Tag Archives: The Chessmen

Look Again at the Lewis Chessmen

Scholarly paper warning.

David H. Caldwell, Mark A. Hall, and Caroline M. Wilkinson have written an interdisciplinary paper on the Lewis chessmen, uncovered in Scotland in 1831. They are centuries-old, walrus ivory chess pieces, 78 in all. The authors suggest the story may have become too streamlined to reveal reality.

Whether kings or princes from the Isle of Man or descended from Somerled, local nobles or high-ranking clerics, there were several men in late Norse Lewis who could have aspired to own the Lewis pieces, and who would have valued them as gaming pieces. Rather than accepting the deus ex machina  explanation of a passing merchant losing his stock, it is surely more plausible that the Lewis pieces were found in Lewis because that was where they were intended to end up and be enjoyed.
   . . .
There are two final points to make here. First, no matter how or why the Lewis pieces arrived at Uig, it is only a presumption that they were new when buried. If they belonged to a local nobleman or cleric they may have provided many years of enjoyment before they passed out of use. This is a significant point to which we will return after a more detailed analysis of the individual pieces. Second, the circumstances of the hoard’s discovery are so vague that there can be no confidence as to whether it was lost or deliberately hidden.

This isn’t quite the storyline of The Chessmen by Peter May, but you may find it interesting. Abstract to follow. Continue reading Look Again at the Lewis Chessmen

‘The Chessmen,’ by Peter May

The storm had passed by the Monday, but it was still overcast, dull light suffused with a grey-green, as if we were all somehow trapped inside a Tupperware box.

I’ve reviewed the first two books of Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy below. The Chessmen is the third (the title refers to the famous “Lewis chessmen,” a remarkable set of Norwegian chess pieces discovered on the Scottish island of Lewis, the site of these books, centuries ago. They represent a 12th Century king and his court and warriors).

This time around Fin Macleod, our hero, is still living on Lewis, where he grew up, having left the Edinburgh police force. He takes a job as a security officer on a large estate, to solve the problem of poachers taking wild salmon. This leads him to a hike in the mountains with “Whistler,” an old friend. They discover a rare phenomenon – one of the mountain lochs has spontaneously drained, and they observe a small private airplane lying on the newly uncovered bottom. They both know immediately who must be inside – their old friend Roddy, who was involved with them in a rock and roll group in their college years and disappeared in this very plane.

As with the other books in the series, the story takes us into the past, to old relationships and old secrets. An interesting subplot involves Fin’s old friend/enemy Donald, now the pastor of the local Free Church, who has to defend himself in a church hearing, accused of the trespass of killing a man to save lives. The ending is a shocker.

Very good, especially the high quality of the prose. Cautions for language, and hard (but not entirely dismissive) statements on religion. Recommended.