Sunday, 11 September 2011

King Arthur's round table located in Scotland?

Long has the belief been held that King Arthur's legendary round table was situated near Stirling Castle in Scotland; more specifically the earthworks known as King's Knot.

However, since these earthworks were created in the 17th century for King Charles I as part of the royal geometrical gardens, it's been a mystery as to why the Knot is tied to such old folklore.

Now a recent archaeological investigation undertaken by Glasgow University and the Stirling Local History Society (SLHS) has possibly uncovered the answer to this mystery: an ancient, round ditch lying beneath the Knot.

SLHS chairman, John Harrison, explained: "The finds show that the present mound was created on an older site and throws new light on a tradition that King Arthur's Round Table was located in this vicinity."

"Of course, we cannot say that King Arthur was there, but the feature which surrounds the core of the Knot could explain the stories and beliefs that people held."

Many places throughout Great Britain lay claim to being the site of King Arthur's round table, such as Caerleon, Penrith and Winchester.

Interestingly, in Geoffrey of Monmouth's original writings there was no mention of the table and it was only with the French translation Roman de Brut by Robert Wace that the notable piece of furniture came into existence.

So was the round table located in Scotland? Probably not, mostly because there is no hard evidence for it or any Arthurian legend actually existing in the first place. However, that is not important in the study of folklore; what's important is the evidence we uncover for certain beliefs. This new finding is a great example of that.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The folklore of trolls

Troll-fever is set to grip Hollywood as Harry Potter director Chris Columbus announced that he intends to remake The Troll Hunter, an independent Norwegian film that recently hit theatres in the UK.

The film is a mockumentary that follows a group of film students who set out to film real-life trolls in the wild. Blood and gore ensues as they run foul of these 50ft beasts and have to fight for their lives.

It sounds all kinds of hilarious and I'm glad we're seeing some folklore on the big screen. Check out the trailer:

It's theorised that the modern term 'troll' is descended from Jotun, a race famed in Norse mythology for being the enemy of the gods.  In these stories the original Jotun was Ymir, who lived in the Ginnungagap, which was a chaotic void. From Ymir's body came other Jotnar who then went on to create a race of frost giants. Odin, Vili and Ve eventually slew Ymir, whose blood drowned all but two of the giants, a husband and wife, who went on to repopulate their species.

Scandinavian folklore evolved the troll from the giants of old Norwegian texts to the more recognisable creatures we know today. It's unclear where the overlap began between the jotnar and trolls, but mythologist Lotte Motz theorised that there were originally four kinds of giants: jotun, troll, risi and purs, and this is where we can see the split in species. Motz's reasoning for this is because these are the four words that referenced to the jotnar in historical texts. She attributes different characteristics to each of these 'species', however her theory has been criticised due to a lack of textual evidence.

It can be agreed, though, that later texts portray trolls as supernatural beings with immense strength and hideous features who often made their homes in the hills and mountains of Scandinavia. Some were said to have multiple heads, no doubt a reference to Ymir's original six-headed son, and would turn to stone if exposed to sunlight.

During the Christianization of Scandinavia, priests would tell tales of trolls who fled when they heard the sounds of church bells and their hatred for Christian blood. The latter is likely where we get the giant's "Fe, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of a Christian.' Telling tales like this was a common tactic in conversion, which led to the integration of ideas into folklore.

Trolls are now immortalised across the Scandinavian landscape as rock formation, where they are meant to have been turned to stone by the sun. Some examples of such formations include Reynisdrangar and Trold-Tindterne (Troll Peaks).