Epilogues and epithets…


Jack Whyte
Courtesy of Kristina Taukkanen

Having recently finished my new novel, “The Forest Laird, A Tale of William Wallace“, I’ve been luxuriating in the fact that it’s done, but I recalled, in a conversation with a friend a few nights ago, that  I did not come easily to writing about Wallace originally, because the man who lived and died in those days has been lost in, and swallowed up by, the myth we Scots have constructed in his memory over the past five or six hundred years. As Fiona Watson, a Research Fellow at the University of Dundee put it, “The William Wallace we know today is a man of steel, fashioned from a dearth of hard facts and copious quantities of Scotch Mist.”

For the last week or so, while grappling with the Copy Edit of the manuscript, I’ve also been attempting to write an Epilogue to the novel, and I’ve been growing very impatient with myself for not being able to come to grips with it. No matter how I approached it, it seemed–and I approached it several times from differing directions–I could not get a satisfactory handle on what I wanted to say, and I could not distill what was in my mind into a quantity small enough to serve as an Epilogue. Then a few nights ago, heading into another weekend, I realized what my problem was: my Epilogue wasn’t an epilogue at all. It was, and it is, a sequel. And so the second novel in this trilogy will not, as previously announced here, be the story of Robert The Bruce. It will be the continuation of the story of Sir William Wallace and it will include my thoughts on his relationship with the Bruce, and his friendship with Andrew Murray, his co-commander at the battle of Stirling Bridge who, had he not been fatally wounded in that engagement, might very well have gone on to eclipse Wallace and establish himself as the greatest hero of the Scots’ fight for Independence.

So how does one write about William Wallace, without parroting or paraphrasing “Braveheart”? That was my first problem, though it was soon solved. In one very specific and narrowly-defined way, and I have no wish to appear blasphemous, Wallace’s life, or at least his public career, can be compared with that of the man Jesus: each emerged from obscurity at a mature age–Jesus at thirty and Wallace in his late twenties–and each had a short, brilliant and meteoric public life that ended in a public execution. But very little is known of the life of either man prior to his emergence into the public eye. In Wallace’s case, the separation between the man and his legend became so obscure that Scottish academics and historians virtually ignored him for at least the last century, believing that there was no demonstrable connection between the myth and the historical record, and that situation was dramatically demonstrated when the new Museum of Scotland first opened its doors in 1998, amid great fanfare, and shocked the entire country with the fact that there was not a single Wallace-related item in the entire museum.

“Braveheart” had debuted in 1995, three years earlier, and brought Wallace and Scotland into the awareness of the world at large, and the furore that greeted his exclusion from the Museum of Scotland was deep-seated and grass-roots-based. But things were already changing, and I have been, and continue to be, extremely grateful for that. In the fifteen years that have elapsed since the appearance of Mel Gibson’s epic, an entire new wave of research and academic exploration into the historical William Wallace has generated fresh and startling viewpoints and opinions concerning Scotland’s greatest medieval hero, and I have been digging extensively among several of those new ideas and perspectives… I will have more to add on that later, along with some names and sources  for anyone who might be interested in digging for themselves.