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Myths and Legends
William Morris and the Legendary

William Morris
Morris at 53
© William Morris Gallery, London
Morris’s interest in the legendary persisted, and now began to take on a more original form. Instead of translating or rewriting existing stories, he began to create his own. Based on his knowledge of history, 'A Tale of the House of the Wolfings' was the first of two stories written in 1888, in which he combines poetry and prose to describe the heroic resistance of the Romans by a Germanic tribe – it is a classic tale of good against evil. He followed this with 'The Roots of the Mountains' in 1890 describing the roots of conflict between two Germanic tribes.

Legendary inspiration

Historical knowledge underpinned 'A Dream of John Bull' too. It deals with the Peasants’ Revolt in England in 1381. However, the later stories became increasingly less historical and more imaginative, as their names suggest: 'The Story of the Glittering Plain', 'The Wood Beyond the World', 'The Well at the World’s End', 'The Water of the Wondrous Isles' and 'The Sundering Flood'. The young poet W B Yeats loved these stories so much that he wished them never to come to an end; C S Lewis and J R Tolkien admired them too.

The spirit of the legendary thus inspired Morris to the end. At his death the radical journalist Robert Blatchford wrote: “I cannot help thinking that it does not matter what goes into the Clarion this week, because William Morris is dead. And what Socialist will care for any other news this week, beyond that one sad fact?”

Words: Peter Faulkner

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