the father in the heavens, where, for us, all permanence rests.”
It is uncertain if this final section is a later addition, adding a religious meaning to the work. To me the poem tells much of the mindset of a person living at this time: of the importance of having a place in society and how lonely it can be without the support of others, friends, family and a lord. I hope I have brought some of these feelings into my stories about Byrhtnoth.
However, this was supposed to be an introduction to a handful of book reviews, not a literary interpretation
At the start of the year I announced that I would make a list of books I read. I have kept to that promise and found that by the end of March, I had read 19 books. Some were good, some were bad, but the strange thing was that three of them were part of a series entitled “The Wanderer” – that’s three different series of that name!
When you think about it, this is a good name for a series. Every book is supposed to be “a journey” either physically or psychologically. It can cover a wide range of subjects. Here are just three which can be loosely covered by the genre, Historical Fiction.
The first is “The Wanderer Chronicles” written by Theodore Brun. I read the first, A Mighty Dawn and quickly followed it by the second, A Sacred Storm. It is set in the 8th century in Denmark and Sweden. A young man, Hakan, leaves home after a traumatic discovery. He abandons everything, even his name, in a search for a new lord. Like the Wanderer of the poem, he encounters cold and snow eventually finding himself in the land of the Svears. The king’s daughter has been abducted and Hakan, now named Erlan (foreigner) must rescue her. In the second book, he has sworn to serve King Sviggar. He becomes entangled in dark plots and is forced to choose between love and duty. Erlan is a somewhat dour protagonist, unwilling to enjoy the success he achieves, but an interesting change from the usual hero who gets the girl. There is a touch of fantasy, but it doesn’t detract from the gritty reality of life at this time. The book ends with the promise of more adventures to come – I look forward to them.
The next “Wanderer” series also consists of two books, with another to come. A Torch in his Heart by Anna Belfrage is classified as Time Travel/ Romance, although the time travel is achieved by the living of many lives and it is set mostly in the present day. Helle arrives for a new job with gorgeous but sinister Sam Woolf. Later she meets and is attracted to Jason Morris. She gradually learns that she has met these men before and they have been fighting for her across time. The original encounter ended in tragedy, will it be different this time? There is violence and a lot of steamy sex. The second book, Smoke in her Eyes, came out shortly after I finished the first and the story continued. By the end Woolf is presumed dead. Will Helle and Jacob live happily ever after? There is another book to come!
I had great hopes for the third series, Witness to Murder: The Wanderer Part 1: England 979 by R Hyslop. It was the first in a nine part series set in “my” period and even mentioned Byrhtnoth a couple of times. I should have been warned by the amateurish cover and lack of reviews. The mention of
“extensive factual End-Notes” promised much, but links were scattered through the text every time a name or place was mentioned, or even some object or custom that anyone with any intelligence could have guessed – very distracting. The story was not too bad, but practically unreadable due to the florid descriptions with little connection to the plot and the lack of punctuation. I made it to the end, but will not be following the adventures of Ethelwulf, Thane of Arne any further.
Three series based on the name The Wanderer. I didn’t choose them because of the name, but I was lucky in my choices twice.