In the early 1800's, on a Hebridean beach in Scotland, the sea exposed an ancient treasure cache: 93 chessmen carved from walrus ivory. Norse netsuke, each face individual, each full of quirks, the Lewis Chessmen are probably the most famous chess pieces in the world.Read more...
In the early 1800's, on a Hebridean beach in Scotland, the sea exposed an ancient treasure cache: 93 chessmen carved from walrus ivory. Norse netsuke, each face individual, each full of quirks, the Lewis Chessmen are probably the most famous chess pieces in the world. Harry played Wizard's Chess with them in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Housed at the British Museum, they are among its most visited and beloved objects.
Questions abounded: Who carved them? Where? Nancy Marie Brown's Ivory Vikings explores these mysteries by connecting medieval Icelandic sagas with modern archaeology, art history, forensics, and the history of board games. In the process, Ivory Vikings presents a vivid history of the 400 years when the Vikings ruled the North Atlantic, and the sea-road connected countries and islands we think of as far apart and culturally distinct: Norway and Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, and Greenland and North America. The story of the Lewis chessmen explains the economic lure behind the Viking voyages to the west in the 800s and 900s. And finally, it brings from the shadows an extraordinarily talented woman artist of the twelfth century: Margret the Adroit of Iceland.
- ISBN-13: 9781137279378
- ISBN-10: 1137279370
- Publisher: St. Martin's Press
- Publish Date: September 2015
- Page Count: 288
- Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-06-22
- Reviewer: Staff
Brown (Song of the Vikings) successfully crafts an Icelandic history of chess while tracing the possible movements of 92 remarkable carved figures found in the early 19th century on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. Drawing on the intertwined cultures, local artistic abilities, and close relationships among 12th-century Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Scotland, and England, Brown connects the threads between them with her own translations of Icelandic sagas and related archaeological research. She divides the tale into sections—Rooks, Bishops, Queens, Kings, and Knights—and inserts little-known historical tidbits about the game itself. Scandinavian history buffs and chess enthusiasts will revel in the power games between would-be kings and those already enthroned, some of whom, Brown posits, may have commissioned these walrus ivory chess sets as gifts for other kings. Other readers may find the mystery of the set’s hotly contested origins more enthralling. As for Margret the Adroit, the woman who supposedly made them, Brown makes the most of a saga’s sole mention of her artistic skill to support a recent and entirely plausible theory as to the pieces’ source. Though more full of conjecture than the assertive subtitle suggests, Brown’s account is nonetheless fascinating. Illus. (Sept.)